Superman AKA Superman: The Movie
R4 - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Stevie McCleary, Tom Williams and Noor Razzak (15th January 2007).
The Film

You will believe a man can fly. That was the lofty promise made on the poster for the 1978 Richard Donner adaptation of the "Superman" legend. This was back in the days before CGI effects too. And while it may look a little tame by today's comparisons, they achieved that goal and so much more. They created a timeless classic. They gave the world Superman, the way he was intended to be. Make no mistake about it, even after all these years, this is still THE superhero film.
Based on the DC Comics character, created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, "Superman" is the tale of the baby Kal-El who is rocketed from his exploding planet Krypton by his scientist father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando, in all of his reading off cue cards glory)). Found in a Kansas field by Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter), they name him Clark (Christopher Reeve) and raise him as their own, instilling in him the virtues he will later live by. Upon learning of his heritage, Clark heads off to create a fortress in the artic, where he receives guidance from a simulation of Jor-El. After he is through there he heads to Metropolis under the guise of a mild-mannered reporter. He meets Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), along with the rest of the "Superman" supporting cast, and takes on the challenges of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his moronic lackeys.
The film is epic is scale and beautiful in tone. It is definitely not a fast moving piece. But the chemistry between the cast keep it alive right through. That will always be the thing that stands out for me when watching it, over the effects and fan boy moments, is the connection the actors have with another. They obviously enjoy their work and it shows as they crafted "Superman" from what could easily been a cheesy flavour of the week, derided by many as superhero films tended to be back in the day, into a legitimate film with heart, depth and soul. And a guy in blue tights.
The vibrancy and chemistry between Kidder and Reeve is palpable and never fails to hit the mark. Humorous, and often intentionally over the top, it is the glue that holds the film together. Kidder's Lois is headstrong and brash without being unlikeable, while Reeve is utterly endearing as Clark and equally as confident as Superman. Reeve shows much charm, as Superman marvels at his own abilities. The character is constantly showing off, accompanied usually by a boyish smirk, that never offends but rather befriends. You would want this guy flying overhead, looking after you and rescuing your cat from a tree. Even at his most devious, where he sweeps Lois off her feet as Superman and quickly turns up afterwards as Clark to see the effect he had on her, does not come across as arrogance. Truly, we see the burden he faces having to hide his true identity, as he considers telling her the truth. It weighs heavily on him that he can't be himself all the time.
It is nuances like this that really elevate the film, and a lot of the credit falls on Reeve's shoulders. His dual performance is remarkable. In that aforementioned scene you see him change from standing and acting like Clark to doing the same as "Superman." They really are two different people, and helps aid the illusion that someone could be close to him and not realise.
That rooftop scene is one of the most memorable in the film for multiple reasons. It was also the scene that was used in the audition process, so that should be an indication of how it was treated. As I've mentioned, the chemistry is thoroughly entertaining. The quirks that the actors put into this scene make it greatly humorous and touching. You totally buy into the fact that they are falling for each other. That is not to say the scene doesn't have it's out there moments, however. Superman refuses to tell Lois his age, in case people use the information against him. But then happily tells her about his inability to see through objects lined with lead, which does end up being used against him. Also, he offers up the history of his doomed home planet, including where it was, and this is used against him too. Also, he tells Lois that he likes pink, in a conversation that's slightly creepier than it should be.
The film also has its number of confusing, and sometimes downright weird, plot points. Luthor references that the article Lois wrote claims that Superman's rocket was launched in 1948 and took thirty years to get here. I can only assume that the baby aged slowly in the rocket. But then Jor-El, when speaking to teenage Clark, claims that he's been dead for 'many thousands of your Earth years." So which is it? Also, Luthor accurately predicts that fragments of his home planet-Kryptonite-will kill him. Not that he explains why parts of his own home would hurt him; just that it has 'unique radiation.' Or explain how he would know all this anyway. Still, Luthor is a genius, so I guess he can outwit even logic.
It's not a perfect film but it remains a great film. The actors bring more to the roles than was expected back before the superhero movie boom. And despite grievances like Clark just morphing into his costume while falling and a few other things that don't really make any sense (coughspinningtheearthbackwardscough), it is the emotional heart that makes this movie a classic. It is the first and best stop for explaining to someone the right way to introduce a superhero character and remains the benchmark to this day. I'm not afraid to say it: It's bloody super.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this new edition boasts a new anamorphic transfer that is a solid effort, this should be considered reference quality restoration work, the image is nice and sharp, colors are accurate and skin tones are natural. Blacks are deep and bold and shadow detail is consistent throughout, a few shots appear softer than I'd have liked but considering the age of this film it can be forgiven, minor artefacts pop up such as specks and dirt but these are few and far between. You can be confident that this is the best that this film has looked and can only be bettered in High Definition.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this disc, they are in English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and also in German Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English 5.1 soundtrack. Usually re-mixed soundtracks tend to ruin a film if not treated with respect, and I'm glad to say that this soundtrack has been given the appropriate treatment, the dialogue is clear and distortion free, while the surrounds are active whether subtle ambient sound or aggressive action and music elements. The track possess a depth reserved for newer films and combined with the music that makes uses of the sound space extremely well makes for a totally immersive experience.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, Danish, Finnish, German, German for the hearing impaired, Greek, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Turkish.

Extras

Warner Brothers have released this film as a 2-disc set with an audio commentary, a collection of trailers and a TV spot, plus a TV Special, a TV movie, and a series of animation shorts. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by executive producer Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler. Although Salkind takes over this track with Spengler chiming in occasionally it's still a wonderful and imformative track that should be listened to by all "Superman" fans as they cover a lot of ground from the original conception of the film and acquiring the rights, the deal they struck with Warner Brothers, getting financing, casting the film strongly with A-list actors and also finding the right person to play the man of steel. They also comment on the effects, primarily the flying and the challenges that had posed the production, they also comment on working with Donner and how they came across his work which ultimatlry led to hiring him for the film. They comment on the other cast as well as shed light on the logistics of this mamoth production that saw filming around the world. This track is essential listening and provides a wealth of information and background on this production, it not only makes a brilliant supplement to the film but also to the book "The Making of Superman The Movie" by David Michael Petrou who does have a slightly different account of the production mainly having to do with the relationship Donner had with the Salkinds during production.

Rounding out the extras on this disc are a collection of trailers and a [b]TV spot, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. They include:

- The film's original teaser trailer which runs for 1 minute 11 seconds.
- The film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.
- a TV spot that runs for 32 seconds.
- Plus a bonus trailer for "Justice League Heroes" the video game which runs for 1 minute 48 seconds.

DISC TWO:

First up on this disc is “The Making of Superman: The Movie� a vintage TV special that runs for 58 minutes 4 seconds, this feature is hosted by Christopher Reeve and goes into far more detail than the EPK's of today, the clip covers the entire production process and goes behind-the-scenes featuring some exclusive footage of the filming of several key scenes. This promotional piece also delves into the comic book history of the character among other things.

Next up is “Superman and the Mole-Men� a TV movie produced in 1951 and runs for 58 minutes 4 seconds, this special stars George Reeves as the man of steel for the first time before the series "The Adventures of Superman" (1952-1958) was picked up.

Rounding out the extras on this disc are a series of Fleisher Studios’ "Superman" cartoon shorts, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. They include:

- "Superman" which runs for 10 minutes 2 seconds, in this episode Superman saves the city from a mad scientist.
- "The Mechanical Monsters" runs for 10 minutes 36 seconds, in this episode Superman saves the city from attacking robots and their inventor.
- "Billion Dollar Limited" runs for 8 minutes 14 seconds, in this episode Superman stops the robbery of a train carrying billions in gold.
- "The Arctic Giant" runs for 8 minutes 14 seconds, in this episode Superman saves the city fom a giant Arctic monster.
- "The Bulleteers" runs for 7 minutes 42 seconds, in this episode Superman stops a gang running rampant in a special bullet car.
- "The Magnetic Telescope" runs for 7 minutes 20 seconds, in this episode Superman stops a mad scientist from using a magnetic telescope to cause havoc.
- "Electric Earthquake" runs for 8 minutes 22 seconds, in this episode a Native American wants the land that is Manhattan back as it's Indian land, upon refusal he sets off an earthquake that Superman must stop.
- "Volcano" runs for 7 minutes 37 seconds, in this episode Superman stops a massive volcano and saves the island of Monokoa.
- "Terror on the Midway" runs for 8 minutes 1 second, in this episode an escaped gorilla causes havoc at the circus and Superman must stop it.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case that is housed in a cardboard slip-cover.

Although the case states that this is a Region 4 release it is in fact region coded 2, 4 and 5.

Overall

Although this 2-disc edition includes some excellent extras, there is also a 4-disc version with even more extras and the inclusion of the 2001 Extended Edition of the film. Also note an Ultimate Collection is also available that features all the films and tonnes of extras packaged in a metal case so make sure to choose the right version for you.

The Film: A Video: A- Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A

 


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