Batman the Animated Series: Tales of the Dark Knight 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. While superior to the moderately ugly visuals seen during The Legend Begins, the picture quality of Tales seemed erratic.
Actually, Tales varied dependent on the episode in question. The first three presented stronger visuals than “Clown”. The programs on Legend looked quite dirty, and “Clown” resembled those shows. Lots of dust appeared, and various examples of marks and other flaws showed up throughout that program. Happily, the first three episodes looked significantly cleaner. They demonstrated the occasional speckle but they were pretty free of defects otherwise.
Sharpness created a fair number of concerns, though, and seemed worse than the Legend disc. Much of the time, the shows looked reasonably distinct, but quite a few soft elements cropped up at times. These issues weren’t extreme, but they created more than just a couple concerns. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement.
When compared to Legend, Tales demonstrated stronger colors. The hues came across as fairly bold and lively throughout the four episodes. The prior disc looked somewhat bland, but the tones seen in Tales were pretty vivid and distinct. Black levels also were nicely deep and dense, and low-light shots seemed accurate and appropriately visible. Without the softness, Tales would have earned a much higher grade, but those issues largely knocked it down to a “C+”.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Tales also improved slightly upon the material from Legend. While the track remained mostly oriented toward the front speakers, it opened up the audio more broadly. The forward channels showed pretty good movement and activity, as elements meshed together well and blended neatly. As for the surrounds, they added good ambience, and they came to life well during some of the louder scenes. For example, when trains became involved, the rear speakers kicked in positively.
Audio quality also improved upon the old disc. Speech remained clear and warm, and I noticed no issues due to edginess or intelligibility. Music appeared noticeably cleaner and brighter. Legend sounded too dense and bass-heavy, but Tales lightened up the track nicely. The score showed good clarity and dynamics. Effects also benefited from the improved bass response. The old disc was boomy and unnatural, whereas Tales seemed tight and concise. Effects seemed lively and distinct for the most part. Nothing about the audio appeared terribly impressive but it came across as strong enough to merit a solid “B” for this kind of material.
Only a smattering of extras appear on Tales. For all four shows, we find Episode Introductions with Producer/Director Bruce Timm. His comments last between 43 seconds and 49 seconds for a total of three minutes, six seconds of material. Timm discusses some general notes about the series plus specifics about Boss Biggis, Officer Montoya, and the Joker. Despite the brevity of these clips, Timm includes some useful material.
A five-minute and 20-second featurette called Voices of Gotham City also seems short but positive. It provides remarks from casting and voice director Andrea Romano, producer/director Bruce Timm, and actor Kevin Conroy. We learn how Conroy and Hamill got their parts and also get information about what they look for in other voice actors, looping, and matching the action. Romano dominates this quick but interesting examination of voice work.
Finally, The Line-Up offers a pretty lame trivia game. We hear some general characteristics of various villains and then must identify them. This feels pointless and goes nowhere.
Maybe Batman: The Animated Series improved as it progressed. Unfortunately, as demonstrated on Tales of the Dark Knight, the episodes seemed generally weak. Actually, these probably shouldn’t be seen as truly representative of the series as a whole, for the shows seen on the prior Animated Series DVD appeared superior. The four on Tales varied from decent to bad, though, and didn’t do much to impress me.
At least the DVD improved upon the earlier release. Although these four shows were produced during the same time period as the previous five, Tales looked and sounded noticeably superior to Legend. It presented a similarly modest collection of extras. While not a poor disc, the generally flat material seen on Tales of the Dark Knight makes this a set that probably won’t interest many beyond the most dedicated Bat-fans.