"Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1978-2006 Blu-ray Review"
By James Harvey
Upon first receiving the Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1978 - 2006 Blu-ray collection from Warner Home Video, the first thing I did was go straight to disc seven. Why? To check out the infamous cut scene from Superman Returns - "Return of Krypton." I'll comment on that scene in particular later on, but that extra is just a tiny fraction of what is unquestionably the most definitive Superman home video release yet. Save for one or two curious omissions, this set is something all Superman fans should have in their Blu-ray collections.
To quickly comment on the movies before diving into the Blu-ray collection itself, it goes without saying that these films are classics. Not all of them mind you, but a good 71% of them are. Rightfully so, the set kicks off with Superman: The Movie, 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 (though Superman Returns did find a great successor in Brandon Routh). I could easily go on and on about Superman: The Movie, but Iíll keep my comments short for everyone's sake. 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. Outside of this and 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 featuring great actors 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 in the accompanied bonus features, citing it 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. Warner Home Video gave Donner a chance to compose his "cut" of the film, using an assortment of film sources to create Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. 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 same 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 pretty intimidating in some scenes. He rises above the material and mediocre directing skills of Lester, delivering 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. This movie is just flat-out bad - plain and simple. 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 took us 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 included in the set).
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 this stunning Blu-ray set and, yes, that's just the tip of the iceberg. And why? Because there is still about 20 more hours worth of bonus features to go through, including some content exclusive to this stunning anthology release. There's still a lot more to cover, so now that you're up-to-date on the movies, let's continue on to the actual home video collection!
Housed in a cardboard slipcase package similar, though greater in size, to the Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology release, Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1978-2006 features all eight discs housed inside with a fold-out digi-pack case. Basically, you take the top off of the cardboard slipcase, pull out the digi-pack, unfold it, and you have access to all eight discs. The cardboard is a tad flimsier than it should be, but it's an overall attractive case. I wish the packaging was sturdier, along the lines of Warner Home Video's The Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-ray release, or the Alien Anthology from Fox Home Video. Additionally, there is overlap with the discs, as you can tell by the images above, which can make them slightly difficult to remove.
To quickly touch upon the audio and video for this collection, it should come as no surprise that these films look, for the most part, really spectacular. Each film looks noticeably cleaner, sharper, and more pure than their DVD counterparts. Even the likes of Superman: The Movie, which was already available on Blu-ray, shows noticeable improvement even over it's previous high-definition release. Now, none of the films - even Superman Returns - are perfect, but they do all look great, especially the first four given their respective ages. Superman Returns still looks just a bit too soft for my liking, it doesn't look that bad, though I wish Warner Home Video opted to remaster it. Quite honestly, I have no qualms about the video or even the audio. The films feature new HD audio mixes, all of which do their respective films justice. They sound spectacular to say the least, though fans will definitely notice differences in the sound mixes between the two separate versions of Superman: The Movie and Superman II included here. The sound mixes for the theatrical versions of both films are very subtle, akin to the original sound mixes, while the mixes for the "newer" versions take a few more modern creative liberties I find. The rest of the films all feature finely mixed and appropriate HD audio tracks.
For those who purchased the Superman: The Ultimate Collection DVD release in 2006, you pretty much know what to expect in terms of bonus content. The stunning 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? The horrendous Superpup failed TV pilot? It's all here...and then some. Given that that majority of the content in this release has already been covered with the Superman: The Ultimate Collection DVD, I'll be as brief as possible on the repeated content coverage. While the majority of the bonus content is featured on the eight disc, every other disc features their own unique bonus content. This includes movie-specific deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes, documentaries, etc. However, the majority of the bonus content is on the eight disc. To note, the majority of bonus content remains in standard-definition, with only a handful of the bonus content upgraded to high-definition.
The eight disc, the "bonus disc," includes the feature-length documentary Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman and The Science of Superman TV special in High-Definition. Also included is the five-part You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman documentary, The Mythology of Superman featurette, Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve featurette, and the failed 1950s TV-pilot The Adventures of Superpup. It's worth noting that this collection features Look, Up in the Sky... for the first time in high-definition. Additionally, The Science of Superman is new to this release. The National Geographic Channel special looks, well, at the science of Superman's power to see which are proven science and what is pure fiction. It's a worthwhile watch, especially in high-definition, loaded with great tidbits of information.
The other notable new addition to this Blu-ray set, found on the seventh disc - dedicated to the movie Superman Returns - is the deleted opening sequence to the movie "Return to Krypton" in stunning HD. It's a beautiful, haunting five-minute scene, unfolding gradually as Superman arrives and tours the remains of his home planet via the rocket that brought him to Earth as a child. Moving at a calm pace, Superman explores the remains of his birth planet until deadly Kryptonite forces him to make a speedy exit. The acting, the amazing looking special effects (including a very Minority Report-ish take on how the crystals in his ship work), all of it sell this dark opening, which segue perfectly into the film's opening credits (even though the delete scene presented here leads into the first scene at Martha Kent's farm). These five minutes are a must-see for Superman fans. Absolutely stunning. While I understand why this "Return to Krypton" prologue was snipped from the movie, I truly wish it wasn't.
Just to add one more comment, it seems like the Superman Returns opening credits recreate Superman's trip from Krypton to Earth (I believe this was even confirmed). But with the "Return to Krypton" sequence, and how it ends, both fit nearly seamlessly together. It's worth noting all the deleted scenes for Superman Returns have also been upgraded to high-definition.
Continuing with the theme of deleted scenes, we get a host of cut content 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. Again, this is nothing new, as all this content is also on the Superman: The Ultimate Collection DVD release.
Speaking of carried over content, commentaries are also provided for most of the features here. 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 Superman II: 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 carried over to 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.
Quickly summarizing, each disc features a cavalcade of great bonus content dedicated to each film. And, as nice as this stuff it to see, I do wish more of it was converted to HD for this collection. It looks fine in standard definition, yes, but it does feel a bit lacking to see so many of these features in standard definition when they should be in high definition. How great would it be to see the Fleischer Superman shorts in HD? We get a taste of it in the Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman documentary, but boy do I wish we got more than that. Thankfully, the standard definition content looks really solid for the format, and doesn't look too out of place in this collection.
I do have to wonder, as I look back on everything included here...why is Supergirl not part of this collection? That just seems to be a glaring omission that would make this collection truly complete. Yes, the movie doesn't really feature Superman, but it is connected to the Superman movie franchise and deserves a spot. It's referenced in the bonus materials...so why not just include it?
The Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1978 - 2006 Blu-ray collection is a must-have for any Superman fan, no doubt about. It takes the already excellent Superman: The Ultimate Collection DVD release, and upgrades it to high-definition and tosses in a few extra goodies. If you have the technology, this collection is worth picking up. The movies look and sound excellent, the bonus content is thoroughly enjoyable, and the box set itself looks pretty excellent on the shelf (especially with that cool raised Superman logo on the front). It's a solid set all around with the pros far outweighing any cons (no Supergirl, more extra should be in HD). The Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1978 - 2006 Blu-ray collection is a must for any home video library, and is a definite Must Own for Superman fans and movie buffs everywhere!