PictureSuperman: The Movie and Superman II have a remastering treatment akin to that which made the classic Bond movies look so good in their recent Ultimate Editions. It really is amazing, but the quality on the latter movies only highlights the difference - with III and IV getting increasingly worse in terms of quality. Sure, it is difficult not to associate it with the drops in budget, but IV clearly has some print defects and lines showing, as well as heavy grain and that terrible comic-book logo at the beginning that makes you feel like this whole adventure was just drawn. Of course, simply everything pales into insignificance when you compare it to the new movie, Superman Returns, which looks absolutely amazing. Whilst I don't like Singer's approach to Metropolis (making the Daily Planet look like something out of the classic Godfather movies, drenched in sepia overtones), the rest of his vision of the Superman world is generally very good, and very well represented here. Again, there was an overuse of CGI (particularly when Superman is 'floating' in space, listening for distress calls) but it only shows how good the transfer is that you are able to really discern these moments. It clearly stands out as the one that is only going to get better with upcoming hi-def treatment.
SoundIn terms of audio, much the same pattern evolves, with the first two movies given a decent polished-up soundtrack, some good surround use - particularly for John Williams' tremendous score, with lots of smashing, crashing, gunshots and explosions dominating the frontal array. The third movie does not sound bad, with the fourth sounding like it has had the least effort spent on it (somewhat understandably), and Superman Returns once again standing out as the technically superior movie. Here we get amazing surround effects, with explosions and rumblings (like the superb Sonic Boom moments when he breaks the sound barrier) permeating your living room constantly, and simply the best presentation of the classic Superman score that we have ever heard. It really hits home from the opening few beats, with the LFE getting a whole lot of action from this brilliant soundtrack. Outstanding.
ExtrasWell, this is the mammoth 14-disc Ultimate Edition release of the Superman movies, so not only do we get both versions of the first two movies, plus all of the other movies, including Returns, but we also get a wealth of extra features. I don't even know where to begin but the safest way to deal with the extras is probably by looking at them in disc order.
On the first disc we get a Commentary by the Executive Producer Ilya Salkind and the Producer Pierre Spengler to accompany the Theatrical version of Superman: The Movie. The 2000 Expanded Edition comes with a slightly more interesting contribution from Director Richard Donner and the Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz. They note the extra scenes put back in, especially the extra Marlon Brando, but neither this nor the other track satisfactorily explains the illogical turn-the-world-backwards sequence that unfortunately adorns both of Donners cuts of the first two movies. On the second disc, aside from the Commentary Track, we also get a Music-Only Audio Track that showcases John Williams' magnificent score in its full glory.
The third disc, still focussing on the first Superman movie, has Superman: From the Archives, which contains three reasonably meaty Featurettes - Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, Making Superman: Filming the Legend and The Magic Behind the Cape. We also get some Restored Scenes, some interesting Screen Tests, and some Additional Music Cues, which are available in audio-only format. The fourth disc, which is also devoted solely to extras, is From the Superman Vault, with the original promotional TV Special Featurette: The Making of Superman The Movie, as well as the complete 1951 Feature Film, Superman and The Mole Men, which stars George Reeves as the Man of Steel. Rounding off the disc we get nine 1940s Superman Cartoons from the Fleischer Studios: Superman, The Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano and Terror on the Midway.
The fifth disc is the Theatrical Version of Superman II, which also has a Commentary contributed by Producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. We also get a single Deleted Scene and a single Theatrical Trailer. The 2000 Richard Donner Cut of Superman II not only comes with a Donner Commentary but also a two-minute Introduction by the Director, who seems genuinely humbled by the fan furore that led to the resurrection of this new cut, which he explains is as close to his original vision as possible. We also get several Deleted Scenes. There is also an entire disc of extra material focussing on this sequel, including a TV Special on The Making of Superman II, a TV Special on the 50th Anniversary of Superman and a new Featurette on the Fleischer Studios Superman Cartoons, as well as eight of the Famous Studios' Superman Cartoons, again from the 1940s: The Japoteurs, Showdown, Eleventh Hour, Destruction Inc., The Mummy Strikes, Jungle Drums, The Underground World and Secret Agent.
The eighth disc is arguably the only disappointing aspect of this release (aside from perhaps the lack of the alternate Krypton opening to Superman Returns, but that I will discuss later). As many will already know, this is the disc that the DVD production studios messed-up on because, although it purports to have a Commentary by the same producers, a TV Making-Of Superman III Featurette, some Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer, most purchasers will find that all they have received in this Ultimate Edition is the old Superman III release, complete with just a Trailer.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace comes with a possibly the most interesting of all the Commentaries in this collection, offered up by the Co-Screenwriter Mark Rosenthal. It is so good is largely due to the honest and candid talk he gives about the reasons behind the movie's failure. He explains how the vast budget-cut in pre-production and loss of many of the original effects team involved in the first two movies resulted in a significantly poorer offering. He also talks about how the original runtime was nearly two and a half hours in length, and since the final cut was just over an hour and a half, this mammoth editing process resulted in a distinct loss of coherence. He even briefly discusses this deleted footage, much of which we get in the form of over a dozen Deleted Scenes which are also housed on this disc, none of which are particularly amazing, but most of which do go to highlight some of the things that are lacking about the final cut. Finally, to round off the disc we get the Theatrical Trailer.
Disc ten is a bare-bones disc, with just the new movie, Superman Returns, on it, but that is more than made up for by the subsequent three discs. The eleventh disc is From the Archives, initially with several fairly mundane Deleted Scenes (and absolutely no sign of the multi-million-dollar effects-laden Krypton sequence that was reportedly originally supposed to kick-start the movie), as well as the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers. There are also several Featurettes - Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns, Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallising Superman, The Crystal Method: Designing Superman, An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman (split into three sections: Superman on the Farm, in the City and in Peril), The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman, He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman, and a Featurette exploring Resurrecting Jor-El.
The twelfth disc is entirely dedicated to Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, a massive Documentary that chronicles the origins of the hero in its comic form, with the subsequent adaptation for the radio, its early cartoon interpretations, the TV series, the movies, the loss of Chrisopher Reeve, then the further TV shows: The New Adventures of Superman (aka Lois & Clark), the animated Superman adventures and Smallville, leading finally to the most recent Big Screen adaptation. The next disc has You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, another huge Documentary split into for sections: Origin (Superman in the media and the challenges the Salkinds faced), Vision (Creating the right script, choosing the right director and casting the right actors), Ascent (The production and launch of a new kind of fantasy film), Crisis (complications and conflicts between the creative forces behind Superman II) and Redemption (criticisms and burnout for Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. We also get Featurettes - The Mythology of Superman (the legend, folklore and cultural influences that shaped Superman) and The Heart of a Hero (a tribute to Chrisopher Reeve, where family and friends reflect on the much-missed hero). Finally we get some more TV Productions: the TV Pilot of the 1958 Adventures of Superpup TV show, as well as three Warner Bros. Cartoons: Super-Rabbit, Snafuperman and Stupor Duck. The fourteenth and final disc is devoted to the Video Journals that Bryan Singer made from the set of Superman Returns during its production. Many were available as Web Blogs before the release of the movie, and it is nice to have them all in their entirety here, with plenty of teasing moments for fans when revealing locations or important sequences that were being filmed. And that's it, phew!
VerdictWell, despite the fact that Donner's Superman II cut wasn't quite all it was cracked up to be, that Superman III hasn't been printed properly as a Special Edition and that Superman Returns is likely to garner a Director's Cut Double-Dip just in time for a sequel, this fourteen-disc box set is clearly still the definitive Ultimate Edition which simply every single Superman fan must own.
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