Blu Ice – A 20th Anniversary Retrospective & Blu-Ray Review Of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
by Ben Martin
Movie Retrospective Review:
For the majority of the 90s, the shadow of The Bat loomed large. Following the release of Batman (1989), The Dark Knight spread his wings over every conceivable medium. For my money though, the best interpretation of the hero during the decade came in the form of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). Even today, the show stands not only as one of the best-animated shows ever created; it’s also debatably the best and most comic accurate adaptation of The Caped Crusader and his world.
On Christmas 1993, after having a smash-hit first season, Batman: The Animated Series had its first spin-off. Set in the continuity of the series, Batman: Mask of The Phantasm hit theaters. And to this day is still DC’s only animated feature to do so. Despite being a critical success; Mask of The Phantasm flopped theatrically. Thankfully though, the film did gangbuster business on home video. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros and DC Animation wanted to do another animated feature set in the world of The Animated Series. In doing so, Mr. Freeze/Victor Fries (Michael Ansara) was chosen to be the focus of the direct-to-video feature.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was initially intended to coincide with the release of Batman & Robin (1997) in the summer of ’97. A calculated and smart move considering that Mr. Freeze was the antagonist in both films. Furthermore, the character was at the apex of his popularity at the time. Alas, after Batman & Robin was ill-received all-around, plans changed. To that end, SubZero‘s release was pushed to Spring 1998. On Easter of that year, my Mawmaw gave me SubZero on VHS in a clamshell case, and I was thrilled!
SubZero is once again set in the continuity of The Animated Series. The film picks up after Mr. Freeze’s previous appearances on the TV show: Heart of Ice (1993) and Deep Freeze (1994). Victor Fries has put his villainy behind him; having found cold comfort in the Arctic. He spends his days still trying to find a cure for his wife Nora’s condition as she remains alive and in a coma of sorts in her cryogenic tank. Alas, Freeze’s frozen fortress of solitude is disrupted when a military submarine collides with it. As a result, Nora’s life-preserving tank is destroyed. With no other option Freeze resumes his mantle of antagonism. After freezing the military men, Freeze takes his wife’s body and heads back to Gotham City. Time is against Freeze as he must save his wife by finding an organ donor for her. As luck would have it, he finds the perfect albeit, an unwilling donor in none other than Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Mary Kay Bergman). To facilitate the organ transplant, Freeze kidnaps Barbara. Now, Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) are also up against the clock to save Barbara from her chilling doom.
Twenty years after receiving SubZero in my Easter basket, I must say that the film holds up incredibly well! Now, I’ll admit that since wearing out that old VHS tape, that this isn’t a film I’ve revisited. Thus, having not seen it in a decade or so, I was pleasantly surprised upon rewatching the picture for this review at how well it’s aged. Of course, I think much of that is for two primary reasons. Firstly, the film in review was done in the animation style of The Animated Series as opposed to The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999) which was on TV at the time. Despite its title, The New Batman Adventures is actually just The Third and Fourth Seasons of Batman: The Animated Series.
You see, the title and animation changes came into effect when the series went from Fox to The WB Network. At that time, such changes also capitalized on slapping episodes of Batman and Superman respective cartoons into an hour block entitled The New Adventures of Batman/Superman. But I digress–the choice for SubZero to maintain the style and tone of The Animated Series was a wise one. Such beautiful, old-school animation is a treat for the eyes. Secondly, the script co-penned by series vets Randy Rogel (Animaniacs: Wakko’s Wish) and Boyd Kirkland (The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes), the latter of whom also directed the film; serves as a perfect and fitting conclusion to Mr. Freeze’s story. What’s even more fitting is that the film focuses on Freeze, indeed making him the protagonist. In my estimation, doing so is the key to a good Mr. Freeze tail. Aside from having a dramatic, emotional core, the film also has plenty of action.
In all honesty, I struggled to find any significant criticisms with this film. Frankly, I like it just as much now as I did twenty years ago as a kid. However, I do have a couple of tiny gripes with the flick. If Subzero has one glaring problem, it’s that it feels a little more like three episodes of The Animated Series that were smacked together than it does a movie. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t have nearly as much emotional heft as Mask of The Phantasm does. Even still, SubZero does work as a whole feature, despite the TV format feel. Other than that, my other issue is probably one of personal taste rather than pure criticism. That being that I wish Paul Dini (of the upcoming Arkham: Tales of the Dark Knight) had been a co-writer on this film! After all, he’s responsible for Freeze’s beloved and dramatic interpretation in the TV show. I’m not sure why Dini had nothing to do with this movie, but I feel he just could’ve brought a little more to it. In closing, you’re a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is a must-see!
As with last year’s release of Batman: Mask of The Phantasm; Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero comes to us courtesy of Warner Archives. For those of you unfamiliar, Warner Archives is WB’s small-batch, made-to-order DVD and Blu-Ray division. What’s neat about the releases they do are that most of them aren’t available digitally or on streaming services; which I personally find to be a real coo. For this release, SubZero has been given a full-1080p upgrade and transfer. The resulting image is absolutely stunning, and unlike the Mask of The Phantasm Blu-Ray release, no frame of the film in review is left untouched. Every second of this flick is gorgeous; so much so that most kids would probably think it was a current cartoon. Now, it should be noted that the film is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. While the ratio does take a few moments for the eyes to adjust to, it’s no big deal. Plus, the presentation preserves the movie’s visual integrity. The movie’s audio has also been given a full digital punch-up.
Beyond the new transfer the Blu-Ray includes the following special features:
The Mr. Freeze Saga- in Chronological Order: This special feature, along with the film itself, makes this Blu- Ray worth the purchase price alone. Mr. Freeze’s entire arch in animation is presented here in one cool package. However, there is one drawback in the fact that these episodes are shown in 480i, which is a bit of an eyesore.
Heart of Ice (Batman: The Animated Series, 1992)– Mr. Freeze’s origin story and one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, hands-down.
Deep Freeze (Batman: The Animated Series, 1994)- While this follow-up isn’t quite as emotionally based as Mr. Freeze’s first outing, it is quite good. Plus, I like the fact that the story in the episode is just a bit goofy as it features what’s essentially a maniacal version of Walt Disney. Moreover, this episode leads up to the events of the film in review.
[*BATMAN & MR. FREEZE: SUBZERO SHOULD BE PLAYED THIRD IF VIEWING IN CORRECT CHRONOLOGY IS DESIRED.*]
Cold Comfort (The New Batman Adventures, 1997)- Despite premiering before SubZero‘s release, this episode proceeds the film. Frankly, I don’t care for this episode as I find it utterly unnecessary. For me, Mr. Freeze’s story ends with Subzero. Even so, it’s still nice to have this episode on the disc.
Meltdown (Batman Beyond, 1999)- Once again, this is an episode that I don’t find necessary. However, unlike the one preceding it, this episode is enjoyable. It also represents the last appearance of Mr. Freeze in the 90s.
The Art of Batman Music Montage: This is just a simple two-minute montage of footage from the film and early concept art. I can’t say the montage is anything special, but it’s a nice throwback to the decade which bore this film.
Get The Picture: How to Draw Batman- I don’t feel like this needs to be on the disc. Then again, I guess it’s worth having if you feel like learning or improving how you draw Batman.
Trailer: I enjoyed the inclusion of the original video trailer here. It’s a nice, well-cut, two-minute trailer. Moreover, it utilizes Danny Elfman’s Batman (1989) score, which will draw in any Bat viewer.
I won’t bury the ice-pick here. If you’re a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, SubZero is a film you must purchase. Just like Batman: Mask of The Phantasm is a necessity for any fan, so is this movie. As I mentioned earlier, this releases encompasses Mr. Freeze’s entire story; which is a lot of bang for your buck. If you want to be a cool customer, go out and pick this Blu-Ray up!
Interested in Reading My Related Bat-Reviews? Check Them Out Here:
Batman & Robin
Batman: Mask of The Phantasm
BATMAN & MR. FREEZE:SUBZERO IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM THE WB SHOP AND AMAZON!