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Batman: Death In The Family (Blu-ray Review)

Two interesting concepts come together as one in the latest DC Comics Animated Universe film (Going under a “DC Showcase” banner). One of their most requested stories for adaptation is the Death in the Family arc from the late 1980s. You know, the “Death of Robin”.  In a nifty little touch, that is almost a fitting tribute of how things went down back then, they are utilizing a choose your own adventure approach to the film, allowing you to pick certain fates which leads to one of seven possible endings. This is a short film, but getting through these unlocks different routes, storylines or takes on similar scenes. In addition to Death in the Family, it features four other DC Showcase shorts. And there are commentaries for everything as a bonus feature. Warner Bros is set to release this on October 13th. It well to know that the digital version does not have the choose your own path option, but does include streamlined versions of some predetermined routes. However, one of the endings is only found on the disc version. Considering the Blu-ray comes with a digital code, why not go this avenue?

Film

Batman: Death in the Family offers an inventive take on the long-demanded story. In the new animated presentation, the infamous murder of Batman protégé Jason Todd will be undone, and the destinies of Batman, Robin and The Joker will play out in shocking new ways as viewers make multiple choices to control the story. And while Batman: Under the Red Hood provides a baseline, the story also branches in new directions and features several characters previously unseen in the original film.

In the late 1980s, when Tim Burton’s Batman came out and I first delved into the world of comic book reading and collecting, Batman: Death In The Family was the big story arc that had recently taken place. WOW! They KILLED Robin! Why?! How?! Wait, its not Dick Grayson? There was another Robin? Something so huge, I had to know everything. My Batman comic upbringing was through the rather brash Jason Todd Robin, his death and then really finding myself invested in his successor Tim Drake.

The Death In The Family comic book event was a big deal in pop culture and enhanced its level of reach by making it an interactive event for readers. Readers were encouraged to call one of two numbers as to vote “yes” or “not” whether the second Robin, Jason Todd, would survive the cliffhanger of issue #427 where he was tortured and beaten by the Joker. Considering how unpopular Jason Todd was with readers following his debut in 1983, it felt like an easy way of the publishers allowing what they assumed the fans would pick to lead to a dark decision they were making anyway. Although it wound up a close race, the death card had been dealt by the fans.

With this new DC Animated Universe film adaptation, they’ve taken tot he spirit of that call-in fan voting interaction and used that to make a choose your own adventure style short film for the story. Utilizing the main death sequence as the starting point and having the knowledge of the 32 years of comics that followed, the film has you choose at certain points what the fate of Jason Todd may be. Simply starting with “Cheats Death”, “Batman Saves Him” and “Robin Dies”, some may end quickly and others may lead to more decisions that surrounding Jason’s fate after it.

From there, this has fun twists and turns with Batman’s history, characters and where Jason Todd ends up. In some scenarios Jason winds up becoming heroes and villains that were known to be the monikers of others. The film even has fun within its own parallel telling of the story but with a different perspective, character or whathaveyou but playing into an event we saw a different way with a different choice. There’s a lot to soak in, realize and be surprised with even though the events can be the same or they lead down completely different paths. Luckily the functionality of the disc is such that once you complete your story, you can easily navigate back to the choice you’d like to alter for a different path.

Death in the Family starts with a roughly 9 minute introduction scene before the first choice. Following that, the length depends on your choices. When I made my first choice, there was another 7 minute scene and the film ended. I thought “this is disappointing” and then through my going through other options and picking every one, by the end of it, I had actually spent roughly 90 minutes watching, playing around and enjoying it. They’ve really made a fun, entertaining multi-verse experience within the confines of a short animated film. Any fan of these animated movies or Batman should have a great time checking it out.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  Batman: Death in the Family comes with pretty much the best picture you can ask for from these animated movies. Its pretty radiant and vibrant. There is a sharp, crisp clarity to it. Colors are full and clean in their look. Aside from shading, its rather flat in its coloring scheme. Some areas do have textures and those details are easily discernible.

Depth:  This is a confident and clear image that allows its 2D animations to wander naturally and smoothly. No issues with any sorts of motion distortions or blur.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and flirt in a natural direction. Blacks find good shading with great darkness and shadows that never masque and important details. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are bold and vivid when they want to be. There are nice glows from fires and lasers appearing in the film. This is a primary palette with good saturation and contrast.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Dynamics: Batman: Death in the Family comes with a very nice, bombastic and cinematic feeling 5.1 mix. Its quite punchy and does a good job without going to extravagant. Its engaging when its loud and has a nice balance of the score, effects and vocals that carry no egos and allow each other time in the spotlight in the correct areas.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Big booms on your subwoofer come from explosions, gunshots, doors opening/shutting, engines, punches and more.

Surround Sound Presentation: The speaker dynamic hangs around the front a lot, but it does fill the room with rear channel additions when bigger action moments take place. Motion is accurate. Rear channels provide some solid ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with plenty of nice touches of actor diction and mouth sounds.

Extras

Batman: Death In The Family comes with a redeemable digital code. The digital verison features the Batman: Death in the Family extended-length short in a non-interactive format (pre-assembled version of the story, entitled Under the Red Hood: Reloaded), along with the other four 2019-2020 DC Showcase shorts, and three other non-interactive versions of the Batman: Death in the Family (entitled Jason Todd’s RebellionRobin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning) as bonus features (Note: not all Digital retailers offer bonus features with purchase). The Blu-ray also offers approximately five minutes of additional content within the Batman: Death in the Family story that is not included in the Digital version.

Additional Shorts

  • Sgt Rock (HD, 14:55)
  • Adam Strange (HD, 16:05)
  • The Phantom Stranger (HD, 15:07)
  • Death (HD, 19:08)

Audio Commentary

  • Batman: Death in the Family – Amy Dallen, Hector Navarro from DC Daily
  • Sgt Rock – Amy Dallen, Hector Navarro from DC Daily
  • Adam Strange – Amy Dallen, Hector Navarro from DC Daily
  • The Phantom Stranger – Amy Dallen, Hector Navarro from DC Daily
  • Death – Amy Dallen, Hector Navarro from DC Daily

Trailers (HD, 4:57) – Justice League: Dark Apokolips War, Mortal Kombat: Scorpion’s Revenge, Superman: Red Son

Summary

While taken on a clear path, Death in the Family can feel short, the point is to go through and watch as many versions as you can and after that its a feature length experience. And its quite fun and features fun parallels. Its presented with a terrific picture and audio quality. There are some nice commentaries and additional shorts that prove for a full on release. Definitely pick it up as this just feels like a special collector’s item regardless.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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