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As far as animated television fare goes, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is probably one of the best and most influential shows to ever hit the broadcast medium. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES signified the first time that an animated superhero series was produced for daytime television with the utmost respect to the characters and their mythology, not to mention maintaining the appropriate moody atmospherics that one would expect from the world of a character referred to as "The Dark Knight." Another thing that stands out about BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is the fact that it doesn’t try to dumb down its storytelling (the way many past superhero show did), with the show’s creators obviously respecting the intelligence of an audience drawn to an animated show based upon a comic book character with a truly iconic stature.

While BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES made its debut during a resurgence in the character’s popularity (thanks largely to Tim Burton’s atmospheric BATMAN movies), the television show really takes its direction from the shadowy realm of the comic book character created by Bob Kane in 1939. Of course, the television series stylized look certainly comes from the world of comics, as it mixes a retro art deco feeling in its architecture and cars, with a more modern technology deployed by Batman and some of the villains he faces. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES also brings many of the classic villains from The Caped Crusader’s mythology to the forefront of its storytelling, thus allowing long time fans to find favorites like The Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face and the heartbreakingly chilling Mr. Freeze. The vocal talents BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES includes Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred Pennyworth, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman, Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze, Richard Moll as Two-Face, Roddy McDowall as The Mad Hatter and Mark Hamill (who is utterly brilliant) as The Joker.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME ONE ($50) comes to DVD in a four-disc set that features the following twenty eight episodes, which were first in the show’s production order: On Leather Wings, Christmas With The Joker, Nothing To Fear, The Last Laugh, Pretty Poison, The Underdwellers, P.O.V., The Forgotten, Be A Clown, Two-Face, Two-Face, Part II, It's Never Too Late, I've Got Batman In My Basement, The Cat And The Claw, The Cat And The Claw, Part II, See No Evil, Heart Of Ice, Beware The Gray Ghost, Prophecy Of Doom, Feat Of Clay, Feat Of Clay, Part II, Joker's Favor, Vendetta, Fear Of Victory, The Clock King, Appointment In Crime Alley, Mad As A Hatter and Dreams In Darkness.

Warner Home Video has made BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME ONE available on DVD in a full screen format that is representative of the original television broadcasts. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES started its daily run on television in 1992 and while the animation is decidedly stylish, it displays some rather obvious budgetary constraints. Knowing that the show was a rather inexpensive affair, one cannot expect a visual quality comparable to a theatrical feature, or even that of a direct-to-video release. Still, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES manages to look quite good, with the presentations on DVD outclassing a typical rebroadcast of the show.

Apparent sharpness and detail are about all one can expect from 2D animation of this caliber, which is perfectly fine, but never outstanding. There are splashes of bright colors mixed into the show’s moody and somewhat somber pallet, which works quite well stylistically. Most hues appear stable, although an ever so slight fuzziness can creep over the hotter colors. Blacks are accurately rendered and contrast is acceptable; however, some murkiness can cause dark foreground and background objects to become a bit indistinguishable at times. The elements from which the episodes were transferred display occasional mild blemishes, but are otherwise perfectly fine. Digital compression artifacts are usually very nicely concealed, even with the number of episodes allocated to a disc.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES comes with its episodes in two-channel Dolby Digital stereo, which decodes to surround in a reasonably effective fashion. There is minimal directionality in regards to active sound effects, but for a television production intended for afternoon consumption, the tracks create a genuine sense of presence and a good deal of atmosphere. As expected, the forward soundstage tends to dominate, with the surround channels providing a bit of ambient sound and musical fill. Speaking of the music, each episode features an appropriately movie-esque score, which is reproduced with rather good musical fidelity. As for the spoken component, dialogue is crisp, clear and always completely understandable. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene/episode selection and set up features, as well as a few nice extra features. The Dark Knight's First Night Pilot Promo offers the original short animated film created by Bruce Timm and Eric Rodomski to help sell the series concept, as well as some interview material with both discussing how the series came into being. Batman: The Legacy Continues is an eighteen-minute retrospective featurette with members, who discuss the development of the show, its characters, the villains that made appearances and the voices behind it all. Additionally, there are commentaries on the episodes On Leather Wings, Christmas and Heart Of Ice, which are provided by series producers Bruce Timm, Eric Rodomski and Paul Dini. Tour of the Batcave is a feature broken into four sections that l Batman, the Bat Utility Belt, Bat Vehicles and Alfred Pennyworth. Bonus trailers for other Superhero themed DVD releases close out the extra features.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES is indeed one of the best superhero animated television shows to ever air on broadcast television. Not only is the show intelligent, well written and stylish, it has positively influenced every animated superhero series since. As for the four-disc DVD set, Warner has done a very good job, providing solid presentations and a few fine extras. If you are a fan of the show, you will definitely want to add BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES VOLUME ONE to a special niche in your own personal Batcave. Highly recommended.



Batman - The Animated Series, Vol. 1


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 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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