Monday, January 03, 2011

[DVD] Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Who Is It?

I would have preferred my animated Batman possessing the voice of Kevin Conroy, since that's the voice I've grown accustomed to with the excellent long running Batman The Animated Series, but I suppose a change was warranted here since Warner Premiere, the label created to produce more adult fare animated films, had set this presumably many years after Batman's solo animated adventures, and with Dick Grayson as the first Robin, to be superseded by Jason Todd.

This film has a story that worked on many levels with familiar references back to the comic book, introducing, or reintroducing the character of The Red Hood, which was who the Joker was before he became the Clown Prince of Crime. Here we begin the adventures with an eerie look at the Death in the Family storyline, albeit just the final critical moments where the Joker (voiced by John Di Maggio, would have loved Mark Hamill though) has a go at the Jason Todd Robin (Vincent Martella) using nothing other than chilling taunts and a crowbar, repeated bashing him in, sans buckets of blood (well, you'd still have to cater to the younger crowd who will pick this DVD up). The Bat is late, the Joker leaves, and not before blowing up the warehouse Robin is in.

I remember the time when the comics for this series came out there was this infamous 1900 number for fans (or non fans for that matter) of Robin to call to determine whether he lives or dies. The rest is history of course, and Jason Todd perished, though in the comic book realm, one never really stays dead for too long. With the Hush series of books, his rumoured return became all too real, although in this story it didn't go to that length, involving none other than Ra's al Ghul (Jason Isaacs) and his key possession to do the dirty work, building a sound rationale why he had to do what he did, which I bought into.

The current storyarc for the film rests in the emergence of the brutally ruthless Red Hood (Jensen Ackles) who rounds up Gotham's drug lords with a promise to provide them protection from the Bat, and soundly delivers on that vow, only to frustrate Batman (Bruce Greenwood) who together with Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris), the first Robin who has outgrown the role and adopted a new identity, find the fighting skills of the Red Hood vaguely familiar, as he almost always seem to be able to second guess and stay a step ahead of the dynamic duo, and has with him an equally formidable arsenal of tools of the trade to thwart whatever Batman has to dish out. No prizes for guessing where this story would be headed to of course, with the scene that played out from the start, in a tale essentially about revenge.

What was really top notch here, was how the essence of Batman's partnership with his proteges got played out perfectly. There's ample comparisons between Bruce and Dick, and Bruce and Jason, with adequate flashbacks especially for the latter, recreating a concise, succinct history that will please fans, and to enlighten newcomers to the expanded mythos of today. We see how the respective Robins have shaped the Batman's approach to fighting crime, and his rationale for recruiting young boys in this role (nothing sexual here of course), including his biggest regret and mistake in thinking that Jason could be just another Dick Grayson, who turned out well.

Besides the engaging dramatic piece, character study and comparisons, this film possessed some of the best fight sequences assembled so far in a Batman animated flick, and I suppose this boiled down to essentially having proteges having a go at the Batman, and having them battle side by side as well in various forms, either as the Robins over the years, or in their current incarnation. The action's swift and flowing, highlighting the stealth and myriad of gadgets the Bat has at his disposal to dispatch enemies, from cyborgs to The Red Hood, the Joker and a host of villains from the rogues gallery include Ra's as mentioned, a Talia cameo, a short scene involving The Riddler, and The Black Mask (Wade Williams) being the chief villain who wants scores settled with The Red Hood for encroaching onto his turf.

Technically brilliant and has one of the best works of art - check out the closing credits design - this film marks the long journey that the animated Batman mythos had taken thus far. The series has grown from strength to strength, and a Batman animated film had rarely disappointed. This one is no exception, with excellent writing and craft in assembling a story tapping from the rich comic book content, to weave an absolute narrative stunner. That final scene alone will put a poignant lump in your throat, serving as potential and promise of a character that went tragically unfulfilled, and always being that blow of a reminder to Batman that he's not infallible.

The Region 1 DVD by Warner Premiere autoplays with trailers for the video game Batman The Brave and the Bold and website (1:34), and one for the latest season of Smallville (0:29). The film proper is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, with audio available in English Dolby Surround 5.1 and in Portuguese, with Subtitles in English (closed captioned), French, Spanish and Portuguese. Weblinks to and are also included, and I suppose given the compact runtime, scene selection is not made available.

The bulk of the Special Features here are a quick introduction to the many DC animated films that have been aggressively rolled out of late. Through the clips and trailers here we get to learn more about the DC comics world that are being prepped for the direct to video animation market (in all likelihood a response to Marvel's equally competitive strategy and products). For each of the features with A First Look at Superman/Batman Apocalypse (12:12), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Trailer (11:10), Batman: Gotham Knight Trailer (10:09) and Superman: Doomsday Trailer (2:19), there are the standard talking head interviews with the filmmakers such as Jeph Loeb and Bruce Timm as they discuss how these projects were conceived, together with various luminaries from both the animated films and the DC comic book industry who have dabbled with the respective characters, and offer the viewer a quick glimpse into actual comic book panels, storyboards, clips both finished and unfinished. Cast members get interviewed as well to talk about the characters they portray, though given the short duration of each, insights are rare to come by.

Other trailers included are more of a marketing tool used to promote other related films, such as one highlighting the sale of the BluRay and DVD remastered deluxe edition of the Lord of the Rings, Animated Trailer (1:19), the Jonah Hex Motion Comic Trailer (1:12) which is similar in treatment as the Watchmen motion comic, and Zack Snyder's Legends of the Guardians trailer (2:19), the filmmaker being Warner's blue-eyed boy to reboot the Superman film franchise for the big screen, due Christmas 2012.

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