“The Killing Joke: the Book cut” is a title suitably lacking in ostentation. Left out simply is the unwarranted, unwanted, and frankly uninspired prologue chapter of the original cut, which culminated in an awkwardly Freudian coital unison between Batman and Batgirl (whom I always saw as having more of an uncle / niece type relationship). I’m not sure what Bruce Timm was thinking with this besides a lame attempt at subverting fan expectations, something that has come to rather dog recent Batman animations.
A subsequently pared-down 39 minute runtime doesn’t feel substantial enough then, when animated DC movies are routinely over an hour (and that is not a criticism of MusicEd921’s stellar efforts at all). Timm should have instead fleshed out the Killing Joke story itself: the proto-Joker's pitiable home life, Batman and Joker’s intractably fractious (and potentially lethal) relationship. Heck, it was a fine idea to give Barbara more screen time, just not... like that.
You see, the “Book Cut” emphasises another issue: this adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic (but brisk) Batman-Joker tale has a surprisingly anaemic, low-rent feel. The art style is fine for the most part, but the animation is janky- seemingly below 5FPS at times. Neither the legendary Mark Hamill nor Kevin Conroy bring their A-game. Hamill is particularly disappointing, barely raising himself above a vague melancholy in one moment of inconceivable tragedy, and never nearly hitting the same magical, maniacal heights for the Joker character as he did in the animated series or the more recent Arkham games. Maybe it was by way of direction, but the feature projects a spare, muted quality... nothing really connects.
As for the edit itself, it’s essentially immaculate. No jump-cuts, nor imperfect audio transitions to take us out of the experience. The decision to cut the Joker’s laugh is apposite to the book (leading to the interpretation that the Dark Knight may have broken his one rule). There is an argument to retain Gordon’s trial as it provides some much-needed character / thematic development, even if it is not from the source material.
There was one moment where the “Maybe I’ll kill you, maybe you’ll kill me” line is repeated in Batman’s mind. I found that to be a touch on the nose, but I suspect it may have been inserted in an attempt to jazz up another frustratingly insipid key moment. I would also say, to nitpick, the overlaid rain effect could be less conspicuous; it looks like the source of the rain is just above shot, like someone has a garden sprinkler poised over the top of the camera!
I'm an unwashed heathen - I haven't read The Killing Joke. But going in to the animated adaptation mostly blind, the additions were painfully obvious. Excising the additional material makes for a much better overall experience. No Batgirl filler, no literal kangaroo court, no overly prolonged discussion of urine, no gratuitous Batman Returns-esque brawling with circus folk (with one exception - more on that shortly). The pacing is much improved, the transitions between the flashbacks and the main story feel much tighter. It's a complete improvement over the original release, and I really can't see myself going back to it ever again. However, I do think there remain a few areas for improvement.
Picture quality is mostly good, but there are some obvious compression artifacts, as well as aliasing on some diagonal lines. This is most obvious during the opening logos. Clocking in at 3.14GB, the editor could have gone with less intensive compression and still wound up with a FAT32 file below the 4GB cutoff. The audio quality is a nice and clear stereo mix. I imagine the original 5.1 mix could have been salvaged with the changes in place, but there's nothing wrong with this 2.0 version. It's a dialogue heavy piece as it is, not an action adventure.
Visual editing is almost perfect - cuts were pretty much seamless. The repetition of the doors during the montage looked a little too obvious. Perhaps some cropping or tinting could have spiced things up a bit. The added rain effect is a nice touch, but there's an obvious gap on the left side of the screen that feels very unnatural to me. Zooming in on the effect that's composited over the footage to fill the frame with rain would probably work a lot better.
Audio editing is, again, very well done. Deleted lines don't feel missing, rearranged voiceover fits naturally. Both music and sound effects during the new montage feel quite choppy and take me out of what was otherwise an engrossing, seamless experience. The squeaking of the train brakes just draw attention to themselves. Replacing that with a new sound effect, or perhaps muting it entirely would have gone a long way to alleviate the situation.
Again, I haven't read the source material, but one moment that I was positive couldn't have been in the book is still present in this cut. While climbing out of the spike pit trap, Batman tosses one of the Joker's hired hands down in his place, complete with an impalement sound effect. Was that really in the book? Batman's going out of his way to spare the Joker's life (or is he? Ambiguous ending and all.) - but has no qualms about sending his henchmen to their deaths? If that is indeed true to Alan Moore's vision, I can't fault the editor for retaining that scene. It just strikes me as contrary to the whole point of the story.
Either way, it's a complete improvement over the original release. Recommended.