Back in the year 2000 there was a lot of excited talk about a new direct-to-video BATMAN BEYOND feature that was being made. It was going to feature the return of the original Joker and explain what happened to the second Robin. It was going to be dark. It was going to be violent. It was going to answer questions fans had about what happened after THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN and before BATMAN BEYOND. Various rumors suggested that Robin was going to be killed, or at least horribly disfigured.
Then Columbine happened.
After the school shootings at Columbine High School the federal government began a series of hearings about violence in the media directed towards children. Several of the studio and network heads were called before Congress and they said that they would try to do something about it on their own rather than face government supervision.
Warner Bros. immediately re-edited BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER. They toned down the violence and completely removed pieces of scenes that progressed the storyline of the film. Some of these scenes were shown on the Internet from an unedited Japanese version of the picture.
Now, in a wonderful reversal, Warner Bros. has released the original and uncut version of the film.
The first release of the film was unrated. This original release is rated PG-13 and it deserves to be. This film is not for the young and all of the rumors that whetted the appetite for a dark, brooding, violent, disturbing film are here.
The picture starts in the future Gotham City with a heist being committed by a gang of the Jokerz. After being foiled by the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, the Jokerz return to their lair and are scolded by the original Joker. Later the Joker busts in on a press conference of Bruce Wayne's and Bruce is stunned into silence. Terry presses for information from Bruce about the Joker, but Bruce refuses to talk. All he will say is that the Joker is dead and this new Joker has to be an imposter.
Terry then goes to see the current Police Commissioner Gordon. Barbara Gordon used to fight alongside Bruce as Batgirl and later was Bruce's lover, as was revealed in the television show. Barbara tells Terry about the night the Joker and Harley Quinn died and what happened to Tim Drake, the second Robin.
As Batman, Terry goes after the Joker while trying to figure out how he could be back from the dead. I won't tell you anymore about what happens in the story - I had a theory that turned out to only be partially right. The new Joker is the old Joker and how he died and came back is original and makes sense and is wonderful to watch.
There are only two minor things to be aware of before watching this film. First, if you have never seen an episode of the television series BATMAN BEYOND then you will probably have a hard time figuring out who is who and what is going on. This film requires that you know the characters and the situations from the television show. The second thing to be aware of is that the voice of Commissioner Gordon is different. In the series Stockard Channing voiced her, but she was unavailable to record the voice for this film and Angie Harmon, who used to be on LAW & ORDER, has replaced her. Angie Harmon does a fine job, but it can be a little distracting if you are familiar with the series.
This disc has quite a lot of additional features, the best of which is the commentary track. The only thing disappointing about it is that it is the original commentary track recorded back in 2000 before everything hit the fan. In fact, there is no mention about any of the controversy surrounding the film anywhere on the disc. It would have been nice to hear what the creators thought about the situation and how they felt about finally getting their original vision released.
The other features include a behind-the-scenes documentary which is pretty good, deleted scenes which are okay, animation tests that are alright, a music video which is completely lame, animated character bios which are annoying and trailers which are for this film, two other animated Batman releases and two animated Scooby-Doo trailers.
The back of the disc jacket says that there are DVD-ROM features but there is nothing listed on any of the menus. I use a Macintosh and they tend to have problems accessing DVD-ROM features. So, if you have a Windows machine there might be some features or it may be a misprinting. Warner Bros. has a history of misprinting items on their DVDs. For example, on this disc it says "Standard Version. This film has been modified as follows from its original version: it has been formatted to fit your screen." Well, this is partially true. The film is letterboxed, but the end credits are full-frame. Why it is like this I have no idea, but at least the film is shown in its original aspect ratio.
The transfer on this film is really nice and the audio is in Dolby 5.1 Surround. Because of the misprinting and strange dealings with the end credits I have no idea whether the film was transferred for widescreen televisions.
One last bit of information for you animation fans out there. On the commentary track it is revealed that the person who animated the destruction of Gotham City in this film is the same person who, fifteen years earlier, animated the citywide destruction in the classic AKIRA. The filmmakers leave it up to you to decide which destruction looks better.