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I became a fan of the Batman character somewhat late in life, it happened after I saw Tim Burton's amazing film that depicted The Dark Knight as something truly dark and frightening. My interest for the character carried over into the wonderfully noir-ish animated series and finally to BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM ($20), the theatrical incarnation of the television show. Like the animated television series, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM keeps the same stylized concept, yet delves a bit deeper into the darkness than one normally can in a half hour broadcast. The plot of BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM intercuts a flashback story about how a youthful Bruce Wayne assumed the mantle of The Caped Crusader, with that of a somewhat older Batman having to deal with a shadowy figure known as the Phantasm, who has begun eliminating Gotham City's most notorious crime lords. Like the television series that spawned it, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM features a well-written story, with sharply drawn characters (no pun intended) that deliver an emotional depth beyond anything else found in the realm of American animation. Adding to the strength of the screenplay are assured vocal performances from a first rate cast that features Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller.

Warner Home Video has done an excellent job of bringing BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM to DVD. Obviously understanding that there are two markets for this film on DVD, Warner has made BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM available in a full screen version for the kiddies and a 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation for the film's adult fans. In wide screen, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM is presented at 1.85:1 and the transfer looks quite impressive. The image appears clean, sharp and allows the viewer to savor the dark shading of the animation. Colors are strong and well reproduced, without any signs of distortion. Additionally, the transfer features an excellent black level that brings out the noir quality of the stylized animation. Thanks to solid authoring, digital compression artifacts never make their presence known on this DVD.

The two-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack decodes to standard surround, with surprisingly good results. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM features a strong mix that really emphasizes Shirley Walker's moody musical score. Of course, being only matrixed surround, the soundtrack does have the inherent sonic limitations of the older format. Still, the mix has good channel separation across the forward soundstage and the surrounds supply a good deal of atmosphere. Dialogue is especially well produced, showing the quality of the original recordings. The soundtrack also features a relatively strong bass element, which enhances the music and supplies solid reinforcement to crashes, explosions and the voice of the Phantasm. A French language soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English and French subtitles. The interactive menus contain some music, but are otherwise very standard. Through the menu system, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM is head and shoulders above standard animated fare, plus the DVD offers fans of this terrific flick a first class presentation. Recommended.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm


DVD reviews are Copyright 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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