Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

(Before reading any further, I recommend you read our recap of this movie. Bring a snack.)

In October of 2010, I looked at the rather extensive special edition of Batman Forever (read that one, too). It’s three years later, and my mind and body are prepared. Let’s look at the DVD of Batman & Robin, specifically the commentary.

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The DVD follows the same format as the other special editions, with a commentary track and trailer on the first disc, and a slew of extras on the second.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

Before we get there, we need our obligatory dose of Video Box Idiocy, as on the back of the case there’s a quote from noted New York Times film critic Janet Maslin.

Big. Bold. Lavish. Outstanding visual mischief.

Now to be fair, this is clearly the guy in the marketing department pulling anything from Janet’s review that might be construed as positive. Having said that, I read the review, and she apparently liked Uma Thurman and Chris O’Donnell in the film. And that’s why I no longer read the New York Times.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

As for the discs themselves, I think I’ll do things a little different and start with the second disc, a mere appetizer compared to the commentary track.

Disc 2:

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 6: Batman Unbound:

Whew, that’s a bitch of a title! It’s a pretty good 27-minute long documentary, though. It’s not extremely blunt in how the film came off, but nobody involved is under the impression the movie is any good. Well, Arnold might be, but I think the footage of him was taken from when the film first came out, so it doesn’t really count. A lot of the stuff covered is brought up in the commentary and elsewhere, but it’s a nice, quick overview of the film.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

Beyond the Bat:

This is a collection of featurettes covering the tech stuff: production design, makeup, f/x, etc. Nothing earth-shattering, but solid enough.

Music Videos:

There are music videos for four of the songs featured in the movie. Nothing really worth mentioning. The best of them is a Smashing Pumpkins song that’s easily the best part of this whole damn mess.

Deleted Scene:

This is really just 45 seconds of exposition about Barbara that explains that she’s the daughter of a much younger woman Alfred had a crush on. Nothing to see here.

Apart from that, we get some character profiles, and that’s about it, really.

And now the main event!

Disc 1:

Audio Commentary by Joel Schumacher:

Like the commentary he did for the third movie, it’s a somewhat bland track, as Joel is not the most dynamic speaker. There are several gaps where he’s not talking as well, and while I can understand him not having a hell of a lot to say, it also means I’m stuck just watching the movie. It’s sort of an odd “I understand but you can still kiss my ass” sort of dynamic.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

That aside, it’s actually pretty good, all things considered. Let’s take a closer look.

Notable Notes:

The Robin logo is actually Nightwing’s logo (after quitting the sidekick detail, Dick Grayson becomes a new hero in the comics). The Nightwing inspiration also flowed into the design for Robin’s costume, at least in the color scheme.

Caption contributed by Ed

Chris watches with apprehension as his agent gives him two thumbs up, the last two he will ever get after this film.

Val Kilmer chose to do The Saint instead of this movie. Having seen that film several times (it was in heavy rotation on HBO when I was in college), I honestly can’t say whether he made the right choice or not. That film isn’t really too hot, either.

Interestingly, Joel is typically complimentary towards the cast and crew, but seems faintly disappointed by the demands made on the film by the studio: more family friendly, the horrific word “toyetic”, etc. He also notes that most of his other films are a bit darker as well, which is true. Falling Down, The Lost Boys, 8MM, and even The Number 23 are all fairly dark films.

Joel’s six year old godson had a hand in giving him ideas for the movie. That explains a lot… really! The kid also has a small role in the movie.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

The decision to make Bane just dumb muscle was due to Poison Ivy being more of a seductive villain than a physical one. You know, because having Arnold “I have muscles in places most humans don’t” Schwarzenegger on hand doesn’t count as “physical”, I guess.

By sheer coincidence, Joel thinks Val Kilmer was the best Batman. Not sure I’d go on his word, given that he directed the one Val was in, but there you go.

Joel notes that pretty much everything seen in the movie was sold at the Warner Brothers stores that were in malls at the time. Is it any wonder now that those stores are so far out of business that half the people reading this will have to look it up to get the reference?

The stuff with Alfred was intended to give him a little more of a life apart from his usual routine. In other words, after three movies, it was decided to give Michael Gough something to do other than stand around while Bruce Wayne either enters or leaves a room.

Joel refers to Poison Ivy as a “beautiful, sexy” version of the Unabomber. Never really thought of it that way, to be honest. Never gotten that drunk or stoned. Actually, it does make a little sense, but it’s just a damn weird connection to make.

Recap Supplement: Batman & Robin (1997)

Joel periodically gets into the mechanics of the story, which for me is usually pretty cool to hear, being a writer and all. Actually, it’s even better when the movie doesn’t work, as it’s a rather roundabout way for the director to say, “This is what I was going for. Not sure what happened.”

Interestingly, Joel notes that they weren’t really influenced by the ‘60s TV series, but more by the humor Jim Carrey brought to the third movie. That sort of makes sense. The humor on the TV show didn’t clash with the rest of the stuff on display, which is more than I can say for this film.

About two-thirds of the way through, Joel runs out of steam and lapses into the sort of bland complimentary babble he got into during the last commentary track. To be fair, I think I would have gone about thirty minutes before throwing in the towel. Granted, I didn’t spend a year making the goddamn thing, so there’s that. He goes about an hour and 55 minutes, give or take a few seconds.

Joel takes full responsibility for how the film turned out. That’s fair, I suppose. I personally put more blame on the script that Akiva Goldsman turned in, and the studio wanting to have its cake and eat it too, but as the director states, he’s the one who shot the damn thing. I give him credit for acknowledging that. He’s not really that terrible a filmmaker, just usually very pedestrian with a bad nose for scripts. Or, it could just be that he has the pull to make a movie, just not the pull to make it his way or the highway.

And let’s face it, the extreme amount of crap he’s caught for making this movie is more than a little over the top, and in some cases, borderline psychotic. At the end of the day, all he did was make a bad movie. Genuine venom should be reserved for actual crimes like mass murder, putting lettuce on a breakfast sandwich, or eating New York-style pizza with a fork. You fold it a little and then eat it! What the hell is hard about that?

In addition to the commentary, we also get the trailer, which manages to perform the awesome feat of making the film look almost appealing. Almost.

It’s a little more jam-packed than the Superman IV DVD, but that’s not really what I would call a recommendation. The DVD presentation is good, but the movie is still horrible. The only question left is how much of a masochist you are.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Tag: The Batman Films

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  • Gallen_Dugall

    That was a noble public service good sir.

    • edharris1178

      Thanks.

  • Toby Clark

    “Genuine venom should be reserved for actual crimes like mass murder,
    putting lettuce on a breakfast sandwich, or eating New York-style pizza
    with a fork.”

    I laughed, but this joke works better with two major crimes, then something minor, not the other way around.

    • edharris1178

      Lettuce on a breakfast dish counts as it is essentially theft of intelligent cooking concepts. 😉

  • Thomas Stockel

    I remember seeing the trailer while waiting for another movie to start in the theater, I forget which one. But I and my friends could tell immediately Batman and Robin was going to be a shitstorm of suck.

    But I sensed it was going to be bad when maybe a year earlier we heard Patrick Stuart and Julia Roberts were being considered for the roles of Freeze and Ivy, and they opted instead for Aaaaahnold and Uma. Having never been a real Uma fan (Kill Bill being the exception) and considering the hack job Joel did on the character of Harvey Dent, I kinda figured the movie was not going to be good.

  • The_Stig

    Probably my favorite story involving this movie is the one about how George Clooney keeps a picture of himself dressed as Batman on his desk as a reminder of what happens when you do a film for a quick buck.

    As for Joel Schumacher, he guy’s not a -great- director but he is a solid one. He’s a lot closer to Orson Welles than he is to Uwe Boll. Most of the time you can count on his films entertaining you. While he does deserve some of the blame, I put most of the blame on Warner Bros for not giving a single spastic shit about their blockbuster tentpole franchise at the time, but also on Akiva Goldsman. As terrible as the final product was, his script, believe it or not was worse. For example, there are direct references to Aunt Harriet (yes, they went there) that Schumacher mercifully cut (a small mercy, since he left most of the rest of the awful dialogue in). This script was so bad, me and a friend did a MSTing of it once.

    Another person who deserves blame is score composer (I actually just misspelled that while I was typing and wrote ‘composter’ instead, but how fitting would that have been?) Elliot Goldenthal. Let it be known that I LIKED his Batman Forever score. It doesn’t mean I want to hear THE EXACT SAME SCORE in the next film. I can forgive a bad composer. I can’t abide a lazy one. Honestly, would a proper Mr. Freeze leitmotif have been too much to ask?

    But i there’s one thing I genuinely like about Batman and Robin, it’s something that Ed touched on in this article, and that’s the soundtrack. It’s pretty good thanks in no small part to Smashing Pumpkins. Even R. Kelly singing about GOTHAM CITY as a city of peace and love is so funny in that ‘I have no idea what the song’s about but the check cleared, so fuck it’ way you just have to love it.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Personally I have never been a fan of the score. I just think it is a little heavy handed. Elfman’s score starts off low and ominous and then becomes action packed, while Goldenthal’s feels too loud and bombastic and in your face, sort of the aural equivalent of the over the top neon glow of the film itself. There’s not subtlety to it. At all.

      • The_Stig

        It wasn’t -great- but it wasn’t terrible. The Batman Forever version at least. The B&R score was just a lazy rehash. Yeah Goldenthal’s theme from BF was loud, bombastic, over the top and subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, but so was Batman Forever and that’s why I didn’t have a problem with it. Did I like it more than Elfman’s theme? Hell no. Let’s be real here, but it was different and as far as movie scores go, I’ve heard worse.

  • jbwarner86

    I bought all four original Batman films for $3 each at Walmart not too long ago – “two to watch, two to mock”, as I said at the time. I listened to all the commentaries, including this one (because I hate myself, apparently), and I couldn’t help chuckling at the fact that even Schumacher gets sick of the movie towards the end, basically saying “Screw this, I’m out of here” with less than ten minutes to go.

    I wish they’d gotten more people than just the director for these commentaries. It might have cut down on the dead air, at least. And I’d really like to hear Akiva Goldsman try to defend himself for “let’s kick some ice”.

    SyFy did a marathon of all four movies last month, and I gotta commend their advertising people for their deception – they took the one good line from this movie (Alfred’s “attempt to control death itself” speech) and intercut it with the most threatening shots of the villains they could find, and it almost made the movie look halfway decent. It’s not like anybody doesn’t know this movie sucks, but at least they tried.