Superman-The Movie (Blu-ray) (1978)

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Released 16-May-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Audio Commentary-Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz
Featurette-Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman
Featurette-Making Superman: Filming The Legend
Featurette-Superman Screen Test
Isolated Musical Score
TV Spots
Teaser Trailer
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 151:25
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Marlon Brando
Gene Hackman
Christopher Reeve
Ned Beatty
Jackie Cooper
Glenn Ford
Trevor Howard
Margot Kidder
Valerine Perrine
Maria Schell
Terence Stamp
Phyllis Thaxter
Susannah York
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $39.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Adapting existing source material into a film poses numerous challenges to the creative team. How seriously do you take the source material? Who in the audience do you most need to please? Where do you begin the story? And just what should the story contain? All of these questions and more confronted director Richard Donner when he began leading a crew on the monumental task of adapting Superman into a feature film. One of the biggest challenges he faced was making Superman look like a real flesh-and-blood creature who was governed by the same physical laws as the Humans he has sworn to protect. This is covered in some detail by audio commentaries such as the one on this disc and in interviews. Many of the special effects techniques Donner and his crew used to trick the audience into believing they were seeing Superman fly through the atmosphere or form a fortress using nothing but ice and crystals had not been tested to such an extent before. Part of the nostalgia for the film derives from the fact that, Star Wars notwithstanding, a film so dependent upon special effects had not been seen before.

All that aside, a film is only as good as the story upon which the actors, special effects technicians, and sound designers rest. This would be the biggest challenge Donner faced on this project. How do you explain to an audience that has never heard of Superman where he came from and why he can do what he does without boring the audience that already knows these things? How do you introduce all the supporting characters that make up Superman's world? And how do you structure the story so Superman does more than just explain what he is and where he is from? The script that Donner ended up working from was thick enough that the fateful decision to film Superman and a sequel simultaneously was made, but even then the first film ended up an amalgam of several different sections. The solution Donner and his team came up with to bridge the disparity was to give them a thematic similarity, with four stages of Superman growing from infancy to manhood, each with their own subtle little callouts to each other.

Superman: The Movie begins on the doomed planet of Krypton with the trial of a trio of criminals. The judge is a respected figure in Kryptonian society by the name of Jor-El (Marlon Brando), who follows this trial by discussing what he believes to be the imminent demise of Krypton with other powerful Kryptonian figures. Barred from using any means to investigate or escape the impending disaster, Jor-El places his son, Kal-El, in a crystalline escape module that, as the sun consumes Krypton, speeds across the universe to a humble little planet called Earth. There, Kal-El soon crosses the path of a pair of farmers, Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter). Realising that the boy they literally found in a capsule by the side of the road is not of this world, they quietly raise him until the fateful day when Jonathan dies. Clark Kent, as Kal-El calls himself during this time, soon finds a crystal that Jor-El sent with him, and sets off to the North Pole where he uses the crystal to create the Fortress Of Solitude.

There, Kal-El finds himself face to face with a very interactive recording of Jor-El, who begins explaining things to Kal-El that he needs to know. Who he really is, why he is on a planet overpopulated by what one of his enemies will call a fragile sort of lifeform, and so forth. At the conclusion of this little primer, Superman (Christopher Reeve) makes his way into the world of Metropolis, where he finds himself a job at the Daily Planet. There, he meets a few characters, but the ones worth mentioning are editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) and reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). As he switches in and out of the guise of Clark Kent, bumbling reporter, Superman gives Lois an exclusive interview, and shares his basic story with the world through her. There are some readers, such as Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), with his sidekicks Otis (Ned Beatty) and Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), who use small, seemingly innocent details from this story to find ways to destroy Superman...

In 1978, Superman: The Movie hit the box office like a meteor. It had a lasting impact upon how superheroes and comic books were adapted into celluloid. Once, where comic book characters were regarded as little more than Play School for adults (apparently Batman is a "fun character"), this 1978 production marks the first time writers and a director delved into what really makes the character tick. The results are not all perfect. While Christopher Reeve, Glenn Ford, and Marlon Brando give some of the best performances of their careers, some supporting characters really shatter the illusion. Margot Kidder seems to have been instructed to spend half her scenes screaming for Superman's (or anyone's) help, and really succeeds in making the audience (or at least the more cynical audience) wonder how such a god-like being could be interested in this screaming ninny. Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor generally consists of him reminding the audience of how smart and amazing he is whilst giving very little in terms of actions to support his claims. And maybe it is just how the world has worsened since 1978, but the general awe and amazement that the random individuals Superman arrests or saves just rings hollow a lot of the time, although that could have something to do with being spoiled over the past thirty years by subsequent films in which superheroes have done some really amazing things (or if you are Ian McKellen, several amazing things per film).

When you add it all up, especially with the climax of the film in which the thematic arc is closed with Superman finally deciding he is grown up enough to know when to ignore the rules that have been set for him, Superman circa 1978 is a milestone in the art of adapting comic books to film. This makes it an obvious choice when deciding which films to use to demonstrate the format of the future...

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Transfer Quality

Video

Superman shows its age, and the relative infancy of the special effects used to realise the world it is set in. The fact that it is a dual-format release does not help in some ways. That said, the Blu-ray version is quite a pleasant disc to watch.

The case states that the transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and I see no compelling reason to dispute this. It is presented in a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

The transfer is variable in its sharpness, but in accordance with the film. Special effects shots and scale model shots tend to look grainy and slightly out of focus. The scale model shot of the surface of Krypton at the beginning of the film made me wince. Shots of actors merely doing there thing, such as a close-up of Terence Stamp's eyes at 8:34 leaves no doubt that any diffuseness encountered is inherent in the source materials and not the fault of the transfer. The shadow detail is a tad limited, as you would expect of a 1978 film. Grain and noise are an issue in some special effects shots, but otherwise not a problem.

The colours in the film have a peculiar arrangement. Compared to later superhero films in particular, Superman has a very pastel-like colour scheme. The costumes in the early scenes on Krypton, for example, have a mild bloom that reflects how this effect was literally used without much idea of how it would appear in the finished product. The transfer captures all of these quirks without missing a beat. Flesh tones are quite accurate, and there is no misregistration.

Compression artefacts were not noted in this transfer. In contrast to Superman Returns, no film-to-video artefacts were noted, either. Film artefacts are occasionally evident in the form of small flecks and the occasional scratch. They are especially pervasive during special effects sequences, such as when Superman is flying, but these were within acceptable limits given the age and production methods of the film.

Subtitles in English and English for the Hearing Impaired are included on the disc. The latter are attractively presented, well-timed, and mostly quite accurate to the spoken dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

Superman is presented with three soundtracks. As is usually the case with Warner dual-format releases, they are presented in plain-old Dolby Digital rather than any lossless or uncompressed options being used. Disappointing, for certain, but what we get is certainly impressive within the limits of that format.

The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, with a French dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 included for good measure. An audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 and an isolated score in Dolby Digital 5.0 are also included. I listened to all of these soundtracks, even sampling the French dub for a few minutes.

The dialogue in the original English soundtrack is very clear and easily understood. The filmmakers took a lot of care to ensure every important word was distinct and separated from the rest of the soundtrack. The Dolby Digital compression blends the elements of the soundtrack somewhat, but the dialogue comes through as clear as a bell. The crackle that was noted in the review of the Special Edition DVD was not noticed by me whilst viewing this BD, although the first ten minutes of the film does seem to have a slightly different timbre to the rest of the film. A lot of the film is quite clearly ADRed, so it is a wonder the audio sync is as accurate as it is.

The music in this film consists mainly of a score by John Williams, with the use of a few pieces of music contemporary to the periods depicted for good measure. Anyone who has watched enough films will know what to expect with a John Williams score. A pervasive cacophony of letitmotif-based themes for the titular character accompanies just about every second of the film. It is the score's subtle moments that stand out, however. At 33:34, we hear just how much of an effect you can get out of a simple bell. The Superman theme is now so ingrained into the character that it is scarcely possible to imagine a Superman film without it.

The surround channels are used moderately, but also quite aggressively, to separate directional effects and the music from the rest of the soundtrack. Marlon Brando's voice is reverberated from the rears during his conversations with Superman at such moments as 46:15 to an effect that typifies the use of the surrounds throughout the film. Most of Brando's voice is heard from the centre, with a small slice of the frequencies coming from the rears, giving the subtle impression that his voice is echoing around the sound field. Not the most immersive way to use the surrounds in a 5.1 soundtrack, for sure, but an improvement over the stone silence I heard out of the rears from a Linear PCM 5.1 soundtrack on a disc of a film of near-identical vintage (Dawn Of The Dead for those who are curious).

The subwoofer is used infrequently to accent such effects as the rumble of the Kryptonian sun. It calls attention to itself, but in a good way, at such times as 29:29, when Jeff East kicks the football with what the sound effects convince us is the force of a rail gun.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

As is the case with the other films in the series, this disc includes a (partial) Top Menu and a Pop-Up Menu. The latter has a fast response time and no distracting sound effects to confuse the issue. A fully-featured Top Menu would be first on the list of things Warner Brothers need to start adding to their discs.

Audio Commentary - Richard Donner (Director) and Tom Mankiewicz (Creative Consultant)

This is a film with plenty of history and production issues for both participants to talk about, and talk they do at length about how challenging the effects shots were, what they were hoping to accomplish, and what impressions of the film they have all these years later. Although it is not the best audio commentary I have ever heard, it is not too far from it.

Featurette - Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman

A thirty minute, fourteen second featurette about the making of Superman. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with footage from the film windowboxed at 2.35:1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. It is quite clearly in standard definition.

Featurette - Making Superman: Filming The Legend

A thirty minute, forty-one second featurette that continues from the the previous featurette and describes how the film was shot. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with footage from the film windowboxed at 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. It is also in standard definition.

Featurette - Superman Screen Test

This featurette is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with the screen test footage in 2.35:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Isolated Score

A Dolby Digital 5.0 rendering of John Williams' iconic score.

TV Spot

This thirty-one second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, standard-definition ad spot really gives an idea of just how much worse the feature could have looked.

Teaser Trailer

Presented in the aspect ratio of of 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, this seventy-four second teaser trailer consists almost entirely of repeated-exposure titles and features no footage from the film.

Theatrical Trailer

This two-minute, forty second trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. It appears to be based on a high-definition source, but the trailer is so deteriorated as to negate the added resolution.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The two discs appear to be pretty much identically specified, right down to the audio and subtitle options.

Summary

While I dispute, and heartily so, the notion that this is the best comic book adaptation ever, Superman: The Movie is a spectacular achievement in filmmaking. The blood, sweat, and tears that the cast and crew put into every shot is evident, and the little things like a memorable death scene with Glenn Ford ensure this is a film that cannot be forgotten easily. Superman: The Movie was a logical choice for a film to promote either HD format with, for all these reasons and more.

The video transfer is excellent.

The audio transfer is very good.

The extras are moderate in number and quite compelling.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Monday, June 30, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSharp AQUOS BD-HP20X, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic 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 DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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