Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Story byAlan Burnett
Based on
Produced by
Starring
Edited byAl Breitenbach
Music byShirley Walker
Production
companies
Distributed byWarner Bros.[1]
Release date
  • December 25, 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time
78 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$6 million
Box office$5.8 million[2]

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (also known as Batman: The Animated Movie: Mask of the Phantasm) is a 1993 American animated superhero film featuring the DC Comics character Batman. Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, it is based on Batman: The Animated Series and is the first original theatrical film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, the first film in the DC Animated Universe and the only one released theatrically.[a]

The film was written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, and Michael Reaves. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo reprise their roles from The Animated Series, joined by Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller and John P. Ryan. Its story follows Batman as he reconciles with a former lover, Andrea Beaumont, and faces a mysterious vigilante who is murdering Gotham City's crime bosses. The plot was inspired by Mike W. Barr's Batman: Year Two comic book story arc, but features an original antagonist, the Phantasm, in place of the Reaper, while also borrowing elements from the Batman: Year One graphic novel.

Originally planned for a direct-to-video release, Warner Bros. gave Mask of the Phantasm a theatrical release, condensing its production into a strenuous eight-month schedule. The film was the first theatrical feature film produced by Warner Bros. Animation, and was released through the studio's Family Entertainment[1] division on December 25, 1993, to positive reviews from critics, who praised the stylized animation, voice performances, story, and music.

Due to the decision to release it in theaters on short notice, Mask of the Phantasm failed at the box office. After its release on home media, it became financially successful. Its success led to two direct-to-video sequels, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero in 1998 and Mystery of the Batwoman in 2003. Until the limited release of Batman: The Killing Joke in 2016, Mask of the Phantasm was the only animated Batman film to be given a theatrical release.

Plot

A young Bruce Wayne meets Andrea Beaumont while visiting his parents' grave, and they form a deep mutual attraction. That night, in one of his first crime-fighting attempts, Bruce foils a robbery but is discouraged because the criminals did not fear him. Bruce proposes marriage to Andrea, who accepts. However, Andrea mysteriously leaves Gotham with her father, businessman Carl Beaumont, ending her engagement in a Dear John letter. Heartbroken, Bruce becomes Batman over the course of ten years.

Batman confronts a group of Gotham City crime bosses led by Chuckie Sol. As Sol escapes to his car, a cloaked figure called the "Phantasm" attacks him; Sol is killed when the Phantasm causes him to drive out the side of a parking garage and crash into a neighboring building. Batman is seen at the scene and is blamed for killing Sol. Councilman Arthur Reeves, who is corrupt and on the mob's payroll, vows to have Batman arrested.

The Phantasm murders another gangster, Buzz Bronski, in the same cemetery Bruce met Andrea. Buzz's bodyguards see the Phantasm flee the scene and mistake it for Batman. Batman investigates Bronski's death and wanders to his parents' tombstone, encountering Andrea. She is startled by Batman's appearance and realizes who he is. Batman finds evidence linking Carl Beaumont with Sol, Bronski, and a third gangster: Salvatore Valestra. He breaks into Valestra's home and finds a picture of Bronski, Valestra, Sol, and Beaumont seated at a table. Meanwhile, Valestra, believing Batman killed the others and will come for him next, contacts Reeves for help, but Reeves turns him down. In desperation, Valestra turns to the Joker.

The Phantasm arrives at Valestra's mansion but finds Valestra already dead by the Joker's hands, and through a camera strapped to Valestra's corpse, Joker discovers the murderer is not Batman. The Phantasm escapes as the mansion explodes due to a bomb planted by Joker. Batman pursues the killer but is interrupted by the police and rescued from arrest by Andrea. Andrea explains she and her father were hiding in the Meditteranean coast from Valestra's mob, from whom he embezzled money; her father repaid everything, but they put out a hit for his death anyway. Believing Andrea's father to be the Phantasm, Bruce ponders resuming his relationship with her and giving up Batman. Looking at the photo of Bronski, Valestra, Sol, and Beaumont, he sees Valestra's chauffeur in the background; Bruce realizes to his horror the chauffeur is actually the Joker. Joker visits Reeves to press him for information about the Phantasm; believing that Reeves is the one ordering the killings to hide his mafia connections, he poisons him with his laughing venom. Reeves is taken to the hospital, where Batman interrogates him. Reeves confesses he helped the Beaumonts escape but soon betrayed their location to Valestra after Carl refused to help fund his first election campaign. At this point, both Batman and Joker have now deduced that Andrea is the killer, having returned to Gotham to seek vengeance against the Valestra mob for murdering her father and robbing her of her life with Bruce.

Andrea tracks down Joker, her father's killer and last target, to his hideout in Gotham's abandoned World's Fair to kill him. Joker fights her, but before he can kill Andrea, Batman arrives and begs Andrea to give up her quest. She refuses and disappears. After Batman and the Joker battle to a stalemate, with the fair about to be blown up, Andrea returns and seizes Joker, bidding Batman goodbye before vanishing with the maniacally laughing clown, and Batman barely escapes the explosions. At the Batcave, Alfred consoles Bruce, telling him no one could have helped Andrea. Bruce finds her locket, containing a picture of himself and Andrea. Meanwhile, Andrea departs from Gotham on an ocean liner. Heartbroken again, Batman resumes his crime-fighting duties after he is cleared of the accusations against him.

Voice cast

Production

Impressed by the success of the first season of Batman: The Animated Series on Fox, Warner Bros. assigned Alan Burnett to write a story for a full-length animated film. The original idea for the film was to have Batman being captured by his enemies at Arkham Asylum and be put on a trial by them, as they wanted to show that he was guilty of making them what they had become. The idea's concept, however, was considered "too brainy", as it required Batman to be immobile for a long time, so the idea was later used in the series' episode "Trial", which was aired after the film's release.[5] Although the Joker does play a pivotal role in the film, it was Burnett's intention to tell a story far removed from the television series' regular rogues gallery. Burnett also cited he "wanted to do a love story with Bruce because no one had really done it on the TV show. I wanted a story that got into his head."[6] Members of the creative team have claimed that they did not intend for the Joker to appear in the film; Paul Dini has contradicted this, stating that the Joker's role was always part of the story from the beginning of the film's production.[7] The writers were highly cautious of placing the Joker in the film, as they did not want any connection to Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, but writer Michael Reaves said, "We then realized that we could make his appearance serve the story in a way that we never could in live-action."[8] In order to keep the Joker as a solo threat, Bruce Timm and Burnett convinced frequent Animated Series writer Dini to not use Harley Quinn in the film for that reason. The same technique was previously used in the episodes "Joker's Wild" and "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne".[9]

Aiding Burnett in writing the script were Martin Pasko, who handled most of the flashback segments; Reaves, who wrote the climax; and Dini, who claims he "filled in holes here and there".[6] The film's plot was heavily influenced by the 1987 miniseries Batman: Year Two, written by Mike W. Barr and illustrated by Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Alfredo Alcala, Mark Farmer and Todd McFarlane.[10] Orson Welles' 1941 classic Citizen Kane served as an influence for the flashbacks, a story about loss and the passage of time.[11] The character of Hazel, the cook robot of the World of the Future Fair, was named by Burnett after Hazel the Maid (portrayed by actress Shirley Booth), The Saturday Evening Post protagonist of cartoonist Ted Key's TV series Hazel.[12] On the other hand, the design of the Phantasm went into 20 different versions until one was found which convinced the film's crew. According to Burnett, the Phantasm was like the Grim Reaper with a cape, although the idea was to make him resemble the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come of Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol,[13] something that even the Joker mentions in the finished version of the film.

"It was basically an expanded episode. We boarded the script and did all of our designs and shipped it overseas. We were treating it with more quality, but we originally didn't intend it for the big screen."

—Eric Radomski on Warner Bros.' decision to release the film theatrically[14]

Early in production, Warner Bros. decided to release Phantasm theatrically, rather than straight to video. That left less than a year for production time (most animated features take well over two years from finished story to final release). Due to this decision, the animators went over the scenes in order to accommodate the widescreen theatrical aspect ratio.[15] The studio cooperated well, granting the filmmakers a large amount of creative control.[16]

Warner Bros. also increased the production budget to $6 million,[14] which gave the filmmakers opportunities for more elaborate set pieces. The opening title sequence featured a flight through an entirely computer-generated Gotham City.[6] As a visual joke, sequence director Kevin Altieri set the climax of the film inside a miniature automated model of Gotham City, where Batman and the Joker were giants. This was an homage to a mainstay of Batman comic books of the Dick Sprang era, often featuring the hero fighting against a backdrop of gigantic props (they would later do another homage to Sprang's works in The New Batman Adventures episode "Legends of the Dark Knight").[15] From start to finish, the film was completed within eight months.[14]

Themes

Paul Dini intended each of the flashbacks into Batman's love life to "have a tendency to get worse, when you hope things will get better." Bruce's relationship with Andrea, which at first shows promise, eventually turns into turmoil.[17] At first, Bruce and Andrea are set for marriage, but then Bruce is given a farewell note from Andrea cutting off their relationship. This eventually leads into Bruce's decision to become Batman.[17] Richard Corliss of Time felt this scene paralleled Andrea's decision to avenge her own parents and reject love when she finds her own father murdered. Both events transform the two people (Bruce becomes Batman, Andrea becomes the Phantasm).[18] One scene depicts Bruce Wayne at his parents' tombstone saying "I didn't count on being happy." According to Reaves, this scene was to be a pivotal moment in Bruce's tragic life, as he denies himself the opportunity to live a normal life.[8] Reaves also stated: "When Bruce puts on the mask for the first time, [after Andrea breaks their engagement], and Alfred says 'My God!' he's reacting in horror, because he's watching this man he's helped raise from childhood, this man who has let the desire for vengeance and retribution consume his life, at last embrace the unspeakable."[8]

Music

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – The Animated Movie
Film score by
Length34:43
LabelReprise

The soundtrack was composed by Shirley Walker, the main composer for The Animated Series. Walker cited the score as a favorite among her own compositions.[19] In an interview with Cinemusic.com, Walker explained that the "latin" lyrics used in the Main Title were actually names of key Warner Bros. staff read backwards.[20] The song "I Never Even Told You" was written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard. It was performed by Tia Carrere. Hans Zimmer, who would later compose the score for The Dark Knight Trilogy, played the synthesizer on the score.

The score was originally released on December 14, 1993, by Reprise Records.[citation needed] On March 24, 2009, La-La Land Records released a limited expanded edition.[21] The release includes all tracks found on the original release with some tracks expanded. It also features almost 30 minutes of previously unreleased material.

Comic books and merchandise

In December 1993, two novelizations were released. One was a young readers book written by Andrew Helfer,[22] with the other being an adult-oriented novelisation authored by Geary Gravel.[23]

DC Comics released a comic book adaptation written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by Mike Parobeck.[24] The comic book adaptation was later included with the VHS release. Kenner, who had already released toys for the cartoon series, produced several tie in figures for the film, including Joker and the Phantasm (packaged unmasked, spoiling a pivotal plot point in the film). Batman & Robin Adventures Annual #1: Shadow of the Phantasm is a comic book sequel to the film. It was written by Dini and released in 1996. In 2015, a DC Collectibles action figure 2-pack featuring Batman and Phantasm was released.[25]

Home media

Mask of the Phantasm was released on LaserDisc in April 1994[26] and on VHS in May of the same year.[27] The VHS was reissued in April 2003 as part of a three-tape pack with Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.[28] Mask of the Phantasm was first released on DVD in December 1999 as a snap case[29] and in October 2005 as a keep case with the insert.[30] The film was re-released in April 2004 as a three disc DVD box set that included SubZero and Return of the Joker. That version is currently out of print.[31] Warner Home Video re-released the film again in February 2008 as a double feature DVD with SubZero.[32]

The film was released as part of the Warner Archive Collection on Blu-ray on July 25, 2017, featuring new high definition transfers in 16:9 and open matte 4:3 presentations.[33] The film was also included in the Blu-ray release of the Batman: The Complete Animated Series box-set in late 2018.[34]

Reception

Box office

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm opened on December 25, 1993 in the United States in 1,506 theaters, accumulating $1,189,975 over its first 2 days. The film went on to gross $5,795,524 in the domestic total box office intake.[2] The filmmakers blamed Warner Bros. for the unsuccessful marketing campaign, which is commonly attributed to the rushed production schedule due to studio's last-minute decision to release the film theatrically. Despite this, Mask of the Phantasm eventually turned a profit with its various home media releases.[15]

Critical response

Mask of the Phantasm is possibly the best Batman movie ever made; it certainly has the best story... That movie will always stand up against time and it's a testament to the quality of the show that Bruce (Timm) launched in 1992.

—producer Michael Uslan[35]

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm received generally positive reviews from critics. According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 84% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 7.00/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Stylish and admirably respectful of the source material, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm succeeds where many of the live-action Batman adaptations have failed."[36] Empire cited it as the best animated film of 1993, and felt it contained better storylines than Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns.[37] TV Guide Magazine was impressed with the Art Deco noir design that was presented. In addition the film's climax and Batman's escape from the Gotham City Police Department were considered to be elaborate action sequences.[38] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post agreed with overall aspects that included the animation, design, dialogue and storyline, as well as Shirley Walker's film score.[39] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert regretted not having viewed the film during its theatrical release and gave the film a positive review on their television series, At the Movies, when the film was released on home media, with Siskel feeling that Phantasm was better than Batman Returns and Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, and only slightly below Batman.[40]

However, Stephen Holden of The New York Times thought the voice performances were "flat and one-dimensional".[41] Chris Hicks of the Deseret News felt "the picture didn't come alive until the third act" feeling that the animators sacrificed the visuals for the storyline. In addition, he felt Mark Hamill "stole the show."[42] Leonard Klady of Variety had mixed reactions towards the film, but his review was negative overall. He felt the overall themes and morals were clichéd and cited the animation to be to the "point of self-parody".[43]

Accolades

Alongside The Lion King and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mask of the Phantasm was nominated for an Annie Award in the category of Best Animated Feature, but lost to The Lion King.[44]

Legacy

Over time, the film has become a beloved cult film. In a 2010 list, IGN ranked Mask of the Phantasm as the 25th best animated film of all time.[45] That same year IGN also stated it was "the Dark Knight's best big screen story" until Batman Begins.[46] In 2011, Total Film also named Mask of the Phantasm as one of the greatest animated films of all time, coming in at 47th out of 50.[47] Time ranked Phantasm as one of the 10 best superhero films ever in 2011.[48] Wired's Scott Thill called Kevin Conroy "the finest Batman on record" in 2009.[49] To commemorate the film's 20th anniversary, a screening of the film was held in Santa Monica with cast members Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany and Mark Hamill in attendance.[35] To commemorate the film's 25th anniversary, Fathom Events rereleased the film for one day on November 12, 2018.[50]

References

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  3. ^ Jacquie Kubin (April 1997). "An Interview With Mark Hamill". Animation World. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  4. ^ Barry Freiman (June 14, 2005). "Exclusive Interview with Dana Delany". Superman Homepage. Retrieved January 28, 2008.
  5. ^ "15 Things You Didn't Know About Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm". Screenrant.com. February 1, 2017. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
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  9. ^ "Back Issue #99". Issuu.com. Retrieved June 4, 2018.
  10. ^ Chris Sims (February 3, 2012). "Ask Chris #92: The Great and Terrible 'Batman: Year Two'". Comics Alliance. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
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  28. ^ Kirkland, Boyd; Timm, Bruce; Lukic, Butch; Geda, Curt; Riba, Dan, Batman Animated Collection, Warner Home Video, ASIN B00000JRVV
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  1. ^ Batman and Harley Quinn had a limited theatrical release in 2017.

Further reading