Animated Word

Presenting an in-depth look at the current state of Animation

The Last Son of WB's Lackluster DVDs

Several months ago, back in September of 2003, Warner Bros. Home Video/DVD department had a severe litmus test put before them. They'd ignored so many of their studios' classic and beloved animated shows in the still-raging trend of collective DVD sets for television shows. They've treated their few feature films with fairly lackluster releases (thus far; they would later release a better Space Jam DVD, and they have plans for a proper special edition of The Iron Giant). And Bruce Timm's animated works like Batman and Justice League continue to be released in water torture fashion, substituting four or five episodes each release for a slot that should be filled by full-season box sets. But then they released The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, a brilliant DVD release of a superb and expansive collection and chock full of excellent extras. Had they done that release wrong, then WB's Home Video department would have been utterly hopeless. But since they did that one right, the question lingers even more: what the heck happened to all these other releases?!

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Superman: The Last Son of Krypton just makes the criminal treatment of these shows even more obvious. It is touted as a "feature", which is really a misnomer - the DVD actually sports the three-part beginning for the series. Speaking critically about the main attraction for a second, this is absolutely one of the best openings a series has ever had. Of all the Bruce Timm series, this opening was the only one to really capture the excellence of the series from the get-go and sustain it. Batman's beginning episodes, apart from the first one (On Leather Wings), were pretty unremarkable. Justice League's Secret Origins was good, but not nearly as strong as later episodes that Season 2 would bring. And Rebirth for Batman Beyond actually overstated the series, establishing greatness that WB executive interference late in the second season would end up ruining. In this three-parter, Timm, Burnett, and Dini rethink the origins of Superman primarily from the Kryptonian angle. They established much more background on the conflict on his home planet before the place even blew up - so much, in fact, that the Krypton story merits a whole third of the three-parter. Origins and beginnings are established for three of Supes' biggest threats throughout the show: Lex Luthor, Brainiac (excellently rethought as sharing a Kryptonian background with Clark), and Metallo/John Corben. Most importantly, it's smartly written, wonderfully acted by all the series regulars, and superbly animated (keep an eye out for when Part 3 begins; the animation studio switches from Koko/Dong Yang to the unbeatable Tokyo Movie Shinsa, and the animation quality visibly triples).

But for such a wonderful set of episodes (albeit essentially one story.....well, one or two), couldn't WB spring for a few classier extras? We aren't even treated to the Timm-dubbed "talking head interviews" that he did for the Batman and Justice League discs. What is there? Well, they threw in that old "how to draw the hero" extra you see on all of these discs. They included a cheesy "Escape from Planet Krypton" game that amounts to dodging lasers with your remote control and playing Simon. Finally, there's an embarassing set of musical montages for each character featured in the episodes on this release. Embarassing in two ways, actually: they're insanely dull with horrible accompanying music, and they showcase clips from other Season 1 episodes that they haven't released to the public at all.

Why is WB doing this, you may ask? Money, naturally. It would take more money and more care to craft rewarding, expansive, informative DVD sets of any of Bruce Timm's shows. This is money that the WB has convinced itself that it won't get back, because apparently the grown-up audience is not solid enough for them. Thusly, they release less episodes with less material a pop, keeping the prices near $20 per disc as if it's more family-friendly. (Of course, this also allows them to bilk far, far more money out of anyone who ends up purchasing all the episodes eventually released as opposed to putting them in a box set.) They use these cheapie "kid extras" on the DVD like drawing the superhero and DVD games to try and clarify which audience they are aiming at. What's wrong with this, you might think? Well, Batman and Superman are years older than the audience they want (the kids' audience for Batman are all now in college or close), and the current climate of kids' programming these days - especially as dictated by Warner's Kids' WB and Cartoon Network - is entirely different than the climate responsible for these Timm shows! What sort of Yu-Gi-Oh! audience is going to be into a show like Superman? It's almost like WB is self-sabotaging these releases.

I try not to use this forum/column/whatever as a soapbox. It's silly and presumptuous; silly in treating this like a life-or-death matter, and presumptuous in the idea that I have any sort of authority with which to trumpet any kind of movement. But as a fan, and as a consumer, I plead to anyone who will listen that you should not just take this kind of corporate treatment. Simply buying or not buying the DVD isn't going to make a point. If you buy it, Warner Bros. will think that these releases are just fine; if you don't, they won't think there's any market at all. If you do care about this, and you do want better treatment of these benchmark action cartoons, then write to WB. Tell them that you want more, and you want better. It's the only way they'll learn.

A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on Feb 2, 2004

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