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Batman & Robin (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

There was no way this 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray journey through the 1989-1997 Batman series wasn’t dive-bombing into a brick wall to finish things off. As we all know, its inevitable that we come to a close on the notoriously despised Batman & Robin. Like the rest of the films in the series, it has been given a proper, caring restoration and charged up with a brand new Dolby Atmos track to pulsate through your viewing area. Along with that, the film carries over the outstanding previous bonus material found on the 2005 Special Edition DVD release (And subsequent Blu-ray editions for that matter). For the fans (?) of this film and the Batman completists (“Well, I might as well complete the set, right?”), the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray of Batman & Robin debuts on the illustrious format June 4th (Next week).

Film 

The villains, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman),  plot to freeze Gotham and to be the only remaining humans on the planet. But Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) must come together despite their differences and their butler Alfred’s (Michael Gough) deadly illness that only Mr. Freeze has the cure for. They find help from heroine, Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) while they plan to defeat Freeze, Ivy, and Bane.

Striking while the iron is hot is always important, but rushing just to get something out there can also prove incredibly disastrous. If you have to wait on something to get it right, its probably better to do so. Batman & Robin opted not to do that and wound up with a historically reviled film that ultimately closed the book on this chapter of the franchise instantly. While it is smart to realize that people show up for the costume and not the actor in it, Warner Bros should have waited on Val Kilmer to be available as his was the face of the successful Batman film before it. George Clooney has the jowls, but in a follow up to a BIG film like Forever, you probably want to keep your Batman intact. Schumacher and O’Donnell were able to return, but they opted to hurry up and go without Kilmer or Nicole Kidman. And instead of taking time to craft a story, they decided to just copy beat for beat, almost scene for scene, the previous film. “If it worked last time, why not?” And as we know, it did not work at all.

Defending Batman & Robin is a battle that no one is going to win. But, I think its important to point out that there are some good things brewing in the film. They don’t save the movie or even need to you to take another look at it. Its far more fruitful and interesting conversation/discussion than just hearing the same damn tired points drilled over and over again. It’s like reading the billionth article about problems with The Phantom Menace. Tired, boring, we are all PLENTY aware of these things (Jar Jar sucks? Jake Lloyd didn’t pull it off? Midichlorians are unnecssary? You don’t say! What startling revelations!). Yes we know about the ice puns, the stupid love potion that gets put on Batman, the super throwback campy vibe to the film, Bane sucks, Alicia Silverstone unable to provide a performance that masks the unfortunate circumstance of her cruddily written character. We’ve heard this for years, its on the surface for everyone to see, its tired its beaten, its boring to talk about honestly. Batman & Robin failed and still fails today. But there are some neat talking points buried under its thick neon coating that it should honestly get some credit for.

On paper (And not counting Bane), Batman & Robin actually has a better grasp and understanding of its villains than Batman Forever did. In this script they’ve basically scratched out “Two-Face” and penciled in “Mr. Freeze” and flipped The Riddler to the other green villain Poison Ivy. Schwarzenneger may be stuck with dumb one-liners and constant puns, he’s at least having a blast while doing so and is also rewarded with some dramatic moments where’s toned it down. Smartly, the writers have borrowed from Mr. Freeze’s backstory created by Paul Dini in Batman: The Animated Series. Ideally, it would create a sort of sympathetic backstory and give more meaning and purpose to his assault on Gotham City. Poison Ivy is notably devious in the film and possibly the best thing about the movie as Uma Thurman really tears it up as she not only gives a fun performance but feels a nice cartoonish version of the character come to life on screen. Her purpose and usefulness for Freeze is pretty clearly laid out here. Having Bane as her bodyguard is a cute touch, but unfortunately this Bane is a complete buffoon and feels forced into the script by way of suits knowing he was THE popular menace in the comics at the time. Compare that to the madness we have in the previous one and I have no problem saying that both Freeze and Ivy are EASILY better than Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face (And for me personally The Riddler). And all this, I remember you is “on paper”.

Another character who continues to be done right and intriguingly analyzed over the four films is our hero, Bruce Wayne. Many over the years have pointed out how the films were more about the villains and enamored with those characters and who would play them, while completely overlooking what good work was being done with the protagonist of all the films. In this film, Bruce is struggling with accepting the role of patriarch in his surrogate family that has formed over the years while having to accept that one day he’s going to have to do so without that of his own father figure in Alfred. Admittedly there is some stupid stuff regarding Alfred in this film, but there are DYNAMITE exchanges between Bruce and Alfred a few times in this movie that are far better than this film deserves. They are surprisingly well written and performed quite endearingly by Clooney and series staple Michael Gough. George Clooney has been clowned on for this movie over the years, but he was a actually a pretty good Bruce Wayne honestly, shaky had and all.

What wasn’t respected at the time, but people seem to note more now (And to little degrees, respect) is the film’s tone performing more as a homage to the 1960s Batman television series than that of the Gothic Fairytale world that had been set up in the first two films. From Clooney’s loose performance of just being himself 100% of this film, to the costumed henchman, hideouts and almost abusive overuse of Dutch angles, its easy to tell. This is Adam West’s Batman as done as a (at the time) modern, massive budget summer blockbuster. All we needed was some dancing and an action sequence with sharks and we’d have been set. This all could have probably worked and maybe retroactively been reassessed had the film’s runtime not been excessively long. The film easily hops over being too long, which makes its silliness less charming and instead continually rolls your eyes to the back of your head. Batman & Robin at a swift 90-100 minutes may have gone a long way for the film. For that matter, there were a lot of bullshit scenes and plot extensions that felt unnecessary that both could have been tighter and much more enjoyable experiences to return to over time.

Batman & Robin is the unfortunate ending the original Batman run that began with one of the biggest game changers in cinematic history. Between the first and last we’ve had two films that have aged around each other over time (Batman Returns has been elevated to god-like status, while Forever has some wondering what we were thinking back in 1995). Its presence and revisits have not only soured people on it, but its also revealed deeper cracks in its predecessor and shown that the two aren’t as big of a gap of quality as one might think. Ultimately, the film is a learning experience and important in terms of summer blockbusters and superhero filmmaking. Lessons were learned and great things came from this giant failure. Without it, we probably don’t get the Christopher Nolan films. Marvel movies probably even learned from it while making their own stumbles along the way.

There was a fifth Batman film (To be helmed by Schumacher) planned to follow this one called “Batman Triumphant” that was scripted but never made. It promised to be a Batman solo adventure (Cameos from Robin and Batgirl likely included) and feature the Scarecrow and Harley Quinn as the villain team up, with a cameo from The Joker in a return appearance from Jack Nicholson. Names like Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd were tossed out there for Scarecrow and Jenny McCarthy a possibility for Harley Quinn. Since there is a full script for it, I think it would be fantastic if the DC Animated Universe actually brought this film to life so we could really see what could’ve been in running motion (Ditto, Superman Lives). Its a what if, that we could actually have the resources to somewhat see the what if in this day and age. But, the book is closed for now, and it moved on to some of the most prestigious heights in superhero cinema history thanks to this one gigantic plunge to the bottom.

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc. They both come from the same source/restoration.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: Batman & Robin completes a perfect four corner, rounding the bases and stomping on home plate grand slam with the Warner Bros Batman series releases on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray. This transfer pretty much does what the Batman Forever did on your eyes and then even some more. As we know the film is that one, just bigger, so many of the stylistic choices and aesthetic remain the same, they just do things more frequently or enhance the sets with just more crazy lighting and wild color styles. Upon pressing play of the film you are treated to loads of darkness being used and blasting color in the sharp, crisp image. Within minutes of starting the viewing of the movie I paused it to text Why So Blu head honcho Brian White, in dumbfounded amazement over one of the most reviled blockbusters in history that “Oh my god, Batman & Robin looks f***ing incredible!” Yes, the transfer is THAT good.

Depth:  The film features another strong depth of field as many of the elaborate sets used in the film come off with some three dimensional appeal in this transfer. CGI holds up pretty well in this motion, even if there is a tiny hint at obviousness. Motion is smooth and cinematic with no distortions due to rapid movement to be found in any given sequence of the movie.

Black Levels: Once again, the blacks are quite natural and deep, but serve a lot as to bolster the color being displayed on screen. Costume detail like cracks in leather or a smudge on a batsuit are in full clear, sharp resolution to almost the touch. No details are lost at all here as the film lovingly plays with masterful shadow work that pays off big time in the transfer. No crushing was witnessed during this viewing, either.

Color Reproduction: The colors here even take Batman Forever to the next level. The movie does up that ante and the transfer here delivers it in spades. Almost every scene is filter and drowned in some sort of red, blue or green lighting. Make-up pops, costuming bursts off the screen and once again, back alley blacklight gangs soar of the screen in a surprising three dimensional looking appearance. The HDR is in full roast as it really jumps off the screen from signs, to lights, to beams to just simple lipstick. This is an expert course on doing luscious, bursting color on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures like dirt, dried blood, make-up, veins, wrinkles and more shine through with window-like quality. The most impressive bits come from out villains. Uma Thurman’s make-up designs from scene to scene are like little bits of art as you can see down to the detail and strokes put in to make it come to life. The best however, is Mr. Freeze’s blue head with all the sparkles, layers and textures that look absolutely wondrous in this display. You can almost feel the texture with your hand just by looking at it.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Chinese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Czech 2.0 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 2.0 Dolby Digital.

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai

Dynamics: Batman & Robin also completes the perfect running of absolutely transformative engaging Atmos tracks for the series. Once again, the opening titles might as well serve as the ultimate calibration and test for your speaker channels. Its followed instantly by a perfect demo-worthy opening action sequence. These film have really taken off and soared to amazing heights with their audio tracks. There is honestly a layer of enjoyment that is added to and enhances watching even a film like this. If you’re into home theater setups, you can’t help but be kind of excited to see what kind of surprises and punches they may pull with every upcoming action scene in the film. Yes, even for the likes of Batman & Robin.

Height: Of all the Batman films, Batman & Robin might have the most fun contributions from the ceiling channels. The plants of Poison Ivy’s lairs wrangle around above. Batman’s crashing through glass comes through, Freeze’s blaster fires above, a rocket soars in the air, our heroes sky surf from above and much more. Perhaps my favorite moment is during Mr. Freeze’s first tenure at Arkham, where they have a small space in the ceiling for him to sit under and cool and you can hear the air produced like from a vent and it almost sounds like your air is actually running a little heavily from your room.

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoober puts all the work in and you get plenty of bombastic explosions, roaring engines, raging fires, blasting freeze beams, destructive booming raging plants, punches landing and bumping music in the soundtrack. There is a full range of vibrations and they are expertly put on display here.

Surround Sound Presentation: Once again, the rolling motion in the Atmos mix brings  whirlwind presentation to life. Every environment invites some bit of impressive thought out work as all the speaker work in cooperation with one another to capture the essence of a room. Whether it be little bursts of air or a mutated plant squirming its way behind your seat, everything is so colorfully and playfully done you can’t help but be charmed by the effort being put into this brand new mix.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are nice, clear and deep into this mix. Some of the action sequences early on have a little more sharp sting to them on Clooney and Schwarzenegger’s shouting, but its not problematic and probably a super nitpick on my part.

Extras 

Batman & Robin comes with the remastered Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. Aside from the commentary, all bonus materials are found the on the standard Blu-ray disc. No new features have been added to this edition, all of them have appeared on the previous release for the film.

4K UHD

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Joel Schumacher

Blu-ray

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 6-Batman Unbound (SD, 27:04)

Batman & Robin: The Heroes (SD, 9:22) – Batman, Robin, Batgirl

Batman & Robin: The Villains (SD, 8:10) – Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane

Beyond Batman (SD, 50:49) – Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin, Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin, Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin, Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Make-up of Batman & Robin, Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin

Deleted Scene: Alfred’s Lost Love (SD, :47)

Music Videos (SD, 14:16) – “The End is the Beginning is the End” by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Look Into My Eyes” by Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, “Foolish Games” by Jewel

Warner Bros has decided to “cancel” R. Kelly. The music video for his song “Gotham City”, which was once included on the DVD and Blu-ray releases for the film, is not present on this new disc.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:29) 

Summary 

Nope, Batman & Robin hasn’t improved at all over the years, though distancing one’s self from the disappointment, there are aspects to cherry pick an find appreciation in. The one thing this film really does excel at and there is no denying, is at its presentation on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format. Prepare to be blown away once again at the transfer of outstanding visuals and magnificent audio on this release to close out the set of 4 films. The Batman series has proven to be a complete revelation on the format and earns its place in the conversation for the best offering we’ve seen so far, be it catalog title or new.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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