BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN
OF THE JOKER
Prior to the initial direct-to-video release of BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER, Warner Home Video requested that certain changes be made to the film- changes that would render it more suitable for a family audience. Although the changes were made before the film was released to the public, fans became aware that the filmmakersí original intentions had been tampered with. In fact, bootlegs of the original version surfaced on vhs and various fan websites published detailed comparisons between the altered and unaltered versions of the film. Of course, all of this stirred up the fan base and created a demand for BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER to be released in its uncut form. While it has taken about a year and a half to happen, Warner Home Video has finally issued BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER- THE ORIGINAL, UNCUT VERSION ($20).
Now, I am not going to document the changes between the altered and altered versions of BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER, since a number of fan websites have already done so. However, I will comment that THE ORIGINAL, UNCUT VERSION is definitely a bit darker and slightly more adult than the initial DVD release. Snippets of violence are restored to film, as are bits of dialogue that were altered to make the film more family friendly. In its unaltered incarnation, BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER comes with a PG-13 rating, which should tell you that the program is no longer intended for the youngest of tikes. While BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER was a really good program in its family friendly form, THE ORIGINAL, UNCUT VERSION makes a fairly outstanding direct-to-video production.
The premise of BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER finds the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, and his elderly mentor Bruce Wayne facing The Dark Knightís worst nemesis- The Joker. Of course, no one is more shocked by the return of The Joker than the original Batman himself- who personally witnessed the demise of The Clown Prince Of Crime decades earlier. Although Wayne warns McGinnis away from engaging The Joker, he soon finds that neither Batman can escape a showdown with the past, especially when Wayne is nearly killed by Batmanís old foe. Left on his own, the new Batman must unlock the secret of The Jokerís demise and resurrection before anyone else is harmed. BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER features the vocal talents of Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dean Stockwell, Angie Harmon, Teri Garr and Melissa Joan Hart.
Warner Home Video has made BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER- THE ORIGINAL, UNCUT VERSION available on DVD in very nice looking Letterboxed presentation that has NOT been enhanced for playback on wide screen displays. Framed at 1.78:1, the DVD cries out for 16:9 enhancement- why it was omitted here leaves this reviewer scratching his head and thinking that perhaps third times a charm. On a 4:3 display, the image is crisp, clean and well defined. On a 16:9 display, the image needs to be digitally blown up to the proper dimensions, which leaves it soft looking and introduces artifacts. Colors are quite vivid and very cleanly rendered. Blacks are accurate and the picture has good contrast for a direct-to-video production. Noticeable digital compression artifacts were not introduced in the authoring stage.
Like the previous release, BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER features a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. This is a very good mix for a direct-to-video animated program. The track takes advantage of the discrete channels for fairly aggressive sound mix, which utilizes the split surround channels quite well. Dialogue is sharply focused, with the performances really coming through in the sound mix- Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill cannot be credited enough for what they have brought to the Batman saga. The bass channel is quite solid and it does well to reinforce the sound effects. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English and French.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Through the menus, one can also access the DVD's supplemental features. Starting things off is a running commentary with director Curt Geda, writer Paul Dini and producers Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami. This talk appeared on the previous DVD release and offers a good deal of detail on the production, as well as expressing accolades for the talent involved. A featurette entitled Beyond Batman Beyond runs twelve-minutes and includes interviews with the filmmakers, as well as the vocal talent.
The DVD also offers a few Animatics, which are animated storyboards that include recorded dialogue and music. Video Character Bios offer animated biographies for Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis, the Joker, the Dee-Dee Twins, and Woof. It should be noted that the bios include plot developments from BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER. A deleted scene is presented in animatic form and includes the pre animation dialogue that was recorded prior to the scene being removed. Bat Trivia is presented in an interactive game format and tests oneís knowledge of the BATMAN BEYOND universe. A music video by Mephisto Odyssey for the song Crash is also included on the DVD, as are trailers for BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER, BATMAN & MR. FREEZE: SUBZERO and THE BATMAN/SUPERMAN MOVIE and the upcoming SCOOBY-DOO movie.
BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER- THE ORIGINAL, UNCUT VERSION is a fairly outstanding direct-to-video production. Fans of the series should be very pleased to have this program on DVD in its unaltered form. Personally, I would have like to seen the wide screen presentation enhanced for 16:9 displays, but I guess you canít have everything all at once.
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