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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 2/6/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/29/2018
As a rule, I don't enjoy reading about history, nor do I frequent novels set in the distant past. However, I do have a soft spot for historical fiction in which real people from the past are placed in fictional situations, especially those which are believable, but not probable. Books like The List of 7 by Mark Frost, or Nevermore by Harold Schechter or Nevermore by William Hjortsberg (both of which deal with Poe, but in different ways), take famous figures and place them in exciting adventures. Save for things like Time After Time, we don't see this very often in movies. Therefore, I was very interested in checking out Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, which places the Caped Crusader in a distant time.
Gotham City in the late 1900s is a dirty and dangerous place. But, local tycoon Bruce Wayne (voiced by Bruce Greenwood) is attempting to change all of that, as he's sponsoring a World's Fair, which promises to outshine the dark underbelly of Gotham. However, a killer is running rampant in the shadowy alleys of the city, slaughtering women. Has Jack the Ripper come to Gotham? Batman takes to the streets to stop this serial killer and he finds himself aided by an actress named Selina Kyle (voiced by Jennifer Carpenter). Together, the two will attempt to shield the women of the night, but Bruce's past will catch up with him, place the rich playboy and his caped alter-ego in jeopardy.
If I had to describe Batman: Gotham by Gaslight in one word, it would be: clever. The story is based on a comic book by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola which became the first of DC's "Elseworld" series, which re-imagines superhero origins or places them in new surroundings. The idea of pitting Batman against Jack the Ripper is a brilliant one. But, beyond that, the movie contains all sorts of Easter Eggs and references to other DCs characters. When the movie opens with the introduction of three boys named Dick, Tim, and Jason, you know that this is going to be a fun ride. Along the way, we get other familiar names like Harvey Dent (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) and Commissioner Gordon (voiced by Scott Paterson), along with the aforementioned Selina Kyle (that's Catwoman for the uninitiated). By having these known commodities placed throughout the story, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is able to invite the viewer in for a new Batman story.
And that story works quite well. Of course, it's built upon a recognizable framework, as we have the Batman characters and a Jack the Ripper who is killing back-alley women. Upon this skeleton, the writers have added a story which contains some much-needed themes and subplots, including a touch of how technology was changing the world and the growing role of women. This is enhanced with the mystery as to Jack the Ripper's identity. The film does a nice job of planting clues and red herrings and the reveal was fairly surprising. Peppered into this are some nice action set-pieces, including a roof-top chase and the fiery finale.
The only real flaw here is that the Batman character is somewhat undefined. Through some dialogue, we learn that the familiar origin is intact (orphan, vengeance, etc.), but otherwise, he's just a vague Batman in a different suit. We do observe him using his detective skills, but they really don't do much for him in the end. One other minus here is that, as is typical in this series, the animation lacks detail at times. Those issues aside, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a very nice diversion from the standard DC Universe animated movie. I can see how some won't like this change of venue for Batman, but I enjoyed the movie's creativity and it's willingness to blend fact with fiction...with fiction.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight should have worked in Killer Croc on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 95 Mbps. That is by far one of the highest bitrates which I've seen from a 4K UHD. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, especially in the scene where the Fair is introduced, and while this is a dark movie, the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is notable, but this does draw attention to some of the uninspired animation. I didn't detect any shimmering or video noise. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The mix does a fine job of highlighting the various sounds emanating from the busy streets, such as footsteps and horse hooves. The action sequences provide rich bass effects and detailed surround sound effects. The score sounds fine and never drowns out the actors.
The extra features for Batman: Gotham by Gaslight are found on the Blu-ray Disc included in this set. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Writer Jim Krieg, and Producer/Director Sam Liu. "Caped Fear: The First Elseworld" (21 minutes) examines the comic book which served as the basis for this movie. Author Brian Augustyn discusses the creation of the book and we see many examples of artist Mike Mignola's work. Unfortunately, we don't hear from Mignola here. But, again, the piece does show us many, many panels from the comic. They also talk about how the original comic was expanded to be a feature-length movie. The Disc offers two episodes from Batman television shows; "Trials of the Demon" from Batman: The Brave and The Bold and "Showdown" from Batman: The Animated Series.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long