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Warner Home Video presents
"Tonight, Hell freezes over!"
DVD ReviewThe recent box office success and modern classic quality of Batman Begins not only rejuvenated this once glorious franchise, but it also serves as a reminder as to just how bad 1997's Batman and Robin really is. It was basically a flop at the box office, especially when the grosses of the first three films are taken into account. After a solid opening weekend, word-of-mouth spread like wildfire, and I was among the unfortunate masses that caught the film during its first few days.
Saying that Batman and Robin is a misfire is a understatement. By this point (and the series had began a shift towards this with Batman Forever), the look of the films had become an exercise in bright, vivid colors that made it look like something out of Cirque du Soleil. In this installment, the fight sequence near the beginning was choreographed to look almost exactly like a number from one of Cirque's shows. While I can't knock this high-flying troupe, Batman fans aren't necessarily interested in this kind of thing. They want something dark, brooding, and mysterious; qualities that the Batman story has embodied since its introduction, and were fortunately revisited in Batman Begins.
Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) don't waste any time springing to action, as they race to catch Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his hockey-player henchmen. Once Freeze is captured, a laboratory accident results in the birth of a new villain, the venomous Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). Freeze and Ivy have two different motives for their actions, as the former only wants to freeze the entire world and thaw his cryogenically frozen wife, and the latter is out to allow her genetically engineered flora to take over the planet. Ivy and Mr. Freeze eventually team up, but, then again, just about every man in Gotham is lured to her by her poisonous perfume. This villainous union just might be the perfect combination for world domination, but not if Batman and Robin—and their new partner, Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone)—can help it.
It's difficult to know where to begin with Batman and Robin's problems. Changing the actor who plays Batman for a second time is a bad start, as George Clooney simply does not work as the Caped Crusader. There's no darkness, none of that necessary brooding that the character calls for, and he just doesn't fit the mold of what we've come to expect. I'm surprised the same can't be said for Val Kilmer, but he actually suited the part quite well. Even though Robin wasn't exactly welcome in Batman Forever, Chris O'Donnell is much worse here. His whining and over-the-top acting when it comes to his feelings for the Poison Ivy character are too much. The aforementioned cinematography is bad enough, but when it comes to the costumes this time out, I have four words to sum that up: "cod piece" and "bat nipples."
If the beginning and ending aren't bad enough, it's the middle of the film that really takes the franchise down. There's just nothing interesting occurring for a good hour of running time. We see a few scenes with Poison Ivy seducing men, then more shots of the worst villain in any of the Batman films (yes, even worse than The Penguin or Two-Face), Bane (Jeep Swenson). On top of that, Clooney's Batman is struggling with his love life (yawn), trying to explain to his fiancée, Julie Madison (Elle Macpherson) that he wants to remain a bachelor. Batman fans simply do not care about this stuff. Sure, we've gone the romantic route in all of these films, but this subject is usually an integral part of the story and never is as annoying and forced as it is here.
The only bright spots as far as the acting goes are Uma Thurman and Michael Gough. Thurman is actually quite good as Poison Ivy, thanks to a nice blend of evil and pure sexiness. It doesn't hurt that she's the only one here that actually seems to be having a good time. Gough has been solid throughout the whole series, and that doesn't change here.
To top it all off, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers the worst one-liners of his one-liner-filled acting career. Granted, there are at least five memorable lines from each of Arnold's films but these are actually witty, appropriately funny bits of dialogue that work. In Batman and Robin we get the most obvious bits involving Mr. Freeze's powers. Just knowing that one of these is coming from scene to scene is beyond grating. OK, we get it Arnold, your character is very, very cold. Thanks for hammering it into our skulls!
It's possible to see just a bit of merit in Batman & Robin's existence, even if it's only because it serves as a reference point as to how not to make a Batman film.
Rating for Style: D-
Rating for Substance: D+
Image Transfer Review: This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the best looking of all of the films in the Motion Picture Anthology set. The lush, overly colorful visuals that don't work at all for the tone of the franchise do at least translate splendidly on DVD. The biggest improvement is in how the special effects involving Mr. Freeze's weapon look. In the previous DVD release for the film, they were hazy looking, but here, every element of ice that is on display is crisp and well defined. Aside from the smallest bits of grain, this transfer is problem-free.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: There is a choice between a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS track, and both are very strong, making this also the best sounding film of the set. Again, this is more a result of this being the newest of these films, but there's no arguing with the constant surround presence and excellent use of directional effects. There are numerous elements of the film that get a major boost from the LFE as well, namely the firing of Mr. Freeze's gun. The dialogue is crisp and clear, which, unfortunately means that you'll never have a problem making out Mr. Freeze's awful one-liners.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 42 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Joel Schumacher
Packaging: Keep Case
Disc 2 begins with Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 6. This 27-minute segment focuses on the making of Batman & Robin, and spends quite a bit of time with Shumacher, who actually does a bit of complaining about how much of the film's production was taken out of his hands. Other cast and crew members speak, including Thurman and Schwarzenegger, and even Val Kilmer shows up even though he wasn't in this installment of the series.
Batman: The Heroes is a nine-minute look at Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, via interviews with the actors who played these characters, as well as other "experts" on them.
Batman: The Villains looks at the other end of the spectrum, taking eight minutes to analyze Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane.
Beyond Batman is a 50-minute segment that is broken into five separate featurettes, each focusing on a separate aspect of Batman & Robin's production. The self-explanatory titles of these featurettes are as follows: Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin (10 minutes), Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin (10 minutes), Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin (12 minutes), Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin (9 minutes), and Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin (9 minutes).
There's a deleted scene entitled Alfred's Lost Love. This 45-second clip shows Alfred talking about Batgirl's mother, with whom he once had a love affair.
There are four music videos, the first one from (my favorite band of all-time) The Smashing Pumpkins and their song, The End Is the Beginning Is the End. We also get clips for the songs Look Into My Eyes by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Gotham City by R. Kelly, and Foolish Games by Jewel.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsUnfortunately, there's almost always at least one turkey in a successful franchise, and Batman and Robin is the bird in this case. Horrid performances along with a sideshow look to the film results in a difficult two-hour film to get through. That said, it's still nice to see that Warner Home Video has given equal treatment to all of the Batman films in their new anthology DVD set. The video is excellent, the amazing audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, and there's a second disc that's full of extras.
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