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Batman: Death in the Family Interactive Blu-ray review: Dir. Brandon Vietti

Of the thirty-plus DC Universe Animated Original Movies released to date, 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood remains the gold standard. Drawing on the popular Batman comics A Death in the Family (1988) and Under the Hood (2004-05), the gut-wrenching, emotional tale of Batman’s greatest failure remains a fan favourite film to this day – dark, mature and incredibly moving.

Now ten years on, director Brandon Vietti returns to write & direct this innovative animated prequel/sequel to Under the Red Hood, reuniting with original Red Hood cast-members Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) and Vincent Martella (Phineas and Ferb) as Batman, the Joker and Jason Todd respectively.

The main selling point of this release is, of course, the much-publicised interactive narrative, wherein the viewer can decide the fate of Robin! It’s a neat concept, and a nice homage to how comic book readers were invited to vote as to whether Jason Todd/Robin would survive an explosive encounter with the Joker way back in 1988 (spoiler alert: he didn’t!).

Several alternate endings are possible, and whilst it may take the viewer a few repeat viewings to watch them all, it is entertaining every time. Vietti’s various narratives are wonderfully scripted and animated, and each thread ventures down some interesting, occasionally unexpected avenues that fans will enjoy exploring. The interface on the Blu-ray is easy to use and makes jumping back and forth between the various threads easy to navigate, ensuring the whole experience is free from frustration and boredom.

Also included on the disc are four previously-released short films featuring lesser-known DC characters like Sgt. Rock (voiced by Karl Urban), the Phantom Stranger (Peter Serafinowicz), Adam Strange (Charlie Weber) and Death (from Neil Gaiman‘s The Sandman, played here by Jamie Chung). Each film brings a different flavour to the mix, ranging from all-out space horror to psychedelic 60’s weirdness, supernatural-tinged World War II action to beautiful, poetic drama.

Of the four shorts, Death is the definitive stand-out of the collection, an incredibly moving and artfully directed character piece that offers a welcome change of pace from the more action-heavy, gore-soaked films it rubs shoulders with here on this disc. Whilst the main feature is equal parts innovative and brilliant, the inclusion of the shorts certainly makes this a release worth owning for all DC Comic fans, and Death would certainly be worth owning were it released on its own – it’s that good!

Extra features on the disc are sadly slim, and the few that are included prove to be very disappointing. The package promises new audio commentaries for each short, but none of the actual directors, producers or animators are involved. Instead, we just get the two hosts of DC Daily, DC Comics’ online fan show, both of whom are extremely exasperating, and provide nothing in the way of behind the scenes insights. Considering that DC animation legends like Bruce Timm and Butch Lukic created the short films, it would have been preferable to hear them talk instead of two people with no creative involvement whatsoever.

Despite the lack of any substantial extra features though, the package here is worth buying for anyone who loves Batman or DC Comics is general. The interactive movie is a rewarding experience and offers some nice ‘what-if’ moments that will entertain and shock in equal parts, whilst the animation, voice acting and music is as superb as we’ve come to expect from the DC animation team over the years.

There’s really only one choice to make here, guys…buy it!

Batman: Death in the Family comes to Blu-ray on 26 October – Pre-order now!

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