BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- THE LEGEND BEGINS
When BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES debuted on television, this was the point at which American animated programming had achieved a level of maturity that Japanese anime had enjoyed for ages. In fact, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES redefined animated television programming away from a "dumbed down" mindset of such shows as SUPERFRIENDS, which did a total disservice to the legendary comic book superheroes that it depicted. Thanks to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, American animated television programming was at last a force to be reckoned with. Not only was the show intelligently written, but it also respected the characters and the audience that it was intended for.
Obviously influenced by Tim Burtonís movies and moody comic book sources, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES not only signaled that The Dark Knight had indeed returned, but that he was also triumphant. Here was an animated program that faithfully depicted the character of Batman in his natural environment- the dark. The moody darkness of the retro-modern animation stylings maintains the Batman mystique, as does keeping the characterís dialogue to a bare minimum when he is facing off against various villains. However, when Batman does speak Kevin Conroyís voice has such an unsettling presence that makes it easy to understand why the scum of Gotham City fear The Caped Crusader. Of course, my ramblings about the television program brings us to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- THE LEGEND BEGINS ($20), which is Warner Home Videoís release of the first five episodes on DVD.
The premiere episode is On Leather Wings, which depicts Batmanís unexpected encounter with a deadly man-bat that was created through an ill-conceived genetics experiment. The second episode, Christmas With The Joker, is certainly more along the lines of familiar territory for longtime Batman fans with its story of The Clown Prince Of Crime starring in a mock Christmas Special, which threatens to turn the holiday into a horror, unless Batman can locate his nemesis before the program reaches its deadly conclusion. Episode three is Nothing to Fear, which features The Scarecrow, who is using fear gas to take his revenge on the institute of higher education that discredited his work in abnormal psychology. The Joker is back in episode four The Last Laugh, which finds him running amok in Gotham City on April Fools Day. Pretty Poison is episode five and finds femme fatale Poison Ivy taking her revenge on Gotham Cityís district attorney Harvey Dent, who caused the unintentional extinction of a local flower. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES features the vocal talents of Loren Lester, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Henry Polic, Richard Moll, Diane Pershing and Mark Hamill in a brilliant turn as The Joker.
Warner Home Video has made BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- THE LEGEND BEGINS available on DVD in the same full screen format of the original television broadcasts. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES began airing on television in 1992 and the animation, while decidedly stylish, displays the budgetary constraints of an animated television program that ran on a daily schedule. That said, the presentation on DVD is better looking than the typical rerun, offering a cleaner and slightly better defined image than broadcast. An occasional blemish will pop up, but the episodes donít display too man signs of age. Colors can be a bit subdued, but are generally rendered with a nice vivid contrast against the darker backgrounds. Blacks are accurately rendered and contrast is pretty decent; however, dark foreground and background objects cans sometimes become a bit indistinguishable. Digital compression artifacts are rarely noticeable.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack is listed as stereo, but does decode to surround in a fairly effective fashion. There isnít too much by way of directional sound effects, but the soundtrack is well recorded and has a terrific sense of presence. The forward soundstage is dominant, although the surround channels do provide a good deal of ambient sound and musical fill. Actually, music is used extensively throughout the episodes and is reproduced with a very good level of fidelity and a fairly nice bottom end. Additionally, dialogue is crisp, clear and fully understandable. 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 five episodes includes an optional introduction by producer/director Bruce Timm, who discusses what he and the creative team were trying to achieve with the show and the particular episodes. Also included on the DVD is Life On The Edge; an interactive game that utilizes clips from the episodes. Closing things out is Get The Picture: Batman, which quickly shows how the character of Batman is drawn.
As one of the innumerable fans of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, I am delighted that some of the episodes have become available on DVD. While I, and the majority of fans, would have preferred some sort of box set release, at least the episodes on this first DVD are in chronological order. Letís hope that Warner doesnít drop the ball and stops issuing BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on DVD, or begins issuing themed DVD releases instead of sticking to the series chronological order. I am sure that how well BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES- THE LEGEND BEGINS will determine if there are indeed future DVD releases from the television series. So, if you want more BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on DVD, I highly recommend picking up this fine first offering.
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