Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a cinematic masterpiece featuring the Dark Knight, now graces 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a fresh dose of justice. Boasting a newly remastered 4K HDR10 transfer and immersive 5.1 audio, the film offers subtle yet appreciable visual enhancements and a phenomenal auditory experience. Although the selection of bonus features may not be extensive, the touching tribute to the late Kevin Conroy is a fitting homage to his enduring legacy. This release comes highly recommended for all Batman enthusiasts.
After Tim Burton and Michael Keaton set the benchmark for modern cinematic Batman adventures, it would be Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Kevin Conroy that would ultimately define the character for generations of Bat-Fans. From the first episode of Batman: The Animated Series, there was something unique and special about this version of the Caped Crusader. It had vibes of the early Max Fleischer Superman cartoons with the grit of a Frank Miller story and the gothic art deco stylings of Burton’s live-action films. And when those live-action films started to go off the rails, it was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that saved the day. Not only is directors Kevin Altieri, Boyd Kirkland, and Frank Paur’s film the perfect continuation of the Animated Series, but it remains one of the best Batman films ever made three decades later.
Exploring Batman’s Humanity
Before Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the average movie fan only knew the basics of the world’s greatest detective. His parents died, he’s rich, he puts on a bat costume, and he fights crime with a cool car and other gadgets. Change the villain, rinse, wash, and repeat the rest. What I feel is so overlooked about Mask of the Phantasm is that this is the first film that explored not only Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Kevin Conroy) loss but also his sacrifice. With the return of his long-ago love, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), Bruce is faced with the memories of needing to avenge his parents but also giving up his human needs for love and connection to achieve that goal. Batman Forever touched on this aspect, but nothing with any emotional depth – at least in the current theatrical cut we all know. Maybe one day that elusive Director’s Cut will get a real release.
The Gold Standard
Ultimately, I feel Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the gold standard for all Batman films. It’s the one any filmmaker aiming to tackle the character should look at and recognize what they need to aspire to achieve with the character. He’s a crime fighter, he’s a detective, but he’s also uniquely human compared to the likes of Flash, Superman, or Wonder Woman. With the excellent voice cast of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning as Batman and Joker, respectively, Dana Delany is a beautiful addition (before putting in her time as the voice of Lois Lane). Then you also have fun voice talents from Stacey Keech as Phantasm with Dick Miller and Abe Vigoda as some colorful gangsters, while Hart Bochner lends his practiced Die Hard vocal talents for a schmuck politician. While I love the entirety of Batman: The Animated Series – it’s Mask of the Phantasm I return to most often. Even more than most of the live-action films.
4K Ultra HD Bliss
The Caped Crusader unleashes some 4K-sized justice with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. A Single-disc 4K UHD + Digital release, the BD-66 disc is housed in a sturdy black case with identical slipcover artwork—the disc loads to the static image main menu with simple navigation options.
Stunning Visual Upgrade
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of those animated titles that gets better with every release. Warner Bros. reportedly took the time to do a brand new 4K scan, providing minimal cleanup to preserve film grain and the specks of dust or dirt trapped under the cells, similar to what they did for Batman: The Animated Series. In other words, this is the complete opposite of what we saw with the Max Fleisher Superman set. Also, to notch up another win for this release, it’s framed in its original theatrical 1.85:1 versus the 1.78:1 version WAC released years back. However, for some fans, this release may prove irksome with omitting the 1.37:1 open matte version of that old disc. Similar to The Transformers: The Movie, I rarely ever went back to the old fullscreen framing, so I don’t see that as much of a loss, especially because this new transfer is beautiful.
The HDR10 grading is just right. It’s not so intense that it skews colors badly but enhances the rich, deep blues, reds, and yellow/gold accent around the Batman symbol and the utility belt. I was also pleased to see the lighting accents absent from the previous release restored. Neon lights now have the popper pulsing glow to them, whereas the previous Blu-ray transfer simply washed out to solid reds/pinks. Classic cell animation, more or less, has a set limitation on how much better things can look, and I feel like we’ve hit that point with this release. Those improvements in detail are nominal, but they do add depth to the image in a way the 1080p transfer doesn’t express. Color grading brings this film to peak with those rich beautiful primaries and deep inky blacks. Simply put, it’s not likely to get better than this. At least not without completely recreating the film from the original cel elements, and that’s not likely ever going to happen.
On the sound front, we see the most significant improvement with the move to DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio. The older DTS-HD MA 2.0 is included, and easy flipping between tracks proves how much more prominent and bolder this new 5.1 track runs. Those opening Shirley Walker score moments set the stage with a more powerful orchestral presence and choral accompaniment. Dialog sounds cleaner and more present. The deep guttural growl Kevin Conroy famously added to Batman’s voice packs a punch. Sound effects feel more present, giving the film a more active and immersive soundscape. By comparison, the 2.0 track sounds thin.
Bonus features are not plentiful by any standard, but the previous disc only had a trailer, so this is a bit of an improvement. While the trailer doesn’t return, we pick up a loving tribute to the late Kevin Conroy. Everyone he ever worked with, from Batman: The Animated Series to the video games to his appearance in the CW’s Crisis storyline, makes an appearance. At just over 26 minutes, it’s not the longest featurette ever, but it was made with love and attention.
The Final Verdict
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the greatest Caped Crusader stories ever told in any medium. It just happened to be animated and released to theaters. It’s a true culmination of all the goodwill and exceptional storytelling from the team behind Batman: The Animated Series rolled up into an 80-minute feature film. And now, on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, it looks and sounds better than ever. For the first time, it’s given the appropriate theatrical aspect ratio, complete with HDR10 and a sonic upgrade to DTS-HD MA 5.1. While I would have loved a more robust bonus features package, I can’t deny the Kevin Conroy tribute is a moving tribute to an icon. This 4K release is an essential piece of any Batman fan’s collection, and I highly recommend it.
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