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Bland as a Bat(man)
Batman: Gotham Knight (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
Batman: Gotham Knight (DVD)
Date: 24/04/12, updated on 24/04/12 (33 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent animation and music
Disadvantages: Dull, soulless stories; variable voice acting
It's an interesting idea and certainly the concept holds a lot of promise... promise which it ultimately fails to live up to. Each of the 6 stories are somewhat soulless and dry and all are completely separate, with no common theme running through them. On the one hand, this is a good idea, since you can choose how to watch them: all in one sitting or as small vignettes, watching one every so often? It's up to you. Similarly, you can watch them in any order you fancy, since none depends on events in the other.
Yet, this is lack of connectivity is also a major disadvantage. The Batman character (especially the recent Batman of the comics and Christopher Nolan's big screen interpretation) doesn't really lend itself to the short story format. The character is so complex with so many psychological elements that trying to summarise him in 15 minutes is a thankless and nigh-on impossible task. None of these episodes have the opportunity to tackle big issues and none really successfully get into the fractured, conflicted mind of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Batman works best as part of a longer tale and this collection is crying out for an overarching theme which links each of the individual episodes. Without that, the individual sections feel rather simplistic and empty.
It's not helped by the almost total lack of fan-favourite bad guys. Presumably this is due to copyright reasons and a desire to keep their powder dry for the films. OK, so one of the episodes features Killer Croc and (briefly) Scarecrow, but their appearances aren't terribly satisfactory. Other than the on-going appearance of mob boss Carmine Falcone and his thugs, there is no recognisable bad guy and that means that the episodes are all rather dull. Featuring artificially created bad guys, the lack of time to build them up and establish any sort of back story means that you just don't engage. I sat there throughout the whole DVD really not caring what happened to anyone.
The quality of the episodes is highly variable. Although none are great, the pick of the bunch is probably the first "Have I got a Story to Tell You", which sees a bunch of kids (who have all seen the Batman) comparing notes and coming up with wildly different versions of what he looks like and how he behaves. Although this idea has been done before, at least this segment attempts to do something a little different and there is a lot of fun to be had from seeing the different interpretations of the Batman realised.
Similarly, the final story, Deadshot benefits from an identifiable bad guy (the titular sniper) and a battle of wills and strength between the Dark Knight and his foe. Whilst it's nothing special, it does manage to pack quite a bit of action into its short 15 minute running time.
The trouble is these are the two best episodes, and they are only mediocre at best. The rest are pretty poor. Crossfire is probably the worst; a dull, routine story which sees two cops getting caught in the middle of a gun battle between rival gangs. This episode is turgid, pedestrian and barely worth watching. Its sole redeeming feature is that it is short.
Working Through Pain is a promising concept but suffers from the restrictions of a short film. Told in flashback, it examines how Batman learned to deal with pain (both physical and mental) in order to push his body to the limits. The episode contains some interesting ideas that would benefit from further, deeper consideration; but of course it is unable to develop them within the restrictive running time.
The other two tales- In Darkness Dwells and Field Test are just about passable, but really contain nothing memorable. You will have forgotten about them almost as soon as you have finished watching them.
On the plus side, the animation is generally of very good quality. I'm not really a big fan of the anime style that's been adopted for this collection and was initially uncertain whether it worked or not. Once I got used to it, however, it actually proved rather effective at capturing the sense of menace and threat that pervades Gotham. Character animation was fluid and the style was very easy on the eye, whilst at the same time capturing the Gothic darkness and grim sterility of Christopher Nolan's films. Indeed, whilst the style of the artwork was in many ways very different from Nolan's vision of Gotham and the traditional portrayal of Batman in the DC comics, it complemented them well.
The sound track is also impressive with full orchestral scores accompanying each of the episodes and capturing the epic scale of the battle between good and evil raging in Gotham. Like the visuals, the soundtrack complements the music heard in the the film, without slavishly copying it.
Sadly, the voice acting is more variable and of much lower quality overall. Obviously, the makers of this DVD couldn't afford the voice talents of the original actors, so have hired a range of voice actors. Some attempt to (badly) imitate their film counter-parts which is annoying and sounds awful. This is particularly noticeable in Field Test where one actor does an awful impression of Morgan Freeman (they should have got that guy from the More Than adverts!). In others, actors bring their own interpretation of the characters' voices. None of these worked for me and didn't catch the essence of the characters they were voicing. I realise that this is a personal thing, but I'm afraid the cast get null point from me.
It's also not helped by the fact that different actors are used for the same character across different episodes. Again, this simply reinforces how each episode has been made in isolation with no reference to each other. I found this deeply annoying since even amongst the main characters, the voice characterisation varied massively, with almost all failing to capture that essential menacing Batman growl.
Sadly, there's little to recommend this collection. A dull collection of tales with bad voice acting and few new ideas. Yes, it looks good and the score is impressive, but otherwise, it's a bit of a dead loss and simply proves that the short film format is not really suitable for a character as deep and complex as Batman. Let's hope the forthcoming Dark Knight Rises finishes the trilogy off with more style!
Batman: Gotham Knight
Running time: approx. 75 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Batman deserves better