Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox
Bob Kane (Batman characters), Akiva Goldsman
Strength. Courage. Honor. And loyalty. On June 20, it all comes together ...
The Caped Crusader returns to battle the abominable Mr. Freeze and green-thumbed Poison Ivy. To save his ailing wife, Dr. Victor Fries turns to a life of crime after a hideous accident makes him unable to tolerate even moderate temperatures, while Dr. Pamela Isley falls victim to mutated plant DNA when things go awry in a jungle laboratory funded by Wayne Industries. Of course, though their interests are diametrically opposed (Freeze wants another Ice Age; Ivy wants to make the world safe for plants), the two villains team up to defeat Gotham's dynamic duo of Batman and Robin, who are joined by butler Alfred's motorcycle-obsessed niece as Batgirl. And when Alfred is diagnosed as having the same terminal disease as Freeze's wife, the trio find themselves not only fighting an altruistic battle, but a personal one as well. A frenetic, colorful, and often overwhelming sequel to Batman, Batman Returns, and Batman Forever.
$42.872 million on 2934 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 125 min.
Release Date: 10/18/2005
• Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher
• Additional Scene
• “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” Part 6
• “Beyond Batman” Documentary Gallery
• Music Videos
• Profile Galleries
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
Batman And Robin: Special Edition (1997)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 21, 2005)
As I discussed in my review of Superman IV, not many movie series reach a fourth installment. When this happens, however, the results usually aren’t pretty. Case in point: 1997’s Batman & Robin, otherwise known as the film that almost killed a franchise.
While it currently seems to enjoy a positive reputation, when it hit in 1992, Batman Returns appeared to damage the franchise. Audiences tired of the unrelenting darkness and nastiness, and Warner Bros. tried to give them what they wanted. As such, 1995’s Batman Forever provided a less intense experience, and crowds responded accordingly; the sequel performed well at the box office and it looked like the franchise was back on track.
During Forever, director Joel Schumacher maintained some of the darkness found in the two prior Tim Burton affairs, but he leavened it with more color and some campy humor. Those elements didn’t become overwhelming, but they were much more prominent in his world.
Apparently emboldened by this success, Schumacher delved deeper into the lighter elements of the series with Robin. From the opening close-ups of costumed body parts, the emphasis clearly went with a broad, self-mocking tone, and it really didn’t work. The old Sixties Batman could be fun because it so overtly went over the top; it was a comedy masked in superhero tights. However, Robin wanted to have it both ways; it tried to laugh at and with our characters, and it failed in both regards.
In many ways, Robin repeated the structure of Forever. Both films start with extended action pieces during which we meet a villain who’s already established in Gotham City. Here we get Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a burly dude who uses cold to get what he wants. For reasons we soon learn, he craves diamonds, and the dynamic duo try to stop him from getting his latest haul.
Freeze escapes their clutches, and tensions ensue because Batman (George Clooney) doesn’t fully trust Robin’s (Chris O’Donnell) instincts. Meanwhile, a botanical researcher named Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) stumbles on a co-workers scheme to engineer super-warriors; in front of an audience of bidders, Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover) creates Bane (Jeep Swensen), a bulky, monosyllabic beast of a man.
Since Isley won’t go along with his plans, Woodrue tries to kill her. However, a combination of chemicals and her beloved plants resurrect Isley as a new woman - literally. She turns into the villainous Poison Ivy, a serious eco-terrorist who will stop at nothing to force plant domination of the world.
When she discovers that Wayne Enterprises - as in Bruce Wayne, the alter ego of Batman - funded Woodrue’s work, she immediately kills the scientist, nabs Bane and heads to Gotham. There she tries to push her agenda, and eventually she pairs with Freeze to get her needs. Along the way, she uses a special dust to intoxicate all around her, which includes Batman and Robin. The two feud over Ivy, which intensifies their tensions.
In the meantime, Wayne’s longtime butler Alfred (Michael Gough) starts to take ill, and it looks like he may not have much time left. His niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) arrives at Wayne Manor under semi-false pretenses. Eventually she discovers the secret of the Bat and becomes a superheroine herself as Batgirl.
That’s a lot of characters and stories to cover in a single 125-minute film. We have three heroes and three villains, plus Bruce maintains a love interest in the form of Julie Madison (Elle MacPherson). The latter gets very little screentime, partly because there wasn’t room, but mainly because Elle can’t act. Of course, neither can Silverstone, at least not in this role; she seems stiff and unconvincing at all times.
Among the females, Thurman fares the best, if just because she has the most natural talent. Her work should seem abysmal, as she takes on a tremendously over the top tone even for this goofy flick. However, because she embraces the comic side of things, her performance seems most logical; while the rest of the film tries to have it both ways, she shoots totally for camp, and she succeeds.
Otherwise, the cast doesn’t do well. Each of the first four films’ Batmen approached the role differently. Michael Keaton played Batman/Wayne as distracted and obsessed, while Val Kilmer went the morose playboy route. Clooney tries for a more fatherly tone, I guess because he has to shepherd two kids this time. I like Clooney, but his attitude was totally wrong for the role; Batman should never come across as paternal, and he feels like a sap.
O’Donnell was a minor breath of fresh air in Forever, but he quickly wears out his welcome in Robin. He appears very obnoxious and grating, which makes it easy for us to understand why Batman doesn’t trust him. Granted, some of this was intended by the script, but I think O’Donnell could have added a little more natural and likeable qualities to the role.
Schwarzenegger was the big draw in Robin, but he failed to do much with the part. Admittedly, this wasn’t unexpected, as no one ever considered him to be a versatile actor. Still, the stiffness with which he delivered his many jokes appeared somewhat surprising; Arnie looked pretty good in the suit, but otherwise Freeze was a dud.
Speaking of those gags, they created one of the movie’s main problems. Man, was this thing packed full of lame one-liners! It felt as though no action could occur without a resulting wisecrack, virtually none of which even approximated anything funny. During Forever, some of them worked, but that was due to the presence of Jim Carrey. To state that Thurman and Schwarzenegger aren’t in his comedic league is a gross understatement. Actually, Uma has some good comic chops, but she doesn’t possess the skills to make this tripe entertaining.
Overall, Robin felt recycled and flat. It followed the structure of Forever awfully closely, right down to the nerdish personalities of the Poison Ivy and Riddler alter egos. Actually, some of the same elements appeared in Returns, but the similarities seemed more glaring between the two Schumacher flicks.
When I watch a movie and experience yearnings for Forever, I know something’s wrong. Despite all of its flaws, Batman Forever was a fine piece of work compared to its sequel. Frankly, I don’t dislike Batman & Robin with the intensity maintained by many of its detractors, as it occasionally offered some decent action material. However, the film indeed failed on most levels, as it went with an obnoxiously cute and campy tone that proved to undo it.
Cultural reference possibility: when Ivy emerges at a big Gotham charity party, she does so to the strains of a dance remake of the Coasters’ old tune “Poison Ivy”. To my ears, this rendition bears a very strong resemblance to the version of “Like a Virgin” Madonna performed during her 1990 “Blonde Ambition” tour. Coincidence or additional thievery? I’m going with the latter; the two songs are awfully similar.
The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B
Batman and Robin appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A consistently fine presentation, Robin looked great.
Sharpness appeared crisp and detailed, as the movie exhibited virtually no signs of softness. This was a tight image that maintained solid definition. No examples of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and I also saw no signs of edge enhancement. As for source flaws, I saw some speckles, but most print defects seemed absent.
Colors looked quite good, as Robin featured some nicely bold and vibrant tones. These were bright and dynamic throughout the film and lacked any concerns like runniness or bleeding. Black levels came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared clear and appropriately opaque. Across the board, the movie offered a satisfying visual presentation.
I also liked the audio of Batman & Robin. This release included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. I didn’t discern any differences between the pair, as they displayed very similar characteristics.
As one might expect from this sort of film, the tracks offered a very active and involving affair at all times. From the opening credits through the conclusion, the mix seemed top-notch. All five channels received a solid workout, as they blasted music and a wide variety of effects. The latter elements provided the best parts of the track, as the action sequences really kicked in strongly.
Audio quality also seemed to be good. Some speech sounded a little edgy, but mostly the dialogue appeared natural and distinct, and I experienced no problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared to be bright and vibrant, while the effects were loud and accurate. Those elements packed a serious punch when appropriate, as bass response sounded deep and rich. Ultimately, the minor vocal flaws were the only complaints I had about the audio of Batman & Robin; otherwise these were stellar soundtracks.
How did the picture and audio of this DVD compare to those of the original 1997 release? I thought both discs offered virtually identical sound, but the new one presented a significant visual improvement. The special edition transfer looked cleaner and smoother, as it lacked the artifacts and edge enhancement of its predecessor. Along with messy colors, those were the original version’s main problems, but their absence elevated the image radically. I thought the 1997 DVD only deserved a “C-“ for visuals, whereas this one got an “A-“.
While the prior release included virtually no supplements, this new Special Edition packs in the goodies. On DVD One, we get the movie’s trailer as well as an audio commentary with director Joel Schumacher. He presents a running, screen-specific discussion. Schumacher goes over the movie’s cast and crew, sets and visual design, general production and story notes plus issues related to the movie’s tone.
That last area offers the commentary’s most intriguing moments. Schumacher doesn’t come out and tell us he thinks the movie stinks, but he launches no defense as he acknowledges the attacks it received. He often lets us know that the studio wanted a “kid-friendly” film. He also gets into the financial obligations related to product placement and tells us how a desire for marketable toys influenced aspects of the production. Schumacher ultimately takes the blame for the flick’s problems, but he makes sure we know that a lot of elements were out of his hands.
While those parts of the track are very interesting, the rest is much more pedestrian. As with his Batman Forever discussion, Schumacher doesn’t have a lot of useful notes about the production. He gives us some basics about the participants and their work, but I can’t think of many remarks that seem particularly helpful. He often praises those involved for their efforts. The commentary’s worth a listen to hear Schumacher offer a veiled attack on his own flick, but don’t expect much beyond that.
Moving to DVD Two, we begin with a continuation of a series started on the other three DVDs. Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 6 lasts 26 minutes and 55 seconds. It includes remarks from Schumacher, producer Peter MacGregor-Scott, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, second unit director Peter MacDonald, executive producer Michael Uslan, and actors Chris O’Donnell, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, John Glover, and Alicia Silverstone. They chat about the atmosphere that came with the success of Forever and the hurried schedule of Robin, the involvement of the toy companies and those pressures, casting and the absence of Kilmer, characters, the movie’s tone and Schumacher’s impact on it, costume controversies, sets, stunts and doubles, security and the hush-hush nature of the production, reactions to the film and possible follow-up efforts.
We get some of Schumacher’s “blame me” tone here, as he accepts responsibility for the movie’s flaws and offers an apology to disappointed fans. The program doesn’t revel in the misery, but it makes sure we know that no one involved believes Robin is a great – or even decent – effort. “Shadows” looks at the negatives well as it digs into the concerns. It acts as a pretty good overall take on the production.
Under the banner of Profile Galleries, we get two collections. “The Heroes” looks at “Batman”, “Robin” and “Batgirl”; it goes for nine minutes, 13 seconds. “The Villains” examines “Mr. Freeze”, “Poison Ivy” and “Bane”; it takes up eight minutes. In these quick features, we get notes from Schumacher, Uslan, MacGregor-Scott, Clooney, O’Donnell, Silverstone, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, filmmaker Kevin Smith, DC Comics editor Mike Carlin, Smallville writers/producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, Batman: The Animated Series writer/producer Paul Dini, DC Comics editorial VP Dan DiDio, Batman comics editor/writer Denny O’Neil, and makeup artist Brian Penikas.
These snippets look at the characters in the comics and delve into aspects of their portrayal in the flick. Prior ones offered pretty insightful examinations of those elements, but these tend to be more superficial. We get lots of comments circa 1997, so there’s no historical perspective on the ill-fated production. Some decent notes emerge, especially in regard to the history of Bane, but these are the weakest “Profile Galleries” of the four DVDs.
In a “documentary gallery” referred to as Beyond Batman, we find five featurettes. If we “Play All”, they fill a total of 50 minutes and 25 seconds. They include “Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin”, “Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin”, “Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin”, “Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin”, and “Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin”. These present remarks from Schumacher, O’Donnell, Schwarzenegger, Clooney, Thurman, MacGregor-Scott, Silverstone, Penikas, production designer Barbara Ling, conceptual artist Ron Mendell, vehicle supervisors Charley Zurian and Allen Pike, illustrator Harald Belker, specialty costumer Linda Booher-Clarimboll, Batsuit wrangler Day Murch, costume coordinator Randy Gardell, Batshop painter Michael MacFarlane, makeup designer Jeff Dawn, key makeup artist Ve Neill, costume constructor Dragon Dronet, visual effects supervisors John Dykstra, Andrew Adamson and Eric Durst, and miniature effects supervisor Ian Hunter.
If you read the listing of featurette titles, you’ll infer the subjects discussed, but I’ll go over the contents anyway. “Beyond” investigates the flick’s sets, gadgets and visual design, the vehicles, costumes and makeup, and visual effects such as CG and miniatures. All the prior “Beyond” collections offered solid information about the various technical areas, and this one follows that same path. The pieces dig into the subjects with detail and depth, as they tell us pretty much everything we’d want to know about the topics. These flesh out the material well.
One Deleted Scene appears. Entitled “Alfred’s Lost Love”, it runs 40 seconds. This offers a little more of the segment in which Barbara comes to Wayne Manor, and it changes the dynamics as it sets up Peg as Alfred’s former girlfriend, not his sister. I don’t know why they made the change, but it doesn’t do much for the story.
We finish with four music videos. These include clips for “The End is the Beginning of the End” from Smashing Pumpkins, “Look Into My Eyes” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Gotham City” from R. Kelly, and “Foolish Games” by Jewel. Of all those acts, I only like the Pumpkins, and “End” is a decent tune. The video is a stylish take on the usual lip-synch/film clip combo, but it doesn’t do much to reinvent the format.
As for the others, they fail to impress. “Eyes” is a tremendously annoying song, and the video never becomes anything other than dull. “City” actually lacks the usual movie snippets other than as a quick background element, but it’s a boring song and the video doesn’t offer interesting aspects. The Jewel clip fails to improve on any of these others, though it’s a moderately more listenable song, and at least she’s good-looking.
I didn’t feel that Batman & Robin was a total loss, but it had many more negatives than positives, and little of it worked well. Without question, it’s the worst of the Batman movies, and it seems destined to retain that status for the foreseeable future. The DVD offered excellent picture and sound plus a decent roster of extras.
Obviously I can’t recommend this DVD to anyone who doesn’t already know they like Robin or Batman completists. If you do insist on having it in your collection, then this is the one to get. Even if you already own the prior movie-only DVD, snag the two-disc version. It adds some extras and offers a substantial upgrade in picture quality. It’s the best edition of this flawed movie.
Viewer Film Ratings: 2.6666 Stars|| Number of Votes: 42|