DVD reviews
This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
ZenWave Cables and SurgeX ZenWave Edition Review
REDGUM BLACK RGi35ENR Integrated Amplifier Review
Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL 2.0 Headphone Amp & Preamp Review
iFi Micro iUSB 3.0 & Gemini USB Cable Reviews
Marantz M-CR611 Network CD Receiver Review
Latest AV News
Most Popular DVD Reviews
Past DVD Hardware / Software News
Batman - Mask of the Phantasm Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 December 1999

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

Warner Bros. Home Video
MPAA rating: PG
starring: (Voices) Kevin Conway, Dana Delany, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller, Bob Hastings
release year: 1993
film rating: Three stars
sound/picture: Three stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

When the "Batman" animated cartoon series began -- well, the latest about the original Batman, anyway -- it was greeted with cheers from Batmaniacs the world over. THIS is the way Batman SHOULD be done! they thundered, few having been satisfied with the two Tim Burton movies. (They didn't yet know what horrors awaited, once Joel Schumacher took over direction.)

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM is a feature cartoon from the TV-cartoon team; in fact, it was originally intended to be a straight-to-video release, but in the middle of a gap between live-action Batman movies, Warner Bros. decided to release it theatrically. And again, though it died at the boxoffice, those same Batmaniacs greeted the film with loud huzzahs.

Of course, by almost any standard other than those of die-hard, inflexible comic book fans, the Tim Burton movies are outstanding -- but it's also hard to argue against the idea that the "Batman" cartoon series, and this movie, also fulfill their goals with style and panache. True, one has to already be disposed toward superheroes to take a step into this world, but if that applies to you, the chances are good you'll like BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM.

The series (and this movie) took their cue from the great Fleischer Studios "Superman" cartoons of the 1940s, but adjusted for the day-and-night differences between the characters of Superman and Batman. The visual style is very strong, the animation poses are dynamic, the color styling is dark and brooding -- even a sunset scene looks like it's taking place during an orange-lit night -- and the character designs are simple but striking.

All this wouldn't really work as a comic book (even though DC eventually did publish a Batman comic drawn in the same style as the series); it is a cartoon show. The stories, too, were more suited for a serious cartoon show than a comic book, and certainly the dialog is. The animation is limited, moving quickly from one strong, dynamic pose to another; when characters pause to talk, their expressions are extremely broad, and the lips only vaguely in synch with the words. (Making the line where heroine Andrea tells Bruce Wayne to "read my lips" unintentionally comic.)

The laws of physics are more those of a comic book than a live-action feature: Batman leaps gracefully from atop a three-story building to the pavement below without even a grunt. The mysterious gangster-killing "Phantasm" (a name never spoken in the film) is about to be run down by a car going at least a hundred, but leaps directly onto the oncoming car. You buy it in a cartoon, but you wouldn't in live action. This, however, is a cartoon, and you automatically adjust for this kind of thing.

In rapid succession, two of Gotham City's biggest gang bosses are confronted by a skull-masked figure with a scythe for a hand; "your angel of death awaits" the figure intones (in Stacy Keach's voice, no clue). After a struggle, the gang leaders are killed -- and the gangs, and the cops, think Batman is responsible. (At the end of the film, in fact, there's still no reason for anyone to think Batman ISN'T responsible.)

Batman (Kevin Conroy) can't catch the elusive figure, and has other things to worry about. In the flashbacks to Wayne's youth, during the end of and just after his college days, we learn he had fallen in love with Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), daughter of a wealthy lawyer who had ties to the mob. Although ever since the death of his parents (not shown), Bruce has trained himself to be a crime fighter, he "didn't count on being happy," as he laments to his parents' grave. He wants to marry Andrea, but realizes he'll have to give up his crime-fighting ambitions. But when she unexpectedly sends his ring back and leaves America with her father, he becomes Batman anyway.

Meanwhile, a third gang boss goes -- unwisely, as it turns out -- to none other than the Joker (Mark Hamill) for help in dealing with Batman. The Joker's pride is wounded and his fear roused (how dare anyone thing of taking on Batman without him? and maybe Batman will come after HIM next), so he becomes involved, and becomes the principal opponent of the second half of the movie.

The movie moves so swiftly and looks so great that it's easy to overlook its awkward structure: there's not enough about Phantasm, the murders of the gang lords are swept aside, the police pursuit of Batman is simply dropped, and the climax is a fight between the Joker and Batman, without Phantasm (whose identity is easy to deduce) being involved in most of it. You might also notice that everyone ages a great deal between the flashbacks and the present -- except Bruce/Batman and Andrea .

Some of the more cartoony ideas seem intrusive; although Mark Hamill's vocal rendition of the Joker is excellent, the character is broader than Jack Nicholson played him, and even broader than in the comic books. (When he comes to a halt, he vibrates like a plank, complete with sound effects.) Because of this extreme depiction, a little of this Joker goes a long way; even in cartoon terms, it's hard to accept him as a real menace.

The big Batman-Joker fight takes place amidst the crumbling ruins of what had been the Gotham City World's Fair (City of the Future!); some elements of this are silly (the big fan), some badly used (the robot wife), but others work very well, particularly the battle among the six-foot skyscrapers of a miniature Gotham City. This is one of the few elements of the film that really would work well in a live-action Batman movie.

This well-produced DVD lacks any notable extras, though it does provide both a letterboxed and "standard" format version. Because the movie was really made for showing on TV screens, this is one of the few instances in which the "standard" format is preferable to the letterboxed image. Sound and other technical aspects are standard.

Those who think that the Batman cartoon series is a template for live-action Batman movies aren't thinking things through very clearly, but the show was exceptionally well done for its market. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM is a good sample of the show at very nearly its best.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
standard & pan & scan versions
special features: lternate languages; scene selections
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!Del.icio.us!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!

  home theater news  |  equipment reviews 
  blu-ray reviews  |  dvd  |  theatrical reviews  
  music download reviews  |  music disc reviews
  contact  |  about-us  |  careers   |  brands 
  RSS   |  AVRev Forums
  front page  |  virtual tours  |  dealer locator
  how to features  |   lifestyle & design articles
  Want Your Home Theater Featured on MHT?
   CE Partners: HDD  |  HDF  |  VGT  |  SD  |  DVD
  Advertise with Us | Specs | Disclaimer | Sponsors
  privacy policy | cookie policy | terms of use
  909 N. Sepulveda Blvd. El Segundo, CA 90245
  Ads: 310.280.4476 | Contact Us
  Content: 310.280.4575 | Mike Flacy