Action Animation

'Batman: The Killing Joke' Blu-ray Review: No laughing matter

August 8, 2016Ben MK

One of the most pivotal and influential Batman comic storylines of the last four decades, 1988's "The Killing Joke" helped shape the cinematic future of both the Dark Knight and his arch-nemesis, the Joker. Now, "The Killing Joke" itself has been given the movie treatment — though the results aren't exactly what you might expect.

First, let's start off with the good news. Fans of "The Killing Joke" will be glad to hear that this 26th entry in the DC Universe's ever-expanding line of animated movies mostly follows the shocking events of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's seminal graphic novel, which sees the Joker (Mark Hamill) escaping from Arkham Asylum and committing horrific acts of violence against Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) and her father, Commission Gordon (Ray Wise) — all to prove to Batman (Kevin Conroy) that we're each just "one bad day" away from insanity.

The not-so-good news, however, is that director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzarello have chosen to expand on this relatively short story by tacking on a brand-new first act to their film version. The problem is that this first chapter of the story feels completely disjointed from the rest of the narrative. And while its focus on Barbara Gordon — aka Batgirl — is meant to make the tragedy that befalls her later in the film all the more impactful, it actually ends up slighting her character, by undermining her motives and reducing her to basic female stereotypes.

Suffice to say, if you can look past The Killing Joke's first one-third, the result proves to be a faithful, if not excellent, adaptation of the source material, as it not only delves into the Joker's origins, but also examines the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of his tenuous relationship with the Caped Crusader. Some viewers, however, may be unable to forgive the movie's treatment of its central female character, which ends up being just as tragic as the Clown Prince of Crime's actions towards her in the story proper.

Past DC Universe animated movies have been hit-and-miss in the audiovisual department; however, Batman: The Killing Joke thankfully doesn't fall into the "miss" category. On the contrary, the quality of this 1080p image is right up there with the best of them, delivering crisp line art, deep black levels and robustly saturated hues, from the yellow of Batgirl's gloves, belt and boots to the Joker's purple suit and green hair. As for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that accompanies the visuals, dialogue and music resonate with great clarity, as do the sounds of punches, gunfire and explosions, not to mention the roar of the Batmobile and the Batcycle's engines.

Warner's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • From the DC Comics Vault (43:57) - Two episodes from Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures ("Christmas with the Joker" and "Old Wounds").
  • A Sneak Peek at DC Universe's Next Animated Movie (8:14) - A look at the upcoming Justice League Dark, from its characters and the voice acting, to how the film differs from the previous Justice League movies.
  • A Sneak Peek at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part One (12:36) - A look at part one of the DC Universe's adaptation of Frank Miller's 1986 comic miniseries, from its characters and its themes, to the voice acting and the legacy of the source material.
  • A Sneak Peek at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part Two (6:52) - A look at part two of the DC Universe's adaptation of Frank Miller's 1986 comic miniseries, from its portrayal of the Joker and the cinematic nature of the storytelling, to its epic showdown between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton.
  • A Sneak Peek at DCU Batman: Assault on Arkham (7:29) - A look at the movie prequel to the "Arkham Asylum" videogame, Batman: Assault on Arkham, from its characters to the voice acting.
  • Madness Set to Music (11:54) - Composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis discuss their score for Batman: The Killing Joke, and the filmmakers talk about Mark Hamill's return as the Joker.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke: The Many Shades of the Joker (17:43) - A look at the legacy of the original comic, from its influential depiction of the Joker and Alan Moore's multilayered storytelling, to the stark visuals of artist Brian Bolland and the inclusion of more of Barbara Gordon's backstory in the movie adaptation.

Batman: The Killing Joke is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of August 2nd, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish (Castellano) Dolby Digital 2.0 and Spanish (Latino) Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, French, German, Spanish (Castellano) and Spanish (Latino) subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 16 Mins.

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