Superman Returns [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Stevie McCleary & Noor Razzak (1st October 2008).
The Film

Just so we're clear from the beginning: I love this film. I think Bryan Singer did a masterful job of creating a Superman film that is both epic in scope and respectful to the Richard Donner film that preceded it. And while it is not perfect, few films are anyway, it breathes life into a previously dead-in-the-water franchise, and makes you believe a man can fly. Again.

In case you're slightly behind, Superman is the sole survivor of the doomed planet Krypton who, in his guise as Clark Kent, works as a reporter for the Daily Planet. He likes Lois Lane. He's vulnerable to Kryptonite. He saves the world a lot. That's pretty much his deal. This particular film considers Donner's "Superman: The Movie" from 1978 as canon, so go watch that.
"Superman Returns" begins with the message that Superman (Brandon Routh) has left. Gone to find his home planet, which astronomers believed might still exist. He hasn't been seen in five years. As the title suggests, he returns. But the world he left is not the same as the one he returns to. The major change is that Lois (Kate Bosworth) is living with her boyfriend, Richard (James Marsden), and they have a son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu) together. While Clark deals with his feelings, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is hatching his biggest scheme ever. And it involves Superman's Kryptonian technology.

My God, is this film pretty. The sets are just majestic. Coupled with Singer's use of frame and state of the art effects, "Superman Returns" is a truly beautiful film to watch. The use of physics is good as well, with you getting a real feel for Superman's movements and interactions with the environment. And the choice of suit, a hotly debated topic, works quite well. I don't think you could get away with bright blue spandex in this day and age. It offers a new look on the classic.
The overall theme of the film is about what happens when happens when you return to a place you left a long time ago. Do the people still remember you? Do they need you? The world never stays still and we find that while we weren't around, the world kept spinning for them. For Clark, he has trouble re-adjusting mainly thanks to Lois' child and her scathing story "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

Newcomer Brandon Routh does a very capable job as Kal-EL/Clark/Superman. It is not an easy role to play and it looks like he handles the challenge well. It speaks as a homage to Christopher Reeve's portrayal of the character and not an imitation. Although in certain scenes there is an uncanny likeness between the two. Routh's Clark is not as memorable as Reeve's version but still offers many humorous moments. The only downside, and this is more of a script issue, is that the Superman you see at the beginning of the film is the same as the end. Despite what he goes through, the core of the character remains the same: what you see is what you get. This could be a positive or a negative, depending on how you look at it.

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is just plain fun. You can tell he enjoyed his time working here and offers many memorable moments. He certainly was a great choice for the role, echoing some of Gene Hackman's nuances but turning it more sinister. As for his lackeys, Parker Posey almost steals the show with her scenes. It's standard fare for her. However, the talented comedian Kal Penn is wasted as one of Lex's henchmen, barely saying a word and being restricted to protracted glances at the other cast. It is a strange choice indeed. Other notable casting choices include Marlon Brando, back from the dead via unused takes from the 1978 film. It's an interesting experiment, to say the least. It creates a bridge between the two films that is either a respectful homage to a classic or unnecessary, depending on your point of view. It is true that the film is packed with minor references and connections to the 1978 Superman, and this is one of the things I found enjoyable about it.

Others may have felt put-off, not having seen the original, and perhaps finding it too inclusive.
The main letdown in casting is Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. The nicest thing I've heard about her portrayal is that she was 'just there.' There is no real chemistry between her and Routh and you'll wonder why their characters even care about each other. It's definitely a world away from the chemistry between Reeve and Margot Kidder. It's not that she does anything wrong, it's that she doesn't do anything at all. The role just seems like window dressing, whereas the character of Lois is supposed to be headstrong and fiery, constantly putting her in harms way. Here, however, the one time she defies all common sense to chase a story (by walking onto an unknown person's boat) she does so with her five year old son in tow! So instead of appearing headstrong, she just seems to be competing with Britney Spears for Mother of the Year. I guess Rachel McAdams was busy when they were casting, because it sure seems like that's what they were after. Pity about what they got.

The surprise of the film is James Marsden as the newly created Richard White, nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White (done well by Frank Langella). It would have been easy to paint Richard as the foil for Superman's feelings towards Lois, and made him out to be someone hateable. But instead he is one of the stronger characters in the film and this just causes more problems for Superman. Certainly a breakout role for Marsden here.

The film is not a traditional action movie, and many have gone on to label it 'dull.' Indeed, the pacing is non-traditional (the biggest action sequence is in the first fifteen minutes and Superman never has a clear showdown with Lex) but it harks back to films of old. There is not much action in the 1978 version either, but nobody seems to mark it down on that. No, the passion of the original is still alive in Singer's attempt and he has created something that we do not see much of these days: a legitimate epic. It has a few plot issues that get swept under the rug, many of which can't be discussed for spoiler reasons, but it is the sheer amount of geeky moments in the film that keep it going. It is a case of having quite a few problems but so many things right that tip the balance in its favour. While not quite reaching the energy and heights of Donner's film, "Superman Returns" is a masterful piece of cinema. I was reminded of younger experiences in movie theatres. Indeed, it was for epics like this that cinemas were created for. And while there is the understandable lack of scale on just an ordinary TV, the movie still has that wonderful spark of life that so many lack. From start to finish it was like being a kid again. A marvel to watch.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 and delivered onto Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps. This film's DVD release was not the best, considering this is a recent film made to modern specifications the DVD transfer was largely soft and lacking sharpness. Unfortunately the same master was used to create this transfer which uses VC-1 compression. As far as HD images go I was expecting reference quality stuff, but what I got was something only slightly better than the DVD. That is a real disappointment. The softness is still a problem, sharpness tends to fluctuate from very sharp to very soft and smudgy. Detail maintains throughout the print especially in close-ups and I was impressed with the colors of this print, which were vibrant and lush (much more so than the DVD). There's little to no grain, blacks are fairly well balanced as is shadow detail and the print is clean.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included an English, French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The 5.1 track is the same that appeared on the DVD and Warner's have dropped the ball here in terms of audio selection. Why this film wasn't released with an HD audio format is beyond me, this is the perfect type of film that would benefit from such a track. I could easily have seen this release as a 2-disc set with the film on the first disc (with a better transfer and HD audio options) and the extras on the second disc. Since this is the same audio track from the DVD I have included the portion of that review here (although the track is fairly solid for a standard 5.1 track, I marked this disc lower for simply not taking it to the next step with an HD audio format): For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English 5.1 track and was blown away by the audio. The track is beautifully mixed utilising every channel effectively and displays a dynamic range that is beyond comparison. The track is aggressive and furious during action scenes and ambient and subtle during the dramatic scenes, furthermore the classic score envelops the viewer into the fantasy of flight and adventure. This is a terrific example of how a sound mix should be done and as far as I'm concerned should be treated as reference quality.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Warner Brothers have released this film with a feature-length documentary in 5-parts, a featurette, a collection of deleted scenes and a series of trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements, which are the same as featured on the previously released DVD.

First up we have "Requiem for Krypton: The Making of Superman Returns" a feature-length documentary that is split into 5-parts. These parts can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. The parts included are:

- Part 1 "Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallizing Superman" which runs for 29 minutes 15 seconds, here we are taken through the pitch process as Singer and his writing team get together to develop the story and pitch a treatment to Warner Brothers in order to get the job. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the story creation, development, getting Donner's blessing to make the film and the production beginning to get under way. Long before the script was completed the production team began designing and building the look of the film and the sets. The production moves to Australia and takes us in-depth into the steps taken to get the production ready to go as well as casting the leads for the film and the design of the super suit.

- Part 2 "The Crystal Method: Designing Superman" runs for 34 minutes 6 seconds, in this segment we take a look at how Superman's world and costumes have been designed. We get an all access peek at the construction of the sets, including the Kent farmhouse location, developing the look of the film and the types of cameras used on the production, and also how the flight elements will be achieved among other things.

- Part 3 "An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman" is actually split into 3 sub-categories that include:

- - "Superman on the Farm" which runs for 21 minutes 14 seconds, here we get a behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of the key scenes that take place on the Kent farm, which also include some of the flashback scenes.

- - "Superman in the City" runs for 37 minutes and takes a look at the filming of the Metropolis scenes, predominantly the scenes that takes place inside the Daily Planet set which is quite the marvel in terms of set design and construction, it's also interesting to go behind the set and see who it's all lit and also dealing with extras and shooting city exteriors in Sydney among other things.

- - "Superman in Peril" runs for 16 minutes 3 seconds and takes a look at the key action scenes that include superman flying as well as saving Lois, Richard and Jason from the sinking yatch among other fancy feats of heroism.

- Part 4 "The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman" runs for 21 minutes 33 seconds, here we get an inside look at Spacey playing the villain Lex Luthor, we go behind-the-scenes of the shooting of key scenes that feature the actor and also get a lot of people praising Spacey for being such an awesome guy...did Spacey pay for this clip?

- Part 5 "He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman" runs for 14 minutes 30 seconds, and takes a look at the production finishing shooting after many months and the crew all dropping off one by one until the very last day of production.

Overall this menacingly long 5-part documentary is an excellent feature on this disc and should be regarded as a benchmark for how making-of's should be made (aside from the Spacey Praise-a-thon in part 4). I was however looking forward to seeing the post-production aspects of the film but this feature only covers the production of the film.

Next up is "Resurrecting Jor-El" a featurette that runs for 4 minutes 2 seconds and is a demonstration of how the archival footage of Brando was used and integrated into the film.

A collection of 11 deleted scenes is also included on this disc, they can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option. The scenes included are:

- "The Date" which runs for 1 minute 8 seconds, Martha and Ben play scrabble.
- "Family Photos" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds, Clark awakes to look at the photos around his room.
- "Crash Landing / X-Ray Vision" runs for 1 minute 35 seconds, a young Clark crashes through his barn roof and discovers he can see through objects.
- "Old Newspapers" runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds, Clark discovers stacks of old newspapers under the barn and also Lois' article on why the world doesn't need Superman. - "Are You Two Dating?" runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds, Clark is surprised to see his mother dating Ben.
- "Martinis and Wigs" runs for 1 minute 25 seconds, Lex is disappointed with his martini and Kitty mocks his wig.
- "I'm Always Right" runs for 59 seconds, Lex and his crew hike through the barren landscape of Antarctica in search of the Fortress of Solitude.
- "Jimmy the Lush" runs for 43 seconds, Clarks questions Jimmy about his comment regarding Lios still being in love with 'you know who...'
- "Language Barrier" runs for 13 seconds, Clark briefly catches a glimpse of a Japanese show while at the Daily Planet.
- "Crystal Feet" runs for 25 seconds, Lex retrieves the crystals from inside the yatch.
- "New Krypton" runs for 28 seconds, Lois names the giant mass Superman threw into space as New Krypton.

The film's original teaser trailer is next which runs for 1 minute 24 seconds and is one of the best teasers ever, it still gives me goosebumps.

Also included is the original theatrical trailer which runs for 1 minute 47 seconds.

Finally there's the EA game trailer for the "Superman Returns" video game which runs for 1 minute 11 seconds rounding out the extras.

Overall

The Film: A Video: C+ Audio: B- Extras: A+ Overall: B+

 


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