Superman Returns (Blu-ray) (rerelease) (2006)

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Released 24-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Requiem For Krypton: Making Superman Returns
Featurette-Resurrecting Jor-El
Featurette-Bryan Singer's Video Journals
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Trailers
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 154:19
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bryan Singer
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Brandon Routh
Kevin Spacey
Kate Bosworth
James Marsden
Parker Posey
Case Gatefold
RPI $79.95 Music John Ottman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
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 for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Chinese
Korean
Spanish
Portuguese
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Romanian
Russian
Slovenian
Swedish
Thai
Turkish
French Titling
German Titling
Italian Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes, but cleverly
Annoying Product Placement Yes, but blink and you might miss it
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     In some hypothetical examples, people can ask me what my favourite Superman film is. I will always tell them it is Superman Returns. Do not get me wrong, I do not think Superman Returns is perfect. In fact, when I discussed it at one point with another party, I told them the primary problem with the film was that it was as if director Bryan Singer was trying to have his cake and eat it at the same time. But between some better acting, a better story (especially compared with most of the sequels), and a better consideration of the consequences of Superman's actions, the storyteller in me just cannot go past this episode.

     The story begins in a Metropolis where Superman (Brandon Routh) has not been heard from in five years. In that time, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has become engaged, and borne a son whose exact heritage comes under doubt as a plot point. She has also written a story about why the world does not really need Superman, and to a certain extent she is right. Asking a godlike creature to solve problems that we can solve ourselves is pretty childish. But the world also has problems like Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who is just the kind of problem that the world could use a godlike interventionist to solve. Because Superman was absent for one court hearing against Luthor, Luthor is out and free to swindle a wealthy old lady named Gertrude Vanderworth (Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the 1948 Superman serial). With his ill-gotten gains, Lex sets about finding the Fortress Of Solitude, and succeeds.

     As Lex Luthor is learning about crystals, Superman crashes back on Earth in a similar manner to his arrival in the first film, and sets about re-establishing his connections in Metropolis. His first port of call, however, is the agrarian utopia of Smallville, where he reintroduces himself to his adoptive mother, Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint). Watching the television, he learns that the world he left for five years has become a worse place.

     What is interesting to note is that this film was originally planned as a new start for the Superman franchise, with more episodes planned and speculated about endlessly online. Unfortunately, all of the false starts in preproduction and other such problems blew the budget out to an estimated two hundred and nine million dollars, slightly more than the domestic gross that the film made. So in recent market repositioning, Superman Returns has been declared the closing chapter in the film franchise begun by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve (among many others).

     When I first heard that Bryan Singer was not going to be directing a third X-Men film and doing a Superman instead, I thought it was going to be a disaster. For the X-Men franchise, it certainly has been. Superman Returns, on the other hand, really grabs the whole superheroes as the Greek concept of godhood thing by the horns and wrestles with it. Lois Lane is no longer a screaming ninny, and Lex Luthor finally shuts up about what a genius he is and actually does something to prove it. And that failed airplane-shuttle launch scene that reintroduces us to Lois Lane was a stroke of sheer genius. (A note here: Since I wrote the preceding paragraph, I have rented and watched X-Men: First Class. It seems the involvement of Singer's production team has resulted in the first X-Men film since 2003 that does not prompt me to say those involved should be ashamed of themselves.)

     Okay, so Superman Returns is no X2. But in a world where we are expected to allow storytellers to treat us like children even when we find it incredibly disturbing, the more adult approach taken with this film means it will always have a place in my collection.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Superman Returns was released on one previous occasion on Blu-ray, early on in the format's life. Several problems were noted with this release, probably the most irritating of which was that it was not based on a true progressive source. This release fixes that. This consideration aside, however, oh dear...

     The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.40:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window. In all respects, this is a noticeable improvement over the previous Blu-ray release.

     Unfortunately, the film was shot entirely in digital, using cameras and storage media that still yield noticeably less resolution than is the case for the film materials used with previous Superman films. Sharpness is not a major issue, but there is a distinct feeling of textures and small details such as facial hair and the like almost being literally sanded out of the picture. Banding effects in underwater shots such as at 106:27 are still visible. When the director wants something to be visible in dark parts of the picture, it is, but those black areas seem a bit flat otherwise. Fortunately, no low-level noise is evident. However, the complete absence of film grain also strongly suggests someone really got carried away with the DNR.

     The colours in the film, whilst having been digitally manipulated and corrected in post-production, tend to follow a mostly natural and balanced palette. The exceptions are the Fortress Of Solitude and Lex Luthor's imitation thereof, where the set colours become heavenly bright or sickened dark, respectively. In all cases, the transfer renders these colour schemes faithfully, without any bleeds or misregistration.

     Interestingly, the transfer is compressed in the VC-1 algorithm, rather than the AVCHD used in most of the other transfers. Unlike the previous Blu-ray release, no compression artefacts or more specifically the borderline threat thereof are visible in this transfer. Also unlike the previous release, no aliasing is evident in this transfer. The interiors in Luthor's ill-gotten powerboat no longer show this artefact, a fact for which I cannot express how grateful I am. Film artefacts were not noted in this transfer.

     Subtitles are offered in English for the Hearing Impaired. They are reasonably accurate, but clip a lot of the spoken word out at times.

     Two explanations spring to mind for this video transfer, neither of them pretty. The sheer amount of audio and subtitle tracks, on top of the featurettes included, has simply pushed the transfer too far. That's the explanation that seems the simplest or easiest. However, there is also a serious possibility that the digital photography did not yield sufficient results to bring us a better transfer. Neither possibility is particularly appealing in this case.

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

Audio

     I mentioned that there were a couple of annoying things about the original release of Superman Returns. The non-progressive video transfer was the highest on the list. Next down was the lossy-only audio.

     The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and to say that this is a massive improvement over the previous Dolby Digital offering is like saying that progressive is a slight improvement over interlaced. Dubs in Quebec French, European French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish Voiceover, and Russian are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1, and their overall quality seems a good deal more consistent from a random flip-through. The absence of an audio commentary, however, is more than a little puzzling.

     The dialogue is extremely easy to hear and understand. Compared to the old Dolby Digital English soundtrack, the dialogue dances and performs magic for the listener. That point I love going over again and again, the sense of space between dialogue, music, and sound effect is so broad here that it makes me eager to phase other discs that only feature lossy audio out in favour of new lossless tracks (this is what we call a hint, Warner Brothers). Audio sync is spot-on.

     The majority of music in the film is the work of two composers. A small handful of contemporary numbers or quotations from pre-existing classical pieces are used. Almost all of the score is the work of John Ottman, Bryan Singer's composer and editor of choice. The main theme from John Williams' score for the original Superman is also used on occasion. The latter is well-rendered and works well in the overall scheme of things, but when Ottman is let off the hook to invent new themes for Lex Luthor or for new events such as when Superman explains to Lois that he hears the people crying out for a saviour every day, the score shines. So much so, in fact, that I bought the CD that Warner Brothers released of it.

     The surround channels are aggressively utilised for score music, directional effects such as helicopter rotors or disembodied voices, and other such environmental effects. They are more or less constantly active, but in a manner that enhances the film, rather than a gimmicky manner. Often, Superman himself can be heard moving through the surround channels before he is seen on the screen. Unlike every other film in this set, Superman Returns has an audio transfer that one can use to show off their surround system to friends.

     The subwoofer is also aggressively utilised to support the more violent, mayhemic parts of the film. Although it is used with less frequency than the surrounds, the moments when it is heard are powerful ones indeed.

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

Extras

     As with the other films in the series, Superman Returns has a modest collection of extras. Interestingly, no audio commentaries of any kind are offered in this instance. (One would think that if they are going to let one of the Superman IV writers loose to explain exactly what went wrong on that debacle, they would have someone talk a bit about this film. Many questions come to mind about it.)

Featurette - Requiem For Krypton: Making Superman Returns

     As with the previous release, this option takes one to a submenu containing five featurettes and a Play All option. The total running length of the offered featurettes is a whopping two hours, fifty-three minutes, and forty-one seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with film footage in 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Featurette - Resurrecting Jor-El

     This four minute featurette concerns itself with the digital trickery used to insert Marlon Brando's visage into the film. Fascinating from a technical point of view.

Featurette - Bryan Singer's Video Journals

     Oh my god, there are way too many of these! All kidding aside, a Play All option is thankfully included in the submenu, giving viewers the option to view all eighty-two minutes in one sitting. Given their visual quality, however, I would just as soon pass.

Deleted Scenes

     A collection of twelve deleted scenes and one collection of alternate takes of Kevin Spacey shouting "wrong!" in Kate Bosworth's face. Totalling twenty-one minutes and twenty-seven seconds, most of these scenes do not add anything to the film. They are, however, quite interesting for their technical presentation. Each scene is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, in high definition, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

     The one scene I would like to see reintegrated with the film is Superman's exploration of what is left of Krypton in his crystal spaceship. It seems to add at least a little bit to the story.

Featurette - Trailers

     Selecting this option simply brings up a pair of trailers, totalling three minutes and twenty seconds. Each is an excellent advertisement for the film proper, but the second gives away too many of the best parts of the film. Each is presented in high definition, an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 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.

     As with the other films in this set, the main difference between the two discs is the language options. The Region A disc seems to have significantly less of them. Warners, I need to be blunt in this instance. With a ratio of 1:20 or more in subtitle tracks I will use and those that I will not (and this is to say nothing of the audio tracks), this is a definite case of less is more.

Summary

     This being the age of the Internet where everyone can have an opinion as long as it echoes everyone else's, I have heard many things about Superman as he is depicted in Superman Returns. One is that the scenes in which he visits the manor Lois is sharing with Richard White (James Marsden) are creepy. In a way, they are meant to be. As Singer and company make a point of emphasising, although he was raised among the people of Earth and lives among them, he is not one of them. I say these people deserve major kudos for exploring that aspect of the character a little more thoroughly. This is what superhero films really need to be.

     Further to my point, allow me to quote something from the review of the previous disc: "There are people in the world this Superman is protecting whom I could shove a shard of Kryptonite into the back of, throw into the ocean, and be able to talk Superman into not shedding a singular tear for. And more than anything, Bryan Singer's recent films very strongly indicate that he totally groks this feeling, which is a claim that Richard Donner and especially Richard Lester or Brett Ratner cannot make." That still applies in spades with this film, and in the years since writing that review, I have come across an entire cavalcade of people I could happily help Lex Luthor kill. To be unable to understand the relevance of this film and its extent therefore makes one a candidate for that list.

     The video transfer is either an excellent representation of mediocre source materials, or a mediocre representation of source materials of indeterminate quality. On the plus side, at least it appears to be genuinely progressive this time.

     The audio transfer is also excellent, and makes an awesome example of why I will never again listen to a lossy soundtrack when a lossless option exists. Please do this with more of the old catalogue titles you released with lossy audio at first, Warners.

     The extras are modest in number, mostly great in quality, and mostly worth a look. The only disappointment is the lack of any audio commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, November 23, 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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