Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

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Released 19-Oct-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Producers - "On Leather Wings"
Featurette-The Dark Knight's First Night
Audio Commentary-Producers And Writer - "Heart Of Ice"
Featurette-Batman: The Legacy Continues
Trailer-Challenge Of The Super Friends
Trailer-Justice League-Star Crossed
Trailer-Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 600:08
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Kevin Altieri
Boyd Kirkland
Frank Paur
Eric Radomski
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Kevin Conroy
Loren Lester
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
Bob Hastings
Mark Hamill
Case ?
RPI $49.95 Music Jeff Atmajian
Stuart Balcomb
Lisa Bloom


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
French
Italian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    After a hopeful beginning to the Batman franchise at the end of the 80s it was not long before Tim Burton and Michael Keaton had moved on, leaving the Dark Knight in the incompetent hands of Joel Schumacher to transform the baroque aesthetic of artifice and tortured psychology crafted by Burton into a dire concoction of cod pieces, nipples, and interchanging leading men. However, Batman was not wasting away in the '90s, and was quietly pleasing both fans and critics in Batman: The Animated Series.

    Produced by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, the series has a dark and moody aesthetic, using a combination of Art Deco architecture and design combined with futuristic technology such as computers, to give it a unique and timeless quality. Televisions are vintage, news footage is in black and white, reporters hand crank motion cameras or use still cameras with flash bulbs, men wear fedora hats and carry fob watches, and police blimps patrol the air. In this way the series spans the time from Batman's beginnings right up to the 90s. Gotham is portrayed as a dark and violent city, very much a reflection of the Dark Knight's own tortured psyche.

    The action is fast and furious, the stories are tough without being too violent and there is a consistent balance between excitement and drama. Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, and many other great talents lend their voices to the supporting cast and rogues gallery, such as Mark Hamill as The Joker. Veteran actor Lloyd Bochner who plays the mayor in a number of episodes died recently of cancer.

    There are seven episodes per disc, each running for 20 to 22 minutes without chapter stops, which can be a little frustrating. The episodes vary from being action orientated to mature and intelligent to juvenile for a younger audience. This is a series that should be very pleasing to all Batman fans, no matter what age group they may belong to.

Disc One:

    1: On Leather Wings - Adapting half of the original comic "Marriage: Impossible" from 1971, the first episode follows the story of scientist Kirk Langstrom (voiced by The Beastmaster Marc Singer) and his genetic experiments which turn him into a giant bat.

    2: Christmas with The Joker - Mark Hamill provides a great voice for The Joker in this episode. When he breaks out of Arkham Asylum on Christmas eve, Batman and Robin's plans to watch It's a Wonderful Life are interrupted.

    3: Nothing to Fear - This is the introduction of The Scarecrow, a former psychologist who specialised in phobias, now seeking revenge against the academic institutions that spurned his pioneering work. Batman is exposed to the Scarecrow's fear gas and reveals his greatest fear is disappointing the memory of his father.

    4: The Last Laugh - Another Joker episode involving a garbage barge polluting the air of Gotham with a foul concoction which leaves the citizens in helpless hysterics, while the clown prince of crime and his henchmen loot the city. Constant action throughout, including a spectacular finale between Batman and The Joker.

    5: Pretty Poison - Not only the introduction of Poison Ivy, but also District Attorney Harvey Dent who becomes the victim of Ivy's revenge for his crimes against the environment.

    6: The Under-Dwellers - Batman investigates the appearance of thieving leprechauns in Gotham and finds a world of stray children forced into criminal slavery for the Sewer King.

    7: P.O.V. - In this episode three cops are being investigated after a bungled operation at warehouse, which also saw the intervention by the Batman, however each officer tells a different version of the events. It's Batman meets Kurosawa's Rashomon.

Disc Two:

    8: Forgotten - Batman's undercover investigations into disappearing homeless people goes wrong, and he wakes to find himself an amnesiac, imprisoned and forced to worked on a chain gang. Thankfully, Alfred can be resourceful when Master Bruce needs him.

    9: Be a Clown - The Joker hijacks a birthday clown's gig and crashes a party the Mayor is holding for his young son. However, young Jordan is less than happy at home with his stern father, and he stows away in the back of the clown's van, unaware that he is joining The Joker's circus.

    10 & 11: Two-Face -  Parts 1 & 2 - The story of District Attorney Harvey Dent's fall from grace and his transformation into the villainous Two Face is so epic it needs to be told over two episodes. Already plagued with a barely repressed psychotic dual personality, Dent comes undone when he tries to take down gangster king pin Rupert Thorne (played by the late, great John Vernon). With half of his face disfigured, Two Face turns to a life of crime, his modus operandi reflecting the duality of his tormented psyche, and his decisions based on the flip of his coin representing the chance which has brought him to this fate.

    12: It's Never too Late - A remarkably complex narrative of crime lords, gang wars, the drug trade, revenge, tragic history and the possibility of redemption. With homage to classic gangster films The Godfather and Angels with Dirty Faces this episode is the perfect example of why the animated series is as much for adults as it is for children.

    13: I've Got Batman in My Basement - A young would-be detective Sherman and his plucky sidekick Roberta stumble across a nefarious plot by the Penguin. A good episode, but the vocal casting for the Penguin is uncharacteristically weak for this series.

    14: Heart of Ice - The touching tale of scientist Victor Fries turning to a life of crime and revenge in his alter-ego of Mr Freeze, when all that he loves is taken from him and an exposure to a chemical coolant leaves him incapable of emotions and dependant upon an environmentally controlled suit.

Disc Three:

    15 & 16: The Cat and the Claw - Parts 1 & 2 - It takes two episodes to introduce Catwoman to both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and to properly flesh out dual and confusing unrequited relationships, as well as a terrorist plot with the real arch villain Red Claw.

    17: See No Evil - What you can't see can still hurt you, as Batman finds out when comes between an ex-con using an invisibility suit to commit crimes as well as vie for the affections of his own young daughter who his ex-wife has tried to hide from him.

    18: Beware the Gray Ghost - It would be hard to imagine an example in either television or the cinema that can match this episode for its elegant engagement of homage and self-reflexivity as the foundation for such a moving and insightful dramatic structure. In an extraordinary example of casting in a series that already sports a great guest cast list, Adam West, who is famous for playing Batman in the 1960s television series, is the voice of the Gray Ghost, a fictional television hero young Bruce Wayne watched on television with his father. The glory days of television are long gone, and now actor Simon Trent is out of work and desperately selling old Gray Ghost props to make ends meet. Acknowledging Batman's own indebtedness to The Shadow, this episode explores the fertile relationships between real heroes and fictional representations of heroes, and our need to sometimes blur that line.

    19: Prophecy of Doom - The Great Nostromo makes predictions that a financial crisis will see the stock market completely collapse and convinces a group of foolish millionaires to invest their money in his trust fund. Batman goes undercover as Bruce Wayne, also a somewhat dopey millionaire socialite, to crack the case. Listen out for Heather Locklear in a supporting role.

    20 & 21: Feat of Clay - Parts 1 & 2 - Another two part origin story, this time featuring the voice of Ron Perlman as actor Matt Hagen who becomes transformed into the abominable creature Clay Face. Also featuring Ed Asner as crime boss Roland Daggett and Ed Begley Jr. as his henchman Germs, this episode deals with mistaken identity, betrayal, addiction, obsession and obliquely raises a frequent Batman subtext: what happens when the disguise of a monster takes over the man.

Disc Four:

    22: The Joker's Favor - This is another Joker episode, which is most notable for the introduction of an original character, Harley Quinn, his beautiful female assistant. She proved so popular she became a regular in the comics and even had her own spin-off. When a Joe Nobody makes the mistake of insulting The Joker on the freeway, he gets sucked into doing the crazed clown a favour.

    23: Vendetta - The Killer Croc is introduced in this tale of revenge, as the former circus freak and pro-wrestler who frames Detective Bullock, and Batman must find the evidence to clear the detective's name despite their mutual antagonism.

    24: Fear of Victory - This episode features the new and not improved design of the Scarecrow. It also features Dick Grayson (the alter ego of Robin) in college, as the room mate of a star footballer whose on field display of fear raises the suspicion of the Boy Wonder. However, when Robin also suffers a panic attack on the job, he has to overcome his fear if he is to help Batman save the day.

    25: The Clock King - When an efficiency expert is late for an appointment his world comes unravelled. Seven years later, he's resurfaced under the guise of the Clock King, seeking retribution against the Mayor of Gotham City whose sage advice lead him to miss the appointment that changed his life for the worse.

    26: Appointment in Crime Alley - Adapting the original comic "There is no hope in Crime Alley" from 1976, this episode tells of Batman's return to the scene of his parents' murder and his anniversary appointment with the benevolent woman Leslie Thompkins, who comforted him as a child after the tragedy. His simple rendezvous is interrupted however with the need to foil Daggett's plot to rid the slums of the poor residents with explosives planted in the basements of all the derelict housing blocks.

    27: Mad as a Hatter - In this sad story of unrequited love Roddy McDowall provides the voice of the Hatter, a love sick and slightly crazed scientist inspired by the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. When his foolish fantasies of love with young secretary Alice fail, he implements his mind controlling devices to get what he wants and remakes his world into Lewis Carroll's inspiration.

    28: Dreams in Darkness - This is a hardboiled tale featuring Batman's voice over narration and a flashback structure, beginning with the Dark Knight locked up and straight jacketed in Arkham Asylum. Richard Dysart is the voice of the naive Dr Bartholomew, who believes Batman is suffering from delusions and hallucinations, rather than the truth which is that he copped a dose of the Scarecrow's fear gas when investigating another plot from the straw-filled arch-fiend.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski explain in one of their commentaries that all the backgrounds were painted on black paper instead of white, which is how they achieved such an oppressive gloom in Gotham's atmosphere. They also happily point out all the film artefacts that plague these episodes, a problem due to the in-camera style of animation used.

    The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, and although there is no information on IMDb about the technical specs it is likely this is the correct ratio, as it was made for television in the early 90s. Also, neither Timm or Radomski mention problems with the aspect ratio in their commentaries.

    This is a relatively sharp PAL transfer, although there are numerous examples of blurriness, which is most probably from the source print. This is not to be confused with the examples of deliberate out of focus shots which direct the audience's attention between either the foreground or background planes. It's animation, so no shadow detail, but the blacks are very black, and the slight low level noise is not too troubling.

    The colours tend to be somewhat muted in the backgrounds due to the use of black paper. However, this does not affect the colour used on the foreground plates, and the vibrancy of the retro burnished look.

    There is an inconsistent problem with pixelization and macro-blocking, such as in Disc 2 at 8:39-8:43, as well as posterization which most often noticeable on backgrounds. I should note that many of the textures on the backgrounds can be easily mistaken for posterization. Aliasing is kept to a bare minimum and there is only minor telecine wobble. However, there is dot crawl, which is very noticeable on the closing credits, and occasional instances of motion blur.

    There so many film artefacts in these episodes it would be impossible to catalogue them. Specks, spots, scratches, and even the odd blotch. I don't know why it is in such bad condition or if it was always like this. The remarks in the commentaries suggest this was always the case, due to dirt and other foreign material getting onto the cels when they were being photographed.

    The subtitles were usually very accurate.

    I didn't notice any layer changes on these discs, so it's possible the episodes and featurettes were spread evenly across the two layers.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The default track is English, Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kb/s), and there is a French track in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kb/s) and an Italian track in Dolby Digital 1.0 (192 kb/s). I only listened to the English track, which is surround encoded, and I varied listening between stereo and using Dolby Pro Logic II. My preference was definitely for the stereo, as the sound was more rich and full. Because it was intended as a stereo mix, splitting the sound amongst the surrounds actually tends to focus most of the sound into the centre, making the overall effect muted.

    The audio sync is not too bad, especially if you consider it is a relatively crude style of animation. The characters are drawn quite simply and therefore there is not much facial detail to lend to the articulation of the mouth. The dialogue is always very good and easy to understand.

    The music in this series owes a lot to the scores and themes developed by Danny Elfman for the two Burton films, however Shirley Walker has written a bold and brassy score with its own distinguished themes for most of these episodes, making it an original contribution to the musical themes that have accompanied Batman. A full orchestra was used to record the scores and it definitely adds impact to the musical accompaniment.

    This is a show with a lot of action, shooting, and explosions, and the use of the surrounds and subwoofer activity do not disappoint. Push the volume too high and you will notice hiss, but this is generally not a problem even at loud volumes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are only a handful of extras spread across these discs, but they are good and provide insight into the production of the series.

Menu

    The menus on each disc are 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, and play looped music of Danny Elfman's main theme from the Batman movie. This sounds great at first, but the loop is pretty short, and if you don't select play or stop soon you will quickly tire of hearing it. Some of the episode labels are slightly wrong on the menus; for example Beware the Gray Ghost is labelled as Beware of Gray Ghost.

Disc One:

Commentary - Producers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski

    This commentary accompanies their first episode, On Leather Wings, and is a fantastic (albeit short) insight into their work, its origins, and their creative processes. Both Timm and Radomski speak very fluently and clearly and both provide plenty of interesting and amusing anecdotes on the production. Timm tends to be the more garrulous of the two, but Radomski still has plenty to say, and they obviously enjoy talking together.

Featurette - The Dark Knight's First Night (5:02)

    In this extremely short featurette Timm and Radomski explain how they were approached separately about working on Batman, and how they put together a small and crudely animated film which captured the essence of what they hoped to achieve with the series. This was the foundation for what later became the opening sequence. This animation is included and it is possible to see just how close the opening is to this original.

Disc Two:

Commentary - Producers (and Director for this episode) Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, plus Paul Dini who wrote this episode.

    Considered one of the best episodes of the series, Heart of Ice is accompanied by an entertaining commentary by Timm, Radomski and Dini. They all talk fast and often over the top of each other, and they have so many anecdotes and asides about the production of this episode that from start to finish it is a bombardment of information. At times boastful and other times humble and honest about mistakes and bloopers, they always give credit to those that assisted them during production. In both commentaries there is a lot of information about some of the problems they encountered from the Office of Broadcast Standards, such as the depiction of crimes and weapons.

Featurette - Batman: The Legacy Continues (18:02)

    Timm, Dini, Radomski, and various writers from the show, plus comic book writers and the Editor and the VP of Editorial at DC Comics, rave about the success and achievement of this show. They talk about its production, the casting of real actors for the voices, the music, the influences and the subsequent acclaim the show achieved. A good little documentary that could have been a lot longer.

Disc Four:

Trailer - The Challenge of the Super Friends (1:10)

    Playing on nostalgia for the past really works in this trailer - I felt definite pang for my childhood "Saturdays in sleeping bags" when I used to watch this show, where the Justice League would have to band together to fight against the Legion of Doom.

Trailer - Justice League: Starcrossed "Unmasked" (0:54)

    Part of the more recent animated Justice League series, this is a trailer for a feature length film which seems to have a plot most reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where Earth will be destroyed for an intergalactic hyperspace bypass.

Trailer - Batman: the Mystery of the Batwoman (1:14)

    This is one of the more recent animated features; this time Batman has competition as Gotham's leading crime fighter, in the beautiful and sleek form of Batwoman.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This collection is almost identical to the Region 1 disc which was released in July 2004. The menus and the episode order are also identical. Included on the third disc of the Region 1 collection is a “Tour of the Batcave”, which is a series of information screens with a voice-over that describes Batman, his utility belt, his vehicles and his butler Alfred. I found this extra to be somewhat tedious and annoying, and is obviously aimed at younger viewers. The languages and subtitles vary slightly in favour of the local disc: the Region 1 has spoken and subtitled English, French, Spanish; the Region 4 has spoken and subtitled English, French, Italian, as well as Dutch subtitles. I was given only review discs, so I don't know what type of packaging will be used. Region 1 is presented in a good-looking gatefold case, with various images arranged in panels.

    As these versions are almost identical, and the “Tour of the Batcave” is only a minor extra, the choice between regions comes down to the difference between the Region 4 PAL and the Region 1 NTSC transfers. And if that doesn't worry you so much, then buy on price.

Summary

    Batman: The Animated Series is a fantastic contribution to the Dark Knight's franchise: dark, tough, uncompromising - just as Batman should be.

    The video quality is quite good, considering the source materials, but could have been better.

    The audio quality is fantastic for a stereo mix, and really does justice to the music and the explosions.

    There are only a few extras, but they are worthwhile.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Monday, November 21, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

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Important information missing - BruceM (read my bio)
Nice review - REPLY POSTED
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