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the very dark knight
on 10 January 2009
an animated batman movie. It runs for seventy three minutes, and features six story segments, each of which run about twelve minutes approx. this is supposedly set in between the movies batman begins and the dark knight, and purports to channel 'batman's journey to becoming the dark knight.' But whilst it does rather loosely fit into that continuity the look of the characters and the setting doesn't bear more than a superficial resemblance to the movies, and the original actors from it don't provide voices for it either, so the connection isn't a strong one. and you don't need to see either film to get into this. or vice versa.
this is an even darker and more grown up take on the character than the dark knight. hence the 15 certificate. so it's another batman movie that's not really for the kids.
and there's not much connection between the six segments either, aside from part five leading on from the end of part four.
the animation is highly stylised, and like nothing we're ever seen in a batman cartoon before. the style changes between each segment, which can lead to some jarring visual continuity at times, but that's a minor complaint. it looks vaguely like a japanese anime movie a lot of the time, but really it's not much like one and has a style all of it's own. at points there are some beautiful use of colours and style leading to some fantastic sequences. so if you're into animation there are moments here that will strongly appeal.
and one great thing about the voice cast: it sees the welcome return to the role of batman of kevin conroy, who voiced the character through several cartoon series in the past fifteen years, and who always nailed the character perfectly, with spot on tones for both bruce wayne and batman.
looking at each segment individually:
have I got a story for you: four teenagers meet up, and three of them have a story to tell. of how they've just seen batman. like any urban legend, their interpretations of what he looks and acts like are different each time. this draws the idea from a few old stories in the comics that did similar, showing how the public view the caped crusader. and it plays a clever narrative trick as well, before a clever final scene that means the fourth teenager doesnt miss out on a bat encounter. a decent and enjoyable little tale.
crossfire: this sees detective crispus allen [a character taken from recent batman comics, but not seen in movies] and detective ramirez [seen in movies. she actually bears a lot of resemblance to a character called montoya who partnered allen in batman comics, but it's not montoya. anyone who has seen the dark knight will have worked out why they wouldnt them use montoya] working together to collect and transfer a prisoner. both have a different reaction to the fact that it's on the orders of lt gordon at the instigation of the batman, and this leads to conflict between them. should the police of the city accept the aid of a vigilante? and then they're caught up in a gang war, so they have no choice.
again some beautiful animation, an appearance from sal maroni looking nothing like he does in the dark knight, and some food for thought. a slightly abrupt ending, though.
in field test bruce wayne's desire to improve batman's body armour leads to him getting his hands on some powerful new technology. but there may be too high a price to pay.
the fact that bruce looks rather young in this one shouldn't put you off, as it's an engrossing tale with a good moral lesson at it's heart.
In darkness dwells sees batman venture into the sewers of gotham city on the trail of a kidnap victim. and encountering a new foe and an old foe. the style of the animation in this one does take a little getting used to, but there are some powerful images when batman inhales a dangerous gas. and one great bit of dialogue between him and lt gordon. it also does fill in a bit of continuity from between the two films. and has a good final moment that's well in character for batman.
working through pain, as mentioned, follows on from the above, with batman suffering from the effects of his time in the sewers, and flashing back to an experience during his time wandering the world training. he learnt a few lessons about dealing with pain as a result of the memories we see here. a rather slowly paced but thoughtful tale, which can take a while to sink in. it does have a great and powerful and very subtle final image.
the final segment, deadshot, sees an incredibly skilled assassin - an sbsolutely amazing sequence at the start shows how good he is - hired to kill jim gordon, and batman try to track the killer down. the conflict between a man who loves guns and a man who hates them is the heart of this one, and it leads to some spectacular action. the segment wraps itself and the whole thing up with a decent little coda.
so it's batman like we've never seen him before. and it's probably not to everyone's taste. but it's a bold experiment, and whilst it's not likely to convert any new fans to the character, if you like him then it's well worth a look.
the only extra on the dvd is a commentary from a dc comics executive, kevin conroy, and denny o'neill, who used to write and edit batman comics for dc for a long time. this commentary is a little slow to start and the dc executive does have to lead it and get the other two talking, but there are some thought provoking discussions in it. and kevin conroy tells a wonderful anecdote about how his association with the role helped bring people together after september 11th 2001, which just has to be heard. the whole commentary is something you'll probably get more out of if you're a fan of the comics, but it's not bad at all. and that anecdote is great.
the dvd comes with the following language tracks:
english. hungarian. castilian. german. italian. polish.
and the following subtitles:
english castilian danish dutch finnish hungarian italian norwegian polish swedish
as we've seen down the years, from the adam west series to the tim burton movies to the 1990's cartoons to batman begins and the dark knight, batman is a versatile character who can be reinterpreted in a lot of different ways. and this is another take on him. and it's definitely worth a look