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"Batman & Robin (1997): Special Edition"
Review by Zach Demeter "Bird Boy"

After the box office smash that was Batman Forever, Warner Bros. wanted to follow up with a sequel right away. Quite literally, they started production on Batman & Robin very early after Batman Forever’s release, bringing worry to some about possible quality.

With Val Kilmer unable to reprise his role as Batman due to a scheduling conflict (he wanted to be in The Saint), a new Batman was chosen. George Clooney was getting very popular in the TV series E.R. and with O’Donnell reprising Robin, they formed the new Dynamic Duo. Schwarzenegger and Thurman played the baddies, while Silverstone played the part of a new ally to the team.

With expectations running high and the demand for another summer blockbuster Bat-film, merchandisers put high stakes on the success of this film.

The Film
In the summer of 1997, I was taken to a theater to see Batman & Robin. Critics had said it wasn’t very good, but I was only ten at the time. It was Batman, and in the end, that was all I cared about.

I loved it. I sat entrenched every minute of it, while my brother and father sat flinching at the corny dialogue and cheesy sound effects. I didn’t know any better. At that time, I’d only seen the first Burton Batman film, which I didn’t enjoy watching simply because there wasn’t enough Batman in it.

I saw the movie in the theater a second time and still enjoyed it. I waited what seemed like forever and then I was finally able to buy the film on VHS. I got home, watched it and then realized…hey this film kind of sucks. I watched it again a few years later and could barely stand it. At that point I’d seen all of the Bat-Films and Batman & Robin was the last on my list to watch. I cringed and shielded my eyes from what would be the worst live-action Batman film I’d ever seen.

Looking back after watching this DVD, however, I realize Schumacher accomplished his task. He wanted to make a kid-friendly film that parents could feel comfortable taking their kids to. As a kid, I loved the film. I’m sure kids younger and older than I enjoyed it as well. Now, as it stands, I can’t see myself ever willingly re-watching this film. As a kid, it’s fine, but when you have so many other areas to experience Batman, a redux of the 1960’s series in the late 1990’s isn’t an area you want to explore again anytime soon.

The DVD
Hello, clarity! I never owned this film previously on DVD, so I’d never seen it in widescreen or in a decent quality (aside from my original theatrical viewing anyway). With that said, this film really does look very good on DVD. As strange as they are, the bright, neon colors on the batmobile, sets and street thugs really look great on DVD. Everything’s really clear, with little compression visible and the dark tones in the movie really stay clear of grain. Sure, the film does show its age, it’s before all of the really fancy processes, but overall it looks great.

The audio in this release is excellent. Perfect sound and you get your choice in either 5.1 or DTS, something that will make DVD-fanatics happy (and the average Bat-fan as well, assuming they have a DTS capable receiver).

Disc One opens with the same special features as the other three Bat-flicks in the Anthology releases. The theatrical trailer still looks good after all these years and its use of Elfman’s closing music for Batman (1989) makes the movie look better than it actually is.

The commentary was as dull and boring as Batman Forever’s. Schumacher repeatedly mentions stories or details of his other films while never really mentioning too many things of interest. Practical jokes he and Clooney played on O’Donnell was about as deep as he went in terms of behind-the-scenes stories.

Schumacher defended the film, saying he was doing a family film and again defended all the crazy and zany aspects of the film by using the excuse that “it’s a Batman movie.” For a man that wanted to do Frank Miller’s Year One in the place of Batman & Robin, he sure has a screwed up idea of how a “Batman” movie works.

Unless you want to hear him talk for two hours (and not even that; he leaves the commentary track with about six or seven minutes of the film remaining, telling us to “enjoy” the rest of the movie), the commentary really isn’t worth listening to.

“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 6” continues where Batman Forever left off, with the production of Batman & Robin and how it became what it was. Cast and crew interviews, both new and old, accompany this featurette. A brief bit with Kilmer explaining why he didn’t reprise his role and then we move on to the rest of the disc featurettes.

“Beyond Batman” is actually pretty interesting. It goes behind the scenes and takes a serious look at the amount of work that went into the film. Even if the film pretty much did stink on all levels, you can still appreciate the amount of manpower that went into making the behemoth sets.

The “Beyond Batman” documentaries also contained an “apology” of sorts from writer Akiva Goldsmith and director Joel Schumacher. While they didn’t flat-out say “we’re sorry!” they did explain why they went in the direction they did. Schumacher even said he was sorry to those who went into Batman & Robin expecting something closer in tone to Batman Forever. Not the on-your-knees-groveling-for-forgiveness apology I would’ve liked to see, but it was still nice of them to at least admit they didn’t make a movie that fans really wanted to see.

And yes, they defended the nipples on the suits. Joel claimed on the Batman Forever commentary that those who complained or took offense to the nipples needed “to get out more.” Apparently, Schumacher doesn’t realize he’s talking to a bunch of comic fans whose idea of “getting out” involves comic conventions.

“Heroes and Villains” goes into the initial characters with cast and bat-aficionados interviews detailing their progression. As with the other profiles on the past three films in the Anthology set, they’re worth watching.

The “Alfred’s Lost Love” cut scene paints different picture of Alfred and Barbara’s relationship. Instead of being his sister’s daughter, Barbara was actually the daughter of a former lover Alfred had in England. When he realized the age difference was too great, he moved and eventually became the butler at Wayne Manor. It definitely would’ve felt strange in this movie; Alfred having a young lover just…well it’s just strange. I don’t know how else to say it.

Four music videos round out the second disc. Three are tied into the film, but Jewel’s “Foolish Games,” while appearing on the Batman & Robin soundtrack, has nothing to do with the film. No clips from the film appear in the music video, so it’s kind of a random video to end the disc on.

That ends the two-disc set for Batman & Robin. A horrible film with horrible director commentary capped off with a surprising amount of good special features. Despite the film being painful to watch, the behind-the-scenes interviews and making-of were all very interesting.

Picking this release up really depends on how much you can tolerate the film. The special features are interesting, but you have to ask yourself just how curious you are to see how they designed the fifth and sixth bat-suits or how much bigger Robin’s cod-piece is.

Batman & Robin (1997): Special Edition will be in stores on Tuesday, October 18th, 2005.

Bonus Video:

 

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