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When given such great masterpieces of super-hero cinema like Tim Burton's Batman and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, as a movie-going public, we often tend to forget that Batman doesn't always have to be dark and gritty. That's not how the character has always been, and shocking as it may be, Frank Miller wasn't the first person to write a Batman comic book. Allow me if I may, to jog your memory back to the Batman series of the 1960s. Bam! Poof! Pow! I don't know that characters can become any more one-dimensional and campy than that, and yet I love the series endlessly. Should 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers ever figure out how to release it on DVD, you'll be sure to see my review here shortly afterwards. Having said this, the problem I find with Batman & Robin isn't that it's light and campy, but that it still tries to be a serious film at times, feeling very out of place.

If you're a serious DVD collector, you probably don't want to stick Batman & Robin next to your beloved special editions of Gone with the Wind, Casablanca The Godfather and Citizen Kane for fear of looking like a chap with poor taste. If masking the funk expelled by the Schumacher films is something you'd be interested in, may I recommend purchasing this film as part of the Batman Motion Picture Anthology? For a little bit more cost-wise, you get an attractive package that houses the films nicely and allows you to keep your dignity when it comes to good taste in film. Now if only I could find a box set to hide my Jaws: The Revenge in, I'd be happy.

Batman & Robin
Feature
The Dynamic Duo are once again called upon by the city of Gotham to fend off criminals, and this time it's triple the bad guy/girl. Enter Dr. Victor Fries, a scientist turned criminal now only able to survive in freezing temperatures due to a lab accident. The mishap occurred while Fries was attempting to find a cure for his terminally ill wife. Switch over to Pamela Isley, also enhanced from a lab accident, this one involving plant toxins and the like, making her an irresistible and deadly temptress known as Poison Ivy. Her handyman is a near-mute maniac on a serious overdose of steroids, Bane. Back on the home-front at Wayne Manor, Alfred the butler has fallen ill to the same disease that befell Fries' wife and the cold doctor alone possesses the cure. Will Batman be able to save Gotham City, Alfred, and his partnership with Robin before the next Ice Age?

You may be wondering how I can possibly like Batman & Robin over Batman Forever. I wondered too. I gave my thoughts on the movie a few days to settle in, and they seem genuine so I'll do my best to explain them. First off, everything that was wrong with Forever from the over the top villains to the flamboyant sets are all right at home in Batman & Robin. For me, Forever was a tone-confused film; is it campy or gritty? It switches back and forth with fast food drive-through jokes to sub-plots about Bruce being responsible for his parents’ death (something further explored in excised material). It's because Batman & Robin is a more consistent film that I find it more enjoyable. I'll state it clearly: I have no problem with campy Batman if it's done well. Bring on the over the top action pieces, one-liners, and zany villains. It's just as much true to Batman as Nolan's film was. I personally am glad we have several different takes on the character, as one vision truly does not fit all.

Don't get me wrong, this is film plagued with mistakes; the biggest of all is that it tries to be serious when the characters are out of costume. You can't show me our heroes air-boarding from a rocket ship on emergency exit doors while Mr. Freeze soars through the air on butterfly wings and then expect me to believe these same characters are involved in serious dramatic plots shortly thereafter. Elle Macpherson's inclusion is an absolute waste of both our time and hers, and clearly obligatory given that Batman has had a main squeeze in every film thus far. The plot-line involving Alfred falling ill felt really out of place, making me wish it was left on the cutting room floor.

Batman & Robin
This film marks the introduction of Batgirl on the most unbelievable terms possible, even for a film of this camp calibre. No less than a few hours after discovering the Bat cave, fashioning her own costume, and catching up to her super hero comrades, she's using (with great precision I might add) a grappling gun? Not to mention, it takes a great amount of strength to support your own weight plus the weight of say, Chris O'Donnell, all while dangling off the side of a building. Somehow, Batgirl does all of these with ease. I can only suspend my disbelief so much.

One storyline I wish Schumacher could've done more with was the mounting tension between our heroes as Robin paid less attention to Batman's authority. Had the Boy Wonder's issues with the Dark Knight not been resolved, we could've seen the introduction of Nightwing. Robin's practically wearing his costume here with a cape, so why not? If Elle Macpherson and Alicia Silverstone were jettisoned from the picture and in their place we were given Nightwing, I would've liked this film much better than I do now.

Another major fault of Batman & Robin is how much it deviated from the source material of its characters. I wept for how much Bane was short-changed here proving that some characters just shouldn't be dumbed down from their original storylines. Another change that left me ill was Batgirl being Alfred's niece and not the daughter of Commisioner Gordon. It really robs the character when you toss out the duality element from her back story. My next gripe isn't so much a deviation as a complete lapse in logic, but have you ever thought about the two main villains in this film and their motives? Freeze wants to bring on the next ice age and Poison Ivy wants the world turned into her own personal garden. Correct me if I'm wrong, but those two motives don't exactly go hand in hand, so why would these two ever want to team up? I feel like I'm complaining too much for a film I wasn't terribly put off by.

Batman & Robin
I applaud Batman & Robin for being the only Batman film so far to give an adequate depiction of Arkham Asylum. On the outside, it's a massive gothic castle overlooking the ocean. Inside, it's dark, dirty and full of shadows... just the way it should be. If I had to choose my favourite scene in the film, it would unquestionably be in the final moments where Freeze visits Poison Ivy in Arkham. Just imagine Arnold in his deep voice calling out to Ivy from the dark "Surprise, I'm your new cell mate and I've come to make your life a living hell. Prepare for a bitter harvest, winter has come at last." It's the single-greatest scene in the film because even though we aren't shown what happens next, our imaginations can run wild with it.

Casting for Batman & Robin is mixed bag. None of our heroes were cast well, especially George Clooney. It felt like he was playing himself, rather than Bruce Wayne. With his trademark smile, Clooney oozes his own special brand of charisma in every scene he's in. That may work well in Intolerable Cruelty and Out of Sight, but it doesn't win me over here as Wayne, no matter how light the film is. I enjoyed Schwarzenegger as Freeze and despite her bad dye job, Uma Thurman was a fitting Poison Ivy. These two could've really stolen the show given darker material to work with. Lastly, the delightful John Glover is worth a mention as the nefarious Dr. Jason Woodrue.

To sum it all up, the biggest crime of Batman & Robin is that it's different. Every Batman film ( Begins included!) has mistakes, and this one is no exception. Despite them, there is a watchable film in there somewhere. My challenge to you is to approach this flick with an open mind, as unfashionable as that is these days when it almost seems cool to hate it. It's not at all my cup of tea as I'm a big Frank Miller fan, but Batman & Robin wasn't half as bad as I remembered it to be.

Video
Batman & Robin is given to us in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Following up on the magnificent technical presentations of its three predecessors, things not surprisingly look fantastic here. Colours are strong and vibrant, which is a must for all of the eye-candy visuals Schumacher loaded Batman & Robin with. The previous DVD transfer from 1997 was distracting to sit through due to a high amount of grain, especially in dark blues and blacks. Thankfully, those are all gone. Warner Brothers has done a fine job of cleaning up these films for their special editions DVDs.

Batman & Robin
Audio
It's strange to think that the last two instalments in this franchise sound better than the first two, but they do. I suppose its' because there simply is more to hear action-wise in these films. I checked out the Dolby Digital 5.1 track here and was thoroughly impressed. When things get loud, which is every other scene, Batman & Robin sounds very good. My only complaint is that when things get too loud, dialogue can be a little difficult to pick up on, but it's not a major issue.

Extras
On disc one we have the theatrical trailer and another great commentary from director Joel Schumacher. The director gives his commentary the close feel of a one-on-one conversation. He's clearly not afraid to rib on his own creations and quick to explain the reasoning behind some of the more bizarre elements in the picture, whether they were his or the studios. Schumacher tells where he wanted the fifth Batman to go if the series had continued, and it definitely took me by surprise. I won't spoil it by posting it here, though. At the end of the day, these commentaries don't make me enjoy Schumacher's films any more or less, but rather have caused me to respect the man as a filmmaker. I would highly recommend giving this a listen.

First up on disc two, we have the sixth and final segment of 'Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight' called 'Batman Unbound'. At twenty-six minutes, this is a wonderful testament to how merchandising can help ruin a film and simultaneously, Schumacher takes full responsibility for the shortcomings in Batman & Robin. Through archive footage, Clooney provides a few comments that undermine the origins of the character which entirely vindicate my dissatisfaction over his casting. Some of what Schumacher has to say in this documentary makes me question why I defend him so much. This feature only gets worse the longer you watch it and should've been named 'Batman & Robin: What Went Wrong.'

Batman & Robin
'Beyond Batman' is a collection of five mini-documentaries on the film including production design, vehicles, costumes, makeup, and visual effects. Unlike the infuriating 'Batman Unbound' feature, these are a great insight on how a film of this magnitude gets made. Despite the wealth of information given here, I didn't care for this film enough to know how it was made. Hearing the director tell his story in the commentary was enough for me, so I really don't care that the Freeze costume is made of five hundred small pieces (not an exaggeration.) I suppose these exist for the most hard-core Batman & Robin fans. Together, they total fifty minutes of material.

This DVD comes with a set of video biographies on the main characters running seventeen minutes in length. The only one I can recommend watching is the biography on Bane. Paul Dini of Batman: The Animated Series and Denny O'Neil of DC Comics tell us just how badly Bane was written for the movie making the only thing missing here an apology from screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. Following these biographies is a short deleted scene worth deleting titled 'Alfred's Lost Love'.

Lastly, we have four music videos that are so bad, they make me long for the atrocities Prince did for the first Batman. I recommend them all to you however, as you're bound to get a laugh from at least one of them. In 'The End is the Beginning is the End' by the Smashing Pumpkins, the band performs the song inside of a giant Batman cowl, which looks just as strange as it sounds. The other three aren't as creative, mixing film clips with footage of the band. They are 'Look into My Eyes' by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, 'Gotham City' by R. Kelly, and 'Foolish Games' by Jewel.

Batman & Robin
Overall
While I may not have entirely hated the feature, the only supplement this DVD has to offer me is the director commentary. I appreciate that Warner Brothers took the time to give this film the special edition treatment for those who wanted it, but I'm just not in that target audience. Despite a nice technical presentation, the feature quality combined with supplemental materials both strike me as mediocre at best, and I therefore do not recommend buying this title individually.


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