Thursday, March 22, 2018

BATMAN & MR. FREEZE: SUBZERO (1997) (WAC Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 67 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS HD-MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles  
Video: 1080p HD Full FRame (1.37:1) 
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara, Loren Lester, Mary Kay Bergman, George Dzundza, Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

In the wake of the deeply disappointing big screen version of Mr. Freeze (cornily played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin (1997) fans of Batman could at least take solace in this new adventure set in the world of Batman the Animated Series, an animated movie that truly does justice to one of Batman's greatest foes, the tragic villain Dr. Victor Fries (AKA Mr. Freeze, voiced by the late Michael Ansara, Batman TAS). The story has Mr. Freeze desperately trying to save his beloved wife Nora, who fan of the animated series will remember is frozen in a suspended state of cryogenisis and in need of an organ transplant. It turns out that Barbara Gordon (AKA Batgirl, voiced by the late Mary Kay Bergman, South Park) is the only viable donor candidate for the procedure, the fact that she's alive isn't much of a deterrent for conflicted villain Freeze who enlists/coerces a former surgeon-colleague to perform the procedure. When Barbara is kidnapped by Freeze (unaware that she is Batgirl) our heroes Batman (voiced by best Batmen EVER Kevin Conroy) and Robin (voiced by Loren Lester) track the villain to his chilly Arctic lair to save the day, having to contend with not only Freeze's powerful cold-weapon but his pet polar bears Hotchka and Shaka!

More so than Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) this one feels like an extended two-parter from Batman the Animated Series, mixed in with some nascent 3-D animated sequences, digital elements that haven't aged too awfully in my opinion. The story is a solid one, we get some enjoyable Robin and Batgirl action, fighting alongside Batman in a Mr. Freeze story-arc that is nicely multi-layered, sure he's a bad guy, but his motivations are coming from a place of desperation and loss, so you can empathize. In the shadow of the awful Batman and Robin movie this animated adventure was a welcome return to form for the Mr. Freeze, though the addition of a pair of loyal pet polar bears and an adopted Inuit son seem a bit much (though still not as corny as the Batman and Robin movie), this is very entertaining Bruce Timm-era entry. 

Audio/Video: Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1997) arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive framed in the original 1.37 full frame aspect ratio, as was intended. The film did receive a cropped/matted 1.66:1 widescreen version on laserdisc at one point, though the original intended presentation is as is, full frame. The animation looks fantastic, the best I've seen it look on home video, the animation looks crisp, colors are nicely saturated and blacks are deep and inky. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track, with optional English subtitles, everything sounds great, well-balanced with the score from Batman the Animated Series composer Michael McCuistion having some nice oomph behind it. 

Onto the extras, WAC did something very cool, they've included the complete Mr. Freeze saga from the various animated series, even noting where this one falls into the story, which is all sort of awesome. Mr. Freeze was always one of the coolest (zing!) villains in Batman's rogues gallery, a tragic villain with some serious gravitas, not a wholly sympathetic character but you could at least understand his motivations. These four episodes are unfortunately presented in standard definition but look and sound great nonetheless.

Other extras on the disc include a brief music montage of the artwork including character sketches, backgrounds, and storyboards, a 'how to draw Batman' tidbit, plus a theatrical trailer. I wish the four episodes would have been presented in HD (after all, they are preparing a Batman the Animated Series Blu-ray box set for release) but it's awesome to have all the Mr. Freeze episodes on one release. The other extras are non-essential in my opinion, but just having all the Mr. Freeze episodes, including his brief resurrection from Batman Beyond, is extra enough for me. 

Worth noting, fans have speculated at the existence of not only a 5.1 surround sound mix of the audio but a proper widescreen version of the film, these speculations are based on comments made by the late director Boyd Kirkland in an interview, and in more recent message board/Facebook posts from his son backing up his father's claims. Warner have responded that these elements simply do not exist and that to their knowledge have never existed. Stating on their Facebook page that the film's original aspect ratio is fullframe and that the previous Laserdisc version was a crop/matted 1.66:1 presentation, that this full frame version is the intended and most complete version, and I'm happy with that. That's not to say I wouldn't have enjoyed the matted 1.66:1 widescreen version of the film on this disc, both options would have been preferable, but as I said, I'm quite happy with what we have here.

Special Features: 
- The Mr. Freeze Saga in Chronological Order includes the episodes:
 "Heart of Ice" (22 min)(from Batman the Animated Series), "Deep Freeze" (21 min) (from Batman the Animated Series), "Cold Comfort", (21 min) (from The New Batman Adventures) and "Meltdown" (21 min)(from Batman Beyond) in Standard Definition
- Art of Batman: Music Montage (3 min) 
- Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 

I love Batman the Animated Series, I have very fond memories of watching it with my younger brother Tommy after he got home from school everyday, and I love these ancillary feature length movies that were part of the same universe, so having this one on Blu-ray is a real treat! It's truly a great time to be a fan of the Batman the Animated Series, glad to see the animated films getting Blu'd with such wonderful presentations from WAC.  

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