Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman and Robin is not only one of the worst super-hero films ever made (it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 11%), it killed off the Batman movie franchise until Christopher Nolan resurrected it, destroyed careers and forced George Clooney to apologise to Adam West. Sure, I loved it when I was 8, but now it just makes me embarrassed. For everyone.
The pun-filled monstrosity also features in the latest edition of Museums and the Movies since it’s opening action sequence takes place in the very confusing Gotham Museum of Art.
Let’s allow Commissioner Gordon to set the scene…
This mysterious villain’s list of crimes and misdemeanours also extend to, and I quote:
“He’s frozen the antiquities wing, he’s turned the security guards into ice, he’s calling himself Mr. Freeze.”
As you can see, these things are getting worse and worse, especially as ‘Mr Freeze’ is actually a Doctor. A Doctor named Fries. Yes, this film is one long groan after the other.
So far, so traditional introduction to a caper for the caped crusader; a museum is being robbed! Let’s take a look at this Museum…
One thing I do quite like about Schumacher’s Bat-universe is the architecture. Sure, he ripped it off from Tim Burton, but the over-the-top style works. In a rather over-the-top way. Schumacher’s Gotham Museum of Art is a tradition looking museum -all Greek-Revival with statues, pediments and columns. It doesn’t look unlike the British Museum of dozens of other like it.
Pay attention to what is carved into the stone on the front of the museum. What is it a museum of…?
I still can’t work out why a dinosaur is here. A dinosaur that turns out to be animatronic, at that. The diplodocus on display isn’t even fossils (or a cast of fossils). The only reason I can think of is that, visually, a dinosaur’s presence signifies that we’re either in a museum or Jurassic Park. Also, along the visual lines of thinking, this set is massive and needs something to fill the space.
I can kind of reconcile myself with the dinosaur, because it does, after all, help to set the scene. What I can’t deal with is the supposed heroes attempting to break everything in sight!
Batman makes his grand entrance by smashing a skylight and sliding down dippy’s back, whilst Robin to drive through some doors, sending a possibly Greek vase flying in the process.
And how do the caped crusaders justify their reckless behaviour? With a quite literal “You break it, you buy it” attitude.” Batman actually says this to Robin after the incident with the vase. Batman, we know you’re loaded but this is a museum, not a shopping mall. The ‘retail rule’ shouldn’t be your go-to for encouraging your companions to be careful. A simple reminder that YOU SHOULDN’T SMASH UP ARTEFACTS SHOULD BE ENOUGH.
At least all Mr Freeze is doing is making it super-cold. Which, if you’re familiar with collections care, is something museum’s do themselves anyway. When I went on a tour of the Horniman Museum’s store we were shown the giant freezer things were put in when they arrived at the store. Freezing things kills of bugs and all sorts of other pests.
To get metaphorical for a moment, ‘freezing’ is what museums you know, do. The cold preserves, and museums preserve and conserve treasures for the future. They quite metaphorically freeze things for us to see. Mr Freeze, on the other hand, is quite literally freezing things.
So, what’s this a museum of?
This scene, like most of the film is utter, cluttered chaos. Nothing really makes sense. If you ignore the ridiculous ice-hockey fight (no, really) you can see artefacts from:
- Ancient Egyptian collections (a mummy and a sarcophagus)
- A possibly Greek vase
- Something that could be from a Pacific culture, and
- that Diplodocus.
In one frame there seems to be a poster explaining what kind of exhibition this is supposed to be, but it’s too fuzzy to make out.
This is by no means the only time that Batman pops up in a museological context, my post on Superheroes in museums looks at him and several other super-powered types in museums and if you look around the V&A Museum of Childhood, you can see so many superheroes in action figure form.