Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar
Bob Kane (Batman characters), Lee Batchler (story & screenplay), Janet Scott Batchler (story & screenplay), Akiva Goldsman
Courage now, truth always.
Gotham City is once again under siege, this time by the mind-controlling Riddler and the diabolical Harvey Two-Face. The Caped Crusader cleans up with the help of his new side-kick Robin in this effects-laden thrill ride.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 122 min.
Release Date: 10/18/2005
• Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher
• Additional Scenes
• “Riddle Me This: Why Is Batman Forever?” Featurette
• “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” Part 5
• “Beyond Batman” Documentary Gallery
• Music Video
• 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 Forever: Special Edition (1995)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2005)
Although 1992’s Batman Returns made a solid $162 million and ended up the year’s second highest grossing film behind Aladdin, it left a bad taste in many mouths. Not mine, for I thought it offered a highly satisfying and entertaining affair that actually topped 1989’s Batman, a film I loved. However, many fans thought Returns was too dark and grotesque, especially due to Danny De Vito’s slimy turn as the Penguin.
As such, Returns left the starting gate with a fine head of steam, but its financial take petered out fairly quickly. The popularity of the original film ensured a strong enough audience to generate that positive box office, but as was also the case with 1997’s The Lost World, the sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park, the second Batman movie faded fast with viewers and didn’t endear itself to many.
Because of these factors and others, 1995’s third Batman flick, Batman Forever, faced something of an uphill battle. Granted, the series’ name recognition meant that a certain audience share would definitely arrive, but the road seemed much tougher. In addition, two of the main forces behind the first films didn’t actively participate in Forever. Michael Keaton failed to return as Batman/Bruce Wayne; Val Kilmer replaced him in the role.
Although the director of Batman and Batman Returns still involved himself in Batman Forever, Tim Burton had a less significant part of the pie. He functioned as one of the film’s producers as he turned over the directorial reigns to Joel Schumacher. I don’t know how active a role Burton played during Forever, though the fact it showed any form of Burton-esque darkness may show that he exerted some influence over the production. He had no formal connection with 1997’s Batman and Robin, which may partially explain why it was the campiest and silliest of the four movies.
In any case, this changing of the guards seemed to sit well with audiences. Despite some wariness felt by viewers, the movie became a solid hit. It took in $184 million and just lost out on the year’s box office crown; ironically. As had been the case in 1992, another Disney animated picture released over Thanksgiving weekend - Toy Story - nabbed the top spot.
Apparently audiences responded to the lighter, more flamboyant tone of Forever, though I guess Schumacher and company went over the top with Robin. That movie almost killed the series with its relatively lackluster gross of $107 million and wildly negative word of mouth. Nonetheless, the less serious aspects of Forever seemed to help break the series out of its perceived doldrums.
Time hasn’t been kind to Forever. Just as Returns gained a greater fan base as the years passed, more people began to see the flaws in Forever. Count me as one of those naysayers. While I actually enjoyed the film theatrically and I still think it has some good moments, the more I watch Forever, the less I like it.
At the start of the film, we meet a new villain, Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). This bifurcated baddie used to be noble Gotham attorney Harvey Dent, but a splash of acid to his puss left him scarred mentally, emotionally and physically. Apparently it also turned him white; Billy Dee Williams played Dent in Batman, but I guess the filmmakers felt he lacked the appropriate star power to materialize in the sequel. Perhaps they thought that as long as they cast another three-named actor, no one would notice the difference.
We discover little backstory for Two-Face; he simply pops up at the start of the movie and attempts to rid himself of Batman (Kilmer). This felt a little odd; while we briefly view his origins during a later scene, Two-Face was the first Bat-villain to date to emerge onscreen with Bat-hatred already established. Batman’s Joker (Jack Nicholson) and both Returns’ Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Penguin all receive some exposition before they attempt to ban the Bat, but Two-Face simply exists without much depicted rhyme or reason.
It didn’t get any better, for Two-Face remains a poorly drawn and vague villain throughout the movie. Despite Jones’ star power, he clearly lost some of his onscreen time to make way for the film’s second baddie, the Riddler. In traditional Batman style, we definitely view his path to crime, though even then I thought the clarification was somewhat vague. Early in the movie Bruce Wayne visits a Wayne Enterprises lab. There he encounters creepy scientist Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey), a nutbag who develops a way to have TV images beamed into peoples’ brains. When Wayne rejects the idea, Nygma goes farther off of the deep end. He kills his supervisor Stickley (an uncredited Ed Begley, Jr.) and forms an irrational hatred of Wayne. Previously, he’d felt obsessed with his boss as a role model, but this poor encounter caused those feelings to take a viciously negative turn.
Nygma fabricates a scheme. He wants to dominate the world with “the Box”, his TV-related device, especially since he accidentally discovers that it can suck brainpower out of users and into him. That would pad his intelligence as well as provide him with juicy data like credit card numbers and bank accounts. However, Nygma can’t start a huge company without capital, so he recruits Two-Face and his gang to assist. He promises the death of Batman as long as Harvey helps him collect the dough to get the Box off the ground.
All while this occurs, a new love interest appears on the scene, though this one takes a mildly unusual approach. In Batman, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) maintained affection solely for Wayne; there appeared to be no sparks between her and Batman in their brief scene together. Returns took a more interesting tack, however. Batman/Catwoman and Wayne/Catwoman’s alter ego Selina Kyle developed romantic attachments independent of each other; it wasn’t until late in the film that each realized the true identity of the other.
In Forever, psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t realize that Wayne and Batman are one in the same until near the end. She starts the film with a strong interest in Batman; some of this seems professional, but she clearly has the hots for him as well. Only as the flick progresses does she get to know Wayne, and we find an odd love triangle in which two of the three participants are actually the same person.
Does Chase create any element in the plot other than as the token love interest? Nope, though this also allows her to become Bat-bait at the end. While the love triangle aspects were mildly interesting, I thought it seemed disappointing to find such an uninvolved romantic partner, especially since Meridian’s supposed to be so bright and incisive. She could have better paired with Batman to solve some puzzles; while she does so to a minor degree, Chase exists mainly as eye candy and as someone for the villains to abuse when necessary.
Another new character materializes, though audiences will already feel at home with him. In the third Batman film, we finally meet Robin (Chris O’Donnell). After his trapeze-artist family dies during an attempt to save circus spectators from Two-Face’s bomb, the orphaned Dick Grayson boards at Wayne Manor. There he quickly discovers Bruce’s secret, and fueled by his vengeful desire to kill Two-Face, he forces his way into the crime-fighting picture as Robin.
Although he becomes something of a liability during Batman and Robin, O’Donnell offers some of the best parts of Forever. The scene in which he takes the Batmobile for a spin is a mild hoot, and he adds a nice sense of life to our dour, loner hero. In this flick, O’Donnell displays a spark that seems absent from the subsequent sequel and from most of his other roles; he doesn’t make Forever a transcendent piece of work, but his moments help it become more memorable.
As Batman/Bruce, Kilmer is good but unspectacular. I always liked him as an actor, which meant that I accepted him as a replacement for Keaton more readily than I might otherwise have done. I thought highly of Keaton’s work, especially in Returns, where he seemed to feel more comfortable in the role. As such, I was disappointed that Keaton didn’t come back for the third film, but the presence of Kilmer made the transition smoother.
Actually, I feel somewhat conflicted about his work. As Batman, Kilmer shows reasonable aplomb and depth, and he seems at home in the suit. Kilmer displays good presence and personality, so those segments of the film are fine. On the other hand, I feel less wild about his take on Wayne. Keaton played Bruce as distracted and obsessed, whereas Kilmer goes more for a smug yuppie vibe. I can’t claim that either portrayal is “correct” when compared to the comics’ Bruce, but Keaton’s appeared more natural and logical. Frankly, Kilmer’s Wayne seems like something of a jerk.
For his work as Two-Face, Jones apparently studied Nicholson’s performance in Batman - a lot. Though Jones lacks the flair and panache Nicholson offered, he shows similar attitudes and mannerisms. I like Jones, but his Two-Face feels like a non-entity within the film. He seems neither menacing nor compelling, as he clearly plays second banana to our other villain.
Forever’s producers scored a coup when they cast Carrey as the Riddler. At the time, he was still a star on the rise, and he’d become a serious box office star through his three 1994 hits; Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber. Each did better than its predecessor and Carrey established a solid following. Although Forever probably would have been successful with another actor in the role - Robin Williams was one possibility - Carrey’s presence helped attract an even larger audience.
He also provides some of the movie’s best bits, though unlike some of his other films, Carrey’s gags don’t get better with age. When I recently watched Liar Liar, I noticed how well his antics held up over the years and repeated viewings. While his bits as the Riddler are still interesting, they don’t amuse me like they had during earlier screenings of the film. Carrey’s over the top attitude helps bring some spark to Forever, but he can’t make the movie a total success.
Much of the problem with Forever stems from my feeling that it’s rather disjointed. Batman was the best focused of the four films: one villain, one love interest, and that was that. We learned what we needed to know about the origins of both Batman and Joker, and the movie took a logical course.
While I loved Returns, it did become a little disorderly in its attempts to be bigger and better. Most of the film’s problems related to its third villain, nasty capitalist Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). He was essentially nothing more than an expository character, and he lacked much additional reason to exist. Otherwise, however, Returns nicely balanced its two main villains, and no other significant complications ensued.
Forever decreases the villain count to two and keeps us with a single romantic interest, but the extra hero does muck up the proceedings to a degree. Granted, I generally like O’Donnell’s turn, but this added element presents the possibility that the movie can go off onto too many tangents.
Batman and Robin took this to an extreme: three heroes, two villains, two romantic interests. Forever keeps things more manageable, but with Schumacher instead of Burton behind the camera, the film becomes messier nonetheless. Admittedly, Batman and Returns weren’t always the most coherent films you’ll find, but they presented a certain panache and overriding cohesion that doesn’t appear in Forever. Put simply, elements of it seem to make less sense, and the whole piece feels more slapdash.
At least the Burton films had some depth and psychological darkness behind them. Forever, on the other hand, casts out most of Wayne’s demons, and it actually “cures” him by the end of the flick! This seems badly out of place, for one of the aspects of Batman that makes him so compelling is his dark side; without it, he just becomes another costumed goon.
Schumacher also starts to embrace the campiness that so turns off many Bat-fans. He keeps this within reasonable levels in Forever, though I wish those elements hadn’t made the film. The self-referential comments and the homoerotic stylings of the costumes would become truly excessive during Batman and Robin, whereas they simply seem a little off-putting here.
Nonetheless, they add a silly distance to the film that wasn’t necessary. Ultimately, Batman Forever offers a watchable and reasonably entertaining vision of the Caped Crusader, but it doesn’t even remotely compare with the highs seen in the first two films. Forever helped redeem the franchise with a mass audience, but it hasn’t help up well over the last 10 years, and it becomes less interesting with each subsequent viewing.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B
Batman Forever 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 few minor problems cropped up during the movie, but the picture usually looked solid.
Sharpness was nicely crisp and detailed. A little softness affected some wider shots, but not to a substantial degree. The majority of the film was accurate and distinct. I detected no problems related to moiré effects or jagged edges, but edge enhancement appeared absent. Occasional print defects cropped up during Forever. I saw some speckles and grit, though not a lot, as most of the movie was clean.
Colors seemed to be nicely bright and vivid. Forever provided a vibrant neon palette much of the time, and the DVD replicated these hues with accuracy and clarity; for example, the circus scene displayed very lively tones. However, a few scenes showed some slightly excessive reds, such as during the opening segment in the vault.
Black levels came across as very deep and rich, while shadow detail appeared solid. I noticed no muddiness or murkiness. All around, this was a quality presentation and it made the movie look very good.
As with the other new Batman special editions, Batman Forever included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Although I thought the DTS mixes for Batman and Returns were a little stronger than their respective Dolby tracks, I discerned no such differences here. I felt both mixes came across as virtually identical.
On the positive side, the film featured a very active and involving soundfield. From start to finish, all five channels received a solid workout. The audio elements seemed to be logically and realistically placed within the environment, and sounds moved cleanly and believably from speaker to speaker. The entire package blended together very nicely and created a clear, vibrant soundscape that helped to propel the film.
Unfortunately, some quality issues hampered the soundtrack, which was the only thing between it and an “A”-level grade. Dialogue always remained intelligible and reasonably clear, but some poor looping occurred at times that made the words stand out in a negative way. In addition, some speech sounded stiff and edgy at times; for some reason, the latter problem mainly affected lines spoken by Tommy Lee Jones.
Effects displayed loud and robust tones, and those elements seemed to be quite powerful. I heard no signs of distortion, and the effects came across as strong and clean. Music could have been a little more dynamic, but I still thought the score appeared to be vivid and clear, without any significant concerns. Bass response seemed a little loose at times, but the low-end packed a good punch and added a loud accompaniment to the film. I also detected some light background hiss on occasion; it sounded as though some speech levels had to be boosted to make the lines audible, and that resulted in a bit of noise. Despite these general concerns, the soundtrack of Batman Forever still managed to be a very solid piece of work.
How did the picture and audio of this DVD compare to those of the original DVD? The audio appeared to be identical, as I noticed no improvements in that domain. However, the visuals were notably stronger here. This edition lacked the moderate softness and artifacts of its predecessor, and it also lost a few other minor issues. It wasn’t a radical improvement, but it showed growth.
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 touches on subjects like visual design, stunts, the cast and crew, characters, locations and sets, script issues, and the movie’s tone.
Although the director alights on the topics that one would expect, he does so with little depth. Much of the track fills with banal praise for all involved, and Schumacher sometimes does little more than narrate the movie. There’s a fair amount of dead air, and even when he gets into an interesting subject, he usually reveals little. For example, when he discusses the casting of Val Kilmer, he simply tells us he saw Kilmer in Tombstone and gave him the role. That’s it- no insight into what it was about Kilmer and his performance that led Schumacher to think the actor would make a good Batman.
Indeed, many of Schumacher’s comments fall into the “laundry list” category. He tells us notes with so little background information that it feels as though he simply reads facts from a sheet. Occasionally he tosses out an intriguing bit – such as the insane notion that the suits at Warner initially thought Nicole Kidman wasn’t sexy enough to be a Batman love interest – but most of this commentary sticks with tedious material that doesn’t flesh out matters well.
Moving to DVD Two, we begin with a 23-minute and 23-second program called Riddle Me This: Why Is Batman Forever?. Hosted by actor Chris O’Donnell, this piece originally aired in 1995 to promote the movie. It offers the standard repertoire of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Schumacher, actors Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Nicole Kidman, and producer Peter MacGregor-Scott.
The show talks about its actors and their experiences as well as the characters. Did it exist for any reason other than to sell tickets? No. Does it merit attention a decade later? Not really. A smattering of decent shots from the set appear, but not enough to overcome the general blandness of the program.
A continuation of a series started on the Batman and Batman Returns DVDs, Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 5 lasts 28 minutes and 20 seconds. It includes remarks from Schumacher, Kilmer, O’Donnell, MacGregor-Scott, Carrey, Jones, Kidman, actor/wife of Batman creator Elizabeth Sanders Kane, writers Akiva Goldsman, Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler, executive producer Michael E. Uslan, actor Michael Gough, and production designer Barbara Ling. The piece discusses the film’s tone and the push for a reinvented Batman after the darkness of the two Burton flicks, development of the story, sets and budget, casting, performances, visual design and those elements, anecdotes from the set and Bob Kane’s presence there, cut elements, merchandizing and advertising, and the movie’s reception.
As I mentioned in my Returns review, the first three parts of “Shadows” found on the Batman SE were so good that the subsequent chapters come up short by comparison. Part 5 follows in the footsteps of Part 4: it’s good but not exceptional. It feels a little glossier than the prior chapters, though I suppose that might make sense given the tone of the movie itself. Part 5 adds some good notes but falls short of becoming terribly deep and detailed.
Under the banner of Profile Galleries, we get two collections. “The Heroes” looks at “Batman”, “Robin” and “Dr. Chase Meridian”; it goes for nine minutes, 25 seconds. “The Villains” examines “The Riddler” and “Two-Face”; it takes up six minutes, 45 seconds. In these quick features, we get notes from Schumacher, Kilmer, O’Donnell, Uslan, the Batchlers, Kidman, Goldsman, Carrey, Jones, writer/artist Mike Mignola, Smallville writers/producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, Batman writer/editor Denny O’Neil, Batman: The Animated Series writer/producer Paul Dini, comic artist Alex Ross, and DC Comics editorial VP Dan DiDio.
These snippets look at the characters in the comics and delve into aspects of their portrayal in the flick. The pieces tend to be a little scattershot, but they offer quite a few good notes. Happily, the “Batman” entry doesn’t just repeat elements from the same section on the prior DVDs; it gets into different sides of things, with an emphasis on his portrayal in Forever. They offer some nice insight into the roles and their depiction onscreen, so they merit a look.
In a “documentary gallery” referred to as Beyond Batman, we find five featurettes. If we “Play All”, they fill a total of 45 minutes and 35 seconds. They include “Out of the Shadows: The Production Design of Batman Forever”, “The Many Faces of Gotham City”, “Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever”, “Imaging Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever”, and “Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever”. We get notes from Schumacher, Ling, Carrey, Jones, Kilmer, MacGregor-Scott, art director Joseph P. Lucky, vehicle supervisor Allen Pike and Charley Zurian, key makeup artist Ve Neill, costume coordinator Randy Gardell, specialty costumer Linda Booher-Clarimboll, Batsuit wrangler Day Murch, actor Debi Mazar, makeup artist Brian Penikas, stuntman Keith Campbell, visual effects supervisor John Dykstra, and composer Elliot Goldenthal. A listing of topics covered will seem redundant given the titles, but here goes anyway. “Beyond” digs into the movie’s visual elements including props, vehicles and sets, costumes and makeup, stunts, visual effects including miniatures and CG, and the score.
I admit that before I watched any of these new special editions, I figured the “documentary galleries” would probably be fluffy and superficial. The clips on Batman proved me wrong, and those found here continue to show how mistaken I was. Really, these pieces are probably the most informative aspects of the package. We get terrific notes about various the technical elements of the production, many delivered with surprising detail. They make the movie come to life and add a lot of value to the set.
When this release was announced, rumors appeared that we’d get a director’s cut of Forever. That didn’t happen, but we do find seven Deleted Scenes. All together, these fill 13 minutes and 52 seconds. They provide some interesting moments. We get an alternate moment that depicts Two-Face’s escape from Arkham, and we find additional depth in regard to Bruce’s psychological conflicts. They wouldn’t make Forever a substantially better movie, but they’d probably improve it.
We finish with a music video for “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal. Arguably the biggest hit song to emerge from a Batman movie, I can’t say the tune does much for me, but obviously it has its fans. The video’s pretty dull, unfortunately. It simply shows Seal as he lip-synchs in front of the Batsignal, and we also get many shots from the film. It’s not exactly creative or inspired stuff. I don’t know why U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” doesn’t appear; fans will have to rely on their music video collection to see it.
Batman Forever is about as mediocre as a Batman flick could be. It has some interesting moments, and most of the actors do their best, but after the thrills of the two Tim Burton-directed affairs, this Joel Schumacher effort comes across as all style and little substance. The DVD presents very good picture along with positive audio and a generally useful set of extras mainly marred by a boring audio commentary.
I don’t like Forever enough to recommend it to those who don’t already know they like it or Bat-completists. For those who want it, this release offers a good upgrade over the prior movie-only edition. That goes for folks who already own the previous edition. This one improves enough on it to merit a repurchase.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars|| Number of Votes: 30|