It's an intriguing concept - take six very loosely connected 12-minute-long Batman stories, each written by a different scribe, and then set six different Japanese animation directors on the material. Cannily release it close to the opening date of the muchly-hyped Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movie. Wait. Where have we heard this before?
Oh, yeah. The Animatrix. No flies on Warner. Some of the same directors in evidence, too. That this version of Batman echoes the one presented in the Nolan movies only strengthens the comparison, but we are here to concentrate solely on Gotham Knight.
The presentation opens with the weakest of the lot, Have I Got a Story for You, in which three skateboard urchins describe, Rashomon-like, their encounters with Batman, each ascribing a different, monstrous aspect to the Caped Crusader. Crossfire concentrates on two detectives in Lt. Jim Gordon's newly-formed Major Crimes Unit. In Field Test, Lucius Fox gives an unrealistically young, almost yaoi Bruce Wayne a new gizmo to try out: a magnetic field that renders the crimefighter bulletproof, but at a price. In Darkness Dwells pits Batman against Killer Croc and the Scarecrow. Working Through Pain flashes back to the young Wayne's wandering years, as he seeks out the training necessary to become the Dark Knight, Finally, Deadshot, the ultimate sniper, accepts a contract to kill you-know-who.
Of the six, only Darkness Dwells and Deadshot - the two featuring members of Batman's extensive Rogue's Gallery - offer the animators ample opportunity to strut their stuff. The other stories have interesting bits and some exciting graphics, but the project as a whole - well, it never becomes a whole. Some connections are there, but others are tenuous as hell. And some - no matter what the participants in the audio commentary may claim - are simply not there.
Gotham Knight walks a treacherous tightrope, to be sure; for the experimant to work, the six segments are necessary, no matter how we might wish some were lengthened at the expense of others. But the disc box describes it as an "animated original movie", and it's not... it's a collection of short films, with the connecting material feeling more like an afterthought than anything. Worthwhile, but ultimately unsatisfying.
This two disc set has a nice lenticular effect on the box, and a sticker: "First-ever PG-13 Batman Animated Movie!" - a rather dubious marketing point. Disc One starts with one of the most disgusting anti-piracy shorts I've ever been subjected to, employing clips from the classic Wizard of Oz. The fact that only people who have paid cash to own or rent the disc only makes it worse.
Past that, the video and audio are up to Warner's usual high standards.
Disc One - identical to the single disc version of Gotham Knight - contains a commentary track by DC Comics Senior Vice President for Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Comics great Denny O'Neil, and Batman voice Keven Conroy (it might be noted that unlike the last two DC animated movies, Gotham Knight sticks with the voice talent employed by the TV series). The commentary is, alas, as scattershot as as the movie itself, though Conroy does have a nicely poignant post-9/11 story.
There is a puff piece on 2009's Wonder Woman animated movie, and trailers for the Dark Knight movie, the Brendan Frasier Journey to the Center of the Earth, the LEGO Batman video game (and as Mike Sterling points out, sexy Lego Catwoman is... disquieting), and the second volume of the excellent Popeye: 1938-1940 box sets.
Disc Two has the meatier extras: Batman and Me, A Devotion to Destiny: The Bob Kane Story, a possibly too-complete bio of Batman creator Bob Kane; and A Mirror for the Bat: the Evil Denizens of Gotham City, in which various comics worthies hold forth on the history and wherefores of Batman villains.
Producer Bruce Timm does not actually appear in Bruce Timm presents Bonus Episodes from Batman the Animated Series, but there are four of the best tales for those who did not invest in the box sets; Legends of the Dark Knight, a delightful episode (far better than "Have I Got a Story for You") in which the different versions of Batman are drawn from the early 60's Dick Sprang and late 80s Frank Miller comics; Heart of Ice, which presents the tragic, revenge-driven backstory for villain Mr. Freeze; Over the Edge, in which a vengeful Commissioner Gordon and the entire Gotham PD track down Batman, Robin and Nightwing (spoiler: it's all Batgirl's nightmare, brought on by Scarecrow's fear gas); and I Am the Night, which cranks ups Batman's angst to epic levels when Gordon is seriously injured while the Dark Knight is performing his yearly vigil at the site of his parents' murder.
Dr. Freex, 7/25/2008