Superman-The Movie: Special Edition (1978)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 15-Aug-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Richard Donner (Dir) & Tom Mankiewicz (Creative Consult)
Listing-Cast & Crew
Notes-Awards
DVD-ROM Extras
Featurette-Taking Flight - The Development Of Superman
Featurette-Making Superman: Filming The Legend
Featurette-The Magic Behind The Cape
Featurette-Screen Tests
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Audio-Only Track-Additional Musical Cues
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 145:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (76:36)
Dual Sided
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Marlon Brando
Gene Hackman
Christopher Reeve
Ned Beatty
Jackie Cooper
Glenn Ford
Trevor Howard
Margot Kidder
Valerie Perrine
Maria Schell
Terence Stamp
Phyllis Thaxter
Suzannah York
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.0 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
French
Spanish
German
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, Minor
Annoying Product Placement Yes, References to JVC, Cheerios
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Superman was the first serious adaptation of a comic book hero to the medium of film, and in my mind remains the best. As a movie, it has everything working for it, from the perfect casting of Christopher Reeve as Superman, Gene Hackman as the criminal genius Lex Luthor; the direction of Richard Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon) and the incomparable scoring by John Williams.

    The planet Krypton is on the brink of disaster, with its sun coming to the end of its life and threatening to destroy the planet. Only Jor-El (Marlon Brando) has the foresight to understand this, though unable to save himself. Without the consent of the security council, he sends his only son to a distant and safe planet called Earth. On Earth, Superman has incredible powers and uses them for good, quickly becoming a part of the American crime-fighting landscape. Only the insane Lex Luthor has the genius to stop him, though his plans are foiled by the incompetency of his bumbling colleagues. Superman must ultimately choose between his love for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) or to violate his father's prime teaching not to interfere with the course of human history.

    The plot reads as it should; a naive and simplistic comic book story, and as such lends itself to any number of different realisations. It is without doubt that the way this story has been adapted is without par in contemporary film making. From the opening credits, it is clear that cinematic history was made back in 1978 with the release of Superman, and watching it today brings back all those memories of wonder and awe which I remember vividly as a child. Warner are to be congratulated for presenting this much-cherished landmark film in such a thoughtful manner.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a superb transfer and is a reference example of how a relatively older film can be presented on DVD.

    Superman was shot in 35mm anamorphic with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This transfer preserves that aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The sharpness of the image was somewhat variable for a number of reasons. Many different techniques were used during production, ranging from front-projection photography, matte artistry, optical compositing and the like. Indeed, many of the methods used were pioneered for this movie. As such, sharpness ranged from extraordinary to somewhat less-than-perfect, but never was it the fault of the transfer. Many long shots were exceptional in the amount of fine detail resolved, and had me pausing to marvel a number of times, a clear indication of the high quality of the transfer. Grain was under tight control for the most part, although many process shots were extremely grainy and as a result most of the effects work was quite obvious; this contrasts with today's CGI work which is generally invisible. Edge-enhancement was not an issue. Shadow detail was very impressive for a movie of this vintage, and was always exceptionally good, though it must be said that watching in a light-controlled (ie. very dark) environment is a must (as with all movies). There was no transfer related low-level noise whatsoever.

    The colour palette varies according to the three distinct phases of the movie. The first phase on Krypton was shot under unusual conditions, with a special light-reflective coating on costumes, which tended to drown out much colour especially in faces. However, young Superman's blue, red and gold blanket is a hint of things to come, being most vivid and lifelike, clearly the result of modern post-processing. On Earth, colours are quite natural if a little subdued, making the clear, bright reds and blues of Superman's cape all the more impressive. There is chroma noise evident in process shots, but this cannot be helped

     It is most pleasing that the movie has been allowed two whole layers and competition with only a few low bitrate audio tracks; the video is entirely faultless and devoid of MPEG artefacting of any kind, save for some inevitable and minor posterization. The restored print is exceptionally clean and almost totally devoid of film artefacts, and there are no instances of film-to-video artefacting.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring between Chapters 23 and 24 at 76:36 minutes. It was not distracting.

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

Audio

    As with the video, the soundtrack was a very pleasant surprise, and is absolutely reference quality.

    There is a stunning English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a wonderful Dolby Digital 5.0 Music Only track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track. There is also a Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian soundtrack.

    I initially was quite concerned with some crackling during dialogue on Krypton. Thankfully, this was restricted to the first 10 minutes or so, and for the most part dialogue was very good, although its dated origins were sometimes evident. Spatial integration was very convincing, with the dialogue seeming to be part of the environment, notably inside the wonderfully reverberant lair of Lex Luthor. There were no lip-sync problems.

    The incredible score has John Williams stamped all over it, with just the right sense of wonder and emotion throughout - indeed it is a critical component of the movie Superman. The opening credits send shivers down my spine every time, with the same power as Star Wars and Indiana Jones and with much the same style. I can say that I was not prepared for the power and clarity provided by this transfer. It has clearly been reworked for discrete surrounds and is so enveloping, clean and warm that you can't help but be swept away by it. It is so superb in its own right that, thankfully, a separate music-only track is provided in Dolby Digital 5.0, and it is indeed subtly better than that provided with the main soundtrack.

    Of some controversy of late is the reworking of old soundtracks to be more appealing to modern audiences. For those movie lovers amongst us who invest great sums of money into audio hardware, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword; we would like the original (maybe mono) soundtrack, but also want our gear to be made use of and justified. Well, the new soundtrack to Superman is so sublime that I can see no one being upset in this case. At all times the spaciousness and neutrality of a modern, carefully produced soundtrack is presented here. The discrete surrounds are used constantly, though never call attention to themselves for their own sake. There is a great sense of atmosphere, and any panning is effortless and always in keeping with the on-screen action. There is some front-to-back panning, and much centre-rear activity, as those with expensive Dolby Digital Surround EX setups will no doubt be pleased to hear.

    The .1 channel was used with great precision, and got a great workout. It was effortlessly integrated into the soundtrack amidst the many explosions and rumblings, and again had the authenticity and power generally reserved for contemporary soundtracks such as this.

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

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

    Superbly themed, this is a great appetizer.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

Menu Audio

Audio Commentary

    This is a most interesting listen, amongst the director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Manciewicz. Clearly friends, they talk with ease and have much to say. It is quite wonderful to listen to the gasps in their voice as they see a scene and say "Yes, I remember this.." and proceed to discuss it. One of many interesting points is that Marlon Brando can be seen many times during his scenes on Krypton pausing and looking around the room - looking for little cards with his lines on it! Not bad for someone getting paid $3 million for a few weeks work, which was and is a ridiculous price for such a relatively small part. Poor old Richard Donner, who also directed 80% of Superman II only got $1 million!

Listing-Cast & Crew

    I have noticed a tendency for recent discs to just list the cast and crew, without providing any info. That is unfortunately the case here.

Notes

DVD-ROM Extras

 

The following three featurettes are one large documentary broken into three smaller pieces. They are all presented in 4:3 and with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and are excellent in quality.

Featurette - Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman

    A look at the developments which lead up to the filming of Superman. Running time: 30:16 minutes.

Featurette - Making Superman: Filming The Legend

    A look at the trials and tribulations involved in production. It is most interesting to hear that both Superman and Superman II were filmed at the same time! So, a take inside the Daily Planet for instance might have had shots for the first movie, and then later the same day, shots from the second. Amazing stuff, and no wonder director Richard Donner was at times physically and emotionally exhausted. Running time: 30:42 minutes

Featurette - The Magic Begind The Cape

    A focus on the special effects used during production.

Featurette - Screen Tests

    A look at some screen tests for the part of Superman, Lois Lane and the wonderfully evil Ursa. Looking at these, it seems natural that the characters chosen would play the part, with only the right people easily assuming the roles. Running time: 21:33 minutes

Deleted Scenes

    Two fully finished scenes involving Lex Luthor. Both are of very high quality, and even 16x9 enhanced, and would have fitted seamlessly into the feature.

Theatrical Trailer

    Now this is a good trailer. Imagine you are sitting for another movie back in 1978, and this is played - wow! Presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 and 16x9 enhanced. Running time: 2:36 minutes

TV Spots

    One thirty second TV trailer, curiously also 16x9 enhanced.

Audio-Only Track - Additional Music Cues

    8 seemingly unused compositions by John Williams, including a pop version of "Can You Read My Mind". Ugghh!

R4 vs R1

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

    The R4 version misses out on:

    Whilst the Teaser Trailer might be missed, it is for the most part included in the documentaries. There is nothing compelling in favouring either version, PAL vs NTSC pros and cons aside.

Summary

    Superman is a truly legendary film. It has been presented on DVD in a manner which fans could only have dreamt of, and as such I am nominating this movie for inclusion into the hallowed Hall Of Fame. The video, audio and extras are all absolutely reference quality and will delight.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Paul Cordingley (bio)
Sunday, August 05, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A-360, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 16:9 RPTV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSony STR DB-930
SpeakersFront - B&W 603 Series II, Centre - B&W LCR6 Series II, Rears - B&W 603 Series II, Subwoofer - B&W ASW500 Active

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Various
The DVD Bits - Alex F
DVDAnswers - Allan H
Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page - KOT
DVD Plaza - Anthony C (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
R4 is much better picture quality to R1 - Doctor (Biometric Readout)
Which Release Is This? -
layer change problems - bobafett_h (read my bio)
Re: layer change problems -
version -