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Film review: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Published: Saturday, Jan. 8 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

The computer-generated opening moments of the animated feature "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" may give hope to the unsuspecting fan.

But, alas, that hope is dashed early on, as this movie proves to be strictly a television program transferred to the big screen — stilted, visually uninteresting animation in the service of a story that is terminally dull.

In fact, despite flashbacks that try to flesh out the character of Bruce Wayne and the origins of his alter-ego, the picture doesn't come alive until the final third when the Joker appears, with a wildly entertaining and humorous voice provided by Luke Skywalker himself . . . Mark Hamill, that is.

It's ironic that the Hamill's Joker here steals the show as handily as did Jack Nicholson's interpretation in Tim Burton's "Batman."

But it's too little too late, and that's too bad.

Owing much to Burton's two films, as well as the "Dark Knight" graphic novels, "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" has this new villain killing off Gotham City mobsters — and letting Batman take the rap.

As our hero tries to unravel the mystery, he also remembers how he came to adopt his superhero disguise and is haunted by the vision of a woman he once loved who has come back to town.

You will likely figure out the mystery behind all of this long before Batman does — it's about as inventive as those old '40s serials that first brought "Batman" to the screen.

You might think that with all the expense of bringing a TV program to the big screen more care would be taken to reflect the stellar standards set by "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

Aside from Hamill, there are several other voice talents here that are on the TV program. But it doesn't help.

Sadly, it seems more care was taken with the jazzy ad campaign than with the movie itself.

Save yourself $5 and watch the TV show.

Or better yet, go rent Tim Burton's "Batman" again.

"Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" is rated PG for violence and some mild vulgarity.