Of the many plot threads running through Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, arguably one of the most notable is the plight of Mr. Freeze – the sub-zero villain who longs to save his wife from a terminal illness. In the movie, Freeze (aka Dr. Victor Fries) works tirelessly to cure his wife, Nora who has contracted a rare disease called MacGregor’s Syndrome.
Unable to find a cure, Freeze puts Nora in a form of suspended animation, via a special glass chamber. Held within this chamber, Nora is surrounded by liquid while her husband continues his research into curing MacGregor’s Syndrome.
While the chamber has a practical use for preserving Nora’s life, it is also beautiful in its presentation. And while in the story it is not clear where Freeze manufactured such a wonderous device, behind the scenes it was of course constructed by the talented production team on Batman & Robin.
But did the chamber really house Nora Fries, or was there a little bit of camera trickery going on? Perhaps to put it more simply, was an actress held in a solution for the scenes involving Nora Fries, or was this a well-crafted special effect?
Nora Fries in Batman & Robin
In Batman & Robin, Nora Fries makes her first appearance approximately 21 minutes into the movie. The scene involves video footage of Nora played by supermodel Vendela Thommessen, along with actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays Dr. Victor Fries.
In the movie, the video footage is used to explain Mr. Freeze’s tragic backstory. Nora’s appearance in the footage is brief, but is included to highlight how important she is to Freeze.
The next time Nora appears on screen is around the 29-minute mark, during a scene set at Mr. Freeze’s secret hideout, the Snowy Cones Factory. In this scene, Nora can be seen floating in a glass chamber, submerged in a solution.
This scene is very important. On a visual level, this is a striking piece of imagery, which looks stunning on screen. From an emotional stand point, the idea that Freeze’s wife is held in a chamber, and just beyond his reach, tugs at the heart strings and adds some depth to his story.
But as visually stunning and emotionally involving as this sequence is, is that really Nora Fries in the chamber?
Well, yes, it is Nora Fries in the chamber, but no, it is not Vendela Thommessen who is submerged in liquid. The chamber houses a very detailed, very convincing prosthetic, designed to look like Thommessen.
Speaking in the documentary feature, Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin, Production Designer, Barbara Ling, said: “It was an amazingly difficult feat to make that look good. We had a full prosthetic made of (Nora) that we tested endlessly, to get hair to move.”
According to Ling, the prosthetic took “months to perfect”, for what amounted to a small amount of screen time in the whole movie. However, it was totally worth it, because every scene featuring Nora in the chamber looks so good and so real.
Nora does appear in another could of scenes, including a short sequence outside of the tank, once again via some old video footage. This footage is of Nora’s wedding to Victor, and once again this footage features the actress Vendela Thommessen.
So, the rule of thumb is as follows: If a scene calls for Nora outside of the chamber, then it is Thommessen who appears in the scene. If the scene calls for Nora inside the chamber it is not Thommessen, but a very convincing replacement.
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