TV reunions can be pretty painful to watch. It usually just seems like a bunch of overly familiar clips, fluffy talking head retrospectives, and maybe some misguided attempts at material that really should've been put to rest a decade or three earlier. If you happened to catch Return to the Batcave when it debuted a couple years back, you already know that this 90 minute special isn't anything like that.
As you could hopefully guess from the title, Return to the Batcave takes a look back at the Batman television series that aired on ABC in '60s.
The framing story is set in the present, as original stars Adam West and Burt Ward are delivered phony invitations for a charity auto show. Some cackling criminal offscreen swipes the Batmobile from under them, and to ensure that those orphans don't suffer any more than they already have, he types with a sniffle, Adam and Burt set off to reclaim the Batmobile and Oof! Wham! Pow! whoever's responsible. (It's really not much of a mystery, but play along anyway.) Along the way, they stumble onto clues suggesting that the theft has something to do with their past, and as they reminisce about the show, it's time to cue the flashbacks.
The sequences set in the here-'n-now are played with the same sort of campy, goofy sense of humor as the original series, down to the garish set design and Dutch camera angles. The flashbacks are treated a little more seriously, with Jack Brewster and Jason Marsden stepping into the roles of Adam and Burt. The camp may be dialed down, but these flashbacks aren't dry, monotone re-enactments. They're teeming with some of the lurid details from any one of the stars' tell-all books, everything from Burt Ward's divorce, Adam West's relentless womanizing, Ward's excessive man-basket unsettling the religious right, Fredric Wertham's accusations of homosexuality between the Dynamic Duo, struggles with the censors, Ward almost getting skewered after a disastrous one-night stand, and internal bickering.
Since it's not just E!'s True Hollywood Story with a bigger budget, everything from the original casting (including some actual footage of Lyle Waggoner testing as Batman) to the series' numerous guest stars (including Cesar Romero demanding makeup be smothered over his moustache and a food fight with Vincent Price on the set, to rattle off a couple) to Burt Ward getting bruised, battered, and par-broiled during botched stunts (I don't have a parenthetical reference for this one) is covered.
This isn't a shameless, half-thought-out ratings grab -- Return to the Batcave manages to capture the spirit of the original Batman series. A lot of the gags in the framing story got a laugh, particularly quips about the structure of these sorts of reunion specials and more subtle ones like Adam West suggesting they drive his car because it's already been established. I don't know how many liberties the movie took with reality for the flashback sequences, but they're certainly interesting enough, spouting off a bunch of stories I hadn't heard before. If you're a fan of the original television series, then...well, you probably already saw this when it originally aired...but if not, I guess you have a chance to now. There isn't much on this DVD aside from the movie itself, but at least it's cheap.
Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is decent enough. The flashback sequences sport a convincing retro look, and those distinctive four-color hues translate pretty well to the screen. Detail seems kinda middling for something produced this recently, and there's a good bit of film grain, video noise, or something along those lines buzzing around. Pretty much average.
|So, maybe it's not a coincidence that the sample "edge haloing is bad" screengrab has Angel's Amy Acker in it.|
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (192Kbps) is fairly unimpressive as well. There's no real range to it, the dialogue sounds flat and sometimes clipped, and the action rarely seems to stray from the center channel. That English stereo soundtrack is it in terms of audio options -- no other tracks, no subtitles, and no closed captions.
Supplements: There aren't any set-top-accessible extras, although a PDF of the original screenplay for Return to the Batcave is provided on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. A reasonably lengthy set of liner notes penned by Anchor Bay's Michael Felsher is tucked inside the keepcase, and a list of the DVD's twelve chapter stops are helpfully provided on the insert's front cover. The DVD also includes a set of static 16x9 menus.
Conclusion: Return to the Batcave captures a lot of what made the original TV series such a blast to watch, and if you like the show, there's a pretty good chance you'll feel the same way about this reunion movie. Anchor Bay has slapped a bargain basement sticker price on this DVD, and that should make a purchase more compelling to some fans over a rental. Either way: Recommended.