Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Blu-ray) (1987)
Audio Commentary-Mark Rosenthal (Writer)
Featurette-Superman 50th Anniversary Special
|Year Of Production||1987|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Sidney J. Furie|
Warner Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
French Dolby Digital 2.0
German Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0
Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0
Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0
Polish Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.40:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, mildly|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In the mid-1980s the Superman film franchise had come to an impasse, not least in part due to the greed of its producers. Box office returns on Superman III were diminished, especially compared to increasing production cost. The quality of the stories that were being used in the films were descending at a rate comparable to rainfalls in Scotland. And most importantly, the man that shot to prominence playing the titular character was making it public knowledge that he was sick of playing that character. Warner Brothers offered Christopher Reeve what superficially seemed like a sweet deal. In exchange for financing some film projects of his choosing (from memory, I think he got one picture out of the deal), they would allow him to choose the story on which the fourth Superman would be based. Not coincidentally, fear of America and the Soviet Union flinging nuclear missiles at each other was ramped up to an all-time high around this time. Much of it was an artificial fear based on cultural and societal barriers that were much easier to maintain at the time (the Internet still being mostly a military project then). Now, it seems easy to look back on those times and wonder what was wrong with people, but paranoia of things beyond one's understanding was even more pronounced then. Scary.
Unfortunately, Warner Brothers felt the cost of making another Superman film could not be justified by the expected box office returns. So they farmed the production out to the Golan-Globus studio that was responsible for so much of the schlock associated with 1980s film (for those who do not understand the meaning of that name, they produced Firewalker, one of the single worst films in Chuck Norris' august career). According to reports, Golan-Globus took the money they had been provided by Warners and spread it across numerous projects they had in the works at that time. It shows. Even as the opening credits begin, it is obvious that something is off.
The film begins with a space station floating above the Earth. But this is not an American station, rather a Russian one on which a potential disaster is quickly rectified by Superman, who then addresses the cosmonauts in Russian and goes on his merry way. An interesting idea for an introduction to a Superman story, but one executed very terribly. Things descend from there as peace talks between America and Russia begin to break down, and a child gets the idea to write Superman and ask him to help resolve the crisis. After some pointless deliberation scenes, Superman goes to address the United Nations. At first, his speech makes perfect sense, and follows lines that one might expect from a well-written issue of the comics. But then he makes the announcement that he is going to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. To applause. One reviewer on a site based entirely around snarking on terrible films described this scene as a hundred percent pure, government approved, grade A b******. And he is right. As an example of how right he is, I would like to cite a little incident that happened during the first Gulf War. A number of different Arab nations threatened Israel, blaming Israel for what they saw as America's aggression against Iraq. Israel's response was that for every nuclear missile those nations fired at them, Israel would retaliate tenfold. Israel still has yet to have a nuclear missile fired at it.
That point aside, the nuclear-armed nations of the world begin firing their missiles into space, which Superman diligently catches and throws into the sun. So about this time, during an incredibly idiotically-phrased meeting with a trio of arms dealers, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) proposes to put a warhead into one missile that contains the genetic material to create a clone of Superman. A healthy dose of Bad Movie Logic™ later, and Superman is fighting what Lex dubs Nuclear Man (body by Mark Pillow, voice by Gene Hackman). Some poor choreography and terrible effects later and Superman rides off into the sunset, telling Lex that he will see him "in twenty".
It is not a coincidence that it took nineteen years and change for another Superman film to come out. This one is really that bad. It is, however, worth watching for a young Jon Cryer as Lex's nephew, Lenny.
As I hinted in the plot summary, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was shot on the cheap. Actually, that is not completely true. The budget listed on the IMDB entry was seventeen million in 1987 dollars. By comparison, RoboCop was shot and released at almost the exact same times, and had a budget of thirteen million. But whereas Paul Verhoeven and company made every dollar count, Sidney J. Furie and company did the exact opposite (this is where the rumours that Golan-Globus funnelled the budget into other projects of theirs originate). But the reason this budget stands out is because the cost of shooting the original Superman has been estimated at fifty-five million 1978 dollars.
Yes, I realise how long-winded all of that was, but there is a point to it: Superman IV looked and sounded cheap when it was in theatres, it probably looked and sounded cheap when it was in post-production, and this Blu-ray Disc cannot help but reflect that.
The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 within a 1920 by 1080 window. The packaging claims (in that usual small-print way) that the transfer is progressive. Unlike the original releases of certain films in this series, this transfer does not give any reason to doubt that.
The transfer varies quite a bit in sharpness. When the special effects are minimal or not in use, the transfer is very sharp. Not as sharp as should be, given the age of the film (again, I hate bringing up this comparison, but the RoboCop Blu-ray is far superior in this regard), but still quite an improvement over previous transfers I have viewed. The shadow detail is acceptable, but not great. No low-level noise is evident in the transfer.
The colours in the film are also quite variable. Plate-photographed shots showing Superman or Nuclear Man in flight are faded and garish, as if the stock negatives that were used to comprise these shots had been left in the sun for years at the time of production. Special effects shots of the more intensive kind do not fare much better. The transfer does manage to render the colours of the film effectively, without misregistration or bleed, but there are times when it does not have a whole lot to work with.
The transfer is compressed in the MPEG-4, AVCHD codec. No compression artefacts appear in the transfer, although one could be forgiven for thinking so during the opening credits or when Nuclear Man throws what we are meant to believe are rays of energy at Superman. No aliasing or telecine wobble was noted in the transfer. Surprisingly for a film of such low budget, poor-quality production, film artefacts were both rare and minimal. On this basis, I believe Warners have gone back to an interpositive or similar generation material and created a whole new transfer, which is to be commended considering what an embarrassment the film represents.
Also reflecting the cheap manner in which the film was produced is the audio transfer. The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 2.0, bitrate unknown. This is interesting in and of itself, as it suggests that either Warner Brothers could not be bothered remixing the soundtrack from the original dialogue, sound effect, and music stems, or such stems have simply gone walkabout. This production having been farmed out to Golan-Globus, my money is on the latter. But neither would surprise me. Dubs are offered in French, German, Italian, and Castilian Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0; dubs are also offered in Spanish and Portuguese in Dolby Digital 1.0; a Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0 dub, a Polish voiceover soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0, a Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 dub, and an English audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 round out the choices.
I listened to the English soundtrack and audio commentary in their entirety. I also sampled some of the dubs. Worth noting is that the levels and quality of the dubs are literally all over the place. This is not surprising given the age of the film, but viewers who make use of the dubs should take care when switching from track to track.
The dialogue is very clear and easy to understand, even from Nuclear Man, who has had some subtle effects added to his voice. The audio elements appear to have been cleaned up and restored because I have never heard this film quite like I heard it with this transfer. Separation between music, Foley, and dialogue is very good, especially by stereo standards. The only real audio sync problem is when Nuclear Man is speaking, as Mark Pillow's on-set voice and Gene Hackman's dubbing seem just a wee fraction out (hardly surprising given the rest of the elements).
The score music in this film is credited to one Alexander Courage. When it is not aping the John Williams score from the original Superman film, it is… not doing much of anything, to be quite honest. There are original cues peculiar to this score, but not nearly to the extent that is the case in Superman Returns, and certainly not nearly as memorable.
The surrounds are not specifically encoded into this soundtrack. My receiver directed a small amount of the music through them, but they otherwise had the night off. The subwoofer also receives a small amount of redirected signal during fight scenes or other bass-heavy moments in the film, but only care of my receiver. One could turn it off during this film and not miss a thing.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are only a small number of extras included on the disc proper for Superman IV.
Right from the get-go, Mark says exactly what he thinks of the finished product and how the product came to be in the state it is. He alludes to the fact that preproduction was cut short, that forty-five minutes was cut from the film, and the moneymen just generally did the dirty on the creative team. Commentaries that are this frank and earnest do not come by often. Unfortunately, Mark also tends to pause for lengthy periods, even when there are questions about the on-screen action where an answer would provide much enjoyment.
At slightly over forty-eight minutes, this special is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. This is a retrospective showing all of the incarnations of Superman that have been in film and television. The tone of the special seems a little confused, mixing narration and vox pop interviews that treat Superman as if he is a real person with interviews from other sources that treat the subject from a more factual point of view. The latter includes interview footage with Christopher Reeve in which he describes his approach to playing the character. The quality of footage used to comprise this featurette is all over the place.
Slightly over thirty-one minutes of footage that was deleted from the original cut of Superman IV is included in this featurette. It is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Most of it is in very rough quality.
The comments made by Mark Rosenthal about how incoherent the film becomes as a result of the deletions are pretty spot-on, but a lot of what is presented in this collection (no option to view the scenes separately is offered, but thankfully the featurette is chaptered) is pretty superfluous anyway. One scene with the first Nuclear Man begs the question of how much Burger King paid to have the scene not included in the finished cut.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, the quality of this trailer is surprisingly good.
The two versions again appear pretty much identical. The Region A disc has less soundtrack and subtitle options, which is either a good or bad thing, depending on how one looks at it.
There is no nice way to put this. Superman IV is one of the most terrible films ever made. In fact, the similarities between it and the work of Ed Wood are inescapable. Both were begun with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the way a cheapskate (or an idiot) got into the works and messed the process up for all concerned. Add to that the misguided and trendy politics behind some of the story points, and the result is a truly wretched exercise in futility. Which makes it all the more surprising that Warner Brothers have treated it with such respect for this release.
The video transfer is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear to a small extent. At some points, it even succeeds. Most of the time, however, it fails, and fails hard. The audio transfer is a valiant effort, but 2.0 channels can never top 5.1, even when the source materials would be as limiting to such a remix as these would clearly be.
What extras are on this disc are enlightening, entertaining and, in one case, very brave to be included.
|DVD||Panasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic TH-P50U20A. 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.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer|