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Monday, August 7, 2017

'Batman: Mask of the Phantasm' BD: Who Is Killing the Great Mob Bosses of Gotham


Giving the Warner Archive July 25, 2017 Blu-ray release of the 1993 animated theatrical film "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" a portion of its due requires an extended review. The condensed version for the short-attention span readers who are used to 140-word news reports and six-second videos borrows a catchphrase from another unsung cult classic. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Buy the fucking Blu-ray!

The numerous awesome aspects of "Mask" warrant starting from the general and narrowing in on specifics about this feature-film quality story that highlights the evolution, angst, and conflicting emotions that makes the highly damaged Bruce Wayne such a compelling and complex character.

"Mask" fulfills the pure purpose of a Blu-ray; to provide a (in this case spectacularly) enhanced version of a previously not widely available quality film or television series. The only criticism regarding this is that Archive deserves a tap (rather than a slap) on the wrist for not including any extras about this stylish and literally orchestrated film.

Warner Prime deserves credit for deciding that releasing "Mask" theatrically in an age that included direct-to-VHS movies was a chance its gotta take against all odds of the film breaking box-office records. The better news is that look at "Mask" nearly 24 years later verifies that the suits knew Jack back then.

The errors that contributed to "Mask" not having much of an opportunity to succeed back in the day included having incredibly limited marketing that neglected to spread the word that the wholly original "Mask" was not a re-release of episodes of the television series "Batman: The Animated Series" (by Batgod Bruce Timm) that spawned (pun intended) it. Further, releasing underdog (pun intended) "Mask" on Christmas Day 1993 pitted it against films that included "Schindler's List," "Philadelphia," and "The Pelican Brief."

"Mask" additionally suffered from coming out in a pre-widespread-web era in which that Al Gore invention was mostly being used for its intended purpose of sharing the fruits of scientific research. Word-of-mouth largely was limited to that means of spreading the news about the latest and the coolest out there.

Millennials must remember as well that it was not quite hip-to-be-square in the early '90s. San Diego Comic Con was much more limited in scope and popularity; further, having a "My Other Car is the Batmobile" bumper sticker was not entirely off the risky scale that plastering a pink triangle or a rainbow flag on the rear window of your car represented.

Society-at-large had not greatly embraced fanboy or gay culture at that point. That was one reason that many gay folks turned to fellow outcast fantasy aficionados for a sense of community. They too did not let being considered "queer" deter them from being themselves.

The following YouTube clip of the "Mask" theatrical trailer highlights both the above and the following aspects of this "must-own" release.


Readers who are still here now get the reward of learning specifics about "Mask." It is richly and vibrantly drawn with apt sharp angles. Further, the deep rich orchestration is appropriate for the operatic themes of the film (and evokes great thoughts of the quality music of the Looney Tunes theatrical shorts). As mentioned above, this production is ideal for a Blu-ray release.

The high concept of the film is that the titular grim reaper style specter with the literally chilling voice is hunting down and eliminating mob bosses on the Gotham home turf of our hero. The Rodney Dangerfield aspect of Batman (and Marvel counterpart Spider-Man) is that he is not getting any respect. The rank-and-file members of the Gotham Police Department believe that the Dark Knight is the murdering vigilante, and they are dead-set (pun intended) on shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later because dead men tell no tales.

The simultaneous big event in the life of Batman/Bruce Wayne is that the one who got away comes back. Former coed/heiress/main bat squeeze Andrea Beaumont literally jets into Gotham after the requisite decade-long absence. One of several flashbacks in "Mask" shows how this pair initially meets cute when Wayne comes across Beaumont speaking to the grave of her mother.

Related scenes have a pre-bat Wayne talking to the grave of his parents. A truly Messianic moment has a happyish Wayne begging his deceased mother and father for permission to end his suffering by abandoning his pledge to avenge their deaths.

Uber-veteran Batvoice god Kevin Conroy does his usual superb job bringing this character to life; having equally prolific (and talented) "China Beach" vet/Lois Lane voicer Dana Delany is a slightly odd but highly successful choice.

Also-still-going-strong Joker voice actor (and current Jokeresque Trump impersonator) Mark Hamill once again steals every scene in which he conveys the utter madness of his character. He joins the action out of a survival instinct related to knowing that he in on the animated version of The List of Adrian Messenger. This aspect of his origin story is one of numerous highlights of "Mask."

These current events converge to keep Wayne on the typical edge of sanity that his limited human contact keeps him from fully going over to the dark side. His To-Do List includes coming to terms with saving the bad guys, capturing his competition who does not follow his capture-and-release to the police philosophy, avoid having the GPD gun him down while he is out doing their job, and seeing if he and Andrea can make it work the second time around.

The aforementioned flashbacks chronicle both the course of the Brucea courtship and the evolution of Wayne from grieving son to Dark Knight. (Many other critics note that "Mask" is one of the few Batfilms to show the period leading up to Wayne becoming Batman.) These scenes further provide present-day Wayne with clues related to the mystery of who is killing the great mob bosses of Gotham.

The past and the present fully merge in the climatic scene between the primary ensemble. This further avoids the Hollywood ending that typically eludes Batman.

It is no mystery that this Blu-ray is highly recommended. The flashback of this review is imploring readers to buy the fucking Blu-ray!

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Mask" is strongly encouraged to email me; you alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.