This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Batman Beyond - Return of the Joker (Original Uncut Version)
Written by Tara O'Shea
Tuesday, 23 April 2002
|Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (uncut)
|Warner Home Video
Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Angie Harmon, Dean Stockwell, Teri
Garr, Arleen Sorkin, Tara Strong, Mathew Valencia, Melissa Joan Hart,
Don Harvey, Michael Rosenbaum, Frank Welker, Henry Rollins, Rachael
Leigh Cook, Ryan O'Donohue, Lauren Tom
When Paul Dini and Bruce Timm announced they were producing a third
“Batman” animated series set in the future, many fans of the ‘90s
definitive “Batman: The Animated Series” were aghast and appalled. Some
punk kid inside the suit? Bruce Wayne as some old geezer? Ace the
Needless to say, many of those same fans not only ate crow -- they
embraced the series whole-heartedly. And when Warner Bros. pushed back
the release date of "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" in September
2000 and rumors immediately surfaced regarding cuts and changes, fans
petitioned for the original director's cut to be released. They have at
last been rewarded.
The storyline remains the same: set almost 50 years after the
adventures recorded by “Batman: The Animated Series,” Bruce Wayne
(Conroy) has given up the cape and cowl and retired from public life.
One-time Batgirl Barbara Gordon (Angie Harmon, replacing Stockard
Channing, who was unavailable to reprise her role for the
direct-to-video film) is now Police Commissioner of a Gotham still
terrorized by gangs and the drug trade, crime and corruption. When his
father is murdered, a troubled teen named Terry McGinnis (Friedle)
discovers the Batcave and dons a 21st-century exo-suit to become
Batman, with Wayne behind the scenes as his mentor. This new Batman is
unlike any seen before -- Wayne is still the world's greatest
detective, but Terry has the strength and moral character to be the
ultimate Bat-family field agent, carving out a niche for himself as a
new kind of Batman. Younger, more brash, but just as devoted to justice.
In "Return of the Joker," Bruce's greatest adversary, the Clown Prince
of Crime (Mark Hamill, reprising his role from BTAS) appears to have
resurfaced, having not aged a day, and deadly as ever. However, Bruce
refuses to tell Terry how he knows that this new Joker cannot be the
original, and even goes so far as to demand Terry give up the mantle of
Batman. However, when Bruce himself is attacked, Terry discovers the
Joker's terrifying secret.
Packed with great fights, superb character development, and an amazing
"flashback" sequence that is as engrossing as it is disturbing, this
director's cut is definitely darker and more intense than the doctored
release (which contains reanimated sequences, and had removed blood and
changed language to soften the film to a PG rating), as well as quite
possibly the best “Batman” film, animated or live action, made yet. It
pulls no punches, is tightly plotted and paced and, from the opening
free-for-all against a new gang of Jokerz to the climactic showdown
between villain and hero, never lets up.
But the heart of the movie isn't the action, it's the character
dynamics. Audiences care about Bruce, and Conroy gives one of his best
performances to date. Hamill's Joker is more restrained than usual, and
is even more chilling as a result. The Joker has never been more
accurately shown as a dangerous psychopath, and his showdown with
Wayne's Batman is something fans have been craving for a decade.
Rounding out the standout supporting performances are Dean Stockwell as
the adult Tim Drake (Robin II). Baddies Melissa Joan Hart (playing twin
gangster molls the Dee-Dees) and Michael Rosenbaum (whose Christopher
Walken impression as henchman Ghoul is hysterical) are great fun, and
“Batman Beyond” series regulars Teri Garr, Heather Tom and Rachael
Leigh Cook all have cameos as Teri's friends and family.
Despite recycled box art mislabeling the disc as being presented in
full-screen format, the film is actually presented in 1.78:1
widescreen. Like the series, "Return of the Joker" was colored
digitally, so the print is flawless and the transfer clean and crisp.
We'll never know why Warner Bros. chose not to release the film in
anamorphic widescreen for 16x9 televisions, but don't let this keep you
from picking up the disc. The visuals are stunning, and the 5.1 sound
mix makes good use of Kris Carter's score, which also features a dreamy
blues on the “Batman Beyond” theme by Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The score
is a blend of the synthetic techno style and full orchestra, which also
helps bridge the gap from BTAS to “Batman Beyond” stylistically. The
last third of the film in particular, being vaguely reminiscent of the
end of “Akira,” uses the 5.1 mix to great advantage.
Extras include the making-of featurette, which includes interviews with
the cast and crew that serve as an intro to the series, as well as
sharing some useful information about voice acting and how animated
series are produced. For long-time fans, it's particularly fun to
finally see Conroy's face, and to learn the sequence of production.
Other extras include Mephisto Odyssey and Static X's music video
"Crash,” an animatic of a scene that was cut before being animated,
showing Bruce's return to Arkham, as well as a scene between Wayne and
a Wayne-Powers executive also voiced by Hamill, and standard character
bios and trailers. The best extra by far is the inclusion of the
original DVD commentary track, featuring Timm, Dini, Curt Geda and Glen
Murakami, some of whom had not yet even seen the completed film. It
includes a lot of insight into the entire production, and is a wealth
of information about the producers’ history with the characters. Menus
recycled from the previous release are so-so, easy to navigate despite
supplemental material being poorly labeled (the commentary track, for
example, is labeled "A Word from the Filmmakers”).
For Batman fans, and “Batman Beyond” fans, this disc is what we have
all been waiting for. Not only does it give us the director's cut of an
excellent film, but it also gives fans simply one of the best “Batman”
stories ever told.
|English Dolby Digital Surround
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio: 1:78:1
by Director and Producer; "Beyond Batman Beyond" Making Of Documentary;
Animatic Sequences; Deleted Footage and Test Animation, "Crash" Music
Video by Mephisto Odyssey Featuring Static X, Video Character
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||32-Inch Sony Trinitron