'The Long Halloween' is a seminal Batman tale. The thirteen-issue series written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale is a sprawling noir mystery centred in a flashpoint for Gotham City. The arrival of the Batman is changing things. Gotham is no longer in the grips of mob bosses and petty crooks. Instead, the Dark Knight is tempting a much darker breed of criminal to come out from the shadows. His effect is irreversible, and as the stature of Batman continues to grow, the city he vowed to protect is rapidly attuning to his perturbing alter ego. It's an engrossing read that is deservedly hailed to this day.
And in the ever-expanding realm of DC animation, 'The Long Halloween' is the latest DC classic to receive the direct-to-video animated film treatment. A move that left many apprehensive, as the quality of the DC animated films aren't always equal to their quantity - a statement that is certainly applicable when it comes to their adaptations of Batman's more celebrated works. Their animated rendition of 'The Killing Joke' took some remarkably tone-deaf liberties and was an overall disappointment. But to the contrary, their two-part adaptation of 'The Dark Knight Returns' is a near-perfect encapsulation of the comic book masterpiece. 'The Long Halloween' also opts to split its narrative into two parts, and 'Part One' lands somewhere in the middle.
In the early days of his vigilantism, Batman (Jensen Ackles, TV's 'Supernatural) is on the hunt for a mysterious killer named Holiday. The killer is striking each holiday night, and it's members of Gotham's underworld who are in their sights. Aided by Lieutenant Gordon (Billy Burke, 'Twilight') and D.A. Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel, TV's 'Jupiter's Legacy'), Batman is in a race against the calendar before the next holiday hits. But matters only get more complicated when a targeted crime family try to take matters into their own hands, and some powerful villains wish to make their presence felt. 'Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One' charts the events of Halloween to New Year's Day.
'Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One' displays a clear reverence for its source material. The consideration is visible in the tone it carries and the iconography it recreates. And in comparison to some other DC animated films, it's certainly a serviceable adaptation. Yet, 'Part One' can never quite match the heights of its revered text. For such a wide-ranging story, the whole affair in this medium feels frustratingly slight. The comic moves with a real vitality - the kind that's hard to put down when reading - but the film's pacing plays awfully pallid as it awkwardly stumbles between the changing holidays.
'Part One' also falls short in its aesthetic approach. Tim Sale's artwork in 'The Long Halloween' is nothing short of breathtaking. His Gotham City is a nightmarish megalopolis basking in cold wintry tones and limited use of colour. Few have drawn Batman and his rogues' gallery with the same scope and majesty as Sale. His gothic tones brim with atmosphere and eerie discomfort, and the text remains as one of the most beautiful Batman comics ever put to page. 'Part One' sadly does not extend its faithfulness to that art style, instead sticking with the animation style used in other DC animated films of late. This mainly consists of thick lines outlined across the characters and oil painting skies. And for adapting a comic filled with such visual panache, it's disappointing to see 'Part One' look so restrictive by comparison.
You can understand the challenge the filmmakers faced, as a lot of the characters in the comic don't bend to human anatomy. This is most present in its depiction of the Joker, as their attempt to replicate his exaggerated design looks extremely dissonant when almost all other characters forgo Sale's designs in favour of a more traditional look. But beyond this, the character animation, in many instances, plays very stiff. Their body movements border on robotic with unnatural turns each time they speak and only when they speak. Josh Duhamel puts in a commanding vocal performance as Harvey Dent, but the emotion Duhamel tries to convey cannot be supported in the film's inexpressive animation. Frustratingly, 'Part One' cannot translate the beguiling imagery of the comic, but its rigid characters prove just as jarring.
While it displays a clear reverence for its source material, 'Part One' can never quite match the heights of its revered text.
Fortunately, despite those drawbacks, the film is buoyed by some expert vocal performances. As mentioned, Duhamel is convincing as the morally spiralling Harvey Dent. Jensen Ackles, who previously portrayed Jason Todd in 'Batman: Under the Red Hood', proves to be effective as a younger Batman still asserting himself as Gotham's protector. David Dastmalchian is suitably creepy as the Calendar Man, Titus Welliver is immediately compelling as Carmine Falcone, and Jack Quaid provides some welcomed pathos to the role of Alberto Falcone. Moreover, Naya Rivera makes for a wonderful Catwoman in her final film performance. These performances serve the film best in bringing the spirit of the source material to life.
Working within a compelling framework, 'Part One' isn't without its merits. It can sustain a level of intrigue, and it does add a couple of welcomed flourishes. The film never loses sight of the fact that this is a younger and more vulnerable Batman. He isn't as agile or deductive as the vast majority of us know him. A significant portion of Batman's arc is the realisation that he cannot rely solely on scare tactics; he has to be more, he has to be a detective. It's an interesting approach for a character we often see as a master in his field. That same sense of heft also applies to the character of Alberto Falcone, delving further into his story with great sympathy.
All and all, 'Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One' is just another DC animated film. As an adaptation, it doesn't transcend its beloved material, however, the diversions it takes are far from insulting. Its intentions are valiant, and it's certainly watchable, but it isn't a film that will stand apart from a very extensive pack. It isn't too long before 'Part Two' is released, and I'm certainly curious but more so from the perspective of a reader of the comic than as an admirer of 'Part One'. But as Gotham's flashpoint nears its end, let's hope the latter half can improve from this middling effort.