Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
by Paul (ral)

In 1986 Frank Miller (with help from Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley) created a 4-part run that has probably become THE single biggest influence on everything after it.
It would be many years after they were initialy released before I would get my hands on a copy (11th printing to be exact).

Fans have been calling for a live-action adaption for years now. It wasn't until the recent Warner Premiere straight to video animated movies that we started seeing the possiblity of an on-screen adaption. WB/DC had the same idea, luckily. Who better to guide such a project than Bruce Timm - whose own influencial style with the Batman Animated Series (read our 20th Anniversary retropective) has had such impact. Commenting recently on the adaption, Timm stated "Dark Knight Returns is the granddaddy of beloved comics properties that we’ve ever attempted to adapt. There is definitely the imperative to get it right." 

Well did they "get it right"? YES! I'm really struggling to find a word that describes it better than "adaption" - it's like 95% verbatim! You know how you loved those old read along comics you got years ago - a vinyl record and a comic. Same thing here if you want - only now it's a movie and a graphic novel. It really is "frame" for "panel" at times - a very, very close adaption. The team here have done a brilliant job.

Part 1 adapts Chapter 1 and 2 of the novel and ends on a great tease for those unfamilar with the story (which is actually a bit of a suprise cameo for those who are familar with the story). Win, win.

Adapting any written (or drawn) work has to call for edits. A few pages from the book are moved around at times and some of the "talking head" stuff has been refined (with a little removed). The dialogue has been left intact, generally. Among the few cuts there are is the "now infamous cinema shooting scene".

I still have the same problems I had with Batman: Year One - using Miller's dialogue sounds silly at times. The sort of "film-noir" speak he uses where everything is ground down to short bursts of though (almost txt-speak) may work film in a comic or something like Sin City but for me it sounds a little stilted and limits the voice actor's performances. It's one area where I wouldn't have minded a little more creative license but hey - that's just my preference, and I suppose if you going to do a proper adaption of a work like TDR you may as well give every nuance the original piece has.

Despite that, everyone is on top form here. Weller owns the role and gives a real sense of weary and gravitas to the role.

There have been a few additions to scenes - very minor things (to help get some character motivations to the audience I assume) and the first fight with the Mutant Leader has been extended to be more of a battle. Oh and look out for an Alan Moore cameo...of sorts.

All in all, I have to say this is a great animated feature. For those who have been put off by the writing and artwork in Miler's work (yes there are a few), they will find this much more accessable - and at 1hr 10mins it just flies in, despite seeming to get through a huge chunk of story and action.

Christopher Drake does brilliant work (as usual) with the score. He really evokes that 80's score feeling at times.

The animation is gorgeous. Slick, dark and dynamic.

Superb. Wonderfully adapted and faithfully respectful. A true classic gets the classic animation it deserves.

To explain, I haven't gone into the story for 2 reasons. 1 - if you haven't read DKR (shame, shame) then I don't want ot spoil it. 2 - if you have read DKR then there isn't any point telling you what you already know.

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