DVD Review: Batman Year OneA movie review article by: Zack Davisson, Karyn Pinter, Jason Sacks
A wealthy playboy and a Chicago cop both return to Gotham City where their lives will intersect in unexpected ways.
Karyn Pinter: Guess it's the Jason and Karyn show again. Ha! I knew we'd be back for Batman: Year One
Zack Davisson: And me! I am late, but I am here!
Jason Sacks: Ha ha! Coming soon: Justice League Doom! I really liked Batman: Year One, but I'm not sure how much of it was because I love the original comics and how much was this DVD.
Davisson It is hard to separate the two. That was Frank Miller’s big follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns.
Pinter: I liked it, didn't love it. The extras where probably just as good or better than the movie itself. Don't know if that's good or really bad.
Sacks: Wasn't the Catwoman DC Showcase really interesting in light of the controversy about women in the DCU? Here we had strippers, sex, violence... just like the stuff that people are so up in arms about in the comics.
Pinter: Oh that tickled me.
Davisson: The irony was strong. I squirmed a bit on the long close-up of the stripper’s gyrating ass.
Sacks: The depiction of Selina totally matched the points Karen made in your essay about the controversy. I laughed.
Pinter: I don't know if I have any fight left in me, but my final point will always be Catwoman = Sex. Borderline softcore porn. Of course I loved it
Davisson: Agreed. Frankly, Catwoman without the sex would be a neutered character. It is part of what makes her interesting.
Sacks: Yeah, it was really the most hard edged of any of the DCU cartoons.
Sacks: The only one that came close was the Specter cartoon, and that was much more horror and violence.
Davisson: Haven’t seen that. But overall I dug the Catwoman short. They did a good job capturing the essence of Catwoman without toning it down.
Pinter: It shows Catwoman/Selina as her sexy self, but she kicked so much ass, and got her ass kicked. It was pretty hardcore.
Sacks: Yeah she's a tough woman who will fight like crazy to get whatever she wants. I loved her edge. She's very much like a B-movie heroine. Like a white Pam Grier.
Pinter: Hell yeah, just like Foxy Brown. Except not black.
Pinter: Unless we're talking Ertha Kitt
Sacks: Mmmm that's about the sexiest Catwoman to me.
Davisson: Or Halle Berry... Actually, in live-action there have been more black Catwomen than white!
Sacks: What was your opinion of Eliza Dushku doing Selina's voice?
Davisson: She was just kind of a non-entity for me. If I hadn’t read the DVD cover I wouldn’t have known it was her. I do like Eliza though, but mainly from Buffy.
Pinter: Eehhhhhh. Tolerable. I am not in any way. A fan of Eliza, and I groaned when I found out she was doing the voice.
Sacks: Yeah she seemed a bit too young to me. Just not enough character and streetwise hard gained wisdom.
Sacks: I had trouble with her in the main cartoon too. She was meant to be very streetwise but she was missing a level of depth that I thought she needed.
Davisson: Huh. Good points. I will have to watch it again with that in mind. Like I said, she was just sort of there for me. No real impression made one way or the other.
Pinter: If we're going to have a hard core Catwoman, I want a gritty voice. I would have flipped roles and given Katee the Catwoman
Sacks: I was thinking about that, having my almost-namesake as Selina and Eliza as Sarah Essen.
Pinter: because Katee as Essen was a bit of a waste
Sacks: There just wasn't enough of her in the movie to really use her talents.
Pinter: Not at all. She was like 6 lines and then the character was gone
Sacks: And I love her. She deserved more than just a few scenes as "the other woman" and not enough as "the tough cop."
Davisson: True. In the comics she is more like the female Jim Gordon, all cigarettes and whiskey and the kind of person who would fight by his side. A polar opposite of his wife Barbara.
Pinter: Yes! The character was played down completely. In the comic Essen was brought in because she got shit done. In the movie she did nothing but have an affair with Gordon. If anyone wants to complain about how women are portrayed in comics I'd use this as a negative example.
Davisson: By "comics" you mean DVD I assume, because in the comic she was pretty strong, but in the DVD she is different.
Pinter: She was a home wrecking cop.
Pinter: Someone who was a good character cut down
Sacks: Really good point. Aside from the scene where they're briefing the cops about Batman, Essen wasn't given any depth. She was just a plot device - really the only character in the movie who doesn't have the chance to have some level of complexity. Other than Barbara, who has, what, one line?
Davisson: That’s true, but realistically they had to cut some of the story. That’s a necessary evil of adaptation. And Essen’s role is the most logical to cut. She had the least impact on the main storyline, and really was only there in the beginning to lead Gordon astray. Even if we do like her as a character.
Pinter: I'm more offended by Essen's character sucking then Catwoman's strip tease.
Sacks: Hmmm now I'm talking into seeing more misogyny... Essen and Barbara are shallow characters, and the only two other women in the movie are prostitutes.
Davisson: Blame that on Frank Miller, not the DVD. He wrote the original story with those characters, and no one complained.
Sacks: Aside from the woman Bruce hires to play his girlfriend, I guess.
Davisson: She got a line! Did she have a line in the comic? I can’t remember.
Pinter: hahaha, the hookers are better characters then the average, honest working ladies. Bad Girls have all the fun.
Sacks: Ha! Catwoman definitely has fun! She is who she is and makes no apologies.
Sacks: I liked her costume in the short more than in the main movie, though.
Pinter: yeah, I've never been a fan of the Year One costume
Davisson: I dig all of her costumes. She is a fashionable kitty. Anyways, I think you need to be careful about throwing around the word misogyny. I just didn’t see that here.
Sacks: But I dunno, misogyny isn't the right word. I mean, this team has done great women. The Wonder Woman DVD was terrific.
Sacks: This one just was a bit strange in the way it presented women.
Davisson: It presented woman as Frank Miller did. This is an adaptation, remember. Unless you are talking about the Catwoman short. But either way, Miller is going to handle the characters differently than they did in Wonder Woman.
Pinter: Wonder Woman is still my favorite DC animated film so far.
Pinter: It had a lot to do with the voice cast
Sacks: The female Green Lanterns in Emerald Knights were good characters, too.
Sacks: You're right, the voice cast made a difference with this one.
Davisson: Yeah, voice cast makes a huge difference. I could handle Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor but couldn’t stand him as Hal Jordan. It is too bad Wonder Woman tanked sales-wise. That pretty much killed DCU doing any other female hero solo adventures.
Pinter: Looking back at the Year One comic though, Barbara Gordon Sr. didn't have a huge roll. They increased her role for the film but based it off nothing. Essen was reduced and Catwoman was about the same - made her fight with Bruce in the East End a little grander though.
Pinter: Okay, how about Bryan Cranston. The guy is the fucking man.
Davisson: Definitely my favorite.
Pinter: I'm renaming this movie: Gordon: Year One.
Sacks: He was so terrific in the role as Walter - umm, Gordon.
Sacks: He brought such gravitas and intensity to the role.
Davisson: He was the only one who had that gritty film noir feel.
Pinter: He knocked it out of the park. He just owned it.
Sacks: Yeah, his brooding intensity and depth of character really made the character come alive in interesting ways.
Sacks: From his first scene, he owns the movie. You're totally right.
Pinter: I'm so glad he was that good because otherwise the voice casting would have just let me down
Davisson: For example Batman.
Sacks: I'm sure a lot of people will be screaming about Ben McKenzie.
Pinter: Ben McKenzie was just okay. He was better as Bruce than Batman.
Davisson: He was waaaayyy too wimpy. I didn’t buy him as Bruce Wayne, and I certainly didn’t buy him as Batman.
Pinter: His ripoff Bale Batman voice was just... a ripoff.
Sacks: But compared with Kevin Conroy... no comparison.
Pinter: No one can come close.
Davisson: It is pointless to have another actor as Batman. I read an interview with Bruce Timm where he was saying he wished he could have Conroy for every Batman video. Why can’t they? Is he too expensive? I hope they didn’t blow their Conroy-cash on Eliza Dushku just to get a "name" on the cover.
Pinter: I have a great stroy about Kevin Conroy when I spoke to him at Comic Con.
Pinter: about his Batman voice.
Sacks: You have to share!
Pinter: So at Comic Con I sat down at a table to talk with Kevin about Batman: Arkham City, and I asked him what it was like being the voice of Batman for so many people, we’re going on like two generations now. My kids will probably know him as Batman. But anyways, he said it’s kinda wild because people in the most bizarre situations will recognize him as the voice of Batman. So the most bizarre of these moments was this: Kevin was in Hollywood, dropping of his mail to a post box at, like, 5 am and he’s approached by a homeless guy who’s hitting him up for spare change. Kevin apologizes to the homeless guy you know, "Hey, sorry, I don’t have anything on me." And the homeless guy get this wide eyed look and says "Oh my god, you’re Batman." And Kevin asks him how does he know that, and homeless guy says "everyone knows Batman. There’s a Circuit City down the street and they have all the monitors on to your show and I watch your show every day."
So Kevin tells the guy to just hold on one minute he’s going to go get him some money, and the homeless guys stops him saying he can’t take his money. He couldn’t take Batman’s money. To which Kevin replies "You’re going to take Batman’s money or else you’re going to tell everyone Batman’s cheap."
So that’s my Kevin Conroy’s Batman’s voice story. Even homeless guys wandering around Hollywood at 5am know that Kevin Conroy IS Batman.
Davisson: That’s fantastic!
Sacks: The only actor who came close to doing a decent Batman in my eyes was James Woods as Owlman in Crisis on Two Earths
Pinter: I don't think I saw that one.
Davisson: Me neither.
Sacks: Pretty good one.
Sacks: BUT, as we saw, in next year's Justice League Doom, we get Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, Nathan Fillion, Carl Lumbly, Phil Morris, Olivia d'Abo, Alexis Denisof, and David Kaufman reprising their roles of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan / Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Vandal Savage, Star Sapphire, Mirror Master, and Jimmy Olsen from Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights respectively.
Sacks: (thank you Wikipedia)
Pinter: My least favorite: Jeremy Sisto
Pinter: In the New Frontier
Sacks: Yeah, he was just kind of weak.
Pinter: I don't want my Batman sounding like he's going to hail a cab to the Yankees game.
Davisson: Really? I don’t remember that.
Pinter: It was a bad New Yorker snarl
Sacks: But Batman ironically is a minor character in Batman: Year One. It's much more Gordon's movie, and Batman barely talks.
Davisson: They actually cut a lot of Bruce Wayne/Batman scenes from the original comic. Like the skiing scene, and Bruce’s inner dialog.
Sacks: The best scenes in the movie were direct quotes from the comic, like the fight on the fire escape that he almost fucks up.
Davisson: That was good. I was glad they kept that scene.
Pinter: Was it like that in the comic? It's been awhile since I've read it.
Sacks: It's a little more /, but it is more Gordon.
Pinter: I agree, the direct translations from book to film were the better parts. Maybe because it better written? I mean it's hard to go up against Frank Miller
Sacks: The main difference between the comic and the DVD is that Miller was doing his thing where characters narrate their stories, so we get parallel narratives that kind of deepen the story. We get a much better sense of the problems in Gordon's marriage and the toll that Gotham is taking on him.
Sacks: At the same time we also get a bit of a look inside Bruce's head, just not as much as we get in Jim Gordon's.
Pinter: Ah. Well then we really miss out on the Bruce's side of things in the film.
Davisson: That is interesting, because as much as everyone was talking about the cuts to Essen’s character, they actually trimmed down Batman as well. Without all of his inner dialog, he is just more of a presence to react too than a developing character. It seems like a purposeful move to focus the story on Gordon.
Sacks: They show some minor excerpts from it in the bonus scenes, of course.
Sacks: Bonus feature
Pinter: We get more of Gordon's take on Gotham, over Bruce/Batman
Sacks: Yeah and that made the story in this DVD seem more fresh to me.
Sacks: We've seem so many Batman stories over the years, but to dwell on Gordon is exciting.
Pinter: Just made Gordon better. In honesty, Batman could have had a more reduced role and not much would have changed in the film.
Davisson: And his role was already pretty reduced.
Pinter: Other than having to rename the film or course.
Sacks: Yeah, we didn't need to see the origin yet again.
Sacks: How many cartoons have shown the murder?
Pinter: So what extras came on the DVD? I've got the Blu Ray, and it's got 2 cartoons from Batman the Animated Series on it.
Sacks: Yeah, 2 cartoons from TAD, and a doc about the history of Batman with an emphasis on Miller's work.
Sacks: And seriously, looking at Mazzucchelli's art during the bonus feature, I wish they'd been more literal in the adaptation of the original work. There's also a preview of Justice League Doom.
Pinter: So it's got everything the Blu-Ray does.
Sacks: It's a decent package, I think.
Davisson: I got the DVD/BlueRay combo, and all the special features were on the BluRay which I don’t have so... no bonus features for me.
Sacks: Definitely not for kids though. I wonder how many moms and dads will buy the DVD at Wal-Mart or Target and be shocked at what their kid is watching.
Pinter: haha, oh, I hope they do.
Pinter: But, yeah, any parents that happen to be reading this, the movies a little dark.
Davisson: Let the buyer beware.
Sacks: It satisfied me as an adult though.
Sacks: Gotham is a dark and corrupt place and Jim Gordon's a humble man trying to just do his best.
Davisson: Gotham city has personality.
Pinter: Frank Miller's Gotham is still one of my favorites. Ed Brubaker and Frank Miller. Gotham needs that dark, filthy, sexy thing. Gotham is like a giant strip joint.
Sacks: It's dirty and sexy and weird and a little frightening. The dark underbelly of the DCU.
Pinter: It's like a city full of S&M, masks and all.
Sacks: And they captured that well in this DVD, I think.
Pinter: and then you have this one good man, Gordon, trying to un-kink the whole city.
Davisson: Dan Savage would not approve.
Pinter: Batman really is part of the problem.
Pinter: and I think the movie gets that right. Batman is no better than Flass. A guy who plays his own game, who ignores the law, and it just rubs Gordon the wrong way.
Sacks: Hmm that's an interesting insight.
Sacks: You're right, in a city of rogues he's just the best rogue there is.
Pinter: The one thing that saves Batman is that he's not killing people.
Davisson: Or robbing people. Or prostituting people. Or doing anything to people other than helping them. There is a pretty large distinction there.
Pinter: Year One is a really good look into the psyche of Batman, but that's the comic, not the movie.
Sacks: Just as the Joker says in Killing Joke: they're two sides of the same coin. Bruce could easily have gone the opposite direction.
Pinter: If there are two books that really let you in to the world of Batman and Jim Gordon they'll be Year One and the Killing Joke.
Pinter: Where these characters are stripped bare and exposed to the dirty world of Gotham.
Davisson: True. But I still don’t buy the "Batman is just as bad as Flass"-thing. There is a HUGE difference between breaking laws to help people and breaking laws to hurt people. I would say society faces a big problem when they fail to see that distinction, and hold up a law as more important than morality.
Sacks: I have to give BYO despite my minor complaint about Sarah Essen. My only REAL complaint is that they didn't copy as much of Mazzucchelli's art as I wished they had.
Davisson: I was disappointed with that as well. I thought they did a better job preserving Quitely’s style for All Star Superman.
Pinter: I liked the animation for the film. Mazzucchelli's art was extremely fitting to the dark tone of Miller's original work, but I don't know who that would have translated to a motion picture.
Sacks: The costume design with the black and gray was gorgeous.
Pinter: Okay, look at this http://www.bigtimeattic.com/blog/uploaded_images/mazzucchelli.jpg
Pinter: then think about an hour and a half of that art style moving around.
Sacks: Yeah I see your point
Sacks: It wouldnt work.
Sacks: It's perfect for the comic page but it's a bit abstract for a movie.
Pinter: It's great in panel form, but in motion it might just look messy.
Sacks: Yeah yeah
Pinter: It's too's. The whole film would look like a Popeye cartoon and the general market for this film wouldn't understand.
Davisson: Popeye cartoon? I don’t get that. I am a big Popeye fan, and have all the Fleischer Popeyes. They are pretty clean.
Sacks: It's a different style than BTAS, that's different.
Pinter: Mazzucchelli has a cartoon strip quality, much like classic Dick Tracy, but it lacks the strict detail most animation has.
Sacks: Hmm yeah I can see that. And the style they used did work for the story and was much more attractive than, say, the style in Superman Batman Apocalypse.
Pinter: Go look back at the Fleischer Superman cartoons.
Davisson: My all-time favorite superhero cartoons.
Pinter: a clean line cartoon, very similar to what we have today.
Sacks: And very similar to BTAS
Pinter: I just think that having those clean, clear lines is important to the motion process.
Davisson: True. Muddy animation is not fun to watch.
Sacks: Any final thoughts on this DVD?
Pinter: It's worthy enough, not without it's flaws however. The special features might out shine the moive a tad, but Bryan Cranston's voice work for Gordon pretty much should sell anyone.
Sacks: Sounds like you'd rate it a little lower than I did.
Pinter: I'd give it a I think. a 4 with all the special features, including Catwoman.
Davisson: I would go with 4 bullets. I didn’t mind Essen’s reduced role, but I was disappointed with Ben McKenzie, who is just not Batman. Other than that, I really enjoyed it.
Sacks: Oh then we do pretty much agree! A very satisfying adult adventure.
Pinter: Whole package was a .
Pinter: Yeah, little, little kids won't get half the stuff going on.
Sacks: probably for the best.
Sacks: "Mommy, why does it say NUDE GURLS"?
Pinter: It was more violent than I was expecting. Like when Gordon get his beat down then returns it to Flass.
Sacks: LOVED THAT
Davisson: You guys sound like old people. I was 15 when I read Batman: Year One, 10 when I watched Blade Runner, and 7 when I saw Apocalypse Now, and I loved them all. Kids can process a lot more than adults seem to think they can.
Davisson: But yeah, that was a good scene. And I am glad they kept the dialog from the comic. "It's been a while since I had to take out a Green Beret..."