- by Jeff Beck
Gotham: The Complete First Season: A Compelling and Fascinating Prequel (Blu-ray)
Ever since the character of Batman made his first appearance back in 1939, there have been numerous adaptations for both the big and small screens, including a pair of serials in the 1940s, the delightfully-campy 1960’s TV series with Adam West, the dark and brooding animated show from the 1990s (which many still hold to be the best adaptation to date), and, of course, a multitude of feature films that most recently included Christopher Nolan’s outstanding trilogy with Christian Bale. All of these adaptations have one thing in common: their primary focus is on Batman/Bruce Wayne, with the villains acting just as supporting characters who are there to wreak havoc. Rarely do we get to see where it is that these infamous villains came from and how they became the master criminals that we know and love, making it a prime piece of the story to explore. Luckily creator/producer Bruno Heller realized the potential of such material, which brings us to the latest adaptation of this comic book world, simply, but aptly titled “Gotham.”
Acting as a prequel to the time when Batman becomes the savior of the city, the series begins with the murder of young Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents, a case to which Detectives Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) are assigned. Gordon promises Bruce that he will catch whoever’s responsible, but unfortunately there’s very little to go on. On top of this, these two must deal with the rest of the crooks that run rampant in the city, with Gordon all the while trying to weed out corruption wherever he finds it. Meanwhile, a power struggle is going on between the two big mob bosses of the city, Sal Moroni (David Zayas) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman), which involves several others trying to make power plays of their own, including a bar owner, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), and a young and ambitious assistant of hers, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). All of these stories intertwine into the tangled web of justice and villainy that is Gotham City.
“Gotham” is the kind of show where some people will automatically take a dislike to it due to the simple fact that Batman is not the principle character. However, if you are able to get past that fact and see the show for the fascinating avenue it has opted to explore instead, you’ll end up being treated to an intriguing and well-layered story that covers an entire ensemble of characters instead of just focusing primarily on one, while leaving the rest as secondary. We still have what you could call a central character in Detective Jim Gordon, who we obviously know will rise to become Commissioner of the city one day, but just about as much time is dedicated to everyone else, including a young Bruce Wayne trying to solve the mysteries of his parents’ murders and corruption at Wayne Enterprises, the growing war between Falcone and Maroni, Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot’s rise to power, and Fish’s attempt to get her own piece of the pie.
A “tangled web” is really the perfect way to describe it, for all of these storylines are layered and connected together in perfect fashion, each complimenting the other, as they bring this infamous city to life. All the while, it gives us the background on some of the biggest villains in the “Batman” universe, including The Joker, Scarecrow, The Riddler, and most especially, The Penguin. This brings about another concern that some may have, that being that it doesn’t exactly follow the official history of where these villains supposedly came from. However, I don’t think that Heller and his team ever meant for this to be canon, but rather a vast “what if” that explores a possible background for these villains who all start on the streets of Gotham. On that basis, along with all of the other great storylines, it succeeds marvelously, building an intriguing list of characters to populate the city, in addition to an arc that will have you wanting to jump right into the next episode.
Batman may always get the glory in most adaptations, but it’s rather refreshing to get a take that focuses on other parts of the world that Bob Kane and Bill Finger created so long ago, even going to far as to add in a few new elements to shake up this ensemble of characters that we think we already know pretty well. Simply put, “Gotham” makes for a grand experience, feeling rather cinematic in its own right as the amazingly-designed city itself becomes a sprawling character with its own look and personality. This is easily one of the best new shows of the past season, and it’s with high hopes that, as we head into its second season, its incredible premise will only cause a tighter grip on viewers anxious to see where it could possibly go next.
“Gotham: The Complete First Season” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This is a rather dark and gritty show, as is appropriate for its setting, but the picture never falters, offering up a clear and sharp image throughout these 22 episodes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presents a fantastic track, giving you all elements from the dialogue to the score in excellent quality. Overall, the show has been given exceptional treatment to compliment the impressive content.
Gotham Invented (30 Minutes): A series of three featurettes that feature interviews with the cast and crew, who discuss topics like the city of Gotham, the characters, laying down the backstory, and the villains that the city shapes. Worth checking out.
Gotham: Designing the Fiction (20 Minutes): An intriguing featurette that explores the inspirations for and the design of Gotham City.
The Game of Cobblepot (26 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the character of The Penguin and his rise throughout the show. If you’ve watched the show, then you pretty much know how his character works, so it’s not particularly worth watching.
Gotham: The Legend Reborn (21 Minutes): An interesting exploration of the show’s different take on the “Batman” story, in addition to its characters and special effects.
DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014 – Presenting Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, and Arrow (30 Minutes): A Comic-Con panel that features several cast and crew members from these four shows. It’s not particularly in-depth, but it is interesting to hear everyone’s quick thoughts on their roles in bringing these shows to life.
Gag Reel (5 Minutes): A so-so collection of outtakes.
Unaired Scenes: A smattering of deleted scenes that are placed with their corresponding episode.
“Gotham” is a fascinating take on the characters that we’ve come to know so well from the world of “Batman.” Intertwining several captivating storylines of characters ranging from detectives trying to save the city from the scum and villainy it’s produced to those very villains themselves, and everything in between, the show works amazingly well for a prequel that tries to fit together so much from its source material. Fans of “Batman” in all of its iterations are sure to find it a compelling experience as it unveils the backstory of this richly-populated world, but even for someone who’s meeting these characters for the first time, there’s plenty of great drama and storytelling to be found, which is not something you find on TV every day.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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