BATMAN: THE ANIMATED
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- TALES OF THE DARK KNIGHT ($20) marks Warner’s second release of episodes from this classic television show, and while I am certainly happy that more episodes are coming to DVD, I personally would prefer a box set containing the entire series. With my DVD release preference out of the way, let me express the opinion that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was the turning point in American animated television. This was an animated show that was intelligent, mature and respectful of the characters, as well as the whole superhero mythology that inspired it. Another outstanding characteristic of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was the dark, noir-ish retro styling of the animation that placed the Batman character in a something of a timeless era that combined vintage designs with modern technology.
The four episodes included on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- TALES OF THE DARK KNIGHT are The Underdwellers, POV, The Forgotten and Be A Clown. These four episodes continue the show's chronological DVD release, which began with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- THE LEGEND BEGINS. While I am certainly a fan of the series, these four offerings are amongst the earliest episodes produced and are not always indicative of the heights the show would achieve later in its run. As producer/director points out in his introductions the show was still searching for its voice and a turning point
One will find shades of Charles Dickens looming over Gotham City in The Underdwellers, a tale in which the Caped Crusader finds more than rats living beneath the streets of the city. POV is one of the more interesting episodes, in which several of the supporting characters are highlighted- each of which describes different aspects of a particular encounter with The Dark Knight. The Forgotten finds Batman shifted to the background, while millionaire Bruce Wayne demonstrates the heroics- going undercover to find out what has happened to the homeless individuals that have disappeared from the streets of Gotham City. Be A Clown features an appearance from The Joker, who decides to teach Gotham City’s Mayor the deadly differences between himself and Batman.
Warner Home Video has made BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- TALES OF THE DARK KNIGHT available on DVD in the same full screen format of the original television broadcasts. I should point out that while BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was indeed stylish, there is a decidedly low budget look to the animation, which was most evident in the earliest episodes. For the most part, the image on the DVD is reasonably clean and free from serious defects, although there are some blemishes here and there. The presentation looks better than that of a typical syndicated rerun, but the picture isn’t as crisp as a newly produced animated program. Colors tend to be a bit subdued; however, this appears to be a stylistic choice and not a problem with the transfer. Blacks appear accurate and contrast is pretty good. Digital compression artifacts do not make their presence known in any significant way.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel stereo soundtrack decodes fairly well to standard surround. Directionality is somewhat limited, although there are a few moments when there are some noticeable pans in the forward soundstage. The surround channels are limited to a bit of ambient and musical fill, which is what one normally gets from the majority of television productions. Fidelity is good, but not outstanding; however, the show’s moody music is pretty terrific and is well worth amplifying. The low end of the track is fairly respectable, but never enters ground-shaking territory. Dialogue is crisp and always fully intelligible. French and Spanish stereo tracks and a Portuguese monaural track are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard episode selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Each of the four episodes includes an optional introduction by producer/director Bruce Timm, who discusses various aspects of the particular episode. Voices Of Gotham City is a five-minute program that looks at the voices behind the characters, featuring vocal director Andrea Romano and the voice of The Dark Knight himself Kevin Conroy. Closing out the extras is a rather limited interactive game called Line Up, which will hold a kids attention for all of ten seconds.
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was an outstanding show that will appeal to fans of the Caped Crusader and animation fans in general. While I’d prefer the entire series in some sort of boxed set collection, the individual release of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- TALES OF THE DARK KNIGHT is a worthwhile acquisition. Perhaps strong sales will convince Warner to issue a full collection of episodes.
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