“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Richard Donner, Richard Lester, Bryan Singer, Sidney J. Furie / Actors: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey ... / Blu-ray released 2011-06-13 at Warner Home Video „
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As a kid the Superman films were always among my favourites; I watched Superman III so many times that I wore the tape out and for the next six months I scoured the TV listings every week hoping it would be on again so I could retape it. Eventually my Dad got fed up of having to buy the Radio Times every week and drove out to buy a brand new copy. For a long time that was the only video we had that wasn't taped off the TV. I still enjoy the films a lot, though my love for Superman III was replaced over the years by a growing appreciation for the original Superman: The Movie, and over the years I managed to own just about every release of it including the short lived HD-DVD release and the standalone blu-ray. So, when the entire series of films was put together with a huge collection of special features into this very well priced box set, it was a must buy for me.
Before I start filling you in on this set, I should probably mention that there is a lot of stuff here. As such, I will be covering the films briefly but I will not be doing an in depth review of each one. There are plenty of reviews on Dooyoo if you want to know more about an individual film.
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This set goes under the title of The Superman Motion Picture Anthology with a subtitle of 1978-2006. This pretty much sums it up because this set packages up every Superman film released up until 2006, including alternate cuts.
Superman: The Movie - 1978
I think it's probably fair to say that Superman: The Movie is the definitive comic book film. This is the film that broke the mould. Superman's origin story is told and we see Clark Kent and Lois Lane meet for the first time. We also see Lex Luthor perform his first fiendish real estate scam involving two nuclear missiles. The comic book source material is take seriously and the characters are all played pretty straight, this helps the film stand along as an iconic representation of the character. The downside is that it all feels a little bit too straight thirty years on and becomes slightly flavourless. The first half hour is terribly slow paced by today's standards, but it really picks up once we move to Metropolis and the dialogue between Lois Lane and Superman is exceptional.
Superman: The Movie - Extended Cut
This is a pretty minor extended cut that adds about eight minutes of footage throughout the film. Worth having, but the difference between the two is negligible. This is not the same as the three hour international cut that is floating around, but most of the extra footage in that one isn't great. It's nice to have this version, but the differences are so minor that you could watch either without noticing.
This very fine sequel follows three villains from Superman's homeworld who arrive on Earth after being freed from a high tech prison designed by Superman's father. Once on Earth they share all of Superman's powers and for the first time Superman is forced to fight opponents who match him in strength and speed. This sequel takes a lighter tone due to new director, Richard Lester. Some of this works very well and the scenes between Lois Lane and Clark Kent work very well. Not so good is the comic relief that Lester injects into supposedly serious scenes. Still, it's a decent sequel that builds on the first film the way a good sequel is supposed to.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Originally Superman and Superman II were to be directed by Richard Donner almost simultaneously. The end result would be a pair of films that could be released relatively close together and have a consistent tone and cast with running themes and story between the two. This is how a lot of comic book films are planned out today, but in 1978 this was pretty original. However, when the first film went overbudget the film's producers kicked Donner off Superman II despite being around 70% complete. The job was taken over by Richard Lester who re shot as much footage as was possible, making a final produce that is a lot better than it probably should be.
Still, there has always been the lingering question of how Superman II would have turned out if Donner had been allowed to finish the job. When Donner was finally given chance to return to the project in 2006, he dug up as much of his original footage as he could and pulled something resembling his original vision together. Sadly, the final product isn't as successful as Lester's Superman II. This isn't Donner's fault, he could only work with footage that had already been shot, and there are hints of a really great Superman II in here, but at best it can only be a patchwork. It's great to see and there are a lot of really great moments that tease us with what might have been, but it just doesn't come together into a decent enough film at the end of the day.
The third entry in the series marked a noticeably downturn in the franchise (as much as my seven year old self adored it.) Richard Lester returns and we are forced to endure 125 minutes of slapstick comedy that never quite works. There are a few laughs from Richard Pryor who has been shoehorned in, but he gets old fast. Lex Luthor is out of the picture and we have Robert Vaughn playing a villain who would be great in a much more balanced film. There's some great character moments and Reeve gets to play an evil Superman for a bit, but it's not in the same league as the first two.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Easily the lowest point of the series. This very weak sequel was produced by Cannon Films who were funding so many other films at the time that the film looks like it didn't have a penny spent on it. Even the credits are drab and lacklustre. Perhaps the most telling moment comes when Superman goes to address the United Nations and we are treated to a shot of the old train station in Milton Keynes. Though the cast and crew argued that Milton Keynes could not pass for the United Nations, Cannon refused to budge and so that is where they filmed. The plot is awful and sees Lex Luthor creating a clone of Superman that has electricity powers and falls asleep when there is no sunlight. Again, the high points are the character moments but they come few and far between in this dull flick. There's a nice moment where Clark returns to the farm where he grew up and talks about his Dad. it's a scene that belongs in a much better film. Everything just looks and feels cheap and depressing.
It is very fitting that Superman Returns is included in a boxset of mainly Reeve era films. One reviewer (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) summed up my feelings on Superman Returns with this. "Never have I seen one movie so in love with another." Superman Returns is a film that wants to be Superman II so badly. It features the same style opening credits, a Christopher Reeve look alike as Superman, borrows a lot of the same musical cues and even riffs on the most famous dialogue. It sensibly ignores Superman III and IV and only borrows small elements from II. The pacing, and unfortunately the plot, are right out of Superman: The Movie with a remarkably similar structure carrying the film along. In other respects it's very modern. the look of Metropolis is very "designed" as opposed to the Richard Donner realism and the actions sequences are huge CGI explosions. The problem is that the film is sort of mismatched. It takes the slow pacing, slightly too serious, elements from the first film but it pastes a sort of modern rollercoaster style over it that never really works. When it's exciting, it feels like a compromise, when it's dull it is very, very dull. To cap it off, nearly every character is woefully miscast and phoning their performance in. I don't hate Superman Returns, when it works it's a lot of fun, but I can never shake the feeling that would not fit in 2006 or 1978.
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If you're buying this up on blu-ray instead of the old Ultimate Edition DVD set then you're probably interested in the picture quality. Due to the range of films in here, you're probably not surprised to hear that it's a mixed bag.
Superman: The Movie has been remastered since the first blu-ray. The picture is better, but it's probably not too noticeable. Both the Theatrical and Extended editions look just about as good as the film has ever looked but this is still from 1978 and has an overall soft-focus look that can hide a lot of the sharpness. Colours are pretty could and the early scenes in Kansas are pretty amazing. The same goes for Superman II which has had a remaster but is about as old and has the same soft look. Both look great compared to the DVD releases though.
Superman III is a pretty good looker. The visual style is different here, it looks a bit sharper and the colours come through really strongly. No complaints there.
Superman IV is interesting. The picture looks really great, better than I've ever seen this film look before. Unfortunately, that means that the horrendously cheap and nasty special effects look cheaper and nastier than ever before. So clear you can see cut corners you never knew were there!
Superman Returns as the newest should probably look the best, and from a certain perspective it does. It's a nice, modern picture with a big film feel, but it's been shot on digital video and has a lot of CGI. The result is a film that looks a bit muddy in the shadows. It's been loaded with Digital Noise Reduction which makes it look a bit smudgy too. Better than the DVD? Sure, but not a great blu-ray.
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I don't have too much to say about the audio, the story is largely the same for each film. The all sound about as good as you'd expect given the source material. Each film features a lossless DTS-HD-MA soundtrack that presents the source without compression. The first three films have 5.1 tracks and these sound great but subdued. They're not much altered from the stereo sources though with the rear speakers taking a bit of ambience and music most of the time. Sound is clean and pleasant but it doesn't offer the bombastic experience of a more recent film. Superman IV has a stereo soundtrack, but it's pretty good. Nothing sounds out of place or unclear and for a low budget film from 1987 that's the best you can ask.
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Now, here's where this set really shines. Both Superman and Superman II can be bought separately, III and IV aren't going to be drawing many buyers, so why buy this set? Because the extras here are absolutely exceptional and includes all the features from previous DVD releases. Across the set you will find audio commentaries for each film with producers, directors and scriptwriters. These are all pretty interesting if you're the type who enjoys the commentaries.
Firstly, there are a lot of documentaries on the special features disk and not that many duds among them. These tackle the franchise as a whole and are great for fans.
Look, Up in the Sky! - This is a two hour documentary in HD all the history of Superman. This is a really great documentary that covers the whole history of the character and would be worth buying on its own.
You Will Believe - Another lengthy documentary all about the creation of the film series. Very interesting for anyone who enjoys these films.
The Mythology of Superman - A short documentary about Superman as a mythic figure. Comparisons to literature and Messiah figures and so on. Interesting, but a bit limited as these things often are.
The Heart of a Hero: A tribue to Christopher Reeve - Speaks for itself, a twenty minute documentary about Reeve with interviews from those who worked with him and about his life. Another nice one.
The Science of Superman - This is one of my favourites, an HD documentary about the physics and biology that could explain Superman's powers. It's a bit of a fluff piece, but it's fun.
On top of all there, there is a lot of individual "Making of" stuff for each film that would take way too long to list individually. Suffice to say, it's the usual mixed bag you'd get with any DVD release. There are the usual TV specials from the time of release, but there's also a lot of modern perspectives on the older films, particularly the controversial entries, that aren't as fawning as these things usually are. Each disk has enough extras to get full marks for special features, nothing has been skimped.
As well as the usual documentaries, there is a lot of really excellent Archive stuff and a lot of it is must see.
Superman and the Mole-Men: This film was the pilot to the George Reeves Superman TV show. Basically, it's a 1950s black and white Superman film, but it's pretty good if you're in the mood for a retro comic book film. A bit corny but a lot of fun.
Some Cartoons: Three old Looney Tunes cartoons that parody Superman. Worth a laugh if you enjoy old cartoons.
The Fleischer Cartoons: One of my favourite extras is the inclusion of all the original Fleischer Superman cartoons. These are public domain now, so it's not exactly breaking the bank to include them, but they're really great to have. They're certainly dated now, but really wonderful and a style of cartoon that hasn't really survived anywhere else. This set is worth buying just to see the World War II propaganda shorts. There's also a great documentary all about the creation of these cartoons.
The set also includes a large collection of behind the scenes bits and pieces like screen tests and deleted scenes.
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All in All:
If you like Superman and have a blu-ray player, this set is a must buy. It is one of the most exceptionally generous box sets I have ever owned. There are five films here, six if you count one very different director's cut, and one of the largest collections of special features you will find. There's an "everything but the kitchen sink" philosophy here, with each film getting a generous amount of special features and a separate special features blu-ray just to house several extra feature length documentaries as well. The inclusion of the Fleischer Cartoons, Superman and Mole-Men and the Look, up in the Sky documentary push this from Great into Exceptional.
The cherry on the top is that this set can be had for less than £30 at Amazon.