Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because of those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In addition to the extra footage cut from the edited version, this version of Joker differs from the old DVD due to its aspect ratio. The earlier one gave us a fullframe image, while this one provided the letterboxed picture. While I felt disappointed it didn’t get anamorphic enhancement, I was still happy to see it in its intended dimensions. The fullscreen Joker seemed to use an unmatted presentation, and I saw no cramped compositions, but I prefer the original presentation.
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. Almost all of these duplicate what we found on the old DVD; any changes will be noted along the way.
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 some trailers. There’s a teaser for Joker as well as ads for Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, The Batman/Superman Movie, a series of Scooby-Doo DVDs, and a preview of the summer 2002 live action Scooby Doo flick. While I expect the latter to stink, I must admit the trailer’s funny. Note that this area departs from the old DVD; both include different trailers.
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.
The DVD-ROM department also differs slightly from the old disc. This one loses a “DVD Sampler”. The changes between the supplements found on the two discs are exceedingly minor; I can’t imagine anyone will bemoan the omission of the various parts. Overall, the two provide very similar extras.
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 was happy to finally see the unedited version of Joker; it didn’t offer any remarkable improvements over the cut rendition, but I thought it gave the story more of a punch. 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.