25 years after the initially disappointing release of the critically acclaimed ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,’ the cast and crew spoke with the The Hollywood Reporter to share their thoughts on the film, which some herald as the best ‘Batman’ film ever made, and discuss the irony of that statement since it was rushed out to theaters with little to no marketing.
According to words from the cast, initially the film was slated to be a direct to video release, and then changed to theatrical, which meant an aspect ratio change (from 4×3 TV size to full 16×9 film size) as well as the freedom to do things on screen that Broadcast and Standards would normally veto on television. Of course, not everything was better for being a film. The change and hurried release date meant little to no time for marketing and advertisement, which is part of why the film did so abysmally in the box-office, as well as a few new guild rules the creatives behind the scenes were not used to.
According to voice Director for the Animated Series Andrea Romano, who worked extensively on the movie with the cast, one of the many issues she encountered during production had to do with the credit she ended up receiving:
“I’ve always been credited as voice director, or voice direction by Andrea Romano. Because Phantasm was changed to a feature film, other SAG rules applied… I remember getting a call from Warner Bros.’ feature department, saying that I couldn’t be credited as voice director. This woman said, ‘I’m leaving on vacation and this has to be finished by 6 p.m. today.’ Ultimately, I chose Voice Supervision, but it was a very frustrating process because I was the director.”
On a brighter note, Kevin Conroy recalls his favorite scene from the movie, which was particularly important for him as it unintentionally struck an emotional chord:
“Bruce knows that he has to get out of this vow he made to his parents if he’s going to lead a normal life with Andrea Beaumont. He pleads with his parents at their grave to release him from the vow, and at that moment a flock of bats comes screeching out of the Earth. Bruce can feel his fate pulling him back down… he knows he can’t escape it…When Bruce is pleading with his parents, something came up in me. I had a very problematic relationship with my father. He was a terrible drunk and I ended up leaving home at seventeen…There were a lot of unresolved emotions there, and something in that graveyard scene brought all that stuff up,” Conroy says. “I don’t know why, as an actor you never know why a certain chord is hit. The key to being an actor is to be open enough to let any chord be hit. “Andrea came in after the recording and grabbed me in a hug. Andrea said, ‘I don’t know where you went [emotionally], but it was a beautiful performance.’ She knew I was drawing on something.”
Mark Hamill had a lot to say when speaking to the Hollywood Reporter about the film, from the opening weekend to his memories of how quickly the film was made:
“We were living in New York at the time and I was so excited. We got to the theater and there were maybe twelve people! The people that were there were all diehard fans of the animated series and they recognized me…I don’t know how many months into production Warner Bros. decided to make this a theatrical release, but the entire film had to be altered, switching the aspect ratio from television to that of a movie screen. Apparently from start to finish, it only took eight months, which is crazy to me. Most animated films take at least two year. There weren’t any ads on Saturday Night Live or any of the normal places you’d see a film advertised…This film tells the origin of Batman through the tragedy of losing his parents and the tragedy of losing the love of his life,” Hamill says. “But, it’s also an origin story for Joker too. You see him as part of this criminal gang. He’s not a leader, he’s more of an enforcer. I really like that he wasn’t the film’s main antagonist. It was a risk putting him in the film at all because he’s such an overpowering character, it could’ve easily felt like the writers were repeating themselves. The fact that the Joker is integrated so well with the crime family backstory. It really helped me find the right level to play the Joker … starting out more subdued and then reaching full madness by the end. We certainly broke a lot of TV rules. The action scenes had blood, the Joker lost a tooth, characters were being killed off.
When asked his thoughts about whether the Joker actually died in the ending of the film, Hamill replied:
“Sometimes you have to play the scene like he’s dying, but anyone that knows comics knows that he’ll never be completely dead.”
Were you one of the lucky few to see ‘Mask Of the Phantasm’ when it first hit theaters? Do you think the Joker really died? Or that it is even possible since continuity-wise he supposedly died in a later warehouse fight with Batman and Batgirl, shot by Tim Drake who had been kidnapped and tortured by the Joker (as seen in the ‘Batman Beyond’ movie, ‘Return of the Joker’)? Feel free to share your thoughts and memories and in the comments below!