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Will Pfeifer: All types try hand at Batman in animated collection

Will Pfeifer

Since his debut in 1939, Batman has been interpreted, reinterpreted and re-reinterpreted in dozens of ways, from the comic book to the no-budget 1940s movie serials, to the campy 1960s TV series to the moody movies of the 1990s.

The franchise got a boost three years ago, when director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale brought us “Batman Begins,” and the duo returns (along with the late Heath Ledger) next week with the much anticipated sequel, “The Dark Knight.”

But first, in a bid to separate a few of those Bat-fans from a few of their Bat-dollars, Warner Bros. is releasing the DVD “Batman: Gotham Knight” today.

“Gotham Knight” isn’t just another reinterpretation of the man in the mask — it’s several of them, all packed onto one disc. Writers from comic books, movies and animation each take a crack at Batman in short animated segments that loosely link to each other.

The scribes put Batman through his paces, pitting him against the cops, gangsters (Italian and Russian), selected supervillains (The Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Deadshot) and, of course, his own inner demons.

It’s those demons that set “Batman: Gotham Knight” apart. There’s plenty of action and adventure, but what really stands out is the mood of the movies. In or out of the mask, Batman is an obsessed loner, clinging to sanity and his mission. In one of the disc’s best moments, Batman is gravely wounded and holding an armload of guns he found. Alfred reaches down and asks him to take his hand, but Batman says “I can’t.” It’s a nice summing up of Batman’s personality.

My favorite segment, though, was the first one, which has the slimmest connection to the rest. It’s also the most lighthearted (by far). Instead of focusing on Batman, “Have I Got a Story for You” focuses on four kids and their perceptions of the Gotham legend. Gathering in an underground area to skateboard, they share tales of encountering Batman recently, and in each story he’s a different sort of vision — a smoky ghost, a bat-creature and a robot. Only in the end do we (and the remaining kid) see the real Batman, and he’s a bloodied, battered human being.

“Batman: Gotham Knight” isn’t quite as successful as “The Animatrix,” a 2003 collection of shorts inspired by “The Matrix” (and the clear inspiration for this disc). But it is a lot of fun to see the Batman concept filtered through the minds of different writers, then filtered again through the minds of some of Japan’s top animators.

And, as Warner Bros. will be happy to know, it gets you in the mood to buy your ticket for “The Dark Knight.”

Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Fridays. Contact him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his Movie Man blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/.

Some DVDs out today:

“Batman Begins”

“Fastlane: The Complete Series”

“Hard Times at Douglass High”

“Journey to the Center of the Earth”

“Metropolis”

“The Ruins”

“Superhero Movie”

“Teen Titans: The Complete Fifth Season”

And CDs:

The Game, “L.A.X.”

Nickelback, “The Lowdown”

Beck, “Modern Guilt”

Chris Difford, “The Last Temptation of Chris”

The Melvins, “Nude With Boots”

Albert Hammond Jr., “Como Te Llama?”

Capital Lights, “This Is An Outrage!”

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com