Superman: The Movie (Blu-ray) (rerelease in boxed set) (1978)

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Released 24-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Audio Commentary
Featurette-The Making Of Superman: The Movie
Featurette-Superman And The Mole-Men
Featurette-Super Rabbit, Snafuperman, Stupor Duck
TV Spots
Teaser Trailer
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 143:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Gene Hackman
Marlon Brando
Glenn Ford
Phyllis Thaxter
Case Gatefold
RPI ? Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
French Dolby Digital 2.0
German Dolby Digital 1.0
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0
Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0
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 for the Hearing Impaired
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Spanish
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     For forty years (at the time of release), Superman had been published in comic books, serialised in cartoons and television series, and would soon even be the subject of videogames. The story of Superman's early creation (as a villain in his original form, no less) is related on the Wikipedia. But one story I have heard was that the Superman we all know and love was in part inspired by the übermensch propaganda circulating in Germany during the 1930s. Essentially, Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's parents were immigrants from various parts of Europe, and Jewish. So when the Nazi Party was proclaiming themselves to be everything Humanity should aspire to in spite of the presence of men like Josef Goebbels in their ranks, the temptation to create a 6'4" man who could knock down buildings with his hands and deflect bullets from his eyes, and explain this by making him a man from another world, must have simply been too much.

     In the mid-1970s, Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided that the time was right to make a feature film celebrating the greatness of this character. To this end, they hired a team of writers that would eventually include people like Mario Puzo as a writer, before Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz were hired to direct and write the final version of the script, respectively. Just making the film proved to be quite a challenge, and many special effects techniques had to be invented or reinvented in order to accomplish the many illusions needed in the story. And with the fateful decision made to shoot this original feature and the first sequel at the same time, the budget soon escalated to a then-unprecedented fifty-five million dollars. As a point of comparison, the lavish epics that were The Godfather parts one and two were released six and four years prior, respectively, shot with a combined budget of less than half of that.

     Being an introduction to Superman, both the character and his mythos, the story itself is pretty basic. After sentencing a trio of criminals to banishment into what he calls the Phantom Zone, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) urges his fellows in the government on Krypton to evacuate the planet, fearing that its increasing proximity with its sun will soon result in the planet's destruction. These pleas fall upon deaf ears, and Jor-El is even expressly forbidden to evacuate himself. He puts his son, Kal-El, into an escape pod and sends it hurtling across space, where it eventually lands on Earth, and Kal-El is taken in by the Kent family (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter). Around the time of his eighteenth birthday, sadly, Clark Kent, as he comes to call himself, witnesses the death by heart attack of Pa, and soon leaves Smallville in order to figure out once and for all who he is. Using a green crystal he found in the pod, he is able to build the Fortress Of Solitude and learn the basics from extremely interactive recordings left for him by Jor-El. Making his way to Metropolis in the guise of a very large but very timid thirty year old, Superman gets himself a job in one of the most prominent papers of that city. And playing both sides of the tracks, he begins to share things about who he is and what his mission is with a reporter named Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).

     Unfortunately, just as on Krypton, not everyone is completely on board with Superman's ideals. One such hostile element is the irritatingly self-proclaimed genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). Unfortunately, some of the things Lois prints about Superman enable Lex to work out a scheme by which he might kill what he calls the overgrown boy scout, thus removing any interference with an insane scheme to use nuclear missiles to sink California into the ocean and thus turn the desert land he has been buying up into beachfront property, thus greatly increasing its value.

     At the time of release, the concept of treating a comic book hero in the manner of a Homer-esque god was more or less unprecedented. In Greek mythology, the one thing that distinguished the gods from Humanity was that they had all the same emotions, aspirations, and abstract thoughts that we do, only writ that much larger. Richard Donner and company approach Superman in much the same way, building a set of rules for him through proxy of Kal-El's recordings, then making the story about knowing when the right moment to disobey them has come.

     This disc is of the original version of Superman that was released in theatres in December of 1978. Several other versions have been released for television and on home video since then, some of which have upwards of forty minutes of additional footage. This theatrical cut has some problems, but is well worth watching.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     This film is younger than I am by a margin of a month and change. It has aged quite a lot better than I have, mainly because it has been taken care of, you know, the opposite of just being left to rot. That said, this version does not come up completely perfect.

     The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window. The transfer's sharpness varies according to the distance of subjects from the focal point and the number of special effects in the finished shot. Most of the time it is very good, but the transfer definitely shows its age when Superman is chasing a nuclear missile or flying through the upper atmosphere in his rage during the climax of the film. The shadow detail is pretty ordinary during the small handful of night-time sequences. No low-level noise is evident.

     Unfortunately, the biggest problem here is the balance of colours. It would be another eleven years before Tim Burton graphically demonstrated to the world that, in comic book adaptations, less is a lot more from a lighting standpoint. Any practical light source visible in shots shows significant bloom, and more brightly-coloured locations in the film show minor overexposure or the threat thereof. Skin tones and outdoor environments are more natural. No misregistration was evident.

     The transfer is compressed in the AVCHD codec, and shows no signs of compression artefact. No aliasing or telecine wobble is evident, either. Film artefacts were a minor problem, but well within acceptable limits for both size and frequency when the age of the film is taken into account.

     Subtitles are offered in English for the Hearing Impaired. They are reasonably accurate to the spoken word, with only a few minor truncations.

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

Audio

     The audio transfer is much like the video transfer. That is, also very good, but not quite tops.

     A total of nine soundtracks are offered with this disc. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1; interestingly, a recreation of the original theatrical release's English soundtrack in DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided. Dubs in French Dolby Digital 2.0, German Dolby Digital 1.0, Italian Dolby Digital 1.0, Castilian Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0 have been provided. Also included is an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. I listened to all of the English soundtracks and briefly sampled some of the dubs. The dubs vary quite dramatically in level and quality, as is generally the case with a film of this age.

     The dialogue in both English soundtracks is clear and easy to understand, but the 5.1 remix definitely wins out in this regard. It also wins for separation between dialogue, sound effects, and music. The 2.0 mix is very good in both respects, but the extra four channels really do make a difference. Audio sync was spot-on.

     The music in this film is credited to the great John Williams. As related in one audio commentary (I think it is for the other version of the film), the main theme was deliberately designed so the name Superman could be sung out in time with it. Although I prefer other soundtracks by Williams, and the Ottman elements of the Superman Returns score, what we have here certainly does not let the side down.

     The surround channels are frequently used to wrap environmental cues around the listener. They call attention to themselves because of the inconsistent frequency of their use (Lex's dog-frequency message to Superman being a good example), but most of the time they do what is asked of them well. The only disappointing factor here is the almost total absence of surround cues during dialogue sequences, although this is admittedly a very common problem with films of this age.

     The subwoofer is used the support the music and occasional bass-heavy sound effects such as gunshots or nuclear missiles being launched. It stands out because of the infrequency of its use, but is integrated with the rest of the soundtrack very well when it does appear.

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

Extras

Audio Commentary - Pierre Spengler (Producer) and Ilya Salkind (Executive Producer)

     I tried to listen to more than a few minutes of this commentary. Really, I did. But I declare that Spengler and Salkind should never be allowed to commentate on anything that does not involve a sole focus on paint drying. And even then, I can think of far more entertaining commentators for such an event. This commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. And for the record, after listening to more than an hour in total of the other commentaries with these two, I could not get past the opening credits. Dead people make sounds with more verve and emotion than these two.

Featurette - The Making Of Superman: The Movie

     This 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette, at slightly less than fifty-two minutes, was quite obviously prepared for broadcast on the television of the time. Beginning with an excellent introduction by Christopher Reeve, this featurette is clearly designed for audience generation.

Featurette - Superman And The Mole-Men

     Fifty-eight minutes and five seconds of a real, as they say, blast from the past, with George Reeves as Superman. Presented in black and white, 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette - Cartoons

     The Play All option gives us a nineteen minute, twenty-seven second reel of Merrie Melodies cartoons. Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0, this is a collection of three old cartoons that satirise the Superman canon. In order of menu listing, these are titled Super Rabbit, Snafuperman, and Stupor Duck. Sadly, they are standard definition, so do not get your hopes up yet about old 'toons being presented in HD.

TV Spot

     A thirty-one second television advertisement presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Video quality is about what one would expect for a lightly-restored or well-preserved TV Spot of this age.

Teaser Trailer

     Seventy-four seconds of very clumsily-designed teaser trailer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Theatrical Trailer

     This two minute, forty second trailer in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is in surprisingly good shape for its age. Of the three trailers presented here, this is by a long road the best one.

R4 vs R1

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

    As seems to be the case with all Warner releases, the only discernible difference between these releases is in the language options. There are times when too few is preferable to too many, and the Superman series in Region B is a shining example of the latter. That aside, the decision as to which version represents the best value for money is pretty much up to the purchaser.

Summary

     Opinions are often sharply divided concerning which adaptation of which superhero is the best one. About the only area of agreement in this respect is which ones none of us ever want attributed to us. Whatever else one might think, we can all agree that Superman as directed by Richard Donner was the one that set what I will call the seriousness precedent. That is, the more seriously one takes the predicament of the hero, the better the result. Deep flaws exist with this adaptation, such as a damsel in distress who is unworthy of the hero or a villain that flat-out orders you to not take him seriously. But all in all, Superman sits on the side of the fence where the audience is assumed to be capable of thought. That alone makes it worth watching.

     The video transfer is good, but limited by the available source materials. The audio transfer is good, but limited to a greater extent by the available source materials.

    The extras are substantial, and actually have a great deal of value.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-P50U20A. 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.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR606
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer

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