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Batman Beyond - Return of the Joker (Original Uncut Version) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 April 2002

Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (uncut)

Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring (voices): Will 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
release year: 2000
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Tara O'Shea

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 bat-hound? Blasphemy!

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.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen Aspect Ratio: 1:78:1
special features: Commentary 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 Biographies
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: Yamaha RXU870
main speakers: Boston Acoustics
center speaker: Boston Acoustics
rear speakers: Boston Acoustics
subwoofer: Velodyne
monitor: 32-Inch Sony Trinitron

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