Warner Bros. // 1992 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // November 10th, 2004
Defending the streets of Gotham City, Batman stands as a beacon of justice, a crusader for good, a one-man crimefighting force.
Warner Bros. has selected four episodes from Batman: The Animated Series, included a couple of relevant extras, value-priced the DVD, and shipped it to market. This sampler set, as I have come to think of it, includes the first two-part episode with Catwoman (from 1992), a Mr. Freeze origin episode, and an episode featuring an invisible man (who is not a recurring character or well-known villain). I also like to think of this set as "Batman Lite," since these episodes have very little (if any) violence or lone-wolf vigilante justice. On the plus side, these episodes are heavier on the detective side of Batman's character, and in the expert hands of the show's creators, this is always a treat.
Four episodes from Season One are featured on this disc:
*"Cat and Claw" (Parts 1 and 2)
This two-part episode premiered the series in 1992. "Cat and Claw" is a strong series opener, beginning with a rooftop chase as Batman pursues Catwoman in an attempt to retrieve a diamond necklace she has stolen (with the assistance of her cat, Isis). When not chasing her, Batman is trying to track down the elusive Red Claw gang. As a subplot, Bruce Wayne's involvement with animal activist Selina Kyle is parallel to Batman's involvement with Catwoman -- both women hold his interest, and for a very good reason that is known to fans of Batman already and becomes clear to viewers by the end of the two-parter. When Red Claw steals a deadly virus and holds the city ransom, Batman forms an uneasy alliance with Catwoman in order to put an end to Red Claw once and for all. The best line comes when Catwoman comes home from an evening of being chased over rooftops, and is asked whether she had a tough night. "It had its ups and downs," she quips.
*"Heart of Ice"
Victor Fries was an aspiring scientist, working toward a cure for his beloved wife, Nora, when fate intervened and an accident took his normal life away from him. Condemned to subzero temperatures by the change his body underwent in the accident, he must wear a special suit to walk among humans, and he has lost most of his compassion for others as a result of his imprisonment and separation from his wife. This is his first appearance in the series, where he plots revenge on the man responsible for destroying his life. Reborn as Mr. Freeze and in possession of a deadly freeze-ray that crystallizes whatever it freezes, he nearly succeeds in wiping out his nemesis, but Batman intervenes. Justice is served at the end of the episode, although it isn't the bloody justice Mr. Freeze would have wanted.
*"See No Evil"
Without being heavy-handed in its moralizing, this chilling little episode is a cautionary tale about how easy it is to be led astray by people we love. People who seem nice, who may even have genuine affection for you, may not always have your best interests at heart. Consider the case of Lloyd Ventrix, an ex-con who loves his daughter and wants to do right by her. Unfortunately, his record with her mother isn't as good, and his methods of providing for his family aren't exactly aboveboard. He gets his hands on an experimental plastic that bends light, effectively rendering anything it covers invisible, and uses it to steal jewelry and money so that he can give nice things to his daughter. He also appears to her while wearing the plastic suit, disguised as an invisible friend called Mojo. Little Kimmy doesn't know better -- Mojo is nice, and he seems to care for her, so what is the harm? However, when Ventrix is away from her we see a different side of him, a man who doesn't like to have things taken away from him and who will do just about anything to get what he wants. Too late, Kimmy and her mom realize what is going on, but fortunately Batman is there to save the day.
Grade: A+ for reminding even adults that appearances can be deceiving, C+ for overall entertainment value.
In addition to the episodes, a trivia track for "Heart of Ice" reveals some Batman history and background for The Animated Series, and a featurette on the voice actors offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on bringing the characters to life. I enjoyed both of these extras, and learned a few things from the trivia track, which had some obvious bits of trivia but did a generally good job of filling in background and series detail. The extra with the voice actors for Joker, Catwoman, Batman, and Alfred is excellent, giving a good inside peek at the creation process and the role of the voice director, as well as the creative inspiration individual actors get for their voices. This is a fairly beefy extra, but it does not linger over-long on this subject, either.
Until The Animated Series debuted in 1992, Batman had not had a good time of it outside of the comic book format. Although the comics got it right, with a generally even portrayal of Batman as a crack detective, justice-minded vigilante, and all-around badass, his small- and big-screen appearances were a letdown for fans. The sixties television series, with its deliberately campy take on the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin, was fun but laughable, and the more recent movie franchise...well, that's just an Excedrin headache in the making.
Fortunately, the likes of Paul Dini (script writer) and Bruce Timm (director) came along and changed all that with Batman: The Animated Series. Finally, Batman ruled the airwaves, and fans tuned in to bask in the soft glow of electric awesomeness.
The Animated Series took characters seriously, giving them complex backstories and arcs that were interesting, moving, and entertaining. One of my favorite characters, Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze), was given an entirely new treatment that was surprisingly touching in its depth and simplicity, and helped to create a new generation of fans. The Joker was recast as a trickster with a dark side, doing a much better job of scaring me than the straight-up psycho from the movie franchise ever did. Catwoman went from being merely a hottie with a feline fixation and a knack for stealth to being a tough (yet conflicted) master thief who challenged Batman morally and emotionally. Even sidelined characters were reintroduced with a classic, comic-book-style treatment. A good example of this is The Penguin, who appeared as a gentleman robber and all-around moneygrubbing con man (rather than the well-intentioned but absurd movie incarnation).
Batman: Secrets of the Caped Crusader gets the villains right, with multilayered characterizations that don't get watered down, even though the show was under strict restrictions about what it could and could not show in the way of violence or lapsed morality -- series creators were still able to create powerful, memorable stories surrounding these characters.
The strength of this particular DVD is that it acts as an inexpensive sampler for those who don't want to invest a chunk of change on the first-season collection. However, I was disappointed by the transfer, which is merely average and shows age-related wear and artifacting during each episode. The Mr. Freeze episode probably looks the best out of the group, which is interesting since it was only the third production episode from Season One. Sound quality fares much better, with an excellent surround track that makes good use of multiple channels for sound effects and dialogue. Despite the average transfer, the casual viewer should be happy enough with picture quality, but videophiles may want to seek out the collected first season instead.
For all the praise this series as a whole deserves, I'm still not sure why these four episodes were chosen as representatives. No Joker? That seems like an oversight too large to ignore. The excellent "The Last Laugh" from the first season, which was based on a popular story from Batman comic book lore, would have made a worthy addition to this set, perhaps as a replacement for the more generic "See No Evil." I can see no rhyme or reason for the episode selections here, other than the common theme of less physical violence that they share.
This particular DVD also commits a couple of transgressions that I find annoying: no decent chapter stops (going to the next chapter just jumps to the end of the episode, or the next episode when using the "play all" feature), and no ability to shut off subtitles via in-episode remote once they are turned on -- you have to return to the main menu, choose "Languages," and shut them off. Then, restart the episode and fast-forward until you get back to where you want to be. While this is unlikely to be an issue for many viewers, this type of sloppy encoding makes the DVD feel rushed and rinky-dink...certainly not up to the standards of a studio that has more than enough resources to produce a better product.
This is a good DVD for anyone wishing to dip their toe in the water of Batman: The Animated Series, or for parents who want kid-friendly fare that will keep kids occupied for 90 minutes, but I can't see it appealing to anyone outside of this select group. At the relatively low asking price of around $15, these four episodes can be had fairly cheaply, but so can the first-season collection on DVD, which is a better value overall (just over twice the price for 28 episodes). Unless you want a completely de-fanged version of The Animated Series (which is careful to avoid gore and scary violence, anyway) save your pennies and go for the complete set.
Held on probation in consideration of more bang-for-your-buck value options.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Bat Signals: Batman Facts & Trivia" on episode "Hearts of Ice"
* "Voices of the Knight" Featurette
* TV Tome Reference