Cool and Classic: 'Batman: The Dark Night Returns' concludes with an apocalyptic showdown
Plus the original zombie movie 'White Zombie,' the western 'Kit Carson,' and more
"Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection" (Warner), the biggest DVD box set to date released by a studio, and "Best of Warner Bros. Best Pictures 20 Film Collection" (Warner) roll out as part of Warner Bros.' celebration of its 90th anniversary. Both DVD. Videodrone's review is here.
"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2" (Warner) completes the DC Universe Animated Original adaptation of Frank Miller's landmark graphic novel, with Peter Weller voicing old man Bat with the cold edge of an angry survivor and Michael Emerson taking on The Joker with a perfectly underplayed glee for chaos.
Like the first half (released in 2012), this adaptation (directed by Jay Oliva) manages to capture the best and the worst of Frank Miller: along with the savage deconstruction of superhero fantasy is a glib satire of social liberalism as blind hysteria and criminal enabling that makes Ayn Rand look measured. Miller's heroes, however, are vigilantes and old soldiers beholden only to justice in a world where the figures of authority are more interested in self-image than public good. Which makes Batman the great libertarian hero: the maverick loner more interested in protecting individuals than institutions and making sure the most savage criminals are duly punished (there is a real streak of Old Testament retribution in Miller's take). The Miller philosophy is pared down to the bone in the inevitable showdown between Superman (voiced by Mark Valley), the patriotic good soldier dedicated to protecting the country, and Batman, beholden to nothing but his conscience.
While any direct-to-disc animated adaptation is doomed to fall short of Miller's sensibility, this is as good as we could hope for. Oliva takes some shots right out of Miller's graphic novel, and though the clean line-drawing animation is very different from the heavy wood-cut slashes that look carved in to the graphic novel, the big, blocky, heavy character designs of Bats and Supes are preserved, as is the gruesomeness of the smiling dead left behind by the Joker. And not only does this have a body count appropriate to the savagery of the world gone wild violence, but some of it is shockingly cold-blooded. Oliva creates an eerie atmosphere for the last act showdown, which occurs under the gentle fall of nuclear fallout looking like ashy snow, and makes blindly-aggressive Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan look even more like the walking dead than Miller did in the original graphic novel.
Blu-ray and DVD, with the featurettes "Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide" and "The Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death," the dense 45-minute "From Sketch to Screen: Exploring the Adaptation Process with Jay Oliva," two bonus episodes from "Batman: The Animated Series" and one from "The Brave and the Bold," and a sneak peak at the upcoming "Superman Unbound." The Blu-ray also includes a digital comic excerpt from Miller's original graphic novel, a bonus DVD, and an UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming.
The 1932 "White Zombie" (Kino), from the Halperin brothers (producer Edward and director Victor), effectively and evocatively recreates the misty gothic mood of the Universal horrors of the day on a B-movie budget for the first true zombie film. The divinely satanic-looking Bela Lugosi sinks his teeth into his best role since Dracula, a languorous hypnotist and voodoo master who dominates the film with his assured bearing and cruel control. Not just menacing, he is ferociously vindictive, turning his enemies into his personal zombie servants. While other performances are almost clownishly overacted, the picture practically drips doom, a world of almost perpetual night inhabited by the lumbering, hollow-eyed walking dead.
This bargain bin regular is remastered from a fine grain print and presented on Blu-ray and DVD in both digitally remastered and "raw" versions, the former clean and scrubbed of texture, the latter scratch and grainy and full of detail. Also features commentary by film historian Frank Thompson, a six-minute interview with Bela Lugosi from 1932, a gallery of stills, and the trailer from the 1951 re-issue.
"Kit Carson" (Hen's Tooth), the latest in Hen's Tooth collection of Edward Small productions, stars B-movie leading man Jon Hall (famed for his Technicolor sword and sandal films of the forties) as the famous scout and Dana Andrews as a stiff, cultured cavalry officer, his rival for the affections of spirited settler Lynn Bari. Directed by stalwart George B. Seitz (who helmed almost every "Andy Hardy" movie), it's an old-fashioned western with Carson as the uncivilized explorer and trapper drafted into guiding a wagon train to California and Ward Bond as his buddy and his conscience, slowly leading the loner into the idea of marriage and civilization. The script is unadventurous and episodic but Seitz is great with action scenes and makes distinctive use of Monument Valley locations to give the film an epic feel. DVD.
"Pig / 1334" (Cult Epics) collects the two short underground films by experimental filmmaker Nico B. "Pig," from 1998 and co-directed by Rozz Williams, is an abstract thriller about a killer and his victim. "1334" is a 2011 production in part inspired by the death of Rozz Williams. Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack, with a booklet featuring production notes and original scripts.
"All's Well That Ends Well" (Kultur) presents the 2011 stage production of the Shakespeare play starring Janie Dee, Sam Crane, and Ellie Piercy, recorded live in performance at the Globe Theater. DVD.