Even 25 years on from its first publication, Batman: The Long Halloween still remains a stone-cold stand-out within the pantheon of greatest Batman stories ever told. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale‘s epic mystery from 1996/97 has rarely been bettered, its sprawling narrative and shocking twists still packing the same dramatic punch they did on the first reading. As with other classic Batman comics like The Dark Knight Returns, Hush and Under the Red Hood, Warner Bros Animation have finally set about adapting this fan favourite for animation, and seemingly with particular care, judging by the decision to adapt the story across two films no less (Part Two is due in July). Unfortunately, whilst The Long Halloween is a perfect graphic novel, the resulting animated movie is about as far from perfect as you can get.
The filmmakers decision to split the story across two 85 minute films at first seems like an inspired creative choice. Entertaining as the DC Original Animated Movies are, their short runtime is often a detriment to the epic, sprawling multi-part comics they adapt. However, with The Long Halloween, there’s very little justification for the extended run time. That’s not to say that nothing important happens in this first instalment, it’s more that this particular adaptation adapts said-incidents in a way that is never particularly involving or exciting.
The end result is a dull, plodding affair that crawls along at a snails pace towards an unsatisfying conclusion. The animation is lifeless, the voice acting muted, the action uninspiring. Whereas the comic has vibrant, urgent and kinetic art by Tim Sale, this animated version contains none of the superstar artist’s energy or style, eschewing it in favour of faint, indistinct designs and colours. Any fan watching would be hard-pressed to tell if this was The Long Halloween or not at first glance, it’s that basic.
The ultimate problem with the film though is how talky it is. There are long stretches of dialogue here in almost every scene, but these stretches are delivered as just two talking heads for the most part, with almost no other movement onscreen. An action scene from the second issue is completely removed too, replaced by a short scene of dialogue instead. This would be fine were there other action scenes to take its place, but there aren’t many here, and those that are here have nothing inventive or exciting going for them. For an animated film, the whole affair feels very under-animated.
Of course, the story from the comics is a slow-burner but that’s why a two-movie adaptation feels rather pointless in this instance. There’s very little added to the mix, and anything that is added in hinders the film more than it helps. To the film’s credit, both the focus on Batman’s detective skills over his physical prowess and the decision to make him more fallible are a nice inclusion from the comics, but neither aspect really propels the story in any exciting directions. Perhaps there will be more of a dramatic payoff for these character elements in the second part, but it’s really just window-dressing.
The Blu-ray itself is mildly disappointing too, with none of the behind the scenes featurettes or commentaries that other DC Animated Movies have included in the past. There’s a short preview of The Long Halloween: Part Two (9 mins) but this amounts to very little except some short animatics and a few promotional interviews with the cast and crew hyping up the movie. Similar previews are included for a couple of the previous Batman movies, whilst there’s also two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series thrown in for good measure (the underrated classic It’s Never Too Late and the rather silly Christmas with the Joker, in case you were curious). The only other extra of note is The Losers (16 mins), a DC Showcase short film featuring a team of DC’s World War II heroes fighting dinosaurs on a remote island. It does what it says on the tin, but don’t expect to be wowed by it in any way.
A rather underwhelming package all-in-all, Batman: The Long Halloween Part One pales in comparison to its comic book counterpart. The less action-driven approach may mark a welcome change of pace for some fans, but the lack of colour and energy merely renders the whole affair lifeless, and devoid of any of the exciting superhero elements which usually makes DC’s animated output so enjoyable.