Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker appears in a fullscreen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because of those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Question one: is this the film’s original aspect ratio? The DVD package states that it has been “reformatted” to fit the TV screen, but such information is not always correct; the case for Singin’ in the Rain says the same thing even though the aspect ratio matches the theatrical dimensions.
Since Joker is a direct-to-video project, one can easily argue that 1.33:1 is the “original” ratio since it hasn’t been shown in any other dimensions. However, that doesn’t mean it was composed for that ratio. I saw no evidence of cramped composition, so my guess is that Joker shows an unmatted fullframe transfer; that would not crop anything, but it would alter the director’s original intentions.
As a whole, the picture seemed quite strong. Sharpness was solid for the most part. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft and fuzzy, but these were rare; overall I found the image to look crisp and detailed. Some jagged edges and moiré effects complicated this appearance; neither appeared heavy, but they caused some distractions. Print flaws seemed completely absent; I detected no signs of scratches, grain, grit, speckles, tears or other defects.
Colors looked wonderfully bold and vivid - they truly were a highlight of the movie. From rich blues to solid purples to accurate reds, the hues appeared marvelously rich and distinct. The tones appeared slightly too heavy during the nightclub shots, but otherwise they were excellent. Black levels were also tremendously deep and dense and they seemed nicely rendered. Shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not excessively dark. All in all, other than some jaggies and a little softness, Joker looked very good.
Also good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Batman Beyond. The soundfield seemed nicely engaging and aggressive. All five channels presented an active environment that always appeared clear and solid. The audio blended together naturally and it seemed to pan cleanly from speaker to speaker. The directional qualities were realistic and convincing, and they helped make the film more effective than it otherwise might have been.
Audio quality seemed positive as well. Dialogue sounded crisp and distinct and lacked any signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music was bright and dynamic and showed nice range; while I didn’t always like the style of the score, it did come across accurately. Effects were clean and rich, with no evidence of distortion or harshness. Bass response seemed decent, though it could be somewhat weak at times. Music suffered the most, as the score showed heavy midrange but not much depth. Louder effects boasted a nice punch, but the rest of the track seemed somewhat anemic to a certain degree. Overall, I still liked the soundtrack for Joker, but it didn’t merit a grade higher than a “B”.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker includes a bunch of supplements. First up is “A Word From the Creators”, a running audio commentary. In it we hear from producer Bruce Timm, producer/writer Paul Dini, producer Glen Murakami, and director Curt Geda; all four were recorded together in one session. Although the track can be somewhat dry at times, it provided a nice package of information about the making of the film and the series as a whole. We learn about alterations made to the movie during production and a variety of other issues. Unfortunately, they never touch upon the more violent edits I mentioned earlier; I’d guess the track was recorded before they occurred. Nonetheless, the commentary was generally entertaining and informational, though it did peter out somewhat during the second half.
Next we get a featurette called Beyond Batman Beyond. The program lasts 11 minutes and 55 seconds and provides a general overview of the movie and the TV series. It’s presented at a fast pace, so the mix of interviews with filmmakers, voice talent and others plus film clips never gets very deep; the show stays fairly glib and superficial. Despite that, the piece was entertaining and moderately compelling.
In Animatics, we find three minutes and 20 seconds of material. Animatics are filmed storyboards accompanied by music and speech; they’re used to give an early approximation of the film’s pacing and timing. The ones shown here are mildly interesting but nothing special; none of them display unused material for the movie, so they just repeat shots included in the final product.
The Animated Biographies show listings for six different characters. We find entries for Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis, the Joker, the Dee-Dee Twins, and Woof. What we observe is running text with some graphics and animation plus background music. Despite the extra pizzazz, it remains a fairly static presentation. As a whole, the biographies offer a little primer for those who haven’t followed the “Batman Beyond” universe. However, don’t watch this four minute and 43 second piece if you haven’t already watched the movie; it reveals a lot of plot information.
Listed on the menu under “Confidential Bat Footage - For Your Eyes Only”, the Deleted Scenes section actually offers only one segment, and it’s not even an animated piece. Instead, we find one segment presented through animatics. The program lasts for five minutes and 18 seconds and is moderately interesting. However, I didn’t think the extra material would have added much to the film.
Bat-Trivia provides seven questions about the TV series but doesn’t address the movie. As such, I had trouble with it since I’ve not watched the show. However, the multiple-choice quiz is forgiving, so it doesn’t hurt you to answer many of them incorrectly.
Next up is the music video for “Crash” from Mephisto Odyssey Featuring Static-X. It’s a stylish lip-synch party at the Batcave, with only a few movie clips stuck into it at times. As a whole, it’s an interesting video that isn’t great but it’s more fun than most.
Lastly, we find trailers for Joker, the Batman Beyond Video Collection, The Iron Giant, My Dog Skip, Pokemon: The Movie 2000, and Scooby Doo and the Alien Invaders.
In addition, we find a few DVD-ROM features. “Extra Extra” simply links to the WB “Online Events” page. “Gotham’s Most Wanted” offers links to a variety of Bat-related websites, while “Batty Sounds” shows the soundtrack album’s tunes and links to a place where you can buy it. The DVD also provides web links to a few other related sites. Yes, it’s a very blah collection of DVD-ROM pieces.
Although I don’t think the world of Batman Beyond seems as compelling as the original Batman universe, I nonetheless found Return of the Joker to present a fairly engaging and entertaining experience. The movie expanded upon the legend and diversified it nicely through this acceptably exciting and deep adventure. I don’t like the fact the original cut of the film was edited prior to this release, but the current version works well nonetheless. Picture and sound both seemed very good, and the DVD includes some decent extras. Bat-fans should give Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker a look.
Update: the review above reflects the original DVD release from December 2000. Warner Bros. finally decided to give the fans what they want and put out the unedited edition in April 2002. A review of that disc can be found here.
To rate this film go to BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER - UNCUT VERSION.