Superman: Ultimate Collection Review
by Jim Harvey
Special Version: Collector's Edition
Media Quantity: 14
Packaging Type: Gift Box
Soundtrack Language: English
Announce Date: 9/22/06
Street Date: 11/28/06
Bryan Singer's Journals Extended Edition
Look, Up in the Sky!: Amazing Story of Superman, The
Superman II: Richard Donner Cut, The
Superman II: Special Edition (2-Disc)
Superman III: Deluxe Edition
Superman IV: Deluxe Edition
Superman Returns: Special Edition (2-Disc)
Superman, The Movie: Special Edition (4-Disc) (Multi-Title)
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman
For a full list of specs and other details, click here.
Superman fans? Your year has arrived! Not only has the Man of Steel returned to the big screen in a big way, but just about every incarnation of the classic hero has been released to DVD. And topping off that list of DVD releases? None other than Superman: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition fourteen-disc box set!
Now, just what is inside this mammoth collection? The fourteen-disc set contains Superman Returns: Special Edition, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman: The Movie - Four Disc Special Edition, Superman II - Two Disc Special Edition, Superman III: Deluxe Edition and Superman IV Deluxe Editions. The set also offers 20 hours of extra content, including the documentaries You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman and Look Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and Superman Returns director Bryan Singer's video journals/web blogs.
The Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition box is encased in a keepsake tin and includes a reproduction of the Superman comic book issue No. 7 by John Byrne (sorry everyone), a Superman overview booklet and a mail-in offer for five Superman theatrical movie posters.
Given the size of this collection, this review will be divided up into sections, focusing on the packaging, the extras, the audio/video quality, the movies, and the overall general quality of the collection. This set is staggering, and there is a lot to go through. And I mean a lot. Seven movies in total (including all the theatrical, alternate, and expanded cuts), all of the classic Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Superman cartoon shorts, a few rarities in terms of pilots and content from the early-to-mid 20th Century (Superpup TV pilot? Check!), and a couple other small surprises. For fans of Superman's theatrical exploits, this is the set for you.
However, if plunking down anywhere from $70 – 100 dollars for fourteen DVDs is too much for you, Warner Home Video is also releasing a few other collections and DVDs containing some of the content found within this collection. For those looking to buy just the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, look no further than the Christopher Reeve Superman Collection, a nice eight-disc box set housing Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. These four movies are also being released individually alongside the much anticipated Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and a host of different releases for Superman Returns, including a two-disc set, a single-disc release, and an HD-DVD and Blu-Ray Disc release.
Fans have a lot to choose from, but in my opinion, the easy money is on Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition. You get everything. Simply everything. All the movies, exclusive extras, rarities not available in the other releases listed above, you get it all. Plus, it looks really nifty beside the Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Collection (as does the Christopher Reeve Superman Collection, but there's something extra about that metal tin that screams “definitive”).
A pretty lengthy introduction, hunh? Well, I've only just scratched the surface here. Like I said earlier, this review will be roughly divided into sections focusing on different aspects of the release. First up will be a brief look at the movies that inspired such a collection as this. Also, there are two disclaimers at the end of the review to take note of concerning this collection and review.
In short, these movies are classics. Not all of them mind you, but a good 71% of them are. Rightfully so, the set kicks off with four discs devoted to Superman: The Movie, including both the theatrical cut and the expanded cut released in 2001. Considered the classic superhero movie, this is the one that made us believe a man could fly. These movies also introduced us to the definitive Superman – Christopher Reeve (whom Superman Returns director found a great successor in Brandon Routh). I could easily go on and on about Superman: The Movie, but for the sake of everyone, I'll keep my comments as short as I can. This is a great movie, easily worthy of the acclaimed bestowed upon it over thirty years ago. While the movie may not seem all that impressive today, it's a true cinematic pleasure that belongs in any “Top 100” list. While not my personal favorite comic book-themed movie, it's the crown jewel.
In short, this movie covers Superman's origin, from the remaining days of Krypton to his first meeting with Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, to a climactic battle to save the world. Yes, the whole “turning back time” thing is a bit hokey, but given the context of the movie, it seems to fit well. And true, if one thought a bit too much about the plot of the movie it would be easy to find some holes and problems, but what movie doesn't have those? It's the approach to the material by director Richard Donner and lead Christopher Reeve that makes this movie what it is. I may be seeing this movie through nostalgic eyes, but it's a movie that always finds a new fan in any generation. This was a movie that my father shared with me and, one day, I'm sure I'll do the same. It's just that good. Yes, scoff at the goofy Lex Luthor and his loopy sidekicks and motivation (blowing up a chunk of the states for real estate? Really?), but just look at everything else.
Superman: The Movie also gave us a near perfect Lois Lane, superior to just about every other incarnation out there. I think outside of Superman: The Animated Series, even the comic books could never nail down her character right. Here, she's feisty and ready to jump at a moment's notice, to risk life and limb to get the truth behind the story. Yes, she may also be a teeny bit of a whack job, but it works in the context of her character.
More importantly, there's something about seeing Superman fly. Yes, we've seen him fly in the old theatricals and TV shows from decades before, but here . . . it was different. The technology was there, the approach was there, and yes, as bad as it may look now compared to current special effects, we just . . . believe. Add that with Christopher Reeve's flawless performance as both Superman and Clark Kent, and you have the ideal Superman. Sure you could criticize that he's not bulky enough to be the Man of Steel, but that's merely a superficial complaint.
There's a magic to Superman: The Movie that can't be denied. From the breathe-taking opening act on Krypton, to Kal-el's arrival to Smallville and Metropolis shortly afterwards, to first taking flight, this movie just has it all. A fun, pre-Crisis story, great actors across the board, and genuine heart.
Superman II was a quick follow-up, though mired in controversy when Richard Donner was fired from the project and replaced with Richard Lester. The overall opinion on this movie is positive. Some deem it even better than the original, while others find the movie considerably weaker due to the campy approach by Richard Lester. What this movie does herald, though, are some incredible fight sequences between Superman and the three Kryptonian criminals release from the Phantom Zone. Lester's self-confessed lack of knowledge for the character is evident in this movie, and more so in the ridiculous Superman III. The actors and producers even note Lester's lack of knowledge of Superman as the reason why the franchise took a considerable shift downward.
The controversy surrounding Superman II has always been in the forefront for fans, fans that made it their goal to see the “proper” version of the movie releases. Before being fired, Richard Donner filmed up to 70% of the movie, with most of that footage being re-shot when Richard Lester took over. I could go on into great length about the controversy, but that information can be found on countless websites and forums throughout the internet. Earlier this year, most of that footage was restored and recomposed into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, also available in the fourteen-disc box set. It's like watching the ultimate deleted scene, watching as Richard Donner pieces together his sequel to the best of his ability. Whether or not it's superior to Lester's Superman II is up to the viewer, but it provides a fascinating look at two completely different visions of the sane movie. Both movies are great in their own right, though whether or not the sequel is superior to Superman: The Movie is up to the viewer to decide.
And, much like the Batman franchise, it's pretty much downhill from there for the next couple of movies. The franchise goes from bad to worse before a nearly twenty year absence reinvigorates the film series once again.
Superman III is just . . . baffling. Watching that long, drawn out comedic scene over the opening credits sets the tone for what is truly a movie that simply crashes. It doesn't burn, however, as it's saved by Christopher Reeve's excellent acting here. He really pulls out all the stops, and is actually truly frightening in some scenes. He rises above the material and mediocre directing skills of Lester, to deliver a truly great performance. His portrayal of the “bad” Superman is excellent, but it's lessened by the movie's real main star, Richard Pryor. Now, Pryor's a talented guy, but he just doesn't fit in this movie at all. Many fans jokingly call this movie Superman III: Starring Richard Pryor, and they're not exactly wrong. The franchise really lost focus here, but of course, that's not the worst of it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you . . . Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Jokingly referred to as the inspiration for Batman & Robin, this movie is just flat-out bad. And, it's a shame, too. Christopher Reeve was so adamant to do this movie and to have it be a real meaningful film, but what happens? The budget is slashed from $40 million to $17 million (rumored to be less), a disappointing script is turned in and shooting for the film is considerably rushed. I'm in no means trying to justify the movie's bad quality, but providing a small back-story for what truly is a tragic installment of the franchise. The best of intentions were there but, in the end, that just wasn't enough. And The Nuclear Man? Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor's nephew? Good grief!
The franchise was pretty much killed off until the resurgence of comic book movies in the mid 1990s brought interest back toward the Man of Steel. After a lengthy and troubled pre-production with dozens of false-starts and terrible production decisions (Kevin Smith providing a script? Tim Burton directing? Nicholas Cage as Superman?), Bryan Singer stepped up and delivered in 2006. Spearheading some inspired casting (though the verdict on Kate Bosworth remains mixed as Lois Lane) and a script that harkened back to the Richard Donner era of Superman, Superman Returns brought back the Man of Steel.
The premise is simple: Superman returns after a lengthy absence from Earth. Off to view possible newly-discovered remains of Krypton, he vanishes. But, of course, life moves on. Lois Lane has a child and gets engaged to Richard White, nephew of Perry White. Lex Luthor is released on prison through a technicality and seeks revenge. Even Martha Kent has moved on (and we see just how much she's moved on in the deleted scenes available in both the two-disc special edition of Superman Returns and in this fourteen-disc collection).
Superman returns to a completely different world where nearly everything for him has changed. It's a great premise that forces all the characters to move ahead, and allows the moviegoers, be it new fans or fans of the classic films, to slide right back in. Despite criticisms, I found the movie to be easily accessible to those who don't eat, sleep, and breathe the Richard Donner Superman films. On top of that, it's nice to see that one thing hasn't changed – Superman. Yes, he has to adjust after being gone for so long, but he still remains the same Boy Scout he ever was, and it's refreshing to see that in an age of cynicism and questionable role models.
All these films, great and not-so-great, are included in the box set and, yes, that's just the tip of the ice berg. And why? Because there is still about 20 more hours worth of bonus features to go through. There's still a lot more to cover (i.e., the packaging, the extras, and presentation of the audio/video), so let's move past the movies and get into the meat of this tin box. I'm over 2,000 words into the review, so it's high time I get to the good stuff, right?
Fans may complain that there's too much Brandon Routh on the packaging and not enough Christopher Reeve, but this is a simple stunning looking set. This is, without a doubt, the best looking box set I've seen. The packaging is just gorgeous all around, from the shiny metal tin to the packaging designs within, this is just a sharp looking collection.
The collection is housed within a metal tin that opens in both the back and front. With the tin, the fourteen-disc collection is housed in a book-like pack, with each plastic page containing one DVD per side. A thin plastic sleeve, with a lenticular image of Superman bursting through his own logo, is slipped over the inner packaging. Once removed, all fourteen discs are accessible by merely flipping the sturdy plastic pages to get to each one. However, one must be careful of these plastic pages. While the collection looks sturdy, I wouldn't be surprised if one fumbled movement results in a lot of broken DVD holders.
A multi-page insert providing an entire list of contests is included, giving a disc by disc rundown of what to expect on each DVD. It's in the form of a mock Daily Planet newspaper. It's very handy and will actually help save time when trying to decide just what to view first (I know it helped me). A Superman “vintage” comic reprint is also included as is a promo pamphlet for other WB DVD collections.
The packaging, overall, looks stunning. Yes, there's a fair amount of Brandon Routh's Superman on the set, but Christopher Reeve is also given his due. He's all over the multi-page insert, from front to back. The packaging can be easily dinged up, I found, so collectors will want to keep extra care of the collection. The tin can also be damaged, so be careful with that, as well. While it's a great to look at and look magnificent on a shelf beside Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology, it can be easily damaged. It's not fragile, but damage can be inflicted on it easily if not taken proper care of.
Wow . . . I don't even know where to begin. My cup runneth over, indeed! Should I start with the full restored and beautiful looking Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Superman cartoons? The feature-length documentaries? The bonus documentaries? The restored Looney Tunes shorts that poke fun at our Man of Steel? The deleted scenes? The commentaries? The trailers? They even threw on the horrendous Superpup failed TV pilot! Since there is just much to cover in terms of extras, I won't be reviewing them in any real order. I'm just going to dive in head first!
I can't think of a more complete look into a film series then what we get in this collection. While the information may repeat itself from time to time, just about every considerable angle of the development of these features is developed. While I can't yet give a complete review, due to the error concerning the Superman III disc in this collection and the lack of the original audio in the first Superman I disc, I can provide a nice look at almost everything else on this set (see disclaimers below).
What truly surprised me right away was seeing a featurette on the classic Fleischer Studios/Famous Studios Superman shorts included. Only just expecting all seventeen cartoons, it was a great bonus to see this small featurette, and to watch current animation historians and writer/directors/producers, etc, recollect on truly groundbreaking animation. Bruce Timm, Dan Riba, Jerry Beck, Paul Dini, among many others, recollect tales from the production of the cartoons and tell just how much they've influenced their current work. It's not anything too in-depth but it's a great featurette to see.
And speaking of the classic shorts, they look simply amazing. They've even managed to massively restore the apparently damaged opening moments to the “Terror on the Midway” short, which is nothing more than still images in other releases. Yes, there are still scratches, grain, cigarette burns and other blemishes on the film, but these are simply the best these shorts have ever looked. They look simply amazing!
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman recollects the production of all four films, including all the dizzying highs and lows that came with. Much like the production documentary on last year's Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology collection, this documentary gets pretty blunt about the production, even the not so pleasant events that transpired. We get to be on the ground floor when the controversy surrounding Donner being fired is discussed (to which Margot Kidder is, as she says, still shocked thirty years later). We get to see the franchise collapse in the third and fourth installment (though Superman III is still considered a hit for one reason or another), including how Christopher Reeve alone made a fourth installment happen, though behind the scenes problems would cause the fourth film to wind up as it did. It's a very satisfying documentary that runs almost an hour and a half.
The tribute to Christopher Reeve is truly heart-breaking. Once the end credits rolled on that featurette, I could only mutter to myself how much of a tragedy it was that this would happen to such a great person. However, it's almost wrong to think that way, as he did remarkable work after the injury, and become a hero to many. It's a tragic yet heart-warming featurette, providing a worthy look back to the actor who brought the Man of Steel to life.
What this set also has in abundance is deleted scenes, deleted scenes for all the movies included within. While some provide only mere snippets of moment here and there, or don't really add anything to the movies themselves, there are some rather interesting deleted scenes. Most notably for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. I've heard for ages how the deleted scenes from this movie would rise the movie above the stinker is came to be. Well, I hate to say it, but no . . . no they don't. In-fact, all they do is remind us just how lousy the movie is in the first place, and why the theatrical cut of the film thankfully saves us from an ever longer or less bearable version of the film. It's amazing to watch a movie unfold like a train wreck so quickly, though.
Commentaries are also provided for most of the features in the movie, and I found them to be rather informative. Likely do to my curiosity surrounding the whole mess in the first place, I found the commentary for Superman II: The Donner Cut to be the most fascinating to listen to. It's not the best commentary I've heard, but the frankness in which Richard Donner approaches the movie and the situation that gave birth to The Donner Cut is fascinating to hear. He's a straight-shooter, which is such a rarity in Hollywood, these days. Everyone is so worried about saying something that may offend another that that it's encouraging to hear Donner speak in such an honest manner. He knows when to be light-hearted, and knows when to get gritty.
A joy to see in this collection is all the vintage material, including the screen tests, trailers, TV spots, and vintage “Making of” documentaries. While they're almost surreal to watch, given how used we are to current marketing practices, it's a nice reminder of just how big of an event these movies used to be. And who can forget the classic teaser trailer for Superman: The Movie? Great marketing never goes stale.
The extras from the two-disc Superman Returns set is also featured, including the remarkable thorough three-hour Requiem for Krypton documentary. It's one of the best produced extras for a comic book feature to date, and its inclusion here only adds to the thorough nature of this massive collection.
Rounding out the collection is the already available documentary Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and a complete set of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns web blogs. It's a nice way to cap off the set, going from (essentially) one extreme to the next. The Up In The Sky documentary provides a more general and basic over-view of the Superman franchise, from the early comic days to last summer's Superman Returns. If anything, it seems so light compared to how in-depth these other documentaries get, and seems almost redundant. It's a nice inclusion in the set and is worth showing to “that friend” who has just a vague idea of the Man of Steel's media origins.
Included in the set is a reproduction of Superman #7 (by John Byrne) which really has me baffled. Why include that comic and not something more historic or even better? Why not Action Comics #775, or something from the post-One Year Later comics? Why this issue? It's nothing special by any means, and doesn't really seem to fit in with the collection at all. It seems like Warner really missed out on a chance to include the first issue of Richard Donner's run on Action Comics, something that I'm sure would've interested many fans of the film franchise.
The collection, save for a couple errors on the set itself (see disclaimers below), is as complete as it can be. They even include baffling stuff like the failed TV pilot for Superpup, which is just surreal to watch. It's just so bizarre to watch, so odd, and just so . . . I don't know. I could only imagine what people were thinking when they gave the greenlight to produce this pilot. It's just so . . . wow. Just watch it, folks, and prepare to be absolutely stunned. Also included is the classic gem Superman Versus the Mole Men, a cute movie starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, and three Looney Tunes shorts lampooning the Man of Steel. Nothing groundbreaking by any means, but it's nice to see it included, to help make this as complete of a collection as possible.
With a set this large, it was a given we'd be getting excellent audio and visual, right? Well, for the most part . . . yes. The transfers on this set are the exactly the same as the ones on the Superman Returns: Special Edition, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman: The Movie - Four Disc Special Edition, Superman II - Two Disc Special Edition, Superman III - Deluxe Edition and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace - Deluxe Editions individual DVD releases. So, just how are the transfers?
Each of the classic Christopher Reeve Superman films look great! The audio is crisp and clear and the visuals are as sharp as can be. Of course, given the age of the material, they're not perfect transfers by any means, but they are truly as close as we're going to get with the DVD format. Having owned the previous release of Superman: The Movie, there is a noticeable step-up in transfer quality in this release, with the film looking so remarkably sharp. The others films look good, if not as good.
There are a couple exceptions to the rule, however. One being Superman II: The Donner Cut. Given the materials used to compose the film (such as screen tests, etc), there are noticeable drops in quality for both the audio and visual, but that can be easily forgiven. And much like with the Superman Returns individual release, the video is mixed on the 2006 feature. Since the movie was filmed in high-def, some scenes look incredibly detailed and simply amazing while other becomes are oversaturated, grainy and muddy. It's a fair transfer, but one that leaves room for improvement.
Overall, the transfers found within are likely the best we'll achieve with the DVD format. I can only wonder what the HD-DVD transfers of these already gorgeous films look like. And for those who enjoy the classic music from these movies (particularly the first), there are some music cues and music-only audio tracks to enjoy!
This is, without a doubt, the easiest judgment call I've ever had to come to when critiquing a DVD set. There's not doubt in my mind that Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition should be bestowed the Highest Possible Recommendation I can give. This is a set that Warner truly made for the fans, as just about everything they could possibly want in a Superman collection is here. I honestly can't think of anything else to include, as it seems like there's no stone left unturned within these fourteen discs. In short, it's all here. Every single thing.
I can't recommend this set enough, and given the price, fans should not pass this collection up. There's simply something in here for everyone, be it the casual fan or the most die-hard of followers. With this set, there's always something new to discover. There's always a new piece of information of nearly every perspective on these films is provided. The best is bursting with content with literally days worth of material to view. Despite a few of the errors, noted below, this is still a stellar release. Once/if Warner steps up to the plate to fix these errors, the collection will be nearly perfect. It's all here, people, and there's no reason whatsoever to turn this collection down. Very Highly Recommended.
Disclaimer #1: For those purchasing Superman: The Ultimate Collector's Edition, or any of the individual discs, Warner Bros. Home Video has released an important statement concerning a couple of the errors found on this collection.
"Bonus content was omitted from the Superman III Deluxe Edition in the 14-disc Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition. Furthermore, disc one of Superman: The Movie Four Disc Special Edition did not include the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Neither disc is known to be physically defective in any way.
Warner Home Video wants to extend apologies to all of our loyal Superman fans who've waited so patiently for these great collections and has taken immediate steps to correct these errors with the intention of standing behind our product 100%.
Replacement discs can be obtained by calling: 800-553-6937. The exchange program applies only to purchases of the Superman III Deluxe Edition in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition and to disc one of Superman: The Movie Four Disc Special Edition, available as a single title, as well as in The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection and in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition."
Disclaimer #2: As noted above, if Warner Home Video provides The World's Finest with replacements discs, expect this review to be updated accordingly.