Tag Archives: batman

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray

Batman-Mask-of-the-Phantasm-Blu-rayI’ve written about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on more than one occasion, often in glowing terms. I dubbed it the definitive take on the Batman character for film and ranked it pretty highly on my list of best Batman movies of all time. In addition to that, I did a straight-up review of the film as well. Most of these articles are old by the standards of this blog, but all of those write-ups were based on the DVD release of the film. It’s taken Warner years to finally put this film on Blu Ray, but it’s finally here and I’m going to tell you about it.

Now since I’ve already done an actual review of the film, I’m not going to go into much detail though I did re-read my review and I have some embellishments I can make in order to pad this post out. The Blu Ray itself is what is important for this post. Mask of the Phantasm is a film I always felt would benefit from a high-definition transfer because of all of the deep blacks, particularly in the backgrounds. The DVD release was an old one and not particularly good by the standards of DVD. It was re-released in multi-packs with the direct-to-video Batman films based on the animated series and I don’t know if any of those were handled better than the version I have. As far as the transfer goes, the Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray is a mixed bag. My assumption the blacks would benefit was spot-on. Not only are they rich, but the deep blue of Batman’s cape looks great as well and the animation is nice and fluid. Sadly, there’s some blurring that takes place, particularly early in the film. I’m not sure if it persisted throughout at times and I just became engrossed in the plot or if it was confined to the beginning of the picture. Either way, it’s disappointing the transfer isn’t better.

The other disappointing aspect of the release is the complete lack of special features. The DVD did the same as both only include a standard definition version of the trailer for the film and nothing else. I find it hard to believe the likes of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t interested in doing something for this release, be it a commentary or a short piece on the making of the film. The subpar transfer and lack of special features really makes it feel like Warner cared little about the integrity of this release, which is a shame because it’s a film deserving of more respect.

Batman_Mask_Phantasm_Blu-ray_review_menu

What you see is what you get.

And what a film it is! In re-watching it for this write-up I’m just reminded of how well it gets the Batman character. Seeing Bruce’s early years as a vigilante really drives home the tragedy of the Batman character. And I don’t mean the sad origin of Batman, but in how Bruce has given up any chance at a healthy life by committing to being Batman. He’s fighting an un-winnable battle to rid Gotham of crime and foregoing marriage, children, and the simple pleasures of life. He’s unquestionably doing good in the community and helping people, but it’s probably not a fulfilling lifestyle.

batmanmask3

The Joker could have felt tacked-on to give the film a recognizable villain, but his inclusion pays off

The other aspect of this film that really merits praise, because it feels overlooked in light of The Dark Knight, is its depiction of The Joker. The Joker of the cartoon series is somewhat of a cornball. There’s some danger to the character, but standards and practices kind of holds him back. He’s overshadowed by the likes of Mr. Freeze and Two-Face as far as memorable villains go. Instead he’s kind of the old reliable stand-by for Batman as decades of Joker material from the comics means it’s relatively easy to come up with a decent episode. Here we get The Joker that the animated series probably wanted to give us, but couldn’t. He’s still a nut, but so much more menacing. There’s a real tension in his scenes because he feels unpredictable. Is he going to aid a character? Kill him? What’s his endgame? It’s a shame he doesn’t share screen time with a character we as an audience are invested in, instead he’s paired with scum and we don’t mind if Joker opts to murder them. And what more can be said of Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker? He’ll always be my favorite.

What we have here is a mixed bag, a great film undermined by a mediocre release. Even so, the Blu Ray is an easy recommend for those who do not have the film already, especially if you’re into Batman and you’ve never seen it. It may be a brief experience, but it’s worthwhile. For those like me who already had the DVD, it’s a tougher sell. This strikes me as a release that will be discounted to the ten dollar bin by this time next year, so maybe waiting on it is the right move if you’re not eager to re-watch. If you’re perfectly happy with the DVD then sure, feel free to pass on this one. I don’t feel burned by it, but I do feel like at 19.99 it’s probably five bucks too expensive. Next year is the film’s 25th anniversary so perhaps there’s an outside shot of Warner doing a more robust release, but I kind of doubt it. This is probably all we’ll get with maybe a future two-pack coming along with an HD transfer of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, but I doubt that would feature any additional content aside from the films themselves.


#5 Best in TV Animation: Batman – The Animated Series

Batman_the_Animated_Series_logoChildren of today can probably hardly imagine a world in which super heroes aren’t dominating the pop culture landscape. We’re in an era where even the Fantastic Four have received three chances at making a successful movie and less popular characters like Antman and Dr. Strange have either become mainstream or soon will. That wasn’t the case before 1990. Prior to that, only Batman and Superman had ever made a buck at the box office while The Incredible Hulk had a semi-successful television series for Marvel. When it came to cartoons, there was basically the many variations on the Super Friends and the Marvel Action Hour. The quality for these cartoons was something less than satisfactory.

When Tim Burton and Michael Keaton helped to make Batman popular once again, the powers that be at DC and Warner Bros. decided to give television another go with the caped crusader. Instead of another colorful super hero mash-up they opted to adapt the more current iteration of Batman. The resulting “Batman” (often subtitled “The Animated Series)” returned Batman to the night from which he was born. Developed chiefly by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the show embodied much of the recent films as well as the tone of the current comics. Robin was there, but only in a handful of episodes initially and he no longer dressed like Tinker Bell’s older brother. Villains that were popular on the older 60’s television program returned, but with a more serious take. Joining them were the more grounded villains like Roland Dagget and Rupert Thorne, mobsters who waged war from the comfort of their homes. Adding even more of a sense of realism to the program was the fact that the villains (and cops) carried and fired realistic weaponry as opposed to cartoonish laser guns that are always conveniently set to stun.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The Batman present in the animated series was not the ever-present optimist from the 60’s with the serious, but often cheerful, demeanor. This Batman, voiced exceptionally well by Kevin Conroy, was a moody, no nonsense, hero who truly embodied the term The Dark Knight. He’s driven by a quiet anger, it’s root cause being the murder of his parents he bore witness to as a child. Batman is fiercely driven and consumed by his urge to avenge his parents by cleaning up the streets of Gotham, a seemingly never ending task. His alter-ego Bruce Wayne exists only as a cover for Batman. This Batman has a lot in common with Frank Miller’s, only the delivery isn’t so heavy-handed and extreme. As usual, Batman has allies around him. By his side is his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who is more of a sidekick in the series as opposed to a moral arbiter. That role falls to Dr. Leslie Tompkins who often counsels Batman away from his life of crime-fighting. Commissioner Gordon heads the Gotham police department and relies on Batman probably more than he should while Detective Bullock is Gordon’s foil and often mistrusts the Batman. Robin is also around with an equally tragic backstory and Batgirl eventually comes into the fold during the second “season.”

Batman has no shortage of allies but he’d be nothing without his rogue’s gallery. The usual suspects are present such as The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and Penguin. They’re presented well, but the show is best remembered for its fresh approach when adapting the lesser villains. Two-Face is introduced slowly as district attorney Harvey Dent before his eventual transformation. His character is handled with care and his sympathetic nature is sort of a calling card for the series. The villain most often cited as coming out of the show for the better is Mr. Freeze. Once a fairly corny player in the comics, the depiction of Freeze in the animated series is that of a vindictive killer. Juxtaposing his cold demeanor is the origins for his madness over his wife’s apparent murder. His debut episode, “Heart of Ice,” is often mentioned among the show’s best. The show doesn’t always rely on its villain of the week (day, actually, since the program aired week days originally) as illustrated in “Beware the Grey Ghost.” In this episode, the show runners have some fun by pairing Batman with an out of work actor typecast for his work as a super hero in an old television show. His voice actor? None other than Adam West.

The rogue's gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The rogue’s gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The artwork in the show is heavily based off of the set designs of Eric Radomski and the character designs of Bruce Timm. If you are not familiar with Timm’s work, it’s a low-detail approach with lots of angular lines. Lots of pointy-chinned females and square-headed males populate the show. His take on the various villains is often influenced by both classic works and the Burton films. Joker and Penguin are obviously takes on Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Danny DeVito’s more monstrous Penguin. Catwoman too resembles her look from Batman Returns but with the S&M aspect toned down. There’s a minimalist approach to the details with lots of flat, muted colors. Backgrounds were even done on black paper, most noticeably the opening title sequence, with light colors painted over them. This technique is credited to Radomski and often referred to as “Dark-Deco.” The show’s biggest contribution to the world of Batman though is easily the character of Harley Quinn, who first originated on television before making the leap to comics.

Whether you like the look of the show or not is a matter of opinion. It certainly needed to grow on me, but I appreciated the style of the show. Like the Burton films, Gotham is a modern city rooted in the stylings of the 30s and 40s. Batman possesses some pretty advanced technology but for some reason also watches a black and white television half the time. The low detail approach for the show’s look is a benefit to the animation itself. Rather than the somewhat stiff X-Men, Batman animates rather smoothly. The later series, The New Batman Adventures, who further reduce the detail to boost the animation but some would suggest they went too far as certain characters came across as too cartoonish.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

Batman The Animated Series is truly one of the great achievements in kid’s programming. Its serious approach to the character of Batman and his many villains really enhanced the product above what is typically expected of children’s programming. The only thing holding it back is the show’s consistency. It was originally ordered as one season of 65 episodes which is a pretty daunting task to come up with 65 well-executed episodes. The show is often one of those programs where the good episodes are really special but there’s a lot of filler to work around. The show becomes more watered-down when the short second season is added to the mix as well as The New Adventures which surfaced years later. That run produced maybe 2 or 3 worthy episodes with the rest being kid stuff, sadly.

Even so, the good produced by Batman The Animated Series is worthy enough to place it at fifth on my top ten list for animated television programs. The show also spawned some feature films, though only one was released theatrically, the fantastic Mask of the Phantasm. When the films jumped the shark with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, it was the animated series that kept Batman relevant. It’s unlikely another super hero show could ever surpass it.


#10 The Best in TV Animation: X-Men

SF.Graz.1.0317––HANDOUT ART OF THE X–MEN CARTOON SERIES.

When I settled on doing a top ten for animation on television there were eight entrants I felt rather strongly about, and a ninth I was pretty content with. The tenth spot was the wildcard and a number of programs were considered, but since this is my list (and it’s not exactly an original topic) I decided I should use this spot to highlight a personal favorite of mine, so I went with X-Men. That’s a pretty flimsy lead-in but it’s not as if X-Men is undeserving of praise. I’ve wrote about the series quite a bit, even going so far as to do a mini review for each of the show’s 76 episodes during this blog’s first year of existence. At the time, I was using the show as a device to keep me posting but I was also reliving what was probably my favorite show as a kid.

X-Men launched on the Fox network in October of 1992, and at the time, was another attempt to re-ignite Marvel’s television properties. Prior to its debut, a pilot had been produced in the late 80’s called “Pryde of the X-Men” which focused on a much different cast of mutants. It was never picked up, and Marvel’s television properties were fading from memory. The same could be said for superhero cartoons in general, as only recently did Batman return to animation shortly before X-Men debuted. X-Men was the best-selling comic at the time, so it made sense for a cartoon to finally break through. Before X-Men (and Batman), cartoons based on comic book heroes tended to be pretty generic and bland. They usually took the form of the hero, or heroes, taking on the villain of the week and toppling whatever hair-brained scheme had been concocted by said villain to take-over the world or just cause general mayhem. Other shows, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were just severely watered-down aspects of the source material intended to move action figures, which in the 80’s became frequently attached to various cartoon properties (He-Man being the best example of a cartoon existing solely to sell toys).

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn't stop the writers from developing many others.

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn’t stop the writers from developing many others.

X-Men was different. This was a show that, while aimed at children, wanted to bring legitimacy to the medium. The show placed its brightly colored heroes against the backdrop of an easy to grasp civil rights movement. Enemies were no longer defined as simply bad guys but were colored with shades of gray and given real motivations for their actions. Magneto was the prime example. Had “Pryde of the X-Men” been picked up, Magneto would have just been another super villain with a motley crew of evil mutants willing to do his bidding and match up against the heroic X-Men. In the Fox show, he was a Holocaust survivor which had convinced him that humanity could not accept the differences within its own kind, and therefore, could never accept anyone outside humanity. In this case, that was mutant-kind, often referred to as homo-superior by Magneto. Mutants often took the form of normal looking people but with special gifts. We the audience took those gifts to be super powers, and in the case of the X-Men, most could be described as such. They did often come with costs that were more obvious for certain individuals. Cyclops could not open his eyes without a special visor or else risk destroying anything in his line of sight. Rogue could not even touch another person skin-to-skin without putting them in a coma. And Beast was simply covered in blue fur. This take, later admitted by creator Stan Lee as a lazy way to explain how the X-Men got their powers, freed the writers from having to come up with yet another experiment gone wrong origin story for every mutant under the sun.

This civil rights narrative is what framed the first two seasons of the show. The opening plot revolved around an organization funded by the government who would pose as friends to mutants but was really secretly creating a database of mutants from which it could target them and, though only hinted at during the show since it was for kids, cull them from society. The X-Men could not simply fight this opponent and beat them into submission, but had to convince the United States government that this was the wrong course of action. As a child, some of this went over my head. When Beast was put on trial in episode three I did not understand why the X-Men did not simply break him out of jail. Such would have likely been the course of action in many of the show’s contemporaries with the plot either being resolved at the episode’s conclusion or just dropped entirely. Instead, Beast spent the bulk of the first season in jail awaiting a formal trial before finally being pardoned after the X-Men were able to win-over at least one prominent political figure.

Magneto was easily the show's most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

Magneto was easily the show’s most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

After the first season, it seemed like all was right with the world but the show once more took a more sophisticated approach. With mutants gaining more legal freedoms, bigoted members of society sprung up to do what they felt the government failed to do. Once more, the show mirrored society in that the X-Men couldn’t hope to ever win over everybody to their side. The show would lose touch with this narrative after season two, instead opting to take the show in a more sci-fi direction while focusing on more condensed plots, but in those two seasons X-Men did a lot to legitimize the superhero genre outside of the comic book world. It’s the strength of those two first seasons, merely 26 episodes, that vaults the X-Men into this position, but the show also got a lot else right.

For starters, the voice cast (comprised of Canadian voice actors mostly unknown to American audiences) did an excellent job with the often weighty material. The show could, at times, be joyless and very melodramatic and the scripts would often contain superhero jargon that probably read poorly, but the actors were able to step up and deliver. Some characters, like the perennially wooden Storm, were always lacking but others shined very bright. For me, I will always hear Cal Dodd’s voice in my head whenever I read a line from Wolverine. His raspy, quiet, delivery perfectly suited the sometimes explosive Wolverine. When the show needed him to get loud and angry, Dodd was able to come through time and time again. David Hemblen’s Magneto was another highlight. This show is one of the few that actually depict the Austrian Magneto with an accent, something even the films chose to ignore. George Buza’s Beast was so good that it obviously formed the template for the Kelsey Grammer version of the character that appeared in X-Men 3. The soundtrack was also a standout, mixing orchestral instruments with electronic aspects that suited the show’s somewhat futuristic-like setting. The theme song should be considered a cartoon classic at this point.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn't stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn’t stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

Visually, the show adopted the look of Jim Lee’s X-Men quite well with some minor alterations. Most of what makes up the Jim Lee style was still retained though, with the men having bulging physiques and the woman looking like super models. Even the extras in society tend to look idealized. It’s a legitimate criticism of Lee’s work but I’m sure the animators were happy that the vast majority of characters were basically the same shape. There is enough detail in the work that the show looks quite nice in still-shots. The animation, especially in the first season when the budget presumably was at its smallest, could be stiff at times. The animators were obviously under some constraints as well as to what kind of violence could be depicted. After the first season though, the animation improved noticeably. X-Men was not the best looking of its kind, but it certainly was not among the worst. I enjoyed it far more than I would Spider-Man, which came in 1994 and featured some primitive, and mostly ugly, computer-enhanced imagery as well as a softer color palette.

X-Men was able to leave a mark on the world of cartoons. It’s solid production values combined with its mature approach to story-telling is what makes it standout amongst other Saturday morning fare. X-Men is still the gold standard for the super hero ensemble show, and still stands as the best thing Marvel has ever done on television. X-Men took risks in a world where risk-taking is often frowned upon. Most people think kids want a mindless program where the hero always wins and everything is wrapped up in 22 minutes. Children are capable of so much more and the success of X-Men is proof of that.

If you want to read more about the X-Men animated series, there’s plenty to be found on this blog. In addition to numerous posts that summarize and review every episode, I also made an entry on what I considered to be the best episodes the show ever produced.


Batman: The Movie

Batman:  The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie (1966)

The Batman character certainly has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Sure, under the mask he’s still Bruce Wayne, his parents are still dead, and he can usually be found prowling the streets of Gotham City by night accompanied by a juvenile in a red and yellow costume. Many things have changed though. For one, Bruce Wayne is no longer content to be a millionaire so he’s jumped into the billionaire ranks. The blue and gray spandex Batman used to wear is now often black and gray and even armor-plated, depending on the artist. Robin, thankfully, isn’t parading around in tights either or a bright yellow cape (no wonder why he’s usually the one getting picked off as opposed to Batman) and sometimes he even gets to be an adult. Mostly though, the tone of the work has changed. A lot of writers have received credit for turning Batman into a more serious and mature character during the 70’s and 80’s with most of it going to Frank Miller, but the change was actually rather gradual. In order for a character to survive decades upon decades and remain relevant, he has to change with the times as the general tastes of the public are always evolving.

In 1965, Batman was faced with becoming irrelevant. His comic book sales were down and he hadn’t appeared in a film reel in decades. Television was still pretty new, and pretty limited, but the idea to give the caped crusader a shot at television came up and by 1966 Batman was more than relevant once again; he was a star! Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo, Batman appeared twice a week (a rarity at the time) on television in a serialized nature, often with the first night’s program continuing into the second’s. The show was a hit with children mostly, but also adults who grew up reading the Batman comics. Color TV was new at the time, and Batman was presented in eye-popping color for those fortunate enough to have a color set. The jazz-infused soundtrack was catchy, and the wild cast of villains gave the show a new flavor each week. Stars were born, of course, with classic comic villains such as The Joker and The Penguin seeing their star burn even brighter while villains mostly abandoned by the books, such as Catwoman and The Riddler, found a new lease on life. The show was basically a farce, with Batman and Robin presented in an ever serious manner oblivious to the ridiculous circumstances they would find themselves in week after week. The supporting cast of Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) were equally oblivious while the villains came across as the only ones in on the joke. Batman and Robin would find themselves in dire situations often, but would always get out of it either thru ingenuity, sheer coincidence, or via an oddly situation specific “Bat” gadget. This was Batman in the 60’s and it’s what people wanted.

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

When the show was first conceived, it was decided that a movie would be created to help launch the program. Plans changed, however, when the network involved surprisingly picked up the show with production needing to start immediately to meet a January air date. The movie was back-burnered for awhile in order to focus on the television show, but filming resumed in the early spring to make a summer release possible. This ended up being a boon for the show, and the film as well, as Batman took off and created great anticipation for the film. The increased budget for a feature also meant that new gadgets and vehicles, such as the Batcopter and Batcycle, could be created for the film and then used again for the television show. In order to make the film feel bigger than the show, four villains were present instead of the usual one: Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The only complication was Julie Newmar, Catwoman on the show, was unavailable so the part had to be recast and went to Lee Meriwether. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin were able to play their roles as Joker, Penguin, and Riddler, respectively, and the rest of the television cast was available for the film as well.

The style of the television show was incorporated into the film. The art direction is distinctly pop for the era. There’s an abundance of bright, primary colors. When the characters are put into a more realistic setting, such as Batman during the infamous bomb segment, they stand-out against the background and appear as out of place as a man in a batsuit should (though the extras in the shots carry on as if this is business as usual). The action sequences are surprisingly kept to a minimum, but when a fight breaks out expect many haymakers and somersaults (the editors saved the famous “pow” animations for the film’s climactic battle). The Batman theme is present but in small doses. The film’s main theme is perhaps relied upon a bit too heavily as it’s used for every long shot of Batman and Robin in their various vehicles used throughout the film.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

The plot from the film is rather rudimentary. The four villains have teamed up to kidnap the world leaders using a bizarre dehydrating ray that reduces any human it touches into a pile of dust to be rehydrated later. The protagonists deduce their foes’ motives thru absurd means presented as deductive reasoning but are either lazy writing or an attempt at humor. Batman is the straight man while Robin is more of a hot-head (and possibly a sociopath who wants to murder alcoholics). The villains are as over-the-top as their TV personalities. Gorshin and Romero present their characters as cackling madmen with The Riddler having the added flaw of feeling compelled to leave Batman and Robin clues in the form of riddles. The film actually draws attention to how similar the two villains became once they hit television, but both actors perform so well in their roles it’s mostly forgiven. Meredith is a delight as The Penguin. He waddles everywhere and gets so much personality out of that long cigarette holder always stuck between his teeth. Meriwether’s Catwoman is basically the same as Newmar’s with her always feeling compelled to use the word “perfect” when describing something she approves of, but drawing it out into a long “purrrrrfect” because she is, after all, a crazy cat-person. Catwoman also gets to have an alter-ego in the form of Miss Kitka, who seduces Bruce Wayne to lure him into a trap so that he may be used as bait for Batman. As a kid, I found it odd how easily Batman is able to see thru a disguise The Penguin uses later in the film, but he’s blind to Catwoman’s. Apparently, even Batman sometimes ends up thinking with the wrong head from time to time.

The special effects in the film will impress no one accustomed to the movies of today. When Batman is attacked by a shark early in the film it’s clearly made of rubber and its teeth leave no imprint on Batman or draw blood. A scene of some ducks in the water are obviously decoys, and every character who throws a punch whiffs by about six inches on their target. And who could forget the climbing scenes? Scene thru the lens of today, these shortcomings just add to the campy charm. The comical bomb Batman is forced to dispose of is cheeky and the ray-gun effects are delightfully cliche.

Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

The film is a farce, an exercise in the absurd, and it is entertaining. I grew up watching the television show in syndication during the 80’s. I suspect my generation may be the last who can say that as I assume most kids today have never seen Adam West as Batman and I wonder if they would appreciate it. Perhaps if this is the fist Batman they’re exposed to they’ll see what the kids of the 60’s saw, or maybe they’ll just see a very ordinary looking man in gray and blue spandex. Batman was fun for me as a kid with all of the different villains and bat-gadgets and as an adult I find it funny and charming. It’s not really clever comedy, but I wouldn’t call it stupid either. The Batman premise is one that’s far-fetched and unrealistic, and the writers approach the character as such. While writers and filmmakers today are more interested in a realistic portrayal of a masked vigilante, it’s kind of fun to see the character portrayed in the only manner he could actually exist. The entire 1960’s television series is finally set for release this holiday season in a massive, and expensive, box set. That might be overload but for anyone seeking out just a taste of the Batman from 1966, the movie represents a good, and cheap, snap-shot. The blu ray from which this review is for, looks great considering the film’s age. The colors pop as they should, the picture is sharp, and there’s quite a bit of extra content. The film doesn’t look as old as it really is, which is often the best compliment one can give to such an old movie. This was my first Batman on television and I would go on to enjoy Tim Burton’s take on the character and fall in love with The Animated Series. I never lost my affection for this Batman though, and even though I view it in a different way than I did as a five year old, I am still charmed by it. Hopefully, I’m not the only one.


Batman Returns

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns (1992)

It’s December 1st, and it’s time to inject a little Christmas into this blog once again.  Last year, I went pretty light on the X-Mas related topics and I intend to do a little more this year.  I’ll start off slow with a pseudo-Christmas movie in the form of Batman Returns.

Batman Returns is the 1992 sequel to the mega-successful Batman.  All of the major players return from that film including Tim Burton as director and Michael Keaton as Batman.  The only notable omissions are Billy Dee Williams as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent; Kim Basinger’s reporter/photographer Vicki Vale, and Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox.  All three characters are absent from the film and were not re-cast.  The Vale character was presumably removed so as not to force Batman/Bruce Wayne to settle down, while the other two must have been cut for time (Williams was reportedly disappointed he never got to play Two Face).

The major additions to the cast are, of course, the villains.  Going with a “more is better” philosophy, Batman Returns includes three major villains compared to Batman’s one.  Created for the film is Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken.  He’s a real-world villain in that he has no gimmick or special abilities, he’s just a greedy, corporate, jerk who values money more than human life and has ties to both of the other comic book based villains. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.  Catwoman serves the dual role of being a foe for Batman, and a love interest for Bruce Wayne.  Also joining the part is Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, a monstrous take on the old Batman villain.  The two “super” villains have a sympathetic angle to play, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs, and in 1992 both felt like logical inclusions for the big sequel.

The red of Catwoman's lips really pop in all of her scenes due to the muted palette of the film's sets.

The red of Catwoman’s lips really pop in all of her scenes due to the muted palette of the film’s sets.

The film is virtually identical in look to its predecessor with Gotham taking on aspects of film noir.  The technology is modern, or post modern, but with the stylings of the 1930’s and 40’s dominating the landscape, with a touch of goth too.  The noir angle is played upon even further with a majority of the film’s colors being black and white.  It’s demonstrated in the film’s leads with both Catwoman and The Penguin having a near white complexion to go along with the black and white shades of their respective costumes.  This makes what little color appear really jump out, such as the crimson of Catwoman’s lipstick or the yellow of Batman’s logo.  Batman, and the other good guys, are depicted with warm, natural flesh tones while the villain Shreck is noticeably pale, but not to the same degree as the other villains.  He makes up for that with his bone white hair.  The buildings and structures around Gotham are also mostly confined to shades of black and white, as are all of Batman’s gadgets and vehicles.  Combining this stylistic choice with the setting of a snowy Christmas time and Batman Returns comes across as a very cold movie, even when compared with the already bleak feeling of the first film.

DeVito's Penguin is mostly monstrous but he's able strike a sympathetic tone at times.

DeVito’s Penguin is mostly monstrous but he’s able strike a sympathetic tone at times.

As was the case with the first film, for better or worse, the villains are meant to be the main driving force of the film.  It’s a good thing they’re well-developed as Batman Returns arguably leans even harder on its villains than Batman did with The Joker.  Shreck is meant to be the irredeemable villain and serves as a foil to both Bruce Wayne and The Penguin.  The Penguin is not a nice guy himself, but Shreck proves to be the true monster of the film when he coldly tries to murder his secretary, Selina Kyle.  Shreck is the owner of a department store and he’s seeking the approval of the mayor (and Bruce Wayne as an investor) to build a new power plant.  In a sort of goofy Tim Burton type of plot, Shreck’s new power plant will actually syphon power from Gotham and when Kyle figures this out (while working late in an effort to be a better employee) is when Shreck shoves her out of a window.  Burton’s twist on Catwoman occurs here, as the meek Selina Kyle is seemingly resurrected when a host of cats attend to her corpse.  The scatter-brained screw-up becomes the headstrong and vengeful Catwoman.  Kyle is played fairly straight, while Catwoman is intended to represent her ego gone wild which apparently has an S&M twist.  Catwoman, clothed in skin-tight leather and armed with a whip, also has the benefit of nine lives.  She’s over the top but it works for the picture.  Cobblepot, and his family’s rejection of him, is what opens the film.  He was a hideous and monstrous baby (who apparently has a taste for cats) and his upper class parents wanted nothing to do with him so they tossed his carriage into the sewer where he was apparently raised by penguins underneath an abandoned zoo.  At first his motivations seem are simply to find out his origins while his gang of circus thugs terrorize Gotham.  It’s his encounter with Shreck that changes his outlook and sets his sights on being mayor of Gotham.  Shreck, needing a new mayor to get his plant approved, thinks he can turn Cobblepot into a sympathetic figure who could win election on that alone (never mind his hideous appearance) and soon the two turn to villainy in order to make The Penguin look good in the eyes of Gotham’s voters.

Naturally, their dealings put them in conflict with Batman as everything becomes twisted and murky.  The Penguin, together with Shreck, emerges as a viable candidate for mayor while Catwoman seeks vengeance against Shreck.  She starts by attacking his department stores which puts her in conflict with Batman.  With Batman as a common foe, this pairs up Penguin and Catwoman who then concoct a plan to frame Batman and turn Gotham against him.  It’s a fairly clever pot and Burton should be commended for being able to get this trio of villains to fit together well and the framing angle makes for good drama.  Unfortunately, Burton has never been one for realism.  We don’t mind when that takes the form of a monster baby killing a cat or a man in a bat costume gliding over the entire city, but he leaves lots of loose ends in his plots and asks the audience to simply overlook them.  The framing plot, for example, is never really resolved.  Batman is made to look like he kills the Ice Princess, a mini celebrity of sorts, and by exposing The Penguin as a bad guy (but not as the person truly behind the murder) is apparently good enough for Gotham and it’s police department (to make it even more convoluted, the people don’t even know that it’s Batman that made The Penguin look like a bad guy as he hacks into a PA system while Cobblepot is making a speech, using pre-recorded taunts).

Once The Penguin is exposed, the film’s climax is put into motion where The Penguin, now abandoned by Shreck, decides to murder the first-born sons of Gotham’s wealthy elite, including Shreck’s son Chip.  He has his circus gang abduct the kids from their cribs and personally attempts to abduct Chip, but Max volunteers in his place.  Batman, of course, saves the day which just angers The Penguin even more forcing him to send his penguin army into the city to fire off a bunch of rockets and level a chunk of the city.  Catwoman, having also been betrayed and “killed” by The Penguin, is drawn out after Shreck and all three collide for a fitting resolution.

Batman and Catwoman play off each other quite well in their few scenes together.

Batman and Catwoman play off each other quite well in their few scenes together.

A great deal of the film rests on the Catwoman and Batman conflict.  With the characters in costume, their encounters become a fun bit of violent flirting, with all of the flirting basically on the part of Catwoman.  As Selina and Bruce, the two have a sometimes warms romance that develops a bit quickly with Bruce as the aggressor.  The two have a nice scene together where they both figure out each has a dual identity which is resolved during the final scene pairing Batman and Catwoman.  The film’s end suggests that Catwoman was to play a role in a future film, but perhaps because both Keaton and Pfeiffer were uninterested in continuing in their roles, this Catwoman would never surface again.

Batman Returns shares a lot of similarities with its predecessor, one of which being a rather major flaw in that sometimes each film doesn’t necessarily feel like a Batman film.  Batman Returns is even more guilty of this as the Batman character is really pushed aside in favor of the villains.  Perhaps Burton felt like he had more freedom to do this since the previous movie covered Batman’s origin, but we really learn nothing new about the main character.  In one respect, it does help to add more importance and excitement to the scenes that actually feature a costumed Batman, but it feels like their could have, or should have been, more from our hero.  The plot does mostly work though, even with the bloated cast, but it clearly had to make sacrifices somewhere and it’s debatable those sacrifices were worthwhile.

The Batmobile's ability to down-size into the Bat Missile was one of the big spectacles of Batman Returns.

The Batmobile’s ability to down-size into the Bat Missile was one of the big spectacles of Batman Returns.

The first film set a fairly high-standard for special effects and gadgets that Batman Returns is able to live up to.  The big spot occurs with the Batmobile once again, this time with it transforming into the Bat Missile.  Batman also debuts his ski boat during the closing moments of the film which serves as an interesting take on the more traditional bat boat seen in the comics and television series.  There’s also the previously mentioned gliding scene for Batman as he makes greater use of his cape.  Catwoman has some pretty spectacular death scenes as well and there’s plenty of fire and explosions throughout.  There are a few moments that scream “Tim Burton” that look kind of stupid, notably the penguin army and the final shot of a villain’s corpse at the end.  Some people are unwilling to forgive Burton for the campy penguin army, though I also kind of viewed it as Burton’s nod to the campy origins of the television show, and when viewed in that light, it doesn’t really bother me as much.  As a Christmas movie, there isn’t much here.  The film just happens to take place at Christmas, something Burton is quite fond of doing.  It does give the set designers a chance to play with snow which is kind of cool, and the only real mention of the holiday occurs during the final scene.

All in all, Batman Returns is an entertaining film with quite a number of flaws.  It’s pacing isn’t always ideal and the attention to detail is lacking where the plot is concerned.  The Batman character at times feels ignored, but the film is elevated by the performance of the villains and the way all of the major characters intertwine.  Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is a fun take on the character even if it isn’t that radical a departure from other portrayals.  The sexually aggressive Catwoman plays off of the more stoic, and sometimes naive, Batman rather well with the only drawback to those encounters being that they make Batman look pathetically boring.  DeVito received a Razzie nomination for his take on The Penguin which I never understood.  DeVito’s Penguin isn’t as overly campy as the character had been in the past, he has his moments but he’s mostly well done and I still enjoy this take on the character.  The makeup crew should be commended as it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s DeVito underneath all of the prosthetics.  Walken’s Shreck is perhaps the star, as he’s just so good in this role.  Shreck is hate-inducing, and he’s able to needle the audience in just about every scene he’s in.  The score, provided once again by Danny Elfman, is also adequate as are all of the other sound effects used in the film.  It’s the classic case of a flashy and big-budgeted film trying to compensate for some underlying problems, which are more obvious this time around than they were with the film before.  Batman Returns is far from being among the worst Batman films produced, but it’s also not really one of the best either.


Gargoyles: Season 2 Volume 1

Gargoyles_DVD_2The cover of the DVD release of Gargoyles Season 2 dubs it as Volume 1 of the second season.  At first glance, that may seem like a greedy way to release a show to DVD, but that is not the case.  A common practice of children’s animated television was to order 65 episodes as early in the life of the series as possible to make the programming eligible for syndication where more money could be made off of it.  I say “was” because I’m not sure if that is still the case with numerous cable outlets now providing a lot of the entertainment these days.  Gargoyles was not originally broadcast on cable though, which is why season 2 is 52 episodes long, which following the 13 episode first season, gets the series to 65 total episodes.  Sometimes networks are so confident the show will be a hit they go right from the pilot to a 65 episode order.  This was the case for the still popular Batman:  The Animated Series which featured a pretty bankable star in Batman, but Gargoyles was an all new intellectual property so Disney opted to go for a trial run with the first 13 episodes before going all in.

The process of large season orders seems like a win for fans of the show.  After all, a 52 episode season would theoretically allow for a new episode every week for an entire year, though this wasn’t the case for Gargoyles since it was an afternoon program.  It does usually mean shorter wait times between new episodes, but things can get a little erratic since the season will usually begin airing while a lot of episodes are still in production.  There’s also the other downside to a large season such as this which is these episodes need to get produced quickly, and more people are needed for production and story-writing.  The first season of Gargoyles was a tight, neat collection of episodes with high-quality animation for television.  Season 2 sometimes has the feel of “too many cooks in the kitchen” and episodes become more stand-alone in nature.  The animation is still among the best when Gargoyles is compared with its contemporaries, but there are some drop-offs and it’s apparent that the show had multiple teams for animation.  Some episodes feature sharp lines and tight animation while others are more rounded and toon-like with characters often making over-exaggerated gestures (those familiar with X-Men likely have an idea of what I’m talking about).  Which one looks best is a matter of taste though (I prefer the harder look for this program) at least, with the overall animation quality usually pretty strong from episode to episode.

There are some pretty interesting plot twists to find in season two.

There are some pretty interesting plot twists to find in season two.

Inconsistent animation is expected when a show requires a large amount of episodes be produced, but my main concern for Gargoyles was how the writers would respond when tasked with filling so many hours.  The first season largely operated in a serial format with each episode tied to one overall plot.  Some felt more stand-alone than others, but all plots were referenced at one point or another and the overall quality of the story-telling was quite good.  I knew season 2 would have to feature more stand-alone episodes, but thankfully very few feel like throw-away or filler episodes.  Many of these one-shots still contain plot devices that have repercussions on the episodes to follow, such is the case with the conclusion of the episode “The Mirror” when Demona gains a new power.  Many others choose to introduce new villains or allies that will pop up in later episodes, as is the case with the characters Doctor Sevarius and Jeffrey Robbins.  In short, the structure of the show remains rewarding for longtime fans.  This does come at the cost of making the show a little harder to jump into at any point for newcomers, but since it’s no longer on television, this is really no longer a concern.

There are many stand-alone episodes, but there’s also no shortage of multi-part arcs.  The first half of season two contains the four part “City of Stone” and the three part “Avalon.”  Both are heavily reliant on flashbacks as it seems one goal for season 2 was to flesh out the villains even further, specifically Demona and MacBeth.  We learn about their history together and how Demona has survived the centuries and remained largely the same in appearance.  In season one, we the viewers were basically left to assume that gargoyles are extremely long-lived given that Demona was not affected by the Masgus’ spell like the others, but we learn in season 2 that is not the case.  There are lots of other recurring characters in season 2 such as The Pack, Tony Dracon, Derek Maza, Coldstone, and of course Xanatos.  Xanatos is still primarily an adversary of the Manhattan Clan, but he’s also an unlikely ally in several episodes.  One could even suggest that the writers go to this well a bit too often, but such is the case when 52 episodes have to be written in a short amount of time.  Still, I like the role Xanatos plays on this show of the equal opportunist who has his own agenda that isn’t always clear.  By the end of the first half of the season viewers, and even Goliath to some degree, have mostly caught on to Xanatos and the game he plays making me wonder what role he’ll play going forward (as I honestly can’t recall from my days of watching this as a kid).  Xanatos is also paired this time around with Fox, of The Pack, as his love interest which is a rather interesting dynamic.

Now where have I seen that dress before?

Now where have I seen that dress before?

Another part of the plot the writers seemed eager to explore in season 2 was the relationship between Elisa and Goliath.  Elisa was Goliath’s main confident, along with Hudson, by season one’s end and he (as well as the other gargoyles) clearly feel a strong sense of protection with her.  In season 2 it’s becoming more obvious that they have a stronger bond than just friends.  Sometimes the show is pretty obvious about it, but for the most part they let it go unstated and attempt to keep things subtle.  It has a nice progression throughout.  Disney fans will also particularly enjoy a scene from the episode “Eye of the Beholder.”

Gargoyles was never a series afraid to introduce characters, and many new villains are brought into the fold in season 2.  New allies, as well.  A pet peeve of mine with X-Men was always how the writers would tease a new character joining the X-Men but would never go through with it.  Towards the end of season 2, the writers chose to add a new member to the clan.  To better introduce this character, the writers shrink the cast down to just Goliath, Elisa, Bronx, and the new-comer for the unofficially titles World Tour episodes.  These episodes spill over into the second part, and series creator Greg Weisman actually bumps up one episode from the second half, “Kingdom,” to serve as the final episode in this collection.  This final episode takes place in New York and we get to see what the rest of the clan is up to with Goliath missing.  This is probably something Weisman regretted not doing originally, as when these aired we went 10 episodes without seeing the other characters which seems much too long.  The World Tour will continue well into the second half though I do not suspect any other episodes were re-arranged as no one affiliated with the show had any say in the release of volume 2, that I know of.

The relationship between Demona and MacBeth is fully revealed in season two.

The relationship between Demona and MacBeth is fully revealed in season two.

Gargoyles:  Season 2 Volume One largely carries over the quality of the first season and only enhances the show’s reputation as one of the better animated programs from the 1990’s.  Season One is probably superior when judged on quality, but the second DVD release for the series obviously boasts more content.  The release itself is also much nicer and includes some bonus features in comparison with the bare-bones season one release.  Unfortunately, season two did not meet the sales expectations of Disney and volume two was never commercially released until just recently.  Volume two is even more sparse than the first season release, and is currently only available to members of Disney’s Movie Club.  I’m not a member of that club, but did find out Buena Vista has an ebay account that basically specializes in selling these exclusives and was able to get one from there.  I don’t know if they restock or not, but that is definitely the best bet for those who want a copy as the secondary market is a little inflated right now.


The Vita Experiment

images-115It’s been over a year since I purchased a Playstation Vita.  I have made only two dedicated posts on the subject since which may lead people to believe that I have not enjoyed my purchase.  Far from it actually, as the Vita has been getting a lot of attention from me and has probably been played more than my 3DS over that same time frame.  Not all that long ago I made an entry about the Wii U and how it has been a disappointment for me since it’s launch last November.  The Vita has similarly been a disappointment at retail, though for different reasons.  And while I’ve enjoyed my Vita thus far, I’m not anymore optimistic about its future than I am of the Wii U’s.  If anything, I’m more pessimistic since Nintendo has a lot more riding on the Wii U and is further incentivized to make sure it does not fail.  While Sony similarly has invested a great deal in the Vita, I get the sense that Sony could afford to have it fail and move on (though such an admission would likely end Sony’s attempt at penetrating the portable gaming market via a dedicated gaming device).

Not much has changed regarding my opinion of the Vita as a piece of tech since its launch last year.  The device is quite nice and it functions really well.  I have had no problems with my Vita in the year-plus that I’ve owned it.  No game freezing, no glitching, no nothing.  The screen is large and beautiful, the buttons placed well, and the twin analog sticks much appreciated.  I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I have yet to encounter a game that makes annoying use of the front and rear touch panels as developers have, so far, resisted the urge to shoe-horn touch controls into their games.  Just judging the console on its own merits it’s fantastic and easily the best portable gaming device ever created.

Unfortunately, it takes more than cool tech to make or break a console.  The Vita’s biggest obstacle so far has been price.  The Wi-fi edition retails for $250, which is a lot to ask of consumers for a handheld game console.  And that’s not all, memory cards have been obnoxiously priced from the start and easily push the total cost beyond $300 for any new adopters looking to get just one game with their system.  Sony has put out bundles that help trim some of the costs but it’s still a pretty big investment to get into the Vita.  Especially considering that consumers can get a pretty solid gaming experience on the go via their cell phones.  While true that there’s no cell phone equivalent to Uncharted:  Golden Abyss, many consumers seem content to save the money and just play games like that at home.  Combating mobile gaming is not a problem unique to Sony, but Nintendo has done okay with the 3DS since lowering the price which seems inevitable for Sony if it wants the Vita to have a fighting chance.

Some titles have been promoted as a 2 for 1, in that buying one copy of the game earns the ability to play it on the PS3 and the Vita.

Some titles have been promoted as a 2 for 1, in that buying one copy of the game earns the ability to play it on the PS3 and the Vita.

Aside from price, the other make or break aspect of any gaming device is the software.  Namely, the games.  Vita had a respectable launch on that front with several quality portable versions of strong games being made available alongside the aforementioned Uncharted title.  Uncharted has been a successful franchise for Sony on the PS3, though it doesn’t move units like some of the other premier video game franchises and it apparently wasn’t enough to attract a lot of early adopters.  Ever since the launch, the Vita has been spotty on the games front.  Some Vita exclusives like Gravity Rush and Assassin’s Creed:  Liberation have come and gone, and have failed to impress critics.  It feels like every Vita exclusive has scored in that 6.0-7.5 range with reviewers.  They’re good games, but not exactly system sellers.  The rest of the Vita’s catalog has been reduced to ports of console titles.  Some of these ports are done well, like MLB The Show, and work with their PS3 cousins.  One such game, Sly Cooper:  Thieves in Time, even came bundled with the Vita version allowing basically free portable play while others offer discounts when buying both.  Being able to play a console game on the go is certainly neat, but is it worth the added cost of getting a Vita?  Other ports, like last year’s edition of Madden, were done poorly which is inevitable with this sort of thing.  Developers are going to spend the most time on the editions of the game set to make the most money-making the Vita port an after-thought.

This may lead you to wonder what I’ve been playing that has allowed me to enjoy my Vita as much as I have.  Well, I made entries on my first Vita purchases, Rayman Origins and MLB, and my experience with both was positive.  I have since added the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which contains the first two Metal Gear titles along with Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3.  I also have Little Big Planet Vita, which is an all new Little Big Planet title created for the Vita and is just as good as the console games.  I also downloaded a PSN exclusive called Dokuro which is an excellent platform-puzzle game.  Lately, I’ve been player Persona 4 Golden, a port of the PS2 game with some added content.  I think my library of Vita games is a decent representation of the console.  Most of it is composed of ports with only two titles unique to the Vita.  Of them all, it’s tough to say what I’ve enjoyed the most.  Playing the two MGS titles in HD and on-the-go was pretty damn cool and I had not played either in quite some time so it was really enjoyable for me.  Rayman Origins is just as good as the console version, which I don’t own, and is a title that works really well on a portable, well enough that I may get the Vita version alone of Rayman Legends when that comes out later this year.  Dokuro was the nice surprise, and is so far the only Vita game I would tell all Vita owners they should get.  It’s fun and it’s cheap which is always a winning combination in my book.  It also sports a unique look with its chalk drawing graphics and the game is pretty meaty as well.  Persona 4 has definitely been the title that I’ve spent the most time with.  I’m currently at the 80 hour mark and still going.  I never played the original so that helps, but even if I had I’d like to think I still would have bought this.  It’s an excellent game, though it’s dated visuals mean it won’t be the type of game you would buy to show off the Vita’s capabilities.

Dokuro, a download-only title in which you play as a skeleton and try to lead a princess to safety, is perhaps the Vita's best exclusive.  And you get to shoot the princess out of a canon.

Dokuro, a download-only title in which you play as a skeleton and try to lead a princess to safety, is perhaps the Vita’s best exclusive. And you get to shoot the princess out of a canon.

I’m nearly finished with Persona 4 so I’m now looking ahead.  I may switch back to the 3DS for a while as I have some games for it to check out, but in looking ahead to my next Vita purchase I’ve basically settled on Muramasa:  The Demon Blade.  Muramasa is yet another port of a console title, this one being a Wii game from a few years ago.  It’s a side-scrolling action title with beautiful hand-drawn visuals.  I never played the Wii version so it will be a new experience for me.  Aside from that, I’m uncertain what’s in store for the Vita.  It had a fairly poor showing at E3 this year, and the only exclusives I’m aware of are a new Killzone and Batman title (with the Batman title being available on the 3DS too, though one would hope the more powerful Vita would be the lead console).  I’m not a fan of the Killzone franchise, and while I’m interested in Batman, I fear it will turn out like AS:  Liberations and just feel like a lesser version of the console franchise.  These games do not seem like they’ll be big system sellers for the Vita, which has lost the PSP’s biggest franchise (in Japan, anyway), Monster Hunter, to the 3DS.  Sony does have plans for the Vita concerning the PS4.  Right now the aim is to have every PS4 game playable on the Vita via remote streaming.  This is a feature the PS3 supports but never made good use of which makes me skeptical that it will be widely available with PS4 titles.  Even if it is, I can’t see it being something that gets a lot of people to buy a Vita.  It can’t hurt, but will people spend over two-hundred dollars for the ability to play their PS4 games on a small screen?  The Wii U can do that with several games but it’s something I’ve only made use of here and there (though I also only play the Wii U here and there to begin with).

The Vita really needs this game to kick some serious ass.

The Vita really needs this game to kick some serious ass.

All of this leads me to one question:  Can I recommend the Vita to gamers?  I feel as if the answer to that question is “Yes,” but with qualifiers.  If you want a good portable gaming device then yes, the Vita is a good and worthwhile system to have around.  I didn’t touch on it much, but there are quite a few indie developers out there making excellent games for the PSN that figure to be made available on the Vita.  There are some good exclusives, and there are console games out there that are the same, if not better, on the Vita.  And if you’re into playing remakes, the Vita seems to be home to many such titles with more to come.  There’s also a plethora of PSOne and PSP titles available on the PSN for download and play on the Vita.  However, anyone thinking about buying a Vita needs to look at the current crop of games and decide if it’s worth buying just for these games alone.  The future is murky and we may have already seen the bulk of Vita’s exclusive third-party titles.  I do believe Sony will support the system at least thru 2014, but if things don’t pick up third-party developers will just use the Vita as a dumping ground for inferior ports of their console games.  And since the Vita, which currently is at least on par with the PS3, will soon be lagging behind the major home consoles those ports will become more expensive to make and may be bypassed all-together.  Someone recently asked me if they should get a Vita for their kids this coming Christmas.  The question was actually phrased as an either/or between a Vita and PSP.  I told them the PSP is not worth investing in at this point, but also to hold off on the Vita since a price-cut may be imminent.  I also slipped in the fact that by Christmas the PS4 will be out and their kids may want that more than a Vita and the difference in price may make the PS4 less expensive if this individual was thinking of getting a Vita for each kid.  That will likely be my response for anyone who asks me if they should get a Vita.  Wait for a price drop, or get a PS4 instead.  The future is just too uncertain for the Vita to give it a full recommendation.