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Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday Bat-inee: Batman & Robin

Are you ready for the last “Monday Bat-inee” for this month?  I hope you are, because we’re concluding this look back on Batman month by featuring the last edition of the original Batman film franchise which began twenty-four years ago.

Unfortunately, many also believe that the film in today’s spotlight was easily the worst installment in the entire Batman franchise.  I can’t say that I disagree with that statement, as it’s easily my least favourite of all the Batman films as well.  But, the reason why I feel this way?  It may surprise you.

When you talk about why a movie fails, there are a lot of reasons why.  Sometimes, the casting might be a little bit off, and actors either deliver their lines flatly, or they share no chemistry with anybody else.  And, sometimes the actor just doesn’t suit the part, no matter how hard they try to make it work.  A lot of people seem to feel that this is what happened in this film, and again, I don’t disagree with them.  For me, it’s just not the main reason.

Then there’s the whole idea that the director and crew of a film can make or break it.  Certainly, Joel Schumacher was no stranger to the Batman franchise, as he directed 1995’s “Batman Forever”, which was a huge summer blockbuster that year.  Yet, for whatever reason, his second stint as director of a Batman film flopped.  I didn’t have any issue with the direction of the film, aside from the fact that there were obvious goofs with synchronizing the dialogue with the moving lips of the actors...but that’s more of a goof-up with the sound/editing crew, not necessarily the director.

If you honestly want my opinion as to why the 1997 film “Batman & Robin” flopped at the box office, it’s that I felt that at that time, the Batman franchise was getting a bit stale.  I’m not saying that the movie shouldn’t have been made at all...I think it could have worked, had the franchise taken a bit of a break, and the movie was released about five years after “Batman Forever”. 

When I was growing up, all the successful movies that I knew of had three installments.  There was the original, as well as two sequels.  And, that to me was perfectly fine.  Any more than that and you run the risk of getting bored with the series.  At least, I thought so, until the Harry Potter series proved me wrong somewhat.

But the theory makes sense, doesn’t it?  The “Lethal Weapon” franchise was perfect when it was a trilogy.  There was no need to make a fourth, as far as I was concerned, and the fourth film is my least favourite of the bunch.  The same deal goes with the “Naked Gun” series.  The first two films were genius, and while “Naked Gun 33 1/3” was fairly entertaining, the formula felt a bit bland by then.

As far as I’m concerned, the original Batman series should have ended with “Batman Forever”.  At least that way, it could have ended on a somewhat high note.  Instead, “Batman & Robin” sort of left a bad taste in my mouth because it didn’t seem like it was as good as the previous three films.  It may just be my opinion, but the whole film seemed to be slapped together in an editing suite in just twelve hours. 

But when director Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman series (with Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne) in 2005 with “Batman Begins”, it offered a fresh new look at a classic superhero movie, and the Batman love affair was renewed.  I think part of the reason for the success can be credited to the cast, crew, and the huge marketing blitz that surrounded the film during the summer of 2005...but I also believe that in the eight years that passed between “Batman & Robin” and “Batman Begins” gave everyone the chance to start all over, and refresh the series once more. 

Anyway, enough about my opinion.  We have a movie to discuss even though it was critically lauded.

“Batman & Robin” was released on June 20, 1997, and as mentioned before was directed by Joel Schumacher.  Once again, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle reprised their roles as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon.  Chris O’Donnell also returned to portray Dick Grayson/Robin.  The rest of the cast was completely different, and all I have to say is that some of the casting decisions made me sort of scratch my head a bit.

I didn’t really have anything bad to say about Uma Thurman’s performance as Dr. Pamely Isley/Poison Ivy, but I don’t have anything good to say either.  As someone who thought that Uma did a great job in “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill”, her performance in this film didn’t do much for me.  I’d also like to say that I also had no issue with Alicia Silverstone who played Barbara Wilson (a.k.a. Batgirl), but she was more of a supporting character than a lead role, and I couldn’t really get a feel on her.

(Turns out that there was a reason why Alicia Silverstone didn’t have a whole lot of scenes...and you’ll learn the reason a little bit later.)

However, I fail to understand why Joel Schumacher was so insistent on getting Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the role of Mr. Freeze in the movie.  Not to make any puns here, but Schwarzenegger’s performance left me a bit...cold.  I mean, Terminator, yes.  Commando, yes.  Heck, I’d even admit to liking him in “Kindergarten Cop”!  As a Batman villain though?  Well, let’s just say that I would have been more accepting of other actors on the shortlist.

And, I’m sorry for those of you who love him, but George Clooney was the weakest Batman of the whole franchise.  I thought he was fantastic in "ER", and the “Ocean’s Eleven” series, but honestly, I was kind of hoping that Val Kilmer would have returned for this installment.  It might have made this film easier to watch, though I do give Clooney some credit for stepping into a difficult role and trying to make it his own.

(And, that’s despite the fact that I saw the Batman films out of order...just in case you were curious, the order for me was Forever, Returns, Batman, B&R...)

Anyway, I won’t bore you with details of the plot too much.  The plot was a bit hard to follow (which was another reason why I was sort of bored by the film), but the gist of it is that a doctor by the name of Victor Fries was desperately trying to save his wife’s life after she contracted a rare disease known as MacGregor’s Syndrome.  Unfortunately, an accident in a cryogenics lab caused Fries to become Mr. Freeze, a Batman foe who becomes dependent on a diamond-powered subzero suit.

Meanwhile, botanist Pamela Isley witnesses her mad scientist boss Jason Woodrue (John Glover) administer a strength serum into a convict, transforming him into “Bane” (Robert “Jeep” Swenson), and during an argument with him, she ends up getting pushed into a shelf loaded with deadly toxins.  The toxins do not kill her, but the chemical reaction transforms her into “Poison Ivy”, and after killing Dr. Woodrue, flees from South America with Bane to cause mischief in Gotham City.

Needless to say, when Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze come together, they have their own separate agendas as they attempt to destroy Gotham City with their powers.  It’s up to Batman to save the day.  But what happens when Robin suddenly begins to rebel against Batman?  And, how does Barbara (Alfred’s college-aged niece) fit into the scene?

Again, I won’t reveal the ending...such as it was.  I never reveal endings in Monday Matinees, regardless of how good or bad the film is.

But, what I will reveal is some behind the scenes trivia in regards to this movie, and maybe it will give you some indication as to why the film wasn’t as successful as it could have been.  I know that I certainly learned a lot.

01 – According to Joel Schumacher, he and Val Kilmer had difficulty working together on the set of “Batman Forever”, and he remarked that he let him go from the project.  But in reality, Kilmer had signed on to work on the 1997 film, “The Saint”.

02 – The film was nominated for eleven Golden Raspberry Awards.  Alicia Silverstone actually “beat” Uma Thurman for the Award for Worst Supporting Actress!

03 – Although the Smashing Pumpkins also earned a Razzie nomination for their original song “The End is the Beginning is the End” which appeared in the film, it simultaneously won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance!  I guess if you had to win one of the two, a Grammy is better than a Razzie!

04 – I’m beginning to understand why I felt that the film was rushed.  The production wrapped up two weeks ahead of schedule.

05 – This film was Warner Brothers’ attempt to make the Batman franchise family-friendly.  Considering that it currently holds an approval rating of less than 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m guessing that gamble failed.

06 – Interestingly enough, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor Patrick Stewart was considered for the role of Mr. Freeze.  In all honesty, I think I might have preferred him over Schwarzenegger. 

07 – Schwarzenegger reportedly spent six hours getting his Mr. Freeze makeup and wardrobe.  But, when you consider that his take home pay was twenty-five million dollars, I suppose it was worth the money!

08 – Despite the negative reaction of the movie, it still managed to make almost $240 million at the box office during the summer of 1997.

09 – There was supposed to have been a planned fifth installment of the original franchise entitled “Batman Triumphant”, which would have been released in 1999 with Clooney and O’Donnell reprising their roles.  But after the dismal response to “Batman & Robin”, the “Triumphant” project was scrapped for good.

10 – Although George Clooney was happy to play Batman in “Batman & Robin” (mainly because his cousin, Miguel Ferrer was a huge Batman fan), he later admitted that the film might have “killed the franchise”.

11 – Clooney filmed episodes of “ER” while working on “Batman & Robin”, and sometimes visited the set of “ER” in full Batman costume.  I wonder how Julianna Margulies, Noah Wyle, and Anthony Edwards responded to that...

12 – Sadly, Robert “Jeep” Swenson died of a heart attack just two months after the film was released, on August 18, 1997.  He was just 40 years old.

13 – This film had the heaviest Batman costume of the four within the original Batman series, weighing in at a whopping ninety pounds!

14 – Ever wonder where the production crew came up with the name for “MacGregor Syndrome”?  It was named after one of the film’s producers, Peter Macgregor-Scott.

15 – Bruce Wayne/Batman’s credit card has an expiry date of “Forever”, which is a nice throwback to the previous film.

16 – Another reference to “Batman Forever” can be found in the scene where Mr. Freeze is held in the prison evidence room...the costumes that Two-Face and The Riddler wore in the previous film!

17 – Other actresses considered for the role of Poison Ivy included Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts, and Demi Moore.  I’ll admit that Demi Moore would have made an interesting choice, but not so much the other two.

18 – Jesse Ventura makes an appearance in the film, meaning that “Batman & Robin” was a film that contained two future U.S. Governors.  Ventura became Governor of Minnesota in 1998, and Schwarzenegger became the Governor of California in 2003.

19 – A lot of Alicia Silverstone’s scenes were edited out of the film because Alicia had gained a few pounds while shooting the film and her costume had to be refit.  When the media turned the story into a scandal at Silverstone’s expense, Schumacher vehemently stood up for the actress at every opportunity.  While I’ll admit that Schumacher’s vision for this film wasn’t executed as well as it could have, I’ll also admit to having a ton of respect for him based on his defense of Silverstone.

20 – Before Clooney was given the role of Batman, David Duchovny was considered for the role.

21 – Believe it or not, two extras on set were arrested and fired after they tried to sell bootlegged footage of the film taken from security cameras!  Whoops!

22 – In the ‘TOO MUCH INFORMATION’ files, Clooney admitted to peeing inside the Batman suit on at least one occasion!  Though, to be fair, it took a long time for Clooney to get out of the heavy costume.

23 – If the picture of Barbara’s mother in the film looks vaguely familiar, it’s because the image is that of Gloria Stuart, who played the elderly Rose in 1997’s “Titanic”.

24 – Nicole Kidman was supposed to play Poison Ivy in “Batman Forever”, but when Schumacher realized that there would be too many Batman villains in one movie, Poison Ivy was added to “Batman & Robin” instead

25 – Mr. Freeze makes about 27 puns related to ice, snow, and freezing during the film...which in my opinion, was 24 puns too many.

26 – Before Alicia Silverstone was cast as Batgirl, Christina Ricci was considered for the role, but she was busy filming “The Ice Storm” at the time.

27 – When asked what prop he would like to take home from the movie set, Clooney responded with Elle Macpherson (who played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Julie Madison).

And, that wraps up our final Monday Bat-inee.  Did all of you enjoy this series this month?  If so, let me know!  If I get enough feedback, I’ll consider doing the rebooted film series at a future date!  J

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