Powers has one of his sound engineers try to kill Wayne.
  Original Airdate: March 13, 1999
  Episode # 10
  Rating: * *

Credits Cast

Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Curt Geda
Music by Lolita Ritmanis
Aniimation by Koko/Dong Yang

Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Sherman Howard as Derek Powers
Chris Mulkey as Shriek

Gregg Berger as Computer
Lauri Johnson as Nurse
Ian Patrick Williams as Andrews

Film, of course, is an artifical medium, easily turned toward self-reference. As an essentially visual art, a movie will usually explore its artificiality through the arch manipulation of the photographed image. Welles, Kubrick and Hitchcock reveled in the control of the framed picture and have taught us to appreciate both the wit and the sadism that the placement of the camera and the wielding of the editing shears can bring to bear. But film is an aural medium as well. Music establishes and manipulates mood; dialogue advances character and plot. So composers too have been given their chance to shine, from the scene-stealing original scores provided by the likes of Hermann, Korngold, Goldsmith and Williams, to the ingenious manipulation of the classics by Amadeus, or 2001. As for dialogue: Everyone has his or her favorite lines from his or her favorite movies.

But one art is not mentioned in the above list: sound and sound effects. It is an odd omission since, as Robert Bresson has noted, sound is the third dimension in film, providing the depth and space that makes flat images full. (Do you doubt this? Primitive talkies are unwatchable not because of the camerawork or acting styles, but because of the clumsy sound.) So in how many movies are we made conscious of the artificial manipulation of sound, as we are made aware of the artifical manipulation of the image? Very very few.

Sound, as the indispensible Batman Animated is at pains to point out, is one area the series works at hard and successfully. And in "Shriek" the sound artists are invited to go wild, to smother us with effect and ingenuity. (The villain is himself a sound engineer, relying on the disruptive and disorienting power of sound.) And they don't disappoint: The eerie whispers that plague Wayne in the hospital, and the final fight, in which Shriek selects and edits out ambient noises, are powerful and fascinating. And someone clearly has realized that sound is sometimes most oppressive in its absence: That final fight is, finally, conducted almost entirely without sound or music, and the pressure of the silence almost makes our ears pop.

Alas, these are by and large the only opportunities the engineers are given; mostly their efforts remain muffled under an incredibly talky script. (This must be the most dialogue-heavy Batman since Wayne and company gnawed our ears off in "I Am the Night.") There's a lot of plot, none of it interesting: Powers wants to renovate downtown Gotham (for reasons he explains at length), but Wayne resists (for reasons he also explains at length). Shriek is not really a bad guy, he's just indebted to Powers, so the script huffs and puffs to work up a motivation for him. Even Terry gets into the act, infiltrating Shriek's lair as a pizza boy and asking a lot of questions about the gizmos therein. Before long, I wanted to stuff a sock down everyone's throat.

The end leaves Shriek deaf, not dead, and thereby leaves the promise of a fuller exploration of the possibilities for the manipulation of sound. Of course, Shriek will be able to build himself a new sound system to give himself a new sense of hearing—and it will be one entirely under his own control. So why not tell the next Shriek story entirely from within his experiences, giving us the sounds as they come to him—selected, edited and appreciated as only a deaf aesthete would have them?

Related Episodes
   * Babel
   * Where's Terry?
   * Armory

What Others Are Saying ...
"This episode was worthy of the old BTAS series! It was beautifully done with the sound editing. The script was wonderful, making Bruce more of a character than an old man back at the cave helping out."World's Finest

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