This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
It’s less of a thing now, but in the 1980s and 1990s, major blockbusters were sometimes accompanied by a making-of book. Sure, these tended to be quite glossy and promotional, but they also had to fill 100-200 pages with something. And in the case of Batman & Robin, one of 1997’s two notorious blockbuster flops (Speed 2 being the other), Michael Singer penned a 128 page guide to what was supposed to be the biggest film of the year.
It’s interesting, too, digging in far more detail than you might expect into the technical details. Here are 25 of the things that we found out from reading it…
1. Bob Kane was involved with the script
Batman co-creator Bob Kane is one of the many interviewees for the book, and we’re told that he’s “delighted with the turn his creation has taken under the direction of Joel Schumacher.”
Kane, apparently, sat next to Schumacher oftentimes on the set of Batman & Robin, and offered advice to the director. The pair clearly got on very well.
2. Schumacher had key phrases when directing actors
The book explains how friendly Joel Schumacher was to guests on the Batman & Robin set, and that he’s favorite superlative was “that was fabulous.” However, lest anyone think he was a pushover, Schumacher was also known to say “do not mistake my kindness for weakness.” He would, as he came close to wrapping a scene, also announce “this one’s for the actors,” which gave his cast leverage to try something different for one last take.
3. Batman Forever barely scratched the surface for Schumacher
As pleased as he and Warner Bros were with Batman Forever, Joel Schumacher called his production designer, Barbara Ling, when he was offered the new movie. Her words? “Joel… we haven’t even scratched the surface”. As Schumacher admitted, “I think I had that feeling too … I felt that what we were able to bring to Batman Forever was a lot of humor, color, and action, and if audiences liked that, we could bring them even more fun and games.”
4. They deliberately moved away from the ‘wounded Batman’ approach
“It becomes rather difficult to tell the same sad story over and over, especially with Batman movies,” said screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, in reference to the sense of loss beneath the character of Batman. “So in Batman & Robin we play less with how wounded Batman is over this past tragedy, and more with the potential loss of what he loves now.”
George Clooney was toeing the party line, too, adding “we have now seen three Batman films in which he talks about how his parents were murdered when he was a little boy, and the truth is that people now want this man to stop talking about it already!”
Batman Begins would follow Batman & Robin.
Incidentally, as cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt would say, the idea with Batman & Robin was for “the story to be amplified into comic operatic mythology.”
5. The film boasted more action sequences than its predecessor
As producer Peter Macgregor-Scott said, “there will be something like 3000 specific, different pieces of action on film.” Around 60% of the Batman Forever crew returned to help them realize it.
6. Joel Schumacher reckoned George Clooney was the best Batman
An easy way to snigger at in hindsight, granted, as even Clooney himself wouldn’t put himself in the top three screen Batmans. In Schumacher’s words, though, “Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer were both wonderful as Batman. But I think George is the best of all. He’s very much a man, a wonderful actor and of course, extremely handsome … George has also brought a real humanity and humor to the piece, an accessibility that I don’t think anybody else has been able to.”
7. Arnie had his eye on the global market…
As author Michael Singer notes, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s involvement as Mr Freeze in Batman & Robin “can only boost his already mighty reputation.” But Arnie also admits in the book that he’s got one eye on the international markets when he takes on a role. “When I read a script one of the first questions I ask myself is whether the movie is for the entire world. For some, perhaps Italy or Germany or Japan or Brazil may be nice places to take a vacation. For me, these are important markets with audiences seeking entertainment, just as Americans do.”
8. … but he was always worried about heritage
“I had to figure out how to separate my Mr Freeze from [Otto Preminger, Eli Wallach and George Sanders’, on the TV show], and how to make it memorable within the context of all the other terrific Batman villains. Because, you know, these movies are going to go on forever, and after people see Batman X, they’ll look back and talk about their favorite villains,” Schwarzenegger also said.
9. George Clooney was worried about messing up too
George Clooney has, on more than one occasion, apologized for Batman & Robin. Even at the time of making the film, though, he was conscious of the pressures. “I don’t want to screw up what has already worked so well,” he said. “It’s the most successful movie franchise ever, so I’m not trying to make this thing ‘right’. You try and do it differently, but you don’t want to be different just to be different.”
“Playing Batman is a high point in my career,” he added.
10. The scene from 1989’s Batman that persuaded Pat Hingle to play Commissioner Gordon was never shot
Pat Hingle debuted his take on Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, and he was back again for Batman & Robin. In the making-of book, though, he reveals a key scene from the original Batman, that was one of the two main reasons he took the role in the first place.
“In the initial Batman,” he said, “Gordon was just a cop on the beat and, after hearing the gunshots, was the first one at the scene of the murder of young Bruce Wayne’s parents. He finds this little boy, crying over his dead mother and father, and the next day the Gotham newspaper runs a photograph of this kid clinging on to Gordon, who is trying to console him.”
“That’s why every time I look at Bruce Wayne, what I’m trying to say with my eyes is, ‘do you recognise me yet, guy?’”
The other reason Hingle took the role? He and his wife had never been to London, where the original Batman was filming.
11. Bane’s relationship with Poison Ivy had an Of Mice And Men parallel
Jeep Swenson had the thankless task of bringing Bane to the screen in Batman & Robin, yet in the book, he’s one of the most interesting interviewees. “It’s almost like the relationship between George and Lenny in Of Mice And Men,” he says of the link between Poison Ivy and Bane in the film. “With the more diminutive person taking charge and telling the bigger one how to think.”
12. Art nouveau was an influence on the sets
One of the best features of Batman & Robin, for which it rarely gets due credit, is the extraordinary set designs. They’re the work of the aforementioned Barbara Ling, and she said that “for Batman & Robin, I wanted to add even more architectural extremes than we did for Batman Forever. It’s still holding true to the spirit of Russian constructivists, but we wanted to weave in more of an art nouveau feeling.”
13. The ice was made out of fibre resin
It took five months of research to come up with the ice effect that would coat Gotham City in Batman & Robin. In the end, it was a combination of fibre resin that won out, and it took six straight months to make enough for the film. “We wanted them to have some translucency, to take ice into a surreal place,” Barbara Ling said of the set effect.
14. There are classic horror influences in the set design
The Project Gilgamesh laboratory, in the film, is set in a South American jungle, in an abandoned prison. As Bob Kane called it, “Frankenstein meets Las Vegas.” Again, this was deliberate. “The equipment in the Gilgamesh lab was based on movies like the original Frankenstein, Dr. Cyclops, all sorts of great 30s to 50s movies featuring mad scientists, and then taken one more step by using a laser to cut through from low to high tech.”
15. The hardest bit of the set to design?
That’d be the tank that holds Mr Freeze’s wife, Nora Fries. It went through many variations before they settled on a triangular shape for it. In the scheme of the dramatic set design, it’s a surprisingly small part that gave them the most trouble.
16. The Freezemobile could get to 50 mph
Mr Freeze’s transportation of choice, The Freezemobile, could actually do 50 mph in real life. It had a two speed gearbox in it, and was described as “really just an enormous golf cart.” The production team had to go with an electric motor for it. A gas-powered engine would have struggled with the limited space in soundstages and the quick acceleration required.
Oh, and they had safety concerns over the mix of heat and fuel. The whole vehicle took nine weeks from start to finish to construct.
17. The freeze gun was a nightmare
The strobing effect on Mr Freeze’s cunningly-named Freeze Gun required some complex synchronization work with the camera. Thus, when Schwarzenegger pulled the trigger, it sent a signal to a unit reading pulses on the camera. That then sent a signal back to the gun, to tell it when to flash. That meant it was synchronized to the opening of the camera’s shutter. Furthermore, it also sent impulses to the separate lightning strike units, to make sure they flashed at the right time too.
Oh, and they built it before Arnie was on set. When he picked it up for the first time, “it looked like he was holding a toothbrush,” so they popped off to make it 30% bigger.
18. Batman and Robin were supposed to have “the greatest martial arts skills of anyone in the world”
Remember that ice-set action sequence in Gotham Museum? It would be fair to say that the Batman & Robin team had big ambitions for it. Schumacher’s brief to stunt department head Ronnie Rondell was “give me the best you’ve got,” and hence a broad range of stunt players were recruited, across gymnastics, martial arts and skating.
To be fair, there’s some very skilled work in the sequence too. But at the heart of it, Schumacher “wanted Batman and Robin to display the greatest martial arts skills of anyone in the world.”
19. The batsuit had never been lighter – but at a cost
Costume supervisor Dan Bronson designed new suits for Batman, Robin and Batgirl for the movie, that were 35 pounds in weight each. That’s a third of the weight of the Batsuit in Batman Forever. The downside? The foams used to make them didn’t last as long. In all, 50 individual Batsuits had to be made for the film, to cover George Clooney and his stunt doubles.
20. The batteries that powered Arnie’s suit only lasted 10 minutes
For his full Mr Freeze suit, Arnold Schwarzenegger had to keep the batteries to power the blue lights in a backpack built into it. The problem? There were thousands of LEDs to power, and oftentimes, the batteries afforded only ten minutes of power. 15 suits were made, requiring 2500 LEDs in each.
21. The botanical garden gorilla suits were made from old Santa wigs
At one stage in Batman & Robin, Poison Ivy – played by Uma Thurman – ’emerges’ from one of the magenta gorilla suits in the scene. Turns out that “the magenta gorillas are made from 450 Santa wigs dipped with black roots and tips.” Not just any old Santa wigs, either, as they had to try samples of many different ones to get just the right texture. It’s a glamorous life behind the scenes of a movie…
22. This is the first Batman movie to hire dancers
24 of them, in fact, for the Gotham Charity Flower Ball. Presumably the Masquerade Ball in Batman Returns had people who could dance already on the payroll…
23. There’s a digital Batman & Robin in there
Batman & Robin was one of the first films to deploy a ‘digital’ stuntman – a CG replacement for a human character in an action sequence. Pacific Data Images – who would go on to become a fundamental part of DreamWorks Animation’s output before it shut the facility a few years’ back (Antz, for instance, was a PDI film) – had worked on digital characters for Batman Forever. But Andrew Adamson – who would go on to direct the first two Shreks and the first two Narnia films – was visual effects supervisor on the movie, and he noted that “this time, we’re actually going to have musculature and facial detail.” This was for the sequence where Batman and Robin leap out of a rocket at 20,000 feet, and, er, ‘skyboard’ home.
24. The Batman cape swooshing sound was some loose tarp
Hunting for a sound to get across the swoosh of Batman’s cape, the sound design team looked at the Warner Bros Studio water tower on its backlot. The tower had been “covered in a massive tarpaulin”, and during a windy rainstorm, the team snuck under it with its microphones and recording equipment. That’s a large part of the sound of Clooney’s cape that you get in the movie.
25. The film was finished early
A two-year turnaround between movie sequels is considered more the norm than not now, but it was all but unheard of – at least for films not shot back to back – in the mid ’90s. Warner Bros, nonetheless, wanted Batman & Robin quickly, and in spite of the time pressure, Schumacher brought his movie shoot in ten days early. The final shots were done on January 27th 1997, after a five month shoot. The end of production was marked by the Batsignal being projected onto the interior of the set.