Animated Word

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Took 'Em Long Enough - The B:TAS DVD Set

The squeaky wheel wins after all, it seems. For quite some time, since the craze of putting television shows on DVD began, fans like myself have been clamoring and demanding a proper season set of Batman: The Animated Series, as opposed to these condescending and comparatively worthless single-disc releases, sporting only a handful of episodes a pop. I do not doubt that the consistent and vocal support/outcry of the show's fans have helped make this new DVD set possible. But I don't think that was the main reason. I think the sales of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection were what convinced WB Home Video that the box-set market was booming. They'd seemed hesitant at first to engage in much DVD splendor for any of their releases, film or television, but the Golden Collection (probably viewed by WB execs as their biggest gamble, although being obviously their biggest sure bet) broke their mold. As a demanding fan of B:TAS, I am slightly disappointed in the amount of extras that, had they been expanded, would've made the set something really special. But that doesn't change the fact that this set is a must-own.

Not that every episode on here is a keeper, mind you. Unlike those half-efforts before, this little baby has 28 episodes on it. (Doing the math over the course of all 113 episodes of Batman, old and new style, three more sets of about 28 episodes can be made to complete the series' release.) Additionally, this release, a proper Volume One, is of the episodes in production order, which means that all of the early chinks in Batman's armor can be seen in this set. Sean Catherine Derek, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski's first story editor, commanded a set of episodes that are, in this humble reviewer's opinion, insults to the vision Timm and Radomski had for the show.

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So there's some pretty foul stuff here, like The Forgotten. But for every clunker, there's at least two good or great episodes to counter that. Episodes like Heart of Ice, Mad As A Hatter, Two-Face, and so forth are on this set, making it easily worth the price to buy on their own. As for the other episodes, face facts: to get the whole series, you have to buy the good with the bad. View it as a way to enhance your own skills as a conscientous watcher; notice what you think works or fails and why. Later sets are likely to be more entertaining and fulfilling on the whole, but Volume One of Batman: The Animated Series may be the set that most improves its audience.

I do have something to moan about, though, and it's the extras. Not because they're bad - well, excepting that ludicrously stupid "Tour of the Batcave", with the awkward voice-over explanations of everything. Sounds like Mark Hamill, too, which depresses me; sometimes, even the great Mark cannot overcome such shoddy material. But despite that and a few superfluous previews, what extras are here are quite nice. The featurette was longer than I feared it would be, which was a pleasant surprise, although more structure in the editing might have given it a more professional feel, as opposed to the back-and-forth of talking heads. But it's still good to hear people appreciating and explaining Batman, because a show this ground-breaking deserves to be dissected. The pilot promo is odd to watch when you're so familiar with the style of the completed show, but it's quite a catch from a collector's POV, and it has an excellent introduction that tells a lot of backstory. Finally, the two commentaries are priceless, with Timm and Radomski on On Leather Wings (the first episode), and Paul Dini joining them on Heart of Ice (my favorite episode, so extra kudos). Especially noteworthy is how they're still perfectionists, pointing out things they'd like to fix in these already-masterful episodes.

One might get a sense of what my problem is here. It's not that the extras are bad; far from it, in fact. They're just sparing, in a way that aggravates me because it is symbolic of less money being funnelled into the project. Only two commentaries? There are at least five more episodes on this set that utterly demand commentaries, like Beware the Gray Ghost or Joker's Favor. The featurette is nice, but this show really needs a documentary, a piece-by-piece thorough examination of each element of why the show was so brilliant. These extras are good, but they're suspiciously lip-service, not extent enough to reflect the impact of the series.

Despite that, this is still a top-notch collection with audio and visual perfection, a few good extras, and a lot of fun. It's a necessary purchase in many ways. You need to buy it to revisit these episodes. You need to buy it to hear Timm and Radomski reunited in commentary. You need to buy it to prove to WB Home Video that these sets are worth the effort, because the more that happens, the less we'll see minute disappointments like in the extras on this set. Batman: The Animated Series is finally available at home for real.

A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on July 12, 2004

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