Batman: The Long Halloween — Part One

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, bloody images, language and some smoking.
Voices of Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Billy Burke, Titus Welliver, David Dastmalchian, Troy Baker, Amy Landecker, Julie Nathanson, Jack Quaid, Fred Tatasciore, Jim Pirri, Alastair Duncan, Naya Rivera.

Originally released in 1996 and 1997 and best known today as a graphic novel collection, the comic book miniseries “Batman: The Long Halloween” is considered one of the seminal works of the Batman canon.

Taking place over the course of a year early in Batman’s career, “The Long Halloween” tells the story of how Gotham City transitioned from gangland violence to being overrun with costumed supervillains, while also tracking the toll it takes on new district attorney Harvey Dent, who eventually becomes the villain Two-Face.

This first half of the two-part animated adaptation (the second half coming in a month) is heavily focused on the mafia side of things, and feels very much like Batman (Jensen Ackles) has been dropped into the plot of The Godfather.

This is a Batman still perfecting his skills as a vigilante. He makes obvious mistakes, isn’t too adept at jumping from roof to roof just yet, and he doesn’t seem interested in being a detective. He forms a pact with Dent (Josh Duhamel) and police Capt. Gordon (Billy Burke) to clean up the gang wars, but this only puts more of a target on Dent’s back, much to the chagrin of his wife. It also opens the door for the costumed crazies that Batman has inspired, such as the Joker (Troy Baker) and Catwoman (voiced by the late Naya Rivera in one of her final roles), as a serial killer begins targeting key mob personnel each month on a festive holiday.

Batman fans already familiar with the “Long Halloween” arc should appreciate the adaptation, which matches the animation style of the earlier Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Justice Society: World War II, potentially putting it in the same shared universe as those adventures. Long Halloween was reportedly intended to kick off this new continuity years ago, but was delayed when it looked as if Matt Reeves’ The Batman would be doing the storyline.

Casual Bat-fans who don’t know the graphic novel will likely recognize many aspects of the story, particularly the troika of Batman, Dent and Gordon, and the focus on Gotham’s mob bosses, from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, which was heavily influenced by Long Halloween.

The Blu-ray includes a nine-minute preview of the upcoming part two, which delves further into Dent’s transformation into Two-Face.

There are also showcases for previously released Batman animated movies The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Gotham by Gaslight.

As is customary for these DC Universe releases, the Blu-ray also contains two cartoons from the Warner Bros. catalog that are thematically similar to the movie — in this case, the “Batman: The Animated Series” episodes “Christmas With the Joker” and “It’s Never Too Late.”

Also included is the newest DC Showcase animated short film, the 16-minute The Losers. This one’s about a special forces unit during World War II caught up in a mission on an island overrun by dinosaurs brought from the past by a powerful energy barrier. The premise seems cobbled together from a few familiar sources and as a whole the short doesn’t amount to much, but the implications of some of the plot developments could be intriguing if explored further.

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Star Trek: Lower Decks — Season 1

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount/CBS;
Animated Sci-Fi;
$27.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $41.99 BD Steelbook;
Not rated;
Voices of Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Eugene Cordero, Noël Wells, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fed Tatasciore, Gillian Vigman.

A glimpse into the lighter side of “Star Trek,” “Lower Decks” offers a comedic take on the franchise, using animation in the vein of “Rick and Morty” to present the adventures of the kinds of crew members who usually don’t get much screen time.

The series borrows its concept and name from an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that similarly focused on the lives of ordinary Starfleet officers serving on the lower rungs of the chain of command. It is set aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, which itself is sort of a second-tier starship, sent in to clean up after better-known ships such as the Enterprise have their fun.

Though set in the “Star Trek” universe, the show is as much a parody of the franchise’s tropes as it is an addition to the canon. The animated aesthetic lets it cheat a bit in that regard, as it gets away with a perspective that would be hard to accept from a live-action “Trek” series. This is essentially “Star Trek” turning a satiric lens on itself much in the same way “The Orville” can only do as an homage.

“Lower Decks” is the brainchild of Mike McMahan, who wrote and produced for “Rick and Morty” and brings much of that sensibility here. The 10 episodes of the first season are peppered with references to earlier “Trek” series, including a number of obscure references to the 1970s animated “Trek” series. The series presents its main characters as essentially fans of ships such as the Enterprise, essentially making them in-universe “Star Trek” fans who get to make fun of the canon even as they actively play around its edges. The meta-commentary reaches its peak in the ninth episode, which is basically just a spoof of “Star Trek” movies, from horn-heavy music to a saturation of lens flares a la J.J. Abrams, presented within the world of the show through the holodeck.

While it’s hard to take the episodes too seriously as legitimate “Star Trek” plots, many of the resultant jokes can be rather funny, particularly to “Trek” fans who have enough knowledge of the franchise to appreciate them. To outsiders, the show would probably seem more like a wannabe “Futurama.” Still, it’s the best “Trek” series of the so-called new era that includes “Discovery” and “Picard,” which isn’t saying much.

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions of the series offer about two hours of behind the scenes material, the bulk of which are presented under the “Lower Decktionary” banner. In total, this is a 10-part documentary that runs about an hour — or, at least, it would be if it were presented in a more logical manner, to borrow a phrase from the Vulcans. Each part of “Lower Decktionary” is presented as a bonus feature with a particular episode — though more often than not the topics reflect the series as a whole and might point to that episode as an example. Also, the video quality of these featurettes is spotty at best, likely owing to editing together interviews from the cast and production team members that was culled from Zoom videos during the pandemic.

There are two additional standalone featurettes. The 24-minute “Faces of the Fleet” focuses on the development of the characters, while the seven-minute “Hiding in Plain Sight” discusses several of the references built into the show.

A couple of the episodes also include deleted sequences in animatic form (sketches rather than finished animation), while a full-length animatic version of the first episode also is available.

Rounding out the extras is a fake trailer for the fake movie at the center of episode nine.

 

HBO Max, Cartoon Network Partner for New Animated ‘Superman,’ ‘Batman’ Series

HBO Max and Cartoon Network May 19 announced a pair of animated superhero series revolving around two of Hollywood’s biggest crime-fighting characters of all time: Superman and Batman.

A two-season series order has been placed for “My Adventures With Superman,” a new family animated series following the action-packed romantic adventures of Superman and Lois Lane.

Also getting the green light is a straight-to-series order for “Batman: Caped Crusader,” which Max describes as a “reimagining of the Batman mythology.”

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and based on characters from DC, “My Adventures With Superman” catches up with twentysomethings Clark Kent (voiced by Jack Quaid), Lois Lane (Alice Lee) and Jimmy Olsen as they begin to discover who they are and everything they can accomplish together as an investigative reporting team at the Daily Planet.

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“Superman has remained one of the most iconic and beloved superheroes in the world,” Amy Friedman, head of kids an family programming at Warner Bros., said in a statement. “This fresh take from the Warner Bros. Animation team delivers a modern, relatable Clark Kent alongside a fearless, whipsmart Lois Lane who are navigating the small tasks of both becoming adults and trying to save the world.”

The serialized coming-of-age story follows Kent as he builds his secret Superman identity and embraces his role as the hero of Metropolis — and perhaps the world. Lane, now growing into a star investigative journalist, takes aspiring photographer Jimmy Olsen under her wing. All the while, Kent and Lane are falling in love, sharing adventures, taking down bad guys, stumbling over secrets, and discovering what it means to be Superman and Lois Lane.

“It’s been a great partnership working with Cartoon Network and HBO Max to bring more DC superheroes to the platform in new and creatively interesting ways” Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios, said in a statement. “This is the first animated Superman series in many years and we want to tell our Superman story through the trio of Clark, Lois and Jimmy — whose relationship dynamic will allow for rich, serialized and engaging stories as we explore their lives as individuals and their journey together as friends.”

“Batman: Caped Crusader” is being executive produced by Bruce Timm, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, and produced by Warner Bros. Animation (WBA), Bad Robot Productions and 6th & Idaho.

“It is always fun to feed the insatiable appetite fans have for all things Batman,” Tom Ascheim, president of Warner Bros. global kids, young adults and classics, said in a statement. “‘Batman: Caped Crusader’ will entertain first-time and die-hard fans alike and, with such an impressive creative team in place, we know we have another future Batman classic in the making.”

“Batman: Caped Crusader” represents Timm’s return to the iconic DC character in animated episodic television, which began with the Emmy Award-winning “Batman: The Animated Series.” Praised by many to be the gold standard of animated superhero storytelling, “Batman: The Animated Series” is considered one of the best depictions of the Dark Knight in any medium.

A Drive-in Premiere for ‘The Boys’

Amazon Prime Video Sept. 3 hosted a drive-in screening of “The Boys” season two ahead of its Sept. 4 premiere. Stars Antony Starr, Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty, Karen Fukuhara, Shantel VanSanten, Claudia Doumit, Langston Kerman and Abraham Lim arrived at Level 8 at The Grove in Los Angeles to celebrate the new season. Guests arrived in their cars through Lucy the Whale, who makes a special appearance in the third episode of season two. Ahead of the drive-in special screening, guests were invited to a socially distant pre-party in their cars, where they had their pictures taken at the drive-through photo op activation, danced in their cars to the music of DJ Michelle Pesce, and enjoyed Umami Burgers, Popcorn and Swedish Fish. Before the two-episode screening, fans enjoyed a pre-taped introduction from the cast and executive producers Eric Kripke, Seth Rogen and Evan Greenberg. A special encore drive-in screening for cast and fans is also being held Sept. 4 and is at full capacity.

The first three episodes of season two premiere Sept. 4, with new episodes available each Friday following, culminating in a season finale Oct. 9. The eight-episode Amazon Original series will be available exclusively on Prime Video in more than 200 territories around the world.

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Based on the New York Times best-selling comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, “The Boys” is an irreverent take on what happens when superheroes — who are as popular as celebrities, as influential as politicians and as revered as gods — abuse their superpowers rather than use them for good. The Boys continue on a quest to expose the truth about The Seven, and Vought — the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that manages these superheroes and covers up all of their dirty secrets.

Nielsen Says It Can Track Amazon Prime Video Viewership Trends

Nielsen reportedly can now track viewership trends for Amazon Prime Video original content with the same software launched two years ago — with much fanfare — to track Netflix’s domestic TV viewing trends.

Nielsen markets the “Subscription Video on Demand Content Ratings” software to content clients tracking their programming on third-party SVOD platforms.

“This is a significant milestone for Nielsen, especially considering the upcoming high-profile streaming service launches,” Brian Fuhrer, SVP product leadership at Nielsen, said in a statement. “We think the addition of Amazon Prime Video will allow rights owners an added ability to understand both the size, as well as the composition, of their streaming audiences relative to other platforms or programs.”

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While Amazon hasn’t commented on the data disclosure, SVOD rival Netflix contends Nielsen’s data is incomplete because it does not account for portable devices and desktop viewing, in addition to global audiences.

But for Sony Pictures Television, Nielsen’s data for “The Boys,” which it co-produces with Amazon Studios, is invaluable. The series attracted 4.1 million Prime households per episode over the first 10 days of release — in addition to 6 million for the premiere episode.

“Nielsen has the ability to help us understand what these audiences are doing outside of those platforms as well — how and what they are watching on other on-demand and linear services,” James Petretti, SVP, U.S. research and analytics at Sony Pictures Television, said in a media statement.

Regardless, Nielsen’s viewership tracking of Prime Video and Netflix content does not necessarily fit into the marketing plans for the SVOD giants, according to Jeffrey Lodgson, media analyst at JBL Advisors.

“[Public ratings] would not serve Netflix’s plan or perspective on the entertainment universe,” Logsdon told TechCrunch. “Talent may try to use viewership numbers to extract higher compensation than a more simplistic renewal process.”