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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
After premiering at New York Comic Con last month and enjoying a very quick theatrical run, the new animated feature Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders debuts on home video with this Blu-ray release from Warner Brothers, branded as part of their DC Universe line.
Set in the 1960's, the story revolves around a new allegiance formed between Gotham City's most nefarious villains: Catwoman (Julie Newmar), The Penguin (William Salyers), The Riddler (Wally Wingert) and the Joker (Jeff Bergman). From here? Well, they just sort of go out and attempt a bunch of wonderfully ridiculous exercises in taking down Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward). Catwoman tries to use her feminine charm to bring Batman over to the dark side, but of course, he's not having any of it. A ray gun gets stolen and they head into space for a bit before the dynamic duo winds up on a conveyor belt inside a giant TV dinner heading towards a giant flaming oven. Along the way Alfred (Steven Weber), Commissioner Gordon (Jim Ward), Chief O'Hara (Thomas Lennon) and even Aunt Harriet (Lynn Marie Stewart… better known as Ms. Yvonne from Pee-Wee's Playhouse!) get in on the fun.
The plot is anything but deep but it sure is a whole lot of fun. Clearly those behind this project know that nostalgia is indeed a powerful marketing tool. Fans familiar with the vintage Batman TV series that made Ward, West and Newman stars in the first place will get more out of this than those new to this era of the character's history. There's a big built-in audience for this and Warner Brothers/DC Comics would have been foolish not to cash in on it. Thankfully, it works quite well. Clearly West, Ward and Newman are getting up there in years and casting them to play live action versions of their characters probably wouldn't have worked. Getting them to voice animated versions of their sixties selves, however, works just fine. Sure they sound older than they did back on TV but it's close enough and just hearing them deliver new material as they do here will likely put a big smile on the face of any fan.
The animation style used here is pretty close to the ‘house style' employed in a lot of the other DC Universe titles that have been coming out on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers over the last few years, but it has a bit more of a sixties comic book feel to it. The colors are often times very bright and over the top, very much in keeping with the show. Director Rick Morales has been all over a lot of the previous DCU titles, working in the art department on some of the TV series like Teen Titans and Batman: The Brace And The Bold and directing episodes of Beware The Batman and Green Lantern, so he has a good sense of what a project like this needs to work as he's clearly well versed in the source material. As such, all of the animated characters in the movie look quite a bit like their real life counterparts from the TV series. The pacing is quick and the feature delivers a nice mix of the humor that was such a trademark of the sixties run with some preposterous but no less entertaining action set pieces.
Anyone looking for Christopher Nolan inspired Dark Knight material should look elsewhere. This project was intended to bring back the lighter side of Batman's history, and while it accomplishes it quite admirably, it is meant to be funny and as such, no one should even be trying to take this in the least bit seriously. In place of a brooding and tortured hero we get some seriously chaste good guys and the complex villains are here reduced to over the top caricatures, but the constant breaking of the fourth wall reminds us a few times that everyone involved was in on the joke. Which is as it should be. This is fluff, sure, but it's really fun fluff and there's nothing wrong with that at all.The Blu-ray:
Warner Brothers brings Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen on a 25GB disc. Despite the low bit rate on the disc, there aren't any serious compression artifacts to note (surprisingly the seventy-eight minute feature takes up only 11GBs of space on the disc). Black levels and color reproduction are quite good and the transfer reproduces the sixties comic book style animated quite nicely. Detail is solid, and as this was a digital source brought over to Blu-ray, obviously there are no problems with any dirt, debris or print damage of any kind.Sound:
The main audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. This track is definitely front heavy, reserving the rear channels for the occasional sound effect and score placement, but that feels ‘right' for the movie as it's basically just aping the old TV show. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, the score sounds really good and the dialogue is clean and nicely balanced. Alternate options are offered in French and Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and removable subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.Extras:
The bulk of the extras are made up of the four featurettes included on the disc. First up is the ten minute Those Dastardly Desperados. This is an amusing collection of interviews with the voice actors that played the villains in the movie as well as Ward and West. It doesn't really scratch beneath the surface much, but it's amusing enough. From there spend ten minutes with A Classic Cadre Of Voices sees most of the other players involved with the film expressing their admiration for being able to work with the three veterans of the original show. A Sneak Peek At Batman Vs. Robin, running ten minutes again, gives us just what the title alludes to, an early look at the follow up to the Son Of Batman feature. Last but not least, we get the nine and a half minute A Sneak Peek At Son Of Batman itself.
Trailers for a few other DCU titles are included here, as are animated menus and chapter selection. Trailers for some other Warner Brothers titles play before the main menus load. The disc comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case which fits inside a cardboard slipcover. Also included in the case is a DVD version of the movie with the same extras and a download code for a Digital HD version of the movie.Final Thoughts:
Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders is clearly geared towards those with a love for the old sixties television series. If you find yourself in that group, odds are pretty good that you'll get a big kick out of this. The story doesn't reinvent the wheel and coasts a little but on familiarity and nostalgia, but there's no denying the movie's fun factor. The Blu-ray looks and sounds quite good and contains a few moderately interesting extras. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.