It’s fascinating going back and revisiting Batman & Robin, over a decade after it first moseyed its way onto cinema screens. I was one of the many who ponied up their cash at the box office, and sat dumbfounded as the Batman cinematic franchise was destroyed before my eyes. And I was lured in again when the DVD of the film was made available, because it was one of the earliest reference discs for top quality sound and picture. This was back at a point where there weren’t many DVDs on the market, and finding one with top notch image quality was quite a stretch. Thus, Batman & Robin found itself picking up quite a few sales. Some of us even managed to sit through the film again.
The Blu-ray market is something different altogether, though, with reference quality discs to be found in growing abundance. And this, bluntly, isn’t one of them. We found the picture quality here to be surprisingly soft, particularly in contrast to more modern blockbusters, and there’s a little bit of a feel of shovelware as a result. It does still improve picture quality over the DVD, but not by as much as you’d expect. It’s nonetheless enough to show up the ropeyness of a couple of effects, the surfboard sequence and Chris O’Donnell being encased in ice being our favourite examples. The audio is stronger, but still not what you’d fully hope for from a Batman movie.
Which leaves the Blu-ray to be assessed on the strength of the film, and the quality of the extras. You might already have a bit of a clue as to where this is going.
The film, for me, continues the rot that was firmly in place with Batman Forever. Bluntly, 80% of what’s wrong here is germinating in the shambles that preceded it (which, listening to Joel Schumacher’s commentary track, is the film that resurrected the Batman franchise…), and it comes as little surprise that everything goes horribly off the rails. And it really does.
Sometimes when we talk about bad films, there’s some guilty pleasures to be gleamed from sitting through them. That’s not the case here. Aside from some quite brilliant set design – and the likes of Gotham Observatory are excellent pieces of work – this is a horrible mess of a film. Toned down to take any sign of any edge away, and with a supposed family knockabout superhero film in its place, it’s almost like rubbing salt into the wound to try and talk about where it went wrong. Let’s just leave it as Batman & Robin became the wake-up call for Hollywood that corporate control, and advertiser control, of blockbusters was a very bad thing. And without it, we wouldn’t have had the need for such a drastic reboot that forced a Warner Bros exec to give Christopher Nolan a call. Let’s stick with that, rather than try and dwell on Arnie chucking out another terribly scripted, terribly delivered line. A freeze is coming? Oh fuck off, Arnie.
But what of the extras package? That’s been ported across from the special edition DVD, and it’s really quite a bountiful selection as a result. The highlight for us remains Joel Schumacher’s commentary, which never goes right out and concedes the lack of quality in the film, but still touches quite a lot on where things went wrong.
The thought, as Schumacher discusses, that he could have tackled the Year One story instead, is clearly a double-edged sword, and his love of the source material is clear, too. But you can see the mistakes, none more so than when the director describes consulting his six-year old godson over which villains to put in the film. That godson must now be in his teens, and shuddering at his input.
Still, there’s little faulting the commentary track that Schumacher has put together here, which may only offer nuggets of insight, but they’re enough to confirm your fears. And, to be fair to the bloke, he makes no attempt to whitewash the film, and his thoughts on it.
The rest of the disc has a fair whack of other goodies to choose from. The Shadows Of The Bat documentary (which spans the other releases in the saga, too) is strong, and there’s a wealth of behind the scenes making of material, too. You also get some forgettable music videos, and a look at the heroes and villains of the film (there’s a gag there, but it’s probably been made too many times already).
So what does all this add up to? A good special edition for a genuinely terrible film, but not one that benefits from moving across, surprisingly, to the Blu-ray format. Given that the extras material is already available on the far cheaper DVD, that may be the way to go this time.
The Film:The Disc: