The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection Review
by Zach Demeter & Jim Harvey
Special Version: Collector's Edition
Media Quantity: 8
Packaging Type: Gift Box
Soundtrack Language: English
Announce Date: 9/22/06
Street Date: 11/28/06
Superman, The Movie: Special Edition (4-Disc) (Multi-Title)
Superman II: Special Edition (2-Disc)
Superman III: Deluxe Edition
Superman IV: Deluxe Edition
For a full list of specs and other details, click here.
Note: We were unable to obtain a retail box set of the Christopher Reeve’s collection, so packaging and disc art may vary from final Christopher Reeve Collection. Instead of the box set we were sent the individual releases to review.
Fans that weren’t satisfied with the 2000 Superman: The Movie DVD release will no doubt be enthralled with this four-disc special edition. For the first time on DVD, the original 1978 film with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as the 2000 Expanded Edition are included on one set, along with two other discs full of special features.
There’s no denying that Christopher Reeve’s may have been the pinnacle Superman/Clark Kent combo and he is certainly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Reeve’s Superman anthology…but, the films really don’t hold up too well in other aspects. I’ve been harsh on the series before (notably III and IV only…but…c’mon, how lenient can you be on those?) but having watched the Donner Cut of Superman II recently and re-watching this first film…I have to say I found it all a lot more enjoyable. I won’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy Superman Returns more than the Donner films, but there is a certain magic that these old films still have.
Both versions of the film contained on the set are equally enjoyable. The difference between the two cuts is barely distinguishable, with eight extra minutes being thrown into the Expanded cut. It’s always nice to have extra footage on a film and much like how little I care about the variants of the Star Wars films, either cut of Superman: The Movie is fine by me. It’s nice to have both (and soon with the original 1978 stereo track as well, something WHV unintentionally left off but will be doing disc replacements for) for the die hard fans, but casual Donner watchers won’t be too enchanted by the choice to view both cuts.
Casual fans may want to pass on this release and hold onto the original Superman: The Movie release (or just springboard for the big Ultimate Superman Box Set), but others will no doubt want this set and the treasure trove of extras inside of it. Speaking of the extras…
Four discs! If you were wondering how you could even fill up four discs of content for a two hour movie, there’s an easy explanation: two film cuts, multiple audio tracks, three documentaries, a vintage TV special, Superman and the Mole-Men starring George Reeves and nine Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons. This is a hell of a lot of content to go through, so let’s dig into it.
First up is the packaging and it’s not something I had thought they’d do for this release. Inside a slipcase are two thin-pak DVD cases housing two discs each. I’ve never seen Warner Home Video use this packaging before, but despite my dislike for generic one-disc thin-paks, I do like the two-disc variant much more. Perhaps because I’m running out of shelf space for all of these DVD sets or simply because I like compact packages, but the disc art and full color inserts make this slipcase a very attractive piece to hold. The interior of each set contains a beautiful splash of Superman behind the discs and you can tell this wasn’t a rush job on the packaging front.
The video transfers for both films are superb looking for their age and they both sound great. Audio is crisp and clean on the transfers as well and as mentioned before the 1978 cut is missing the original Stereo track that is advertised on the package. WHV is in the process of setting up a replacement program so those concerned about not having all of the features on their set will not have to worry for too long.
Commentary is available on both films, with Pierre Spengler and Ilya Salking on the 1978 cut and Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz on the 2000 expanded edition. Both commentaries contain their fair share of fun information bits, but a lot of it you’ll find in the three-part special features on the third disc of the set.
The three-part documentary on the third disc is he same as what was contained on the original 2000 DVD release. It follows in great detail the production of the movie and features interviews from cast and crew, mixing in old interviews with new ones. It’s well worth watching if you have yet to see it.
Screen tests, restored scenes and additional music cues round out the third disc which, as far as I can tell, are also repeated from the 2000 release. It’s nice to know we can completely toss that old release out and upgrade to this one without losing anything!
The fourth disc houses a vintage TV special “The Making of Superman: The Movie” and like most retro TV specials includes a lot of clips from the film. There is still a fair bit of behind the scenes interviews and alternate takes on scenes to be had and it’s well worth a watch to see interviews with cast and crew that weren’t available for the 2000 DVD re-release.
The 1951 Superman and the Mole-Men starring George Reeve’s is also on this set, but I’m pretty sure this has been on DVD several times before, though I can’t say for certain if it was ever on a Warner release. The video and audio on this is strong as well, especially considering its age. The black and white lend itself better to DVD compression than color films, as there’s a lot fewer colors (obviously) to compress, thus making for a much cleaner image.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this set is also one of the last. Contained on the fourth disc is the legendary Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons, completely remastered and looking gorgeous. Considering how many shoddy bargain bin DVD releases these cartoons have seen over the years, it’s nice to finally get them in the quality they deserve to be in. The shorts are split across the new releases of Superman I and Superman II and they really are a great treat to watch.
Overall this is a hard set to pass up, especially if you never bought the last release. I can’t see them finding too much more vault material in the future to do another Superman release, so be sure to pick this one up—either as part of the Ultimate or Reeve sets, by itself or on HD-DVD/Blu Ray if you’re able to swing the price of the players.
About six months before these deluxe re-releases of the original Reeve’s films were announced, I borrowed the 2000 DVD set from my brother to watch. It’d been years since I’d seen the Reeve’s films and being the big Superman fan I am, I figured it was time to catch up on some child hood films.
If the ending to Superman I left a bad taste in my mouth, then Superman II and the sequels after it had me swallowing bile. Despite how loved Zod is by fans in the second film, I can barely stand to watch this (especially after witnessing the original Donner Cut). There are some positives to be had, of course, but Donner pulled off this story a whole lot better in his cut. This film just had too many cheesy moments and I really can’t say I’ll ever watch this version again after Donner.
I know some of you still enjoy Superman II as it was originally released, but even as disjointed as Donner’s cut is sometimes it’s still a lot better than what Lester did with this one. The pacing, the way Lois finds out about Clark/Superman…it’s all just too cheesy for me to really enjoy, especially since I already had issues with the camp that Donner retained in the first Superman film.
The more I continue to talk about Superman II the more upset we'll all get so I'll just end this by saying that I'm not the biggest fan of Lesters--if you are then you will no doubt enjoy this 2-disc DVD release more than I did (and ever will).
This set is presented in a two-disc amaray case with no inserts. Disc art is nearly identical to what we see on the cover and that’s pretty much it on the outside. Menus are clean and easy to navigate.
On the first disc we have video that looks wonderful and the audio that sounds great; the transfer is definitely a step up from the 2000 release, which looked and sounded horrible to me. Commentary is provided by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler and like most commentaries is informative at times and also kind of dull. Fans will want to take a listen, but I was relatively bored by what they had to say on this set. A deleted scene and theatrical trailer round out the first disc of the set.
Disc two features the TV special The Making of Superman II which is the companion to the first movies feature of the same name. Shot and narrated the same way, this special feature features interview from cast and crew and is our only look at behind-the-scenes material shot for this film, as no new features were produced for this DVD.
Superman 50th Anniversary special is also included and…I have no idea why it was. Produced and show on TV (I assume) in the late 80’s, this featurette is hosted by Dana Carvey (?!) and features a gaggle of celebrity cameos all talking about how wonderful Superman is—not in the sense that he’s a myth, but as if he was real. A fun feature for kids to be sure, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I first clicked to watch it.
Finally, more of what made the Superman: The Movie set so enjoyable for me—the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons. Not only are the final eight here, fully digitally restored and with great clarity, we’re given interviews from animation historian Jerry Beck, surviving relatives of the crew who worked on the Fleischer shorts and even from Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Dan Riba, who, if you’re reading this review on this website, I’m sure you’re all very, very familiar with at this point.
Overall I’d buy this set for the remastered Fleischer shorts alone, but the TV short and goofy 50th Anniversary almost makes it worthwhile by itself. I’m just glad the Fleischer shorts weren’t spread across III and IV too, because then I’d really have a problem buying these discs…
Note: For some unknown reason, I (Zach) was only sent Superman I and II to review, while Jim Harvey was sent Superman III and IV singles to review. Since we had originally planned this review to encompass the entire Christopher Reeve’s collection, rather than wait and purchase III and IV myself, Jim has volunteered to review those titles to complete this review.
By Jim Harvey
While Zach gets to review the new DVD release of Superman: The Movie and Superman II, I get stuck with the “other two” Superman movies in the Christopher Reeve Superman Collection. The distinct pleasure of reviewing Superman III and Superman IV is solely mine, so let’s get this going.
First up is the absolutely baffling Superman III, starring Richard Pryor. As clichéd as this will sound, there’s a good movie just aching to bust out of here. We have a great Clark Kent/Bad Superman plotline, including some terrific acting by Christopher Reeve, and a could-be-but-isn’t plot line surrounding a con artist, played by Richard Pryor, who also happens to be the smartest computer geniuses around. There’s even a great plot with Clark Kent returning to Smallville and running into another romantic interest, Lana Lang (taking the place of Lois Lane, who’s on vacation for this installment . . . lucky her). Anyway, sounds like a lot of great stuff, hunh?
Yeah…well…it’s not. There are some great moments in there, particularly those that focus on Clark Kent, but even that is mired by the campy directing of Richard Lester. There’s that humorous undertone that just deconstructs just about everything onscreen. There are some really good moments here and there, but nothing that really adds up to anything great.
Admittedly, the first two Superman films do have a few plot holes and such, but nothing along the inconsistencies seen in this one. I don’t think I could even call it a true Superman film, but someone’s skewed take on a character resulting in a something that doesn’t even remotely resemble Superman at the end of the day. Hell, it doesn’t even star Superman. Richard Pryor seems to be the main star here! The plot itself does have a few fun sparks in there, but it then just spirals out of control. A video game sequence which is even more so laughable today than it was over twenty years ago and a character’s inexplicable transformation into a cybrog? Just . . . ugh. Aside from the controversial junk yard brawl between Kent and Superman, there’s really not here worth recommending.
The audio and visual transfer looks great for a film over twenty years old. It’s not a perfect transfer by any means, but it looks pretty sharp. Having viewed the original transfer on the 2001 release and the 2006 re-release, there does seem to be some improvement in the quality. Grain and minor blemishes still remain, but it looks as good as it’ll get in the DVD format. The audio is great, as well. Listening to the junkyard brawl is great, regardless of dated visual and audio effects.
The extras included aren’t expansive, but they do provide a bit of information on the production of this movie. Included within is a vintage Making of Superman III TV special. They really pump this up as a big event movie, exclaiming that there’s something for everyone. And, in theory, I suppose that’s true. There’s action, some drama, comedy and humor, something that should appeal to everyone. Sadly, it just all collapses under the camp directing of Lester. It’s an informative look back, however. The commentary is interesting, but nothing we don’t really know already. Much like Superman II, Superman III was doused in controversy due to the directing of Lester, and commentary basically brings us back to all of that while trying to rationalize a mediocre movie.
A theatrical trailer and additional scenes are also added to this release. The additional scenes really add nothing to the movie besides the occasional new hi-jinx or joke. Nothing of real substance, I’d say, though it’s great to have these scenes on DVD for the first time. For the six or seven people who like this movie, it’s a definite treat.
Overall, a mediocre movie gets a rather “regular” deluxe release. It’s a nice, bite-size serving of extras for the movie and will likely entertain those who are entertained by the movie. If anything, they may feel a bit short-changed after some other lesser superhero movies (like Warner’s Batman Forever) received more complete releases. Overall, a fine for a DVD that I would recommend only to fans of Superman III.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
And with that the unpleasantness of Superman III out of the way, out attention can now be turned to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (oddly called Superman IV: The Face-Off in French translations). The movie that put the Man of Steel down for nearly twenty years, I can’t help but find this movie a little tragic.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was started with the best of intentions. Christopher Reeve not only wanted to assemble the whole cast again, with the hopes of returning to the magic of the first two installments, but also tackle the issue of nuclear arms. However, with the budget slashed and problems from day one, this movie would be the ultimate misfire for the franchise. Opportunities are squandered as we watch the production troubles envelope the film.
The plot, and I use that term loosely, is fairly simple. Superman was to disarm all the world’s nuclear missiles and by doing so inadvertently causes the creation of The Nuclear Man. Armed with deadly finger nails and a host of other seemingly dangerous powers, he tackles the Man of Steel in a deadly face-off. All the while, we have Lex Luthor trying to profit off this disarmament, The Daily Planet being bought out by a tabloid, Lois Lane trying to learn French, and Superman tackling his own doubts and concerns about his role in the role (briefly). Plus we learn an important lesson: Apparently humans can float harmlessly in space, breathe, move, fall, all of that. Quite an amazing discovery!
This movie is just awful. Out and out awful. There’s a taste of good in there, though. Good ideas are presented then are pushed aside or are taken in illogical and (frankly) quite stupid directions. It all seems to come apart at the seams. While a worse movie than Superman III, I can tolerate it more simply because of the intentions behind this movie. A hope to recapture the original magic of the franchise, bringing the cast together, and dealing with issues very close to the lead actor’s heart. Sadly, as the budget got cut down considerably, all that is lost. The movie sets up a lot of interesting ideas, but never follows through. Most of this is due to the restrained running time and aforementioned problems with the creation of the movie. Is that an excuse to pardon the bad quality of the film? Of course not. In fact, it makes the film a tragic endeavor (on so many levels) for the Man of Steel
Having not owned the previous release of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, I can not compare the transfer of that edition to this one. I can, however, say the film looks mighty good. Grain and blemishes are evident, but the movie does look crisp for its age. It’s nowhere near a perfect transfer by any means, but it does do the film justice (though makes the horrendous special effects look all the more cringe-worthy). The audio is good, though nothing special. It sounds like a perfectly acceptable audio set-up for a sub-par DVD and movie.
The extras on this deluxe edition are minor, providing a commentary and additional scenes. Like I stated over in my Superman: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition review, the additional scenes don’t do much to enhance the movie or raise it above it’s level of quality. It merely adds to the mediocrity of the movie itself. The additional scenes are a letdown, given the rumors of how they were supposed to improve the movie. In a way, I suppose they do. They help finish some plotlines and bring resolution, but it’s nothing too major for the film. The commentary, I found, did not provide any real insight into the feature film itself. Little new perspective is added to what we already know about the movie, but for those interested, it should not disappoint.
A rather bare “deluxe edition,” with not a lot of new content added. Given that this is the less popular of all the Superman films, I suppose this is warranted (though I can’t help but wonder how Batman & Robin, a far worse movie, managed to snag a two-disc release with some excellent extras). This DVD won’t change anybody’s opinion on the film, whether it was like or disliked, but all this can do is reinforce their opinion of the movie, be it good or bad. It’s a skimpy release, but a step up over the previous barebones release of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This edition is recommended for completists and fans of the movie only.
Christopher Reeve's Set Summary
It is really up to the individual if they want to invest in this set or buy the sets individually--since we didn't get the final retail version we aren't sure of the casing, but we imagine it'll be nothing more than what The Batman Anthology received (a cardboard slipcase). Quite honestly, if you're going to drop the money that this set costs, you're better off going for the 14-disc Ultimate Collection, which offers the same content seen here and so much more.