Thursday, October 20, 2011

Batman: Year One Blu-Ray

In my sophomore year of high school I rediscovered Batman. I spent December of 1987 in bed with pneumonia and a copy of The Dark Knight Returns. When I got out I found the final issue of Year One in a comic store. Batman, ten years after Adam West reruns after kindergarten, became my favorite character again. It's a story I haven't gone a year without reading.

And now Bruce Timm has made a movie of it. Not simply using inspiration the way Nolan made Batman Begins but a full-on shot for shot, line for line adaptation. And it works exceptionally well. Where many adaptations have simply captured the moments of the book (Watchmen, the early Harry Potter films) Timm captures the spirit of the book.

In many ways, Year One is the peak of Frank Miller's work. It's a crime noir, a genre Miller would rarely leave. But where Daredevil showed broad sketches and archetypes and Sin City would devolve into outlandish characatures, Year One is balanced, down to earth yet exciting. The movie captures that balance eloquently.

Using the comic as storyboards, it's initially disconcerting in motion. David Mazzuchelli is a genius in finding the right moment for each panel, usually the result of action rather than action itself. Seeing this much violence felt wrong but looking back at the book, every single moment in the movie is a a direct adaptation. It's both faithful and heightens the excitement.

Part of what made Year One so revolutionary is that it spends as much time on Jim Gordon as batman. The film spends even more, removing most of Batman's interior monologue while keeping Gordon's intact. And performing him is the perfectly cast Bryan Cranston.

I'm a huge fan of Cranston and Breaking Bad because I am human. According to Comic Book Resources, Cranston initially passed on Year One, claiming he didn't want to do animation. It was only after recognizing the quality of the writing that he signed on. And he brings every bit of commitment and intensity from his series onto the movie. You can't believe this is the performance of of an actor not used to voice work. In every way, this is Cranston's show.

I've seen criticism online of Ben McKenzie's performance of Batman but I like it. This is not Batman at the peak of powers with a full utility belt, Batcave and teen sidekick. This is a young man trying to find out who he is without the confidence or gravitas Kevin Conroy brings to the part. It;s just right.

With each direct to video movie Bruce Timm releases (usually 3 a year) it's getting harder and harder to rank them. But no matter how many films the DC team will produce, Batman: Year One will always stand out.

And the Catwoman short is pretty awesome.

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