The film buffs at Criterion Cast recently took a break from their usual discussion of the likes of Ozu, Godard, and Cox for in their year-end podcast review of the 2012 year in movies. Rather surprisingly to me, they talked up Batman: Year One and Dredd as two underrated 2012 releases. I had been happily ignoring both, but checked them out on Netflix and was soundly disappointed by both.
I used to be a big comics fan, but haven’t followed them in years. It seems both Marvel and DC Comics have since started animation factories cranking out adaptations of some of their more famous stories.
I’m sorry to say that Batman: Year One is inferior in every way to the original comics from the 1980s (which I believe I still have copies of somewhere). It takes a number of liberties from the source material, about which I’m ambivalent. Movies are movies, and comics are comics, and any adaptation from one to the other ought to make as many changes as the artists/writers/filmmakers/whatever wish. But a necessary question that immediately follows is: what was it about the source material that made it worthwhile in the first place, and how can it be preserved? Or at least translated or transformed to be equally exciting in another medium?
The Batman: Year One movie failed to capture much about the comics that has made them classics. At one point in the movie, a character tosses a photograph onto a table, rendered in David Mazzucchelli’s art style from the original comics. Intended as an homage, it merely emphasizes the unimaginative and bland animation style.
Without the timelessly stylized artwork, all you have left is Frank Miller’s hardboiled writing and plotting, which looks a little thin in the cold light of day.