Superman: The Movie: Expanded Edition (Blu-ray) (1978)

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Released 24-Aug-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Audio Commentary-Richard Donner (Director) & Tom Mankiewicz (Writers)
Featurette-Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman
Featurette-Making Superman: Filming The Legend
Featurette-The Magic Behind The Cape
Featurette-Screen Tests
Featurette-Restored Scenes
Featurette-Additional Scenes
Featurette-Additional Music Cues
Isolated Musical Score
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 151:25
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Christopher Reeve
Gene Hackman
Marlon Brando
Margot Kidder
Glenn Ford
Phyllis Thaxter
Case Gatefold
RPI $79.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Spanish
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Russian
Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     By now, the story of how two Superman films were shot together, with a lot of hope being pinned on the first one's success, is legend. As so often happens with two films being shot at the same time, the editing of both films became a somewhat confused process. Reels and reels of footage was shot, and as happens so often in filmmaking, scenes were shot but not included in the version of the film shown to audiences. Adding to this was the release of an extended version for television, which contained some forty minutes of additional footage not seen in the original theatrical release.

     A very small amount of the excised footage was deemed to be worthy of inclusion in an official cut of the film. Thus, this footage has been restored and combined into what this release deems an extended version. The difference in running times amounts to slightly more than eight minutes. As you can imagine, most of this is minor extensions to existing scenes, an extra line here or there. But as I have learned very well in recent years, it only takes the addition of seconds to change the fundamental characteristics of scenes, or even the whole story that they are part of.

     Unlike what happened with Superman II or Superman IV (a more complete cut of the latter still has yet to see the light of day, and at this stage there is no reason to expect it ever will), this is not a radically different version. No new scenes that will put an entirely new twist on the material can be expected here. The level of respect for the intelligence or adulthood of the audience is no different. What is different is the rhythm of certain scenes in which the basics of the Superman character and what he does are explained. One discussion between Kal-El and Jor-El in particular is noticeably different in this cut. Another interesting point is that rather than put this version of the film on the same disc as the original theatrical release with seamless branching, Warner Brothers chose to release it as a separate disc. I actually commend this decision. Clearly, with the differences in soundtrack and subtitle options, and all of the technical hassles involved, Warners came to the conclusion that simply releasing an additional disc would be a more cost-effective way to go. After some discs where the seamless branching option has been tried to the detriment of my enjoyment, I have to say that in spite of improvements to it in the BD-Video specification, it is still an option best avoided.

     Being that the two cuts of the film are so alike, one might be forgiven for assuming that the video and audio transfers will essentially be the same. For more about that, read on…

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The extended edition of Superman is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

     This transfer varies in sharpness. I am not sure how the anamorphic photography was set up during principal production, but it is interesting to note how quickly and dramatically the level of detail falls off as the subject of a shot grows distant from the focal point. Shadow detail is distinctly average, making it a small mercy that a relatively small amount of the story takes place at night. No low-level noise is evident.

     The colours in the transfer are generally quite well-balanced, barring one exception. Light sources such as the Kryptonian suits or simple overhead lights like in the Daily Planet office have an overexposure-like bloom that does sting a bit to look at. Aside from this, there is no colour bleeding or misregistration in the transfer.

     The transfer is compressed in the AVCHD codec, and no compression artefacts are in evidence. Aliasing is not a problem, nor is telecine wobble. Film artefacts appear very occasionally, but only small ones that one needs to be looking out for at that. This is a very clean transfer.

     The ultimate question is whether this is visually an improvement upon the previously released BD. It is fractionally sharper, has less artefacts, and especially no hints that it was not taken from a true progressive source. That is good enough for me.

     Compared to the theatrical version on the previously-discussed disc, this transfer is also marginally better. Colour saturation seems slightly richer whilst related artefacting, namely the light blooms in numerous shots, seem better-controlled.

     Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired. These contain variations from the spoken word, but less annoying ones than is the case in the subtitle tracks for other films in the series that I will get to in good time.

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

Audio

     A total of seven soundtracks are present in this audio transfer.

    The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 with a bitrate I was not able to determine. Dubs are offered in French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, and Castilian Spanish 5.1; the final two soundtrack options are an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 isolated score. I listened to the English soundtrack and the commentary in their entirety. I sampled parts of the isolated score. It is testament to the superiority of lossless compression that in spite of having the entire soundtrack to itself, I still prefer to listen to the score as part of the English soundtrack.

    I also briefly sampled the dubs. The quality and level of the dubs is somewhat more consistent in this case than with the original theatrical release and most of the sequels, but they still fall off dramatically from the original English.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times. Separation between dialogue, sound effects, and music is excellent, even more so than is the case with the theatrical version. No audio sync problems were evident.

     The music in the film is the work of John Williams, who is associated with so many great film scores. People accuse Williams of being so unsubtle that he becomes a proxy for the director telling the audience how they are meant to feel about the onscreen action. That is a fair criticism, but the quality of the score is such that it is difficult to tell whether it is planting the emotional reaction of the viewer or enhancing it. That is largely because the quality of the story being told is commensurate with the quality of the score music.

     The surround channels are used frequently to direct the music and a small amount of directional sound effects around the listener. During action sequences, they are used effectively. During dialogue sequences, which comprise a large portion of the film, light reflections of the music are all that keep the sound field from collapsing into stereo. Given that this film is a third of a century old now, this is not exactly a surprise, but it is a minor disappointment. Fortunately, moments like Superman's scream of anger at the end of the film's climax or the helicopter flight over the missile-bearing convoy give the surrounds a chance to justify their presence. The subwoofer is also used, albeit less frequently, to support music and bass-heavy effects such as cars crashing or missiles launching. As with most of the other films, it stands out due to the infrequent nature of its use, but when it is active, it is well integrated with the rest of the soundtrack.

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

Extras

     A modest collection of extras are present on this disc. If one is interested in the technical side of filmmaking, then this is a real treasure trove.

Audio Commentary - Richard Donner (Director) and Tom Mankiewicz (Writer)

     Audio Commentaries are very much a two-edged sword. A good director or writer can open an audience's eyes to a whole new perspective on the film through them. But only if they are good at commentating. Donner and Mankiewicz are not the best commentators around, but they are very good, and provide a lot of fascinating insight into all of the processes that went into the finished film. The commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo that occasionally seems to wrap into the surrounds when Donner raises his voice.

Featurette - Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman

     This thirty minute, fourteen second featurette is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Some film footage is window-boxed into the 4:3 frame at 2.35:1, making me really appreciate the specifications of high definition television. With Marc McClure's linking narrations, this becomes a very watchable retrospective making-of.

Featurette - Making Superman: Filming The Legend

     Thirty minutes and forty one seconds, in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. This continues on from the previous featurette and goes into the challenges that everyone faced in getting the film made. Especially noteworthy is the brief mention of Geoffrey Unsworth's contribution. Margot Kidder in particular highlights the difference the presence of a crew member who makes one feel valued can make with an anecdote about Unsworth.

Featurette - The Magic Behind The Cape

     This twenty-three minute and forty-five second featurette is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with excerpts from the film in 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. It deals with the myriad of practical effects techniques used to accomplish the shots for which the film is rightly commended. This is one very rare instance where my response to "they do not make them like they used to" is something other than "good".

Featurette - Screen Tests

     This submenu, which includes a Play All option, has a list of three screen tests for which the footage apparently still survives. Total running time is twenty-two minutes and twenty-five seconds. After an introduction by Lynn Stalmaster, we are treated to screen tests for Superman, Lois Lane, and Ursa. Interesting to note is a screen test by Stockard Channing for the role of Lois Lane. She is a better actress than her career to date has implied, but the screen test shows she was very wrong for the role of Lois. Most interesting in my view are the tests for the role of Ursa. Not because they include the tests Sarah Douglas did, but because the screen tests included prove that Stalmaster and Donner made a choice so right it is scary.

Featurette - Restored Scenes

     Yes, that is how this extra is described in the menu. This is eleven and a quarter minutes of scenes that were either edited back into the film for this version, or brought back into a state where they could have been. Without any commentary or text to place them in context, it is difficult to even judge why these scenes are here. Both this and the next featurette are presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette - Additional Scenes

     Three minutes and twenty-three seconds of scenes that connect with parts of the film in a similar manner to the scenes that were added to the cut on this disc. Essentially, these are two scenes in which Lex Luthor plays the piano and sings. Interesting, but they were definitely left on the cutting room floor for a good reason.

Featurette - Additional Music Cues

     Playing over the same still that the menus are based on, this is a thirty-five minute and forty-four second collection of music that was either not used in the film or dramatically cut down in order to fit the film.

Isolated Score

     This is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with everything other than John Williams' contribution excised. Those who have a big interest in the art of score music will find this worth a listen or three.

R4 vs R1

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

     Comparing the disc's specifications to the review of the Region A equivalent on High-Def Digest, it seems that this release does not break Warner Brothers' usual policy of making the subtitle and audio options the only real difference between the discs. Although I like my discs with far less language options than is the case in the local boxed set, the decision as to which option presents the best value rests with the individual purchaser.

Summary

     Superman: The Movie shook the world up in terms of its approach both to making films and adapting superheroes into films. The extended version presented on this disc only makes subtle changes to the version released theatrically in 1978, but what a difference some of those changes make. Still, the overall effect is not nearly as dramatic as was the case with the most immediate sequel, but I commend Warner Brothers for including both versions in this set. Now fans can watch both versions and make their own choice as to which version they would rather show others.

     The video transfer is excellent, with only slight problems in shadow detail or production lighting being any real issue. The audio transfer is excellent, spoiled only by the limitations posed by the age of the film.

     The extras are comprehensive, both in number and value.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, November 16, 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

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Nice to see some - but not all - of the additional materal... - Wilson Bros, UK