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Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (1998)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/27/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/19/2018
Hit movies are always bound to spawn something, typically sequels. In addition, we can see things like toys, video games, fast-food restaurant tie-in, and, in more recent years, lots and lots of cosplay. Every once in a while, a blockbuster movie (or even a minor hit) can lead to a television show based on or inspired by said film. Tim Burton's 1989 Batman introduced a new Gotham City which was a hybrid of old and new, which fancy gadgets sharing shots with cars which looked like they were from the 1930s. Batman: The Animated Series debuted in 1992 and it brought along the look from Burton's film. But, it also included enough nods to the original comic book stories to impress the fanboys and thus a classic show was born. And although the series ran for only four seasons, its influence is clearly felt in the movie one-shot Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero opens in the Arctic, where Dr. Victor Fries AKA Mr. Freeze (voiced by Michael Ansara) is living. With him is his beloved wife, Nora, who is kept in suspended animation while Dr. Fries tries to find a cure for the ailment which felled her. When a submarine accidentally crashes into the lair and pierces Nora's containment unit, Fries flees to Gotham City to seek help. Once there, Fries confronts Dr. Gregory Belson (voiced by George Dzundza) and convinces the man to help him. They determine that a transplant from someone with Nora's rare blood type will save her, even if the donor is not willing. They kidnap Barbara Gordon (voiced by Mary Kay Bergman), apparently unaware that she is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon (voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who, of course, knows Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) and Robin (voiced by Loren Lester). Soon, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are on the trail of Fries, but will they be in time to save Barbara?
I don't know if Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero is an official follow-up film to Batman: The Animated Series, but to my untrained eye, they certainly look similar. I do know that the tone is the same. One of the reasons why Batman: The Animated Series garnered so much respect was its serious tone. Yes, this was ostensibly a kid's show, as it aired in a cartoon block, but the show's dark and moody art was matched by an approach to the material which mirrored the mature aspect which was often presented in comic books. Batman and Robin were fighting crime and the criminals were bad people who needed to be stopped. The show wasn't overly violent or graphic, but it didn't shy away from the fact that the world can be a dangerous place. The one exception to this was the Batman character himself, who presented as much more even-keeled here, and someone who could actually enjoy himself at times, and not the borderline psychopath he's been shown to be in other projects.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero picks up the mantle of this perfectly and presents us with a "movie" which, at just under 70-minutes, plays more like an extended episode from the series. And, again, the piece raises the bar by taking a mature approach to the subject matter. For example, Mr. Freeze is not presented as a classic villain. We see that he is a complex character whose deep love for his wife has lead him to a life of crime. Also, the way in which Belson and then Barbara are taken by Mr. Freeze doesn't pull any punches. The finale delivers a Batman and Robin who want to rescue Barbara, but don't want to simply assault Mr. Freeze to do it.
The movie does have some minor flaws, the biggest of which is that it assumes that we are familiar with all of the characters and situations. I've heard of Mr. Freeze, but I don't know enough about the character to understand how he's able to swim in arctic waters. Was he in a lab accident, like so many other comic characters. Some may complain that there's not enough Batman here, as we really don't get any Bat-action until the second half. And, let's not talk about the weird moment where Commissioner Gordon appears to be hitting on his own daughter. These issues aside, Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero is a solid piece of comic book filmmaking. The people who make the current DC feature films could certainly take a lesson from this.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero also doesn't explain what kind of mission the submarine is conducting on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The movie has been framed at 1.33:1 (more evidence that it's based on the show) and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Hand-drawn television animation has rarely been known for its abundance of detail, and the HD transfer here does reveal some lapses in quality in the drawings. Also, the picture is somewhat soft at times. The colors look very good, even with the movie's overall dark tone. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2-channel Stereo audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences certainly deliver some obvious stereo effects, and the music never overpowers the dialogue.
The Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We get four episodes from Batman television shows which feature the Mr. Freeze character. Two from Batman: The Animated Series, one from The New Batman Adventures, and one from Batman Beyond. "Art of Batman: Music Montage" (3 minutes) offers a reel of clips from the movie combined with concept art and storyboards. "Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman" (1 minute) has an artist drawing the character in fast-motion. The final extra is a TRAILER for the movie.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long