Without a doubt, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS changed the way people looked at Batman and comics in general. Batman always had a certain level or respect but was Frank Miller's 1986 four-issue prestige series that brought both grittiness and a new way to think about Batman.
The story told the tale long time readers never expected to see. We had a grizzled Batman who had been inactive for ten years. The idea of Batman retiring seemed so out of character. We all imagined Batman would be active until he was killed in the line of duty. Yet THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is seen as one of the definitive Batman stories.
The idea of an attempt being made to adapt this story was both exciting and frightening. DC has a good track record in terms of its animated original movies but taking on one of the best Batman stories is a tremendous task.
Thankfully, the idea was made to break the story into two parts. This movie perfectly adapts the first two issues of the series. It also does a near perfect job of adapting those issues scene by scene. The animation is a little cleaner than Frank Miller's style but you still feel the influence there. Some parts that took only a few panels are delved into with more detail, for example the opening scene with Bruce Wayne involved in a car race. Other scenes, such as the numerous television reports are condensed without losing the full effect. It's actually about fifteen minutes into the movie until we see Bruce back in costume.
The main downside of this adaptation is the loss of some of the inner monologues. They would come across as disruptive or possibly cheesy so it's one of the compromises that had to be made. Carrie Kelly's first time out has her talking to herself rather than thinking to herself. It does work nicely here. The biggest lacking moment was during Batman's battle with him calling out to Dick to be at his side and watch his back. This is missing from the movie but again, the price in delivering a polished adaptation rather than one bogged down by too much prose.
Despite some of the minor changes, there are still several scenes that use the exact dialogue from the comic. You can follow along with your copy if you desire. The better move would be to simply sit back and enjoy the show. You do get a sense of the dreariness and tone the story is meant to deliver.
The voice acting fits the movie nicely as well. Hearing Peter Weller as Batman takes a tiny bit to get used to. David Shelby as Commissioner Gordon didn't quite have the right ring to it. The others (Carrie, Alfred, Mutant Leader, etc) all do a great job in bringing life to the comic pages.
The Blu-ray does offer a good amount of special features. The biggest is a sneak peek at Part 2, set for Winter 2013. We get to see some unfinished scenes along with more insight from Bruce Timm and others involved. This feature has a running time of 6:53.
Another feature is "Her Name is Carrie…Her Role is Robin" (12:23). Here we see Michael Uslan talking about women's rights movement and the importance of a female Robin. Bruce Timm, Bob Goodman and others discuss Frank and Alan Moore taking a mature take on comics in the 80s to help reinvent them. Grant Morrison also shares his thoughts on the matter.
There are a couple episodes from Batman: The Animated Series. Parts 1 and 2 of "Two-Face" are included.
The full Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story (38:26) documentary is also included.
There is also a sneak peek for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, which was odd since it's been released for a while now along with a digital comic for THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.
If there's been any fear over the attempt at adapting this classic story, we can now put those to rest. It is unfortunate that we have to wait a few months for Part 2 but that's a better option than having the entire story condensed down to a single movie. We get crisp and clean animation reminiscent of Frank Miller's style and the comic is virtually brought to life in its entirety (or at least the first half of the series). Fans that read and loved the original comics should be pleased and those that haven't read it will be in for a treat. The movie may not be perfect but most of the few faults could be said to lie within the actual story rather than the execution here.
If you're a fan of Batman and the DC original animated movies, there's no doubt that you'll want to add this to the others already in your collection.