Superman II: Original Theatrical Release (Blu-ray) (1980)

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Released 24-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Audio Commentary-Pierre Spengler (Producer) and Ilya Salkind (Exec Producer)
Featurette-The Making Of Superman II
Deleted Scenes-Superman Souffle
Featurette-First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series
Featurette-The Fleischer Studios Superman
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 127:29
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Lester
Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Terence Stamp
Sarah Douglas
Jack O'Halloran
Gene Hackman
Case Gatefold
RPI $79.95 Music Ken Thorne


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French Dolby Digital 1.0
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
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
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
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, very much so
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     Superman was a massive hit, both with audiences and critics. The treatment of the titular overgrown boy scout in the manner of an epic Greek god biography made it both the most expensive superhero film at the time, and the most successful. Unfortunately, the problem soon began rising from the former. Both Alexander and Ilya Salkind were unwilling to go to the expense demanded by Richard Donner's desire to make the definitive superhero film. So they removed Richard Donner from directorial duties on Superman II and replaced him with an uncredited producer on the first film, one Richard Lester. Lester's first point of business was to reshoot as much of the Donner footage as he could (the film was already eighty percent complete when he was brought on). This made many actors in the film quite unhappy, and it does show at times in their performances. Jack O'Halloran has gone on record expressing much disappointment on the part of the cast about this decision.

     From the get-go, it is obvious why. Whereas Richard Donner treated Superman with great respect, Richard Lester is to the Superman canon as Adam West and Joel Schumacher are to Batman or Brett Ratner to the X-Men. To cut to the chase, he simply does not get it. Whereas Donner's film distinguishes itself by rooting a very unreal and all-powerful character in a physical reality, Lester cannot seem to go two scenes without inserting an idiotic physical comedy routine.

     Superman II as presented theatrically begins with Zod (Terence Stamp), Non (Jack O'Halloran), and Ursa (Sarah Douglas) sneaking into some anonymous room on Krypton, killing a guard, and for some reason snapping a large crystal like a twig. In an awkward, clumsy attempt to rephrase the trial scene without the involvement of Marlon Brando, Zod and company are declared guilty and sent off in the Floating Album Cover Of Doom™. At about this point, terrorists in France seize control of the Eiffel Tower, arming a hydrogen bomb in order to back up their demands; the details are not really important except that it all ends with Superman taking the bomb out into space and leaving it adrift to explode. When it does so, it explodes in the path of the Floating Album Cover Of Doom™, setting Zod and company free.

     As Zod, Ursa, and Non adjust to their newfound freedom and godlike powers, Clark/Superman has a bit of an existential crisis. Essentially, Superman feels torn about the fact that he cannot reveal the truth about his dual identity to Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Lois is quite in love with Superman, but sees Clark as a distinctly average person. And if you saw the end of the previous film, you already know how both halves of the Superman character feel about Lois. This comes to a head when Superman is given a choice to give up his powers in order to live a normal life with Lois. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has concocted a scheme to get out of prison and put one over on Superman.

     Central to every debate about where the Superman franchise went wrong is the competence and storytelling skill of Richard Lester. I cannot mince words about it. Richard Donner said in a fit of pique during a 1989 interview, "Let me put it this way...all the good parts of Superman II are mine". He is absolutely right. Whilst Superman II according to Lester is not completely unwatchable, to say that Lester's attempts to put his own… mark… upon the story resemble a child putting his hands in ink and patting them upon an early Stephen King manuscript is not an exaggeration.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The video transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

     The transfer varies in sharpness. Special effects shots are often somewhat diffuse, although not to the degree shown in later episodes of the franchise. For the most part the transfer is very sharp. One shot of O'Halloran at 51:32 reveals that the cause for the variable sharpness is simply that the focal depth allowed by the cameras used in principal photography is rather limited. When the subject of the shot is close to the focal point or camera, it is sharp to the point of revealing how important make-up artists are in feature films. When things get a little distant (think medium or long shot), detail falls off. Shadow detail is limited, although pretty good considering the age of the film. Low-level noise is not a problem.

     The colours in the film are pretty naturalistic. The pastel aesthetic is really only in Superman's suit for the most part, with skin and environment tones looking exactly like they ought. The transfer renders the colours effectively, without any misregistration; shoddy special effects notwithstanding, of course. Bleeding from over lighting is still occasionally an issue, but not to the same degree as with the previous film.

     The transfer is compressed in the AVCHD codec, and does not show any sign of compression artefacting. Film-to-video artefacts are not in this transfer either. Film artefacts are occasionally visible in this transfer, and in larger size than has been the case in the other films.

     Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired. They truncate the spoken dialogue a lot. I have to question the wisdom of including this option if the dialogue is going to be rendered inaccurately. Whilst I am not really what you would called impaired in hearing terms, I cannot imagine deaf viewers being completely happy with this provision.

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

Audio

     Accompanying a very good video transfer is an audio transfer that manages to both exceed and fall short of expectations. The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue rendered in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, bitrate unknown. That is the good news. Dubs are also offered in French 1.0, German 1.0, Italian 1.0, Castilian Spanish 1.0, Spanish 1.0, and Portuguese 1.0; as you can imagine in light of the age of the film, the level and quality of these dubs is all over the place. Rounding out the selection is an English audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

     The lossless compression means that the dialogue, sound effects, and music are all separated and in their own little aural space. In aural terms, that is of course a good thing. Dialogue is therefore clear and easy to understand. Audio sync is also spot-on.

     The music in Superman II is credited to Ken Thorne. As with the next sequel, what few memorable points are extant in this score are merely apings of John Williams' score from the original film.

     The surround channels are used rather sparingly for environmental sounds and directional effects during battle sequences. Even then, all that is really heard from the surrounds is the wind blown by Zod and company, or occasional crowd voices. During quieter points of the film, such as the sequences in the honeymoon resort, the entire soundtrack collapses into the fronts. This is definitely not a soundtrack to demonstrate the virtues of the format with. The subwoofer is used a little more actively, supporting the sounds of punches or environmental destruction. It stands out because of the more sporadic use, but is integrated well with the segments it supports.

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)

     Having listened to the Superman III commentary beforehand (I am going in a worst-first order with these films for the most part), I knew this was not going to be pleasant. Listening to both of these mens' voices is like watching paint dry, and they are quite obviously not recorded in the same session.

Featurette - The Making Of Superman II

     At fifty-two and a quarter minutes, this is a lot of time and disc space invested on a film that is barely worthy of contempt in storytelling terms. Having said that, this featurette is interesting from a historical perspective, and worth a look on that merit. It is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. As one would expect with a featurette of this vintage, the actual politics of the production are hardly touched on.

Deleted Scene - Superman's Souffle

     This one deleted scene in which Lois supervises Superman's use of his laser-vision to cook a soufflé is an excellent example of the lack of respect Lester has shown for the subject matter. It is presented heavily window-boxed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette - First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series

     This is basically a making-of for the animated Superman series made by Max and Dave Fleischer. At slightly less than thirteen minutes, this featurette covers all of the basics about who the Fleischers were and their influence over animation. Interesting to note is the serious manner in which the Fleischer Superman animations were made. It seems even in the 1930s, the creative element understood that camp was an element best excluded. The featurette is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio that seems to have some mild surround encoding.

Featurette - The Fleischer Studios Superman

     A submenu containing all of the Fleischer-made Superman cartoons that Warners could find. The Play All option gives a total running time of seventy-nine and a half minutes. Video quality is very good given that these cartoons are somewhere in the order of eighty years old now. They are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Theatrical Trailer

     This two minute, twenty-two second trailer appears to have been cleaned up somewhat for release on this disc. It is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

R4 vs R1

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

    Aside from language options, this disc appears to be pretty much the same in both Regions.

Summary

    This review of Superman II is one of many in which my favourite Richard Donner quote is used. It also cites the very good point that filmmakers, not accountants, should make films.

     There is no nice way to say this. I knew something was off about this Superman II the first time I saw it. It put me off the entire concept, canon, and character of Superman from the time I was a boy to the time I saw Superman Returns in a theatre. Simply put, Richard Lester's Superman II sucks various varieties of droppings through a straw. The Lester-invented sequences, such as the taxi impacting with Clark as he carelessly crosses a street, really make the hero out to be the imbecile the villain off-handedly describes him as at one point. People who challenge this point of view with speculations about how it would have been better if it had been imbued with a consistent directorial vision can go look at Superman III.

     The video transfer is good, but shows the age of the film. The audio transfer is also good, but also shows the age of the film, and to a greater extent.

     The extras are comprehensive, but in some cases serve to further highlight what a major failure this film was in storytelling terms.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, November 17, 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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