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WARNER BROS.

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth
Cast:
Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Mari Devon
Screenplay:
Pat Allee

MPAA:
Not Rated.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Standard 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
Portuguese Dolby Surround
Subtitles:
English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/23/2002

Bonus:
• “Life On the Edge” Game
• Conversations With Director/Producer Bruce Timm
• Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman


PURCHASE
DVD

Search Products:

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Batman: The Animated Series - The Legend Begins (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

After the live-action Batman films gave the franchise restored prominence in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the powers that be decided to expand the Bat-influence. Less than three months after Batman Returns hit movie screens, Batman: The Animated Series debuted on TV. Although many now respect it, Returns received a fairly poor reception, and it caused the film series’ producers to back away from Tim Burton’s darkness for future live-action movies.

As I recall, Animated, on the other hand, enjoyed a positive reception from day one. When it hit the air in September 1992, it garnered positive reviews and did well with audiences. Though this original series ceased production a few years back, its siblings continue to prosper; shows like Justice League and Batman Beyond remain active.

We’ve seen a number of DVD releases related to these programs, but most have concentrated on feature-length specials or actual theatrical issues such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. As far as I can tell, only one DVD offered a collection of TV episodes: Batman Beyond, which compiled a few of that series’ programs.

Until now, that is. The Legend Begins presents the first five episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. Note that these are the first five episodes produced, and they don’t even remotely approximate the broadcast order. For the series’ first season, they created 65 programs. Most of these five showed up early in the run, but not all of them. I’ll review these episodes in production order and will also mention at what point they actually hit the air.

On Leather Wings(broadcast 2nd, 9/6/92) features a second winged weirdo in the skies above Gotham City. Naturally, people confuse the two, and Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) receives the blame for crimes committed by the second character. He spends the episode in search of this new menace named Man-Bat (Marc Singer).

This episode suffered from an excessively basic storyline. It seemed fairly predictable and lacked much depth. However, it did set up the series well. The fairly dark tone came through nicely, so despite the absence much extended plot, the show worked well to start things.

Christmas With the Joker (broadcast 38th, 11/13/92) finds Gotham during the holiday season, and the Joker (Mark Hamill) is up to his usual tricks. He kidnaps Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings), Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo), and TV newscaster Summer Gleason (Mari Devon) and holds them hostage to lure the Bats into a series of traps.

Although this one also offered a simplistic plot, but it made up for this with clever antics. The show nicely combined action and intrigue, and Batman and Robin needed to use their vaunted detective skills to get through the events. In addition, Joker got good usage. Overall, the episode seemed strong.

The oddest aspect of the show came from the use of Robin. He didn’t appear in any of the other four episodes on this DVD. I don’t know if he was always supposed there for the others but he just didn’t appear, or if one of the later programs brought him into the mix. Anyway, it seemed odd for Robin to pop up out of the blue here, even though I know the continuity may make sense as broadcast.

Nothing to Fear (broadcast 10th, 9/15/92) introduces a new villain named the Scarecrow (Henry Polic). He seeks to destroy the local university in a variety of ways, and he uses a fear-inducing gas to achieve his ends. This eventually affects Batman, who faces his greatest concern: the disapproval of his dead father.

While I didn’t care for the Scarecrow much, I liked this episode. The Scarecrow was too simplistic and obvious, but the show offered good depth via the exploration of Bruce Wayne’s past. It was interesting to see how the figurative ghost of his parents haunted him, and this added substance to a program that otherwise might have been less than stellar.

The Last Laugh (broadcast 15th, 9/22/92) brings back the Joker for more fun. He uses a gas to turn the citizens of Gotham into laughing idiots. Batman escapes this, but it gets to his butler Alfred (Efram Zimbalist). That wouldn’t seem to be a big deal, but extended exposure to the gas leads to madness, so Batman needs to stop the Joker before it’s too late.

While a decent show in its own right, this one suffered somewhat from its proximity to “Christmas”. Of course, that wasn’t an issue as broadcast, since “Laugh” aired almost two months prior to Christmas, but here it became a moderate issue. The two programs seemed fairly similar, so while “Laugh” was entertaining and offered a nice look at Alfred, it came across as less than terrific.

Pretty Poison (broadcast 9th, 9/14/92) brings in another new villain. Wayne’s best friend, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Richard Moll) starts to date sexy botanist Pamela Isley (Diane Pershing) and plans to marry her. However, he comes down with a quick-acting ailment and goes into a coma. Wayne suspects Isley had something to do with this, and he soon discovers she leads a double life as plant-loving Poison Ivy. She seeks her revenge against Dent for his acts that caused some roses to go extinct, so Batman needs to stop her and also get the antidote for Dent’s illness.

I thought “Poison” offered the best show of the first five. Ivy is a rich villain, and the show gave her a level of depth that we didn’t find for Man-Bat or the Scarecrow. Overall, the show provided a lot of action and intrigue, and it demonstrated a high caliber of material across the board.


The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio B- / Bonus D+

Batman the Animated Series: The Legend Begins appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though consistently watchable, the material showed moderate flaws that made the viewing experience fairly mediocre.

Sharpness usually appeared fine. Most of the episodes came across as reasonably clear and accurate. However, wide shots occasionally demonstrated softness, and the picture periodically looked a bit gauzy. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused very few concerns, however. Source flaws offered some issues. Quite a lot of dust appeared throughout the shows, and I also saw examples of specks, grain, marks and hairs. The material didn’t look as dirty as something like Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero, but it showed an excessive level of defects.

Colors generally seemed decent but unspectacular. At times they came across as a bit bland, but they usually demonstrated solid clarity and vibrancy. Black levels appeared reasonably deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively dense. Mainly, Animated lost points for print concerns and softness, but I can’t say the image seemed bad for a decade-old TV cartoon.

The series’ Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack seemed more satisfying, though it also demonstrated the limitations of its origins. The soundfield featured a fairly heavy emphasis on the front channels. The forward speakers showed decent but unexceptional stereo music and ambient spread for effects. The latter offered good panning and movement at times, but they usually focused on general atmosphere. The same went for the surrounds. The rears occasionally offered some positive activity, but for the most part, they remained somewhat passive partners.

Audio quality was good but unspectacular. Dialogue appeared consistently solid. Speech seemed natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed somewhat dense and bass-heavy, but the score generally appeared acceptably clear and bright. Effects were a little flat as well, but they lacked distortion and they generally represented the material adequately. Low-end response could be somewhat heavy and boomy, but I still found the audio of Animated to seem fine for programs of this vintage.

Animated includes only a few minor extras. Most significant are the Conversations With Producer Bruce Timm. These appear in the “Episodes” menu, and we find clips that relate to each of the five shows. The interviews last between 72 seconds and three minutes, four seconds for a total of 10 minutes, 24 seconds of footage. Unlike some of the more general comments Timm provides on other DVDs, these seem better focused on series specifics. He goes over various elements of the five episodes and adds some interesting information.

The other two extras seem pretty useless. The 50-second Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman shows sped-up video of an artist as he draws Batman’s head. Unlike a similar feature on Larryboy, we don’t receive any actual instruction about how to draw the Bat; we just watch the rapid pencil strokes. It’s not very helpful.

Similar comments relate to the Life On the Edge game. This pointless endeavor has you select different items to aid in your “quest”. Correct choices show the appropriate scene from the film. At the end, nothing happens; there’s no reward other than bits of the movie itself. It’s a waste of time.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone through a lot of animated superhero material, and these five episodes of Batman: The Animated Series stand as some of the better programs. The shows demonstrate the strengths of that series, and though they’re not without their flaws, they seem intriguing and entertaining as a whole. The DVD offers watchable but problematic picture quality along with decent sound and a mix of bland extras. Though it’s not a great disc, the material on it seems strong, so Bat-fans should definitely give this one a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0434 Stars Number of Votes: 23
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