Superman Returns (Blu-ray) (2006)
|Year Of Production||2006|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Bryan Singer|
Warner Home Video
Eva Marie Saint
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.40:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"Listen. What do you hear?"
"I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one."
Seldom has the reason why Superman continues to fascinate readers and viewers seventy years after his first appearance in Action Comics #1 been so adequately explained. And you will not find a better explanation for the stylistic differences between the Superman of 1978 and Superman Returns, either. In 1978, the world was a much more innocent, not to mention gentler, friendlier and in some ways more universally tolerant, place. In 2006, a group that meets the United Nations' criteria for social minority status, in spite of having no unifying racial, national or tribal characteristics, was huddled over in fear that a friend of a charity that wishes to prevent them and their kind from being born in the first place was facing nomination to run for President. If this is a world that does not need Superman, then I would hate to see what a world that does need him looks like. The characters have also evolved quite considerably since the last canonical film premiered in 1980. Lois does things other than scream at the top of her lungs for help, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), in addition to being easier to take seriously as an intellectual giant, has genuine reasons for his seemingly rabid hatred of the overgrown boy scout, and Kitty (Parker Posey) at least seems to have a shred of brainpower.
The plot conceit is that a few years ago, scientists discovered debris floating around in space that, given Superman's description of the location, may or may not be what is left of Krypton. Seemingly as a spur of the moment thing, Superman disappears for a few years, leaving Earth to its own devices. Meanwhile, in a series of legal or court proceedings that are never fully explained, Lex Luthor is released from prison and wastes no time in conning a sweet old lady named Gertrude (Noel Neill in a cameo reference to the 1948 and 1950 serials) out of her considerable wealth. With this wealth, one of the numerous things he obtains is an old Soviet missile device. Coming upon Superman's Fortress Of Solitude at the North Pole (and creating a bit of a continuity issue in the process), Lex somehow manages to get one of Superman's crystals to tell him the secrets of Kryptonian crystal technology. Meanwhile, Superman returns to work at the Daily Planet in his guise as Clark Kent, where he is somewhat shocked to learn that Lois is engaged to Richard White (James Marsden) and has a son with Richard named Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), whom the film soon raises strong questions about the exact paternity of.
I had a rollicking good time at the theatre seeing Superman Returns. Not because of how much it reminded me of watching Superman and the theatrical version of Superman II as a boy in the early 1980s, but rather because of how much it did not remind me of watching Superman and the theatrical version of Superman II as a boy in the early 1980s. Bryan Singer's Superman is a much more vulnerable and, pardon the pun, Human character whose estrangement from the same people he has sworn his life to protect really made me feel for him this time rather than feel indifferent to him as was the case about twenty-five years previous. But moreover, I really found the maliciousness of Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor far easier to relate to than Gene Hackman's goofball who simply cannot shut the hell up. There are people in the world this Superman is protecting whom I could shove a shard of Kryptonite into the back of, throw into the ocean, and be able to talk Superman into not shedding a singular tear for. And more than anything, Bryan Singer's recent films very strongly indicate that he totally groks this feeling, which is a claim that Richard Donner and especially Richard Lester or Brett Ratner cannot make.
Regardless of how one might feel about Superman Returns, it was an obvious choice for Warner to demonstrate their abilities with the new format. For more on that score, read on...
Superman Returns has also been presented on DVD, where it received a resounding chorus of complaints about a lack of resolution. In HD, Warner chose to present it on both formats, so much has been held back in terms of Blu-ray's capability in order to make the transfer fit comfortably on both formats, and sometimes it really shows.
Superman Returns is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window that appears to be progressive most of the time. I say most of the time because occasionally, artefacts appear that cast doubt. More on this in a moment.
My biggest complaint regarding the sharpness of Superman Returns both theatrically and on DVD related to the shots above the planet's surface and beneath the surface of the ocean. These backgrounds tend to take on a murky, blocky look, with the underwater sequences in particular having a posterised, banded look. Less posterised and banded they are on the Blu-ray, but they still appear posterised and banded. Given that they appeared this way theatrically, this looks to be a problem with the digital photography rather than the transfer or compression. However, other scenes display a lack of resolution, particularly in backgrounds, that suggest in these instances that the photography is at fault. Foreground details such as the actors' faces or costumes are as sharp as I have come to expect of the Blu-ray standard, but given the recent vintage of the film it is a bit of a disappointment. The shadow detail is excellent, and there is no low-level noise.
In contrast to the brutally garish, pastel-like colour scheme of the Superman films made between 1978 and 1987, Superman Returns has a steely, cold texture to the colours that in twenty years' time someone like me will declare to be common to features shot this decade. Rightly so as it is a lot easier on the eyes. Flesh tones are very accurate, if a little on the pallid side. The underwater sequences occasionally show a tendency of the colours to bleed into each other, but no bleeding or misregistration occurs above the surface.
No compression artefacts were noted. Some backgrounds take on a murky, grainy texture, but this was also noted in the theatrical exhibition and is likely a limitation of current digital photography. Sadly, however, artefacts that are film-to-video, specifically aliasing, were seen occasionally in the transfer. At 2:20 during the opening credits, the titles shimmer in a pattern that I have yet to see on any other Blu-ray Disc. They continue to do so in amounts that are variably noticeable, but especially so when the titles move toward the screen when turned diagonally. The worst example is at 83:03, when we pan through the ridiculously-appointed galley in Lex's boat, and two ventilation grilles on either side of the fireplace shimmer in a manner that I seriously hoped I would never have to see again when I upgraded to Blu-ray. Finally, a group of trees in a pan out of the hospital at 141:08 confirmed for me that I was not just imagining these artefacts. The nice way to put this is that I find these artefacts remarkably disappointing, and would be eager to hear an explanation from Warner Home Video as to why they are present. On the positive side, film artefacts were completely absent from this transfer.
Subtitles are offered in English and English for the Hearing Impaired. The latter are accurate to the spoken dialogue, well-timed, and attractively presented.
Disappointingly, we are not given any lossless or uncompressed audio options.
Three soundtracks are offered on this BD, all of them in Dolby Digital 5.1: the original English dialogue, which is the default, with dubs in French and Spanish. The relative levels between the three are quite consistent, so one can flip from one to the other without any volume spikes.
The dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, but the lack of separation from the rest of the soundtrack that is characteristic of Dolby Digital does tend to make itself noticed at times. Brandon Routh's screams of "I'm still Superman" at 115:16 blend in quite well with the score music, and parts of the aforementioned conversation in the atmosphere between Superman and Lois are almost inaudible. Having adjusted my setup previously for the much greater dynamic range that uncompressed or losslessly-compressed soundtracks offer, I suspect that this could be compensated for with a little effort to readjust the sound levels, but it exemplifies why plain-old lossy Dolby Digital has lived past its use-by date.
No issues with audio sync were noted, although parts of Marlon Brando's speech in the Fortress lapsed. That is more because of the techniques used to recreate the performance and speech, so we will let that one go.
The score music in Superman Returns consists of a performance of John Williams' classic Superman motif from 1978, and a new score by John Ottman. It was really quite something to be able to hear the Williams theme in a theatre, but Ottman's music works far better in conjunction with the remainder of the film. Using subtle, sinister, or mournful themes to full effect, the score music carries the theme of Superman in a world that has gotten worse in his absence to the point where one can get the same effect listening to the CD. The choir heard briefly at 39:00 during the plane rescue is something I would never have imagined being used in a Superman score before.
The surround channels are used to separate the sounds of rain, thunder, moving aircraft, Superman's flight, and other such special effects from the rest of the soundtrack. During Superman's big fall at 130:24, the quiet refrain of the strings and thud utilises the entire soundfield in a manner that one really has to listen for, but it is worth that effort. This is not a demonstration soundtrack, however, which is unfortunate considering the recent vintage of the film.
The subwoofer is used to supplement the score music, the earthquakes, and other truly Superman sound effects that are scattered throughout. The Dolby Digital format limits its integration with the rest of the soundtrack, but it does a very good job within those limitations.
|Surround Channel Use|
Divided into six featurettes that can be played separately or together, this collection details all of the aspects of production on the film. In order, the featurettes are Secret Origins And First Issues: Crystallizing Superman, The Crystal Method: Designing Superman, An Affinity For Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman, The Joy Of Lex: Menacing Superman, He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman, and Resurrecting Jor-El.
A collection of eleven scenes that were deleted from the finished cut of the film, with an added set of outtakes from Kevin Spacey's classic "wrong!" moment for number twelve.
An eighty-eight second trailer in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
A one minute, fifty-two second trailer in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
A seventy-one second advertisement for the game, presented in a windowboxed 1.78:1 ratio, and looking fairly standard-definition. After playback, one gets a screen demonstrating a cheat code for the advertised videogame.
The video transfer is good, but disappointing in a number of ways.
The audio transfer is good.
The extras are numerous but uncompelling.
|DVD||Sharp AQUOS BD-HP20X, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|