Director: Sam Liu
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter & Anthony Head
Rating: 15 Duration: 78 minutes Release date: 5 February (UK)
Continuing DC’s recent trend of animated films based upon popular graphic novels comes Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Pitting Batman against Jack the Ripper in 19th Century Gotham is an idea that works really well in short story form. But, when turned into a 78 minute film it runs short of ideas and much like last years The Killing Joke, it has to introduce new elements to fill out its run time.
Planting Batman into the 19th Century is a novel idea. Seeing him adapt to these new surroundings, when technology was not as advanced, is certainly interesting. It’s also unique seeing Batman square up against someone who is not a fictional character, and who is rather one of histories most infamous killers. It’s all pretty interesting to be fair, but director Sam Liu has cut a film that could do with a bit more flair and entertainment instead of settling for run of the mill.
One of the films biggest problems is that the source material is actually not very long. According to my research, the first page of Google search results, the original graphic novel is a speedy 112 pages long. Not something that translates well into a feature length animated film. Because of this, changes are made and a lot padding out is done to make the adaptation worthwhile. This same method was used in The Killing Joke, and where that film added an unnecessary side story regarding Batgirl and Batman’s relationship, Gotham by Gaslight introduces characters who were not in the graphic novel and (slight spoiler) changes the identity of the killer. The results are mixed and may leave fans perplexed as to why things were changed. After all, if you must change something, then surely it should be for the better.
Being a mixed bag means there are positives though and one huge positive is Jennifer Carpenter’s Selina Kyle. Eagerly voiced and more than able to hold her own against Bruce Wayne, Batman and the Ripper, this version of Selina is confident and powerful and way ahead of her time. Likewise, Bruce Greenwood is settling into the role of Batman nicely. Having already voiced the character in Batman: Under the Red Hood, Greenwood is looking likely to take the mantle of the second best actor to voice Batman because, of course no one can surpass Kevin Conroy’s fine work. And despite the likes of Hugo Strange, Poison Ivy or the three Robins – Dickie, Tim and Jason not present in the graphic novel, their introduction here is a nice touch. Also, the harder edge in the animation style compliments the gothic tone of Gotham City.
I feel like I’m saying this with a lot of films lately, but it’s a shame that this film is not better. There are great elements here and seeing Batman in different time periods is always welcome. And yet, even at 78 minutes long it feels drawn-out. There is always room for more Batman, on the big or small screen, but it seems like the character is having an increasingly hard time pleasing people lately.