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Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker(2000)
In this action-packed adventure, the sleeker, more dangerous and seemingly immortal Clown Prince of Crime is back to terrorize Gotham, Batman and the aging Bruce Wayne.
For more about Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray release, see Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 5, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Will Friedle, Angie Harmon, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr
Director: Curt Geda
» See full cast & crew
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray Review
Another top-rate Batman outing earns another solid Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 5, 2011
Bruce Wayne and Bruce Timm: the two have practically become inseparable. When Batman: The Animated Series premiered in 1992, Timm was just another name in animation; an upstart storyteller with little more than a distinct voice and an equally distinct visual style. But by the end of the series' tremendous first season, he had become far more than just another name. He had quickly emerged as one of the foremost visionaries in Batman's corner of the DC Universe. Fast forward, all the way to 2011. It's been almost twenty years since his fanboy-approved, critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning television series made its fateful debut. In that time, Timm has delivered a number of terrific animated series, produced a string of excellent feature-length animated films (to great success I might add), and helped guide and nurture some of the finest Batman stories to grace the small screen, not to mention the long-standing Batman mythos at large. Suffice it to say, Timm's career, his clout as a creator and, yes, the Caped Crusader himself have come a long, long way. I'd even go so far as to say it's next to impossible to think of either Bruce, Wayne or Timm, without soon thinking of the other.
But even with Timm at the helm, Batman Beyond was greeted with a fair amount of skepticism when it debuted in 1999. Superhero re- imaginings, especially those set in farflung futures, are already prone to disaster. But retooling a haunted vigilante like Batman for a cyberpunk kids' series set in 2039? I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was ready to cast off Batman Beyond before it even arrived. What a mistake that would have been. The series, though less compelling than Timm's first foray into Gotham, was a smartly penned, sharply animated, surprisingly hard- hitting in-continuity delight. Taking its cues from Batman: The Animated Series, Beyond was more than a gimmick, more than a flashy cash-in. It was a fully realized, wholly entertaining addition to the Bat-family. And the series' lone feature-length movie, Return of the Joker? If I might be so bold, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Mask of the Phantasm as one of the best animated Batman films to be had.
If anyone spends more than twenty seconds explaining the plot of Return of the Joker to you, put your hands over your ears and back away. Spoiling the film's darkest secrets is much too easy, and writer Paul Dini's twisted tale is too thrilling, shocking and absorbing to risk ruining. All newcomers need know is this: in 2039, an ailing, elderly Bruce Wayne (voiced by Kevin Conroy) and his young Bat-successor, Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), are rattled when the Crown Prince of Crime, the Joker (Mark Hamill), begins terrorizing Gotham once again. Why should Wayne be surprised to see his old nemesis back in town? For one, it looks as if the Joker hasn't aged a day. He's as spry and maniacal as he ever was. But the real reason Bruce and Terry are mystified by the madman's return is...
... the first piece in a riveting, altogether unnerving mystery I have no intention of unraveling here. It's best to wander into Return of the Joker as blindly as possible. Even scanning a list of the characters you'll encounter or the classic comicbook stories Dini draws from will lessen its impact. To his enormous credit, Dini's story unfolds with graphic-novel intricacy and perfectly paced precision as he employs the sort of sick, startling sleight-of-hand one might expect from the Joker himself. Revelations pack cinematic weight and legitimate consequence, the resulting drama is bolstered by Conroy and his fellow voice actors' on-point performances, and each and every twist is unexpected and organic, a rare one-two punch for any film, much less a direct-to-video animated production. Better still, the animation -- though as simplistic as ever -- is fierce, fluid and forceful, boasting an excellent sense of scale and space, clever character design, remarkably savage fight scenes and a nightmarish vision of exactly what an unhinged monster like the Joker is capable of.
If Return of the Joker has any shortcoming (I stress if) it's that McGinnis, while a captivating young hero, is no Bruce Wayne; a fact made more obvious by the crucial role the original Batman holds in the film. McGinnis is an angsty rebel cut from the same cloth as Robin and Nightwing. He doesn't have his teacher's presence or the Bat's penchant for inspiring terror in his enemies. Some will no doubt be surprised when they realize Return of the Joker remains, at least in part, Bruce Wayne's story. McGinnis sometimes comes across as a supporting player -- particularly when ROTJ begins dabbling in frightening flashbacks -- and he's forced to endure the same sidekick-initiation nonsense Wayne has unleashed on virtually all of his protégés over the years. Not that I mind. Timm was wise to find a viable way to work Wayne into Batman Beyond's futurescape and McGinnis, Batman mantle or no, is still a student in the dark scheme of things who's given plenty of screentime to grow into his predecessor's cowl. As a proverbial passing of the torch, it works well. As a continuation of Timm's first Batman series, it works wonders. As a feature-length film, well... you get the idea.
The Blu-ray edition of Return of the Joker presents director Curt Geda's original 77-minute version of the film, uncut and aimed at the older animation set. The differences between the edited PG and uncut PG-13 versions are extensive, and the more violent, disturbing material -- despite rendering Return of the Joker less accessible to younger audiences -- enhances Dini, Geda and Timm's intended tone (to say the least) without resorting to anything gratuitous. It isn't kids' stuff, but then neither is Dini's story, its unsettling themes, the various character arcs, or the disquieting tragedies that come to light over the course of Batman's final showdown with the Joker.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray, Video Quality
Return of the Joker looks the part as well. Granted, Warner's 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation has drawn some fire of late, but almost all of it is unwarranted and based on misinformation and misunderstanding. The confusion stems from the Blu-ray edition's aspect ratio: while the previously released DVD is presented in 4:3 letterboxed to 1.78:1 widescreen, the BD is presented in 16:9 1.33:1 open-matte via a pillar-boxed image. Did Warner crop the picture? Is ROTJ's high definition debut a window-boxed fiasco? Are we dealing with a non-anamorphic disgrace? Thankfully, the answer to each question is a resounding "no." Though Timm and his fellow filmmakers' original intent was for Return of the Joker to be presented in widescreen, Warner's encode is an open matte beaut; one that showcases every inch of the animators' work. That being said, the studio could have avoided alienating any fan by including both the film's 1.78:1 widescreen and open matte 1.33:1 presentations. Options are always appreciated, and tossing in both versions would have been ideal. But should such wishful thinking affect an evaluation of an otherwise commendable encode's raw quality? Not in my estimation.
The first thing Batman Beyond junkies are bound to notice is the high definition image's color, contrast and clarity. Arresting splashes of intense primaries fill the screen, stark comicbook inkiness lends every neo-noir shadow and pitch black silhouette a welcome richness, and the animators' lineart is crisp, refined and only subject to almost negligible intermittent aliasing. (The bridge of the Joker's nose is affected more than anything else, but it rarely amounts to a distraction). The technical presentation is notably proficient as well. Minor artifacting and banding haunt a number of backgrounds -- enough to draw the eye on more than one occasion -- but I suspect most instances trace back to the film's source, not an encoding deficiency. Moreover, significant compression anomalies, noise and other issues aren't a factor. To cut to the chase, Return of the Joker has never looked better and DVD owners will be more than satisfied with the upgrade.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Traditionally, Timm's punchy soundscapes have been built around passable sound design and little more. Return of the Joker isn't much different. While Warner's high-quality DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track drafts every speaker into service, the film and its mix remain rather front-heavy, particularly when the action subsides. Ambience is more sparse than it could be, directionality is limited, and acoustics are less-than- enveloping. Even so, it's hard to complain about the studio's lossless efforts. Dialogue is bright, clean and impeccably clear, effects are engaging and distinct, the LFE channel demands more and more respect with every passing spin-kick and explosion, and the rear speakers stretch Kristopher Carter's orchestral score and heavy hard-90s-rock riffs across the soundfield. Turns out Return of the Joker has never sounded better either. Its original sound design isn't going to turn heads or rouse the neighbors, nor will it leave audiophiles in awe. What it will do is thoroughly please fans of the film.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from a trailer for the Young Justice animated series, the Blu-ray edition of Return of the Joker doesn't include any new supplemental material and merely recycles the original DVD's standard definition special features. Sadly, the only extra worth digging into is the disc's excellent audio commentary.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker isn't presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and the lovely 1.33:1 open matte encode Warner has provided. No, longtime fans of the film aren't treated to any new special features (or, really, many special features at all). Even so, no one should avoid the Blu-ray release of Return of the Joker. The film itself remains one of the best animated Batman features to date, its open matte video presentation is quite striking, and its DTS-HD Master Audio surround track does a fantastic job with what it has to work with. It isn't an ideal release, but it is an excellent one. If you have any love of Return of the Joker, don't hesitate to add it to your cart.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker: Other Editions
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Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Animated Batman, Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry Blu-ray Coming Up - January 27, 2011
Warner Home Video has announced four animated titles for Blu-ray release on April 5: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and the more child-friendly Scooby-Doo: Aloha Scooby-Doo!, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase and Tom and Jerry: The Fast and the Furry.
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