Jay Oliva | 148 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | 15* / PG-13
Warner Premiere’s $7 million animated adaptation of one of the seminal graphic novels is here rejigged from its original two–part release into a single two-and-a-half-hour experience. To persuade those who didn’t make the purchases first time around — and to lure back those who did — the Deluxe Edition Blu-ray also includes a new cast & crew audio commentary and a 79-minute documentary about Frank Miller’s original novel, as well as all the old special features. I don’t normally review editions on here, but in this case it’s relevant.
But before all that, what of the new cut itself? Personally, I felt it worked better as two movies.
Thing is, Miller’s original wasn’t just released as four issues, it’s very much a four-parter: sure, there’s an overarching plot, but each issue/chapter works as a finite unit. In making the transition to the screen, director Jay Oliva and screenwriter Bob Goodman did a great job of adapting two issues at a time to create two complete-feeling films: Part 1 tells the tale of Batman vs the mutants, building to a cliffhanger; Part 2 deals with the fallout of said cliffhanger.
As one long film, it fades to black halfway through and then resumes again. Whole new plot threads suddenly appear that, were this conceived as a single 2½-hour movie, should have been introduced earlier in the running time. The pace goes skwiffy, because it was designed to flow naturally as two distinct movies — action sequences butt up against each other in the middle of the film, one of which is basically a climax before the halfway mark. Considering Miller’s original structure, that arguably leaves the film with a good three or four climaxes scattered throughout.
I suppose you could count these as nothing more than niggles. Given the choice, I think this adaptation functions better in its original, intended, two-part version; but the single-film version is not fundamentally different to double-billing its constituent parts. (If you want more detailed thoughts on the film itself, you can find my original review of Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)
Though there are aesthetic reasons for choosing to watch The Dark Knight Returns as two separate features, there are several unavoidable reasons why picking up the Deluxe Edition is preferable. For starters, it’s potentially a heckuva lot cheaper. I don’t know how much Parts 1&2 are available for now, but the Deluxe Edition is only slightly more expensive than just one of those halves was when new. That said, from a UK perspective, importing it will cost in the region of £18, whereas Part 1 has already made its way into 2-for-£10 offers, and I’m sure Part 2 can’t be far behind.
Cost aside, the disc — or, rather, discs (two Blu-rays and a feature-only DVD) — themselves present a couple of incentives. Exactly two, in fact, because that’s the number of new special features. Oh, but they’re hefty ones: a feature-length audio commentary by director Jay Oliva, screenwriter Bob Goodman, and voice director Andrea Romano (for some reason the latter doesn’t merit a credit on either the box or the disc’s menu, but she is there); and a feature-length documentary all about the original graphic novel, Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. (I’ll review the latter separately at some point. If you like we can debate the line that distinguishes films from TV programmes/DVD special features/etc, but Masterpiece is almost 80 minutes long and begins with the full Warner Bros and DC Comics logos, just like A Proper Film, so I’m goin’ there.)
For the completist, all the original special features are also ported over. That’s five featurettes totalling almost two hours, delving into: the character of Carrie Kelly (aka Robin), the Joker, the film’s depiction of Superman vs Batman, the story of Batman’s creator Bob Kane, and a lengthy exploration of the adaptation and animation process with director Oliva, in a kind of Maximum Movie Mode style (though for 43½ minutes rather than the entire film — though that’s not to be sniffed at, is it?) There’s also five additional animation episodes from the archives (four from the classic Batman: The Animated Series and one from the more recent Batman: The Brave and the Bold). The only stuff that’s gone walkabouts are the Sneak Peek promos, though as they’re all for now-released titles that’s hardly a major loss (though as they constitute mini-featurettes rather than pure trailers, some completists may feel a mild tang of disappointment). All-in, you’re looking at 7½ hours of special features to complement your 2½-hour film, something even the most hardened whinge-happy fanboy would struggle to complain about.
While I’ll continue to champion viewing the two halves of The Dark Knight Returns as separate movies, this single-film version is far from a travesty. If you’ve already got the separate releases, it definitely isn’t worth picking this up just for the film; so a purchase depends on how much value you place on the commentary and Masterpiece documentary (oh, and four art cards found in the box, which I’ve used to illustrate this review). If you don’t own the existing releases then whichever way works out as most cost-effective (bearing in mind which extras can be found where, of course) is the way to go.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Deluxe Edition is currently available in the US on DVD and Blu-ray as a Best Buy exclusive, but goes on wide release from next Tuesday, 8th October.
* Technically the BBFC haven’t classified this single-film version, but the two halves each received a 15. ^