Monday, April 8, 2013

The Dark Knight Returns Animated Film Part 1 - A Fan's Reaction

I was born in the mid-80s. I was fortunate, in that period of colorful and varied culture, to grow up watching Tim Burton's Batman. I was spared the camp and the failings of past writers and creators, those who dared to show anything but respect for what I perceived to be the true heart of the Batman mythos. Instead I was baptized in a cinematic font of dark, gritty vigilante justice. I witnessed a Titan-like hero's mad, hopeful efforts clash with the insanity of one of the ultimate villains of all time in a fantasy realm with its roots embedded firmly in a past age of grandiose pulp plots. It was a massive influence upon my childhood (one which I will address in a post at a later time).

That Batman, my Batman, sprung to the screen through a grid work of studio mechanisms and Hollywood processes from inspiration rooted in a specific piece of comic book art. That comic book, or series of books, was Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a seminal work which redefined the character and provided him with a new flavor for a growing world of evolving palates.

I didn't encounter the story until later in my life, around my mid-teens, when I was perusing around the shelves of a used book store. When I first read it I knew that I was reading something wildly different and yet so sound and acceptable in the universe of the Caped Crusader. It fit, and it blew everything away while doing so. To be honest, though, I didn't think that it was the greatest Bat-story ever told after the first reading. I was just really, really entertained. I couldn't put it down, and I revisited it again soon after I finished it. That says enough, I feel.

Last year folks like myself, and those more intensely dedicated to the graphic work that was Miller's opus, were gifted with a direct-to-DVD release of the first part of an animated adaptation of DKR. I was initially turned off at the thought of having to buy two separate discs for one story, so I didn't pick up a copy. It wasn't until a few days ago, actually, that I got an itch to purchase it. It helped that I had been recently writing for the character for my own purposes, and I'd seen both parts sitting around at a local store for a while now, taunting me. When I broke I decided to grab just the first half in order to give it a spin. I'm kicking myself now for not being more wholly invested in the completion of the tale.

I viewed it this evening, and I'm still anxiously recalling moments that blew me away. I've not been this affected by an animated feature since I first watched a Miyazaki film. My eyes widened, they winced, and they wept. It was a beautiful hour and then some of emotion and appreciation from a fan who has spent most of his life watching, reading, and role playing (on various playgrounds and with action figures) a character which has been so significant.

It's not my intent to review it. I just want to mention a few points of interest, avoid spoilers if I can, and thrill in some geek-out writing, if you'll permit me.

From the beginning I was planning to keep an eye out for similarities or differences, but I had unfortunately forgotten quite a few of the specifics from the graphic novel. Instead, after a few minutes, I resigned myself to letting this adaptation take me on its journey and to just enjoy the ride.  I was excited to see that the designers stayed true to the meaty hunk of a human being that was Bruce Wayne/Batman. The character, voiced wonderfully by Peter Weller (though, I was sad to not hear Kevin Conroy's voice), was one which hooked me immediately. It's difficult to not care about this Bruce Wayne from the moment go, in my opinion, or any version of Bruce Wayne at all, for that matter.

As the story progressed I found myself immediately reacting to the obvious 3D animation, something for which I tend to cringe. Aside from that, the story was familiar, the changes weren't incredibly obvious, especially not to a guy who hasn't read the source material in a while (though, I missed Batman's voice over at points when it would have best served the story), and the design was faithful to the vision. My most powerful reactions occurred at moments when the audience was given a glimpse inside the mind and heart of an aged Dark Knight. Perhaps the lack of voice over worked because it played like the silence before a piano solo or explosion of percussion. It's lack heightened the clarity of the emotional windows into the soul of the protagonist, our beloved hero.

If you haven't seen this film, you should. If you haven't read the source material and you call yourself a comic book fan then you've missed something along the way. Even if capes and tights are a turn off for you, you're still denying yourself exposure to a brilliant example of the power of the medium.So, readers, find this and view/read it. Soon!

I'm excited to return to the store for part two. I can barely contain my excitement. Soon I shall have it. Soon I shall see how this animated adaptation ends. I can't wait!

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