Friday, June 7, 2013

Batman: Year One (2011) A DVD Review

Two men come to Gotham City: Bruce Wayne after years abroad feeding his lifelong obsession for justice and Jim Gordon after being too honest a cop with the wrong people elsewhere. After learning painful lessons about the city's corruption on its streets and police department respectively, this pair learn how to fight back their own way. With that, Gotham's evildoers from top to bottom are terrorized by the mysterious Batman and the equally heroic Gordon is assigned to catch him by comrades who both hate and fear him themselves. In the ensuing manhunt, both find much in common as the seeds of an unexpected friendship are laid with additional friends and rivals helping to start the legend.

-Written by Kenneth Chisholm

That a summary of the video Batman: Year One (2011) which I saw on DVD a couple of weeks ago. I saw and subsequently reviewed the 1989 Keaton/Nicholson Batman film on the same weekend, but I couldn't summon whatever I needed to write my "Year One" review at the same time.

Maybe that's because the video reminded me so much of the Batman: Year One graphic novel (2007 -- originally published February through May 1987 in the regular Batman comic book series) by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. The graphic novel gained rave reviews if you can believe Amazon (and most people do), and I remember the work favorably as well. Why do I feel so "cold" about the video based off the graphic novel?

Maybe because it was so similar to its 136 page source. I mean, having read the graphic novel, why did I need to see the 64 minute video?

Don't we want films made from books to be true to their source? Well, yes and no. If I were talking about a text-only novel, there'd be no visual component except what was generated in my head as I was reading. With a graphic novel, you get words and pictures. With an animated video you get spoken words and moving pictures, but it (in this case) looks pretty much the same.

It was as if the makers of the animated film said, "Let's make the graphic novel story again but make it move." In other words, I didn't learn anything new or have much of a different experience than when I read the graphic novel a few years ago. Any film should be more than just a moving, talking version of its source. I want to have a different experience, related enough to the original to recognize it, but different enough to be worth my while.

If I had a choice, I'd probably just read the comic book version again because print typically includes more story detail that's cut for time in a film presentation.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the animated film. It was watchable and entertaining. I could certainly see the portions that linked into Batman Begins (2005), such as Batman "calling for backup."

You see the less than honorable side of a relatively young Jim Gordon, cheating on his pregnant wife, struggling to rise above his failures, fighting criminals with almost the same darkness as Batman. You see a young Bruce Wayne donning the mantle of the Bat for the first time, making rookie mistakes that almost get him killed, nearly killing the legend along with him. You see a different "Catwoman" with a (apparently) lesbian twist (it's only hinted at, but you get that vibe).

If you've never read the graphic novel or the original series of comic books, you'll enjoy the film. If you've read the graphic novel, seeing the film will be like deja vu. It's that simple.

If I watch Batman animated films, I'll try to pick those that don't follow the print material so closely. I want to be surprised as the story unfolds in front of my eyes.

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