Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorEric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
Release Date(s)1993 (July 25, 2017)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. Animation (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D+
The success of Batman: The Animated Series allowed its original creators, Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm, some room to experiment with the show in other formats, principally movies. The first out of the gate was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (sometimes referred to as Batman: The Animated Movie). Released to theaters in 1993, it told the story of the caped crusader taking on the mysterious Phantasm, who is killing mob bosses all over Gotham City with Batman taking the blame. On the hunt from the cops, as well as trying to discover the Joker’s role in all of it, Batman must find a way to solve the riddle of Phantasm while at the same time reconciling a relationship tied to his dark past.
Most cite Mask of the Phantasm as one of the all-time best Batman movies, animated or otherwise, and for good reason. It’s a brisk, well-told story with little fat to it, but also adds some necessary character development. Being a continuation of the original series, it stays true to the characters, the story, and the animation style, but expands upon the mythos of Batman and Gotham City’s underworld. We learn through flashbacks of Bruce Wayne’s lost love who is intrinsically connected to his burdened desire of becoming the Batman, while at the same time following the developing plot of the Phantasm. All of the series’ main cast returns, including Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Bob Hastings, and Efrem Zembalist, Jr. There’s also a variety of new voices added to the mix, including Dick Miller, Dana Delaney, Stacey Keach, and Abe Vigoda.
The film was unfortunately a failure at the box office, despite gaining critical acclaim. Originally meant to be a direct to video film, Warner Bros. decided sometime during production that it should be a theatrical release instead. The filmmakers were then forced to matte down the full frame presentation in order to make it more theatrically presentable. They were also put under enormous pressure to finish the film in even less time than they had originally planned, which included finishing a lengthy and expensive opening credit sequence that swoops through a CGI version of Gotham City. All of the trouble ended up being worth it though as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is now considered both a cult classic and fan favorite.
For Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation of the film, they’ve chosen to utilize both the originally intended open matte version, as well as the theatrical widescreen version. Right up front, it should be clear that this is a new scan of the original negative, not the original animation cels. As a consequence, any and all flaws are still present, including certain shots being slightly out of focus, and any imperfections in the glass plates during capture. That said, it’s certainly more organic-looking than anything on Blu-ray from Disney’s hand-drawn animated catalogue. Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s a necessary part of the process and that any blemishes it may carry are what give it its personality. I understand that not all folks are going to agree with me on this, so here are some screen-caps to give you a better idea, in both widescreen and full frame.
As you can see, it’s a very faithful presentation. Despite one version being open matte, there’s still some additional information along the left and right edges in the widescreen version. I also think that given the material, both have a very clean and solid look, without heavy-handed edge enhancement or sharpening. Colors splash quite well during daytime sequences while black levels feature a bit of noise because of the grain. Contrast probably could have been slightly dialed up a couple of degrees, but overall brightness is satisfying. It’s as crisp an image as you’re going to get off of the original negative, and at least for me, it’s a satisfying presentation.
For the audio, a single English 2.0 DTS-HD track has been included. Although the film isn’t completely stuffed with stereo activity, there are plenty of flourishes of pans from left to right as cars pass in the city street, or as someone runs away toward the background. Dialogue is always clean and clear and sound effects, while not flat, are not overly potent either. However, Shirley Walker’s magnificent score is quite robust. A 5.1 soundtrack probably would have benefited the presentation, including sweetening the sound effects a bit, but this stereo track is excellent for what it is. Optional subtitles are included in English SDH while the only extra available is the original theatrical trailer.
Having not watched Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in a while, it’s wonderful to revisit it. It’s a strong piece of material and definitely one of the best Batman movies. Though it bears some resemblance to Batman: Year Two, it certainly steps out on its own and gives us a great chapter in the DC universe. Warner Archive’s release of it probably won’t satisfy all fans, but for those of us who have wanted some of these titles in high definition for quite a while, it’s nice to finally have at least one of them. Hopefully this will lead to bigger things, such as a ground-up restoration of Batman: The Animated Series. A pipe dream, but not totally out of the realm of possibility.
- Tim Salmons