Updated: Oct 16
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1-2) The late Kevin Conroy, a Juilliard-trained actor grounded in Shakespeare, defined Batman – in “The Animated Series,” movies like “Mask of the Phantasm” and even video games. A 1994 Annie Award nominee for best animated feature, “Phantasm” has been hailed as one of the greatest animated movies of all time.
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“BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM – 30th ANNIVERSARY”
4K Ultra HD & Digital copy, 1993, PG for animated violence, Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (iTunes) (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The feature, “Kevin Conroy: I Am the Knight”
EXTRA POINTS to whoever suggested “Kevin Conroy: I Am the Knight” for the title of the new (and only) feature included here because it couldn’t be more fitting. No knock at Michael Keaton or Christian Bale, but it was Conroy who defined Batman.
Conroy, who passed away last year at 66, had no experience in animation when he, and hundreds of others, auditioned for the groundbreaking “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992-95). A Juilliard-trained actor, he toured with John Houseman’s The Acting Company after graduating. Following a stint on the daytime soap “Another World,” he returned to the stage – at San Diego’s renowned Old Globe theater, on Broadway and in the title role of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Hamlet.”
That experience as the Prince of Denmark shaped his interpretation of Batman/Bruce Wayne. “Kevin wasn’t familiar with Batman as a superhero,” says casting director Andrea Romano. “He told me, ‘This is a Hamlet story, a man whose [father] had been killed and was seeking vengeance.’”
He also had a novel take on Wayne and his alter-ego – namely, it was the other way around. “He said from the beginning that Batman was the real character and that Bruce Wayne was the disguise,” says co-director/co-writer Bruce Timm. Conroy was also a closeted gay man who struggled with his identity. That further shaped his approach, Romano adds.
Conroy was the real deal, too. Romano, Timm and everyone else who sat down for this top-notch feature remember him as gracious, kind and dedicated to the character.
(1-3) The Caped Crusader crashes a meeting of Gotham City’s crime bosses, who are being picked off by the elusive Phantasm. (4-5) There is no escaping when the mysterious killer confronts one of the gangsters in a garage.
No surprise that “Mask of the Phantasm” delivers everything the standard-setting series did –uncompromising storyline, superb acting, memorable music and unrivaled animation that seamlessly blends past, present and future.
When a mysterious, cloaked figure starts picking off Gotham City's crime bosses, a councilman with a secret (Hart Bochner, “Die Hard”) tells the press it's Batman. As if. But the Phantasm shares a link to Bruce Wayne's tortured past. In a series of flashbacks, Wayne meets Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany, TV’s “China Beach”) while visiting his parents' grave. As their relationship develops, he drops his plan of being a vigilante and asks her to marry him, but she leaves a note ending their engagement and disappears with her father, Carl (Stacy Keach, “The Long Riders”). That's when Bruce dons Batman's cowl. Andrea returns to Gotham years later and tells him that she and her father fled because he'd embezzled from the mob. Bruce thinks Carl Beaumont is the Phantasm.
The cast includes Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (“Wait Until Dark”) as Alfred, Bob Hastings (TV’s “McHale’s Navy”) as Commissioner Gordon, Robert Costanzo (“Total Recall”) as Detective Bullock, Abe Vigoda (“TV’s “Barney Miller”) as gangster Salvatore Valestra and, of course, Mark Hamill (“Star Wars”) as Joker. No knock at Heath Ledger or Cesar Romero, but it was Hamill who defined the Clown Prince of Crime.
So, who is the Phantasm? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
(1) Bob Hastings is the voice of Commissioner Gordon), right, and Robert Costanzo voices Detective Bullock. (2-4) Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce hones his martial arts skills not knowing that Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany) is watching. As a relationship blossoms, Bruce stands before a portrait of his parents to ask that he be freed of his vow to avenge their murder. (5-6) Bruce confides in Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) then keeps up his devil-may-care playboy ruse at a party.
Let’s hear it for Warner Bros. Its brand new 4K UHD scan of the original camera negative keeps the film grain intact and, thanks to judicious HDR10 toning (Dolby Vision, Digital), pumps up the colors without going overboard. Skin tones are natural, Gotham’s Art Deco skyline is spectacular and the shadows – the Dark Knight’s preferred stomping grounds – are super inky. The movie’s also been framed in its original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though the 1.37.1 open matte version originally intended for broadcast television is MIA. The square-shaped 4.3 version is available, too, as a bonus extra in HD courtesy of the digital Movies Anywhere code.
Specs: Peak brightness maxes out at 775 nits and averages 99, while the encoded video outputs at a first-rate 70-plus Megabits per second to more than 100. Long story short, the visuals are out of sight.
Same goes for the audio, thanks to a new, immersive DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that easily outpaces the older 2.0, which is included here. Everything sounds larger than life – the evocative score by Shirley Walker (Emmy nominee for “The Animated Series”), the authentic sound effects, even Conroy’s distinctive, gravelly growl. Dialogue is plenty clear and there isn’t a click or hiss to be heard.
Do we need to say it? OK. “The Mask of the Phantasm” is a must for every self-respecting Batman-ionado.
– Craig Shapiro
(1-2) A mob boss and his muscle tangle with the Phantasm late one night at a cemetery. (3) Heath Ledger and Cesar Romero did Joker proud, but they pale next to Mark Hamill’s characterization of the Clown Prince of Crime. (4) The Phantasm checks off another victim.
(1-2) Batman is cornered, but not for long. He’s later patched up by Alfred. (3) Things don’t look too good for Andrea, whose father embezzled from the mob.(4) Joker, as only Joker can, lays down the law. (5) Does anyone perish in the explosion? There’s one way to find out.