Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Runtime: 85 minutes
Release Date: Blu-ray, Digital – June 22, 2021
Synopsis: Inspired by the iconic mid-1990s DC story from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One begins as a brutal murder on Halloween prompts Gotham’s young vigilante, the Batman, to form a pact with the city’s only two uncorrupt lawmen (Police Captain James Gordan and District Attorney Harvey Dent) in order to take down The Roman, head of the notorious and powerful Falcone Crime Family. But when more deaths occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it becomes clear that, instead of ordinary gang violence, they’re also dealing with a serial killer – the identity of whom, with each conflicting clue, grows harder to discern. Few cases have ever tested the wits of the World’s Greatest Detective like the mystery behind the Holiday Killer.
Lauded for his performance as Red Hood/Jason Todd in 2010’s Batman Under the Red Hood, Jensen Ackles returns to the DC Universe Movies as the title character of Batman/Bruce Wayne. The late Naya Rivera, who passed away in 2020, gives one of her final performances as Catwoman/Selina Kyle. The all-star cast includes Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, Billy Burke as James Gordon, Titus Welliver as Carmine Falcone, David Dastmalchian as Calendar Man, Troy Baker as Joker, Amy Landecker as Barbara Gordon, Julie Nathanson as Gilda Dent, Jack Quaid as Alberto, Fred Tatasciore as Solomon Grundy, Jim Pirri as Sal Maroni, and Alastair Duncan as Alfred. Additional voices provided by Frances Callier, Greg Chun and Gary Leroi Gray.
Chris Palmer directs Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One from a screenplay by Tim Sheridan. Producers are Jim Krieg and Kimberly S. Moreau. Butch Lukic is Supervising Producer. Executive Producer is Michael Uslan. Sam Register is Executive Producer.
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Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One Animated Feature Review
By James Harvey
Effective and engaging, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is a solid kick-off to DC Universe Movie’s two-part animated adaptation of the acclaimed Batman: The Long Halloween comic storyline. Propelled by its fantastic cast and slick script, here the film’s creative team skillfully establish the characters and groundwork for this legitimately intriguing mystery, while also setting up what’ll undoubtedly be a thrilling conclusion. And thankfully, viewers won’t have to wait too long for Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two!
For those unfamiliar, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One kicks off with a mysterious, brutal murder on Halloween, which ultimately requires Batman to partner with Police Captain James Gordan and District Attorney Harvey Dent to solve the case. However, with repeated similar murders on Thanksgiving and Christmas, equally mysterious, it becomes clear Gotham City is dealing with a serial killer unlike anything it’s ever seen before.
Spoilers will be kept as light as possible in this review, but there will be some plot-specific material covered.
Right out of the gate, the decision to split the animated adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween over two features is clearly the right one. Not only does it give the story plenty of time to breathe, which is crucial for a tale such as this, but more importantly it sets up every character exactly where they need to be, not just for Part One, but Part Two, as well. Roles are defined, each with a clear purpose. The film takes its time, but by no means does it drag. Instead, the pacing allows for things to unfold organically and – for lack of a better term – realistically. “Slow burn” might not be an accurate description, but it’s close. By the time Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One wraps, the viewer has a strong understanding of who is who, what their roles are, and the stakes they’re facing, all of which feeds into the film’s central mystery – Who is Holiday?
Writer Tim Sheridan covers the first four (not 6 – 6 1/2) of the 1996 – 1997 13-issue Batman: The Long Halloween comic series here, covering Halloween to New Year’s. Part One isn’t a one-to-one adaptation. Some events have been removed or shuffled around, along with new scenes and dialogue created to boost the character work, set the players, and connect some of the dots, as well as beef up the action a bit, and perhaps engage in a little economical story-telling (the film’s nifty opening credits are a neat exercise in this). Some events from the comic are mentioned or shown in passing, or the details from said excised scenes shuffled elsewhere, but nothing really feels lost, instead just simply adapted to the narrative flow of a movie as opposed to a 13-issue comic series.
There is one significant change from the source material worth noting, though it could be considered minor despite being notable, is the removal of the hitmen gang The Irish, here replaced with the San Ho Hui, a Chinese triad. Again, it doesn’t lessen the adaptation at all, and does help boost the film’s action quotient, but those familiar with the original comic might be a shade confused or put-off (but it does add a pretty sweet fight scene).
Even with the changes – again, many not mentioned for the sake of spoilers – Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One stays absolutely true to writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale’s original story. Crucial and key moments and plot points from the comic remain, while the new material helps bring more focus on the principle characters and crucial details needed both here in Part One and the forth-coming Part Two. Honestly, the changes here feel no different than any other feature adapted from a long-form story. Changes need to be made as mediums are crossed, and Sheridan does a perfect job with keeping what matters in and trimming what doesn’t fit or could be explained in a more economical fashion. There’s a lot of ground to cover – even with just the four issues adapted here – and Sheridan makes it all work.
And just to quickly note, there is an after-credit scene in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One, clearly setting up what’s to come in Part Two, and shouldn’t be missed.
Director Chris Palmer’s understated approach to Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is especially crucial in both grounding this story, pairing perfectly with the similar approach to the character designs, as it helps to emphasize the dramatics of the story without it getting lost in the typical weirdness that comes with Gotham City. It can be a bit of adjustment, especially considering how Sale’s fantastic and exaggerated artwork from the four-color source could arguably be considered part of Batman: The Long Halloween‘s cast, but it ends up being beneficial for this animated take on the Holiday Killer’s rampage. But don’t worry, as there are nice nods to the source material to be found within. Palmer’s choice will undoubtedly give fans of the story pause, but it ultimately ends up the right call to make sure the story gets the attention it needs for this complex thriller.
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Further bringing this acclaimed comic to life beyond Sheridan and Palmer is Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One‘s impressive cast. Jensen Ackles steps into the role of Batman, graduating from Batman: Under the Red Hood‘s Jason Todd and not missing a step. A surprising choice initially, here Ackles offers a strong, nuanced performance, skillfully slipping back-and-forth between Batman and Bruce Wayne without pause. Let’s hope this won’t be the last time Ackles dons the Dark Knight’s cowl. By his side is Billy Burke, who brings a humanizing touch to Gordon, and Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, who puts in notable work as the unbalanced district attorney.
Continuing, Titus Welliver’s Carmine Falcone is especially worthy of notice. Welliver gives a commanding performance as Falcone, bringing genuine weight and threat to the character and selling every last bit of his imposing nature. It’s good, good stuff. Also making a strong impression is the late Naya Rivera as Catwoman, who absolutely nails the character’s spirited and flirtatious-yet-calculating nature. Plus, Alastair Duncan (The Batman) reprising his role as Alfred Pennyworth here? So good. In fact, there’s nary a weak link in the bunch, as everyone appears to absolutely be on their ‘A’ game. There is one performance in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One that really, really deserves further discussion, but that will need to wait for Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two (due to spoilers).
Also worthy of a shout-out is the movie’s sound design and score. Michael Gatt takes an understated, supportive approach for the film’s score. The score slinks through the movie, bubbling and simmering as tension builds, then bursting forth as characters erupt and violence breaks out. It’s a clever approach which works hand-in-hand with the sound design, which does remarkable workitself in setting the film’s mood and atmosphere, and thoroughly breathing life into every scene.
While Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is a sturdy outing in nearly every regard, it does stumble when it comes to the animation. There’s plenty of good animation to be found here, primarily the action sequences, but there’s also a noticeable chunk of stiff, jerky and clunky movements, all undoubtedly the result of budget limitations and stripping the movie between three studios – Edge Animation, Maven Image Platform, and Studio Grida. By no means is this a major strike against the movie, this isn’t first nor will it be the last DC Universe Movie to have to deal with these shortcomings. This is just an acknowledgement of a small issue these DC Universe Movie titles and their respective creators have dealt with over the last few years.
With all of this considered, the question comes down to whether Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is worth picking up as two separate releases, or should folks wait for the Batman: The Long Halloween Deluxe Edition coming 2022 (which will stitch Part One and Part Two together a la Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Deluxe Edition and The Death and Return of Superman). For those who have been anxiously awaiting this adaptation, there’s seriously no reason to wait. It’s a strong enough feature on its own to justify the purchase, it’s worth it, plus the concluding chapter is set for release in a little over a month (a smart move on Warner Bros.’ part to encourage picking up Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One and Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two separately as opposed to waiting for the 2022). If anything, it ends up an inadvertent nod to the monthly wait between The Long Halloween chapters back in the late 90s.
Despite a couple hurdles to overcome – uneven animation and a known “Deluxe Edition” 4K release in 2022 – Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is ultimately worth picking up sooner than later for those interested in DC Universe Movie’s adaptation of the classic, fan-favorite storyline. Sheridan does commendable work adapting the first four chapters of the 13-issue comic series, making all the right choices in what to shuffle, remove, and rewrite so the story successfully works from a feature narrative standpoint. Pairing that with impressive performances from the cast, an immersive atmosphere and a killer cliffhanger, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One sets up and establishes itself as an intriguing whodunnit that should leave viewers eager to see how it comes together (and crashing down) in Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two. Highly Recommended!
Hold up, the review isn’t done just yet! Click the link below to a look at Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two‘s Blu-ray release, including the attached DC Showcase The Losers animated short!
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[ Continue on to the Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One Home Media review ]