Superman: The Movie Blu-ray ReviewApril 23, 2008
Look! Up in the sky…it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Man of Steel on Blu-ray! The movie that made the superhero genre more than just filler for weekend matinees at theaters for the kiddies has hit the high definition home video market: Richard Donner’s original 1978 classic, Superman: The Movie.
I remember seeing the original Superman with my father back in December of 1978 for my 10th birthday. Much like my first viewing of the original Star Wars a year and a half prior, my initial screening of Superman was an overwhelming experience that felt like it lasted two and a half minutes instead of two and a half hours. A visual and audio assault brought to life on a giant 70mm screen; it was easy as a child to become wrapped up in the glory of big-budget Hollywood.
Many films from the late 70s and 80s made similar impacts, yet a lot of them have not held up as well as I had hoped they would. Blame years of watching too many films and analyzing them too closely, or just the simple fact that I was young and impressionable, but films such as Batman (1989), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (and to a lesser extent, Temple of Doom), Gremlins and even a large chunk of Return of the Jedi have aged about as well a cheesecake under a tanning lamp turned on full blast.
So what is it about the original Superman that has made it stand the test of time? What makes this particular movie the Citizen Kane of the cinematic comic-book set? What elements make me and countless others hold this so dear to our cinematic-geek hearts? In trying to come up with one particular reason, I discovered ten (actually, 11) reasons why I think Donner’s film is still the best of the bunch, despite efforts by such greats as the first two Spider-Man films, X2, The Crow and Batman Begins to dethrone it:
1) It’s a great origin movie.
2) The screenplay has heart and the characters are memorable.
3) It doesn’t take itself too seriously.
4) It has a great villain that doesn’t overshadow the hero.
5) The perfect Superman/Clark Kent.
6) You actually feel good when it’s done.
7) It has the (near) perfect music score.
8) It’s perfectly cast.
9) The visual effects are in service of the story instead of taking away from it.
10) Otis Rocks!
11) It’s fun, damnit!
I have seen Superman: The Movie in every conceivable home video format, and it should come as no surprise that the HD format is where the film looks the best. The film underwent a picture and sound restoration back at the start of this decade, and the results looked and sounded great back then, and they look and sound even better on the Blu-ray format.
The late Geoffrey Unsworth photographed Superman: The Movie with an overall aura of softness, possibly to elicit a nostalgic feel. The Blu-ray transfer (2.40:1 aspect ratio, VC-1 and 1080p encoded) perfectly replicates Unsworth’s cinematic style, but it also gives us a picture that has a lot of nice detail not found in earlier home video presentations (perhaps a bit too much at times-check out the makeup on Brando in the beginning…yikes!) and colors are really…um, super (yeah, I’m groaning at that one too). In fact, I find the transfers of this film and of the Richard Donner edition of Superman II to be better than the transfer found on the recent Superman Returns.
A lot of people complained about the 5.1 sound remix on the 2000 restoration of Superman but I thought it was pretty damn good. Sure, it would have been nice for Warner to include the original 2.0 Dolby Stereo track (or, ahem, an uncompressed PCM track), but like the saying goes, would have, could have, should have. What we get is a 5.1 Dolby Digital track at 640kbps that delivers the goods. From the whooshing of the legendary opening credits to the Man of Steel’s very busy day saving the West and East Coast from nuclear destruction, all backed by John Williams’ iconic music score, Superman sounds as nice as it looks.
The only place the Blu-ray (and HD DVD, for that matter) release of Superman falls short is in the extras department. Warner has ported over most, but not all, of the extras found on the 2000 DVD release (to make matters even worse for fans of the film, this disc is also lacking the new extras found on the recent 4-disc release of the film).
First up is an Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Richard Donner and screenwriter/creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz. The two longtime friends fill the commentary with stories about the troubled production that is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Despite running two and a half hours, is always fascinating and fun to listen to.
Up next are two Documentaries, Taking Flight: The Development of Superman and ‘Making Superman: Filming the Legend’. Each is hosted by actor Marc McClure (who played Jimmy Olsen in the first four films) and when the docs are combined, they run approximately 80 minutes (they can also be viewed separately). A chronicle of the production on the first film, Flight and Filming the Legend have a nice selection of behind-the-scenes footage to be found among interviews with Donner, Mankiewicz, the late Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, John Williams and editor Stuart Baird (‘Casino Royale’).
Also included on the disc are Christopher Reeve’s Original Screen Test, the Theatrical Teaser and Trailer, a Television Spot and, best of all, John Williams Isolated Score in full 5.1 glory (I really hope George Lucas considers doing this for the ‘Star Wars’ saga when they hit the HD market).
For the most part, Warner Home Video has done right by Superman: The Movie for its HD debut, with a handsome picture and audio presentation of the modern classic that more than makes up for a rather lackluster collection of extras. Perhaps someday we may get a more definitive edition (the 30th Anniversary is next year, after all), but for the time being, this disc is solidly recommended.
- Shawn Fitzgerald
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