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Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of my favorite graphic novel collections; offering one of the most intriguing and adult variations on the legendary comic book character. Originally published in 1986, the graphic novel collection assembles the four-issue limited series titles: The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Falls. Considering the complexities, nuances and adult themes of Miller's storyline, I had some concerns when I learned that the collection was being adapted under Warner’s direct-to-video, DC Universe Animated Original Movie banner. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 ($25) proves to be a very good adaptation of the source material, even if it does compress the story offers some modest changes to the plot and sequence of events, not to mention keeping everything PG-13 friendly.

Maintaining the PG-13 rating maybe something of a challenge with Part 2, and hopefully the creative team will not wimp out when it comes the graphic nature of one the climatic confrontations in the second half of the story. Of course, compressing the story for an animated adaptation does rob the material of its nuances, as well as the psychological underpinnings of the characters. In short, fans of the source material may find BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 to be something of a blunt "nuts and bolts" retelling of the graphic novel collection; however, those coming to the saga for the first time will find it a highly effective and thoroughly entertaining animated film. Of course, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 does offer plenty of rewards for fans of the original graphic novel collection, but as long as they understand that it is an adaptation, and not a verbatim digital comic.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 is set in a near dystopian future Gotham City... ten years after the final sighting of Batman. As the story opens, fifty five-year-old Bruce Wayne toasts seventy-year-old James Gordon, Gotham City's Police Commissioner, who is about to retire after fifty years of service to the city. As the two share their toast, Gordon comments that he is glad Batman managed to survive to his own retirement. Despite the fond reminiscences of the two old friends, Gotham City has gone to hell since Batman's "retirement," with an ever-growing street gang known as The Mutants terrorizing the populace. As the violence perpetrated by The Mutants escalates, Bruce Wayne finds himself taking up the cape and the cowl of The Batman once more. While some applaud Batman's return, others condemn his vigilante tactics and declare him a fascist.

However, Batman's return also emboldens a thirteen-year-old girl named Carrie Kelley to don a Robin costume and seek out The Dark Knight... to lend her support to his cause. Meanwhile, one of Bruce Wayne's philanthropic endeavors is to restore former District Attorney Harvey Dent's disfigured face and psyche; unfortunately this ultimately results with Dent's reemergence as the criminal known as Two-Face. As Batman's actions to stop Two-Face capture media attention... the non-stop media barrage awakens a catatonic patient at Arkham Asylum. The excellent vocal talent behind BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 features Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Paget Brewster, Maria Canals Barrera, Michael Emerson, Michael Jackson, Michael McKean, David Selby, Gary Anthony Williams and Wade Williams.

Warner Home Video has made BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. As with Warner’s other direct-to-video, DC Universe titles BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 features an impressive 1080p presentation that does a great job with the production’s 2D animation. The image appears sharp and precise, cleanly rendering the lines of the comic book style animation. Colors are stylistically muted to represent the dark, dystopian Gotham City, but there are flashes of saturated hues throughout. Given the opportunity, colors do pop and the high definition format provides that the primary and secondary hues are rendered without flaws. Blacks are decidedly inky, while the whites appear crisp and stable. Contrast is pretty great for this type of stylized animation. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 wasn’t produced on film, and therefore, is free from grain and print flaws associated with that medium.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. For those familiar with Warner's other direct-to-video animated releases falling under the DC Universe banner... you'll be getting more of the same. None of the earlier DC Universe tracks have had theatrical caliber sound, so like the earlier direct-to-video sound designs, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 tends to be a somewhat front heavy affair. There are very good channel separations across the front, but the rears are less involving than the on-screen action might suggest. Active effects do emanate from the rear speakers, as do ambient sounds and musical fill, but the mix remains a pale shell for someone expecting theatrical caliber surround effects. Thanks to the lossless encode, music and sound effects have clout, while the bass channel provides weight to all sonic elements. Voices maintain a robust sense of character, while the dialogue is always easy to understand. Overall, the sound quality is quite good, just not theatrical quality. English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. Featurettes and other programs include the following: Her Name Is Carrie... Her Role Is Robin (twelve minutes), Batman And Me: A Devotion To Destiny, The Bob Kane Story (thirty eight minutes) and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 Sneak Peek (seven minutes). We also get two BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES episodes: Two-Face, Part 1 and Two-Face, Part 2. Also provided is a Digital Comic sampler featuring a scant few pages from Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. There is also a Sneak Peek for SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES. Disc two offers a DVD copy of the program for those who are still on the fence about making the upgrade to Blu-ray. An authorization code is provided for an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the program, which is just a stream away.

BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 may not offer every word, internal monologue or complexity of Frank Miller's graphic novel collection, but it is a damn fine animated adaptation of the material. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great. Recommended.


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 [Blu-ray] (2012)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2012 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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