BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD (Blu-ray)
Writer Judd Winick brings his "Under the Hood" story arc from Batman comics to the animated DC Universe with Under the Red Hood now out on Blu-ray and DVD.
The movie opens with a prologue taken from Jim Starlin's infamous "A Death in a Family" story arc as the Joker kills Jason Todd, the young man who had taken up the mantle of Robin after Dick Grayson moved on and became Nightwing. The story jumps five years forward, and someone identifying himself as the Red Hood comes to Gotham. He sets up a meeting with some drug dealers and makes them an offer they can't refuse, offering to protect them from both Batman and the Black Mask, who is currently running the crime syndicate, for 40 percent of their take and no selling to children.
Batman first learns about the Red Hood when he is questioning some thugs and is not happy to have a vigilante running the streets. The Joker was known as the Red Hood before a fall into a chemical vat gave him his clown-like appearance. Batman is curious if the Joker is involved so he visits Arkham Asylum but the Joker denies it. Batman crosses paths with the Red Hood again and not only does the Red Hood demonstrate an athletic ability similar to Batman's but he also reveals a secret that few know. Raising the stakes of the story, The Black Mask is so frustrated at his losses he busts the Joker out of Arkham to go after the Red Hood, setting up a showdown between them and Batman.
Winick's gamble of resurrecting a classic storyline and continuing it pays off better than expected because he creates believable scenarios. The story allows Winick to explore the character of Batman and what the boundaries are under which he works. I haven't read the "Under the Hood" story arc, but according to Wikipedia, there are quite a few changes in the adaptation, although the story as presented here didn't feel like anything was missing.
Bruce Greenwood is the voice of Batman. He does a serviceable job but the gruffness of his voice is slightly reminiscent of fan-favorite Kevin Conroy. Jensen Ackles as Red Hood and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing do a good job conveying their character's emotions. John DiMaggio's Joker is a bit of a mess though it's not all his fault. The character is drained of personality, neither mad nor madcap. Just sadistic. He's the weakest character in the movie.
Presented with a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the video is a reminiscent of Batman's Two-Face. There is some good stuff to see. Colors are bold and vibrant with blacks looking as inky as they would on the comic-book page. There are sharp lines and great details like bits of ash floating in the air after a building explodes. Unfortunately, there is also some bad. Banding being one of the greatest issues as seen around light sources and in the night sky. Other artifacts pop up throughout as well, contributing to an unsatisfying result.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track on the other hand delivers with stronger results. Dialogue is clear even during some intense action scenes. There's good surround gunfire. Effects from powerful weapons to soft bone-crunching sounds are equally discernible. The subwoofer gets a good workout from the explosions and crashes that permeate the adventure.
There are over three hours of extras to entertain viewers.
No doubt tied into what they thought was going to be a better-received theatrical release, "DC Showcase – Jonah Hex" (HD, 12 min.) is written by author Joe R Lansdale. It's a brief vignette that could have used more of a conflict. The very stylized look contains a lot of soft focus to create depth. It boasts an impressive cast (Thomas Jane, Michael Rooker, and Linda Hamilton).
Two similar features examine the young men who were the Boy Wonder. "Robin: The Story of Dick Grayson" (HD, 24 min) looks at how the character evolved over the years. Exclusive to Blu-ray is "Robin's Requiem: The Tale of Jason Todd" (HD, 21 min). Most interesting is the phone campaign and the rumor of one man who may have caused the character's death.
"A First Look at Superman/Batman Apocalypse" (HD, 12 min) is a promo piece from the animated DC Universe. It is a sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and is based on Superman/Batman Issues #8-13.
Four episodes selected by Bruce Timm are included here from Batman: The Animated Series related to Robin and the Joker. "Robin's Reckoning: Part 1 & 2" (SD, 22 min ea.) finds Robin revisiting the death of his parents. The Joker is experimenting with "The Laughing Fish" (SD, 22 min.) and Harley Quinn tries to get the Joker all to herself in "Mad Love" (SD, 22 min).
There are also trailers (HD) for Jonah Hex Motion Comic, Legend of the Guardians, Lord of the Rings Animated, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Superman: Doomsday, and Batman: Gotham Knight.
With a strong story, quality art, and a very good audio track, Batman: Under the Red Hood is recommend for fans of the character.
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Batman - Under the Red Hood on Blogcritics.