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Fueled by hatred and jealousy, Lex Luthor masterminds an elaborate plot to kill the Man of Steel – and it works. Poisoned by solar radiation, Superman is dying. With weeks to live, he fulfills his life’s dreams – especially revealing his true identity to Lois Lane – until Luthor proclaims his ultimate plan to control the world with no alien hero to stop him. Powers fading, Superman engages in a spectacular deadly battle with Luthor that could truly trigger the end of Earth’s Greatest Protector.
For more about All-Star Superman and the All-Star Superman Blu-ray release, see All-Star Superman Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 12, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Sam Liu (I)
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Starring: James Denton, Anthony LaPaglia, Christina Hendricks, Matthew Gray Gubler, Linda Cardellini, Frances Conroy
» See full cast & crew
All-Star Superman Blu-ray Review
Warner Premiere's All-Star film receives an almost All-Star Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 12, 2011
Cinephiles loathe remakes, reboots, reinventions and, more often than not, even the mere suggestion that a filmmaker may be putting a fresh spin on an old idea. But comicbook fans embrace change, anxiously awaiting the next evolution of their favorite characters or series. It's the nature of the episodic beast. While relatively unproven directors are usually tapped to retool beloved films and franchises, the best of the best comic artists and writers are hired to recalibrate iconic heroes and villains for faithful readers and newcomers alike. While audiences brace for the worst when a remake descends on theaters, comic junkies eagerly fork over their hard-earned cash, hoping new blood will help their favorite franchises thrive. Frankly, if it weren't for reboots, the comic industry would have shriveled up and died decades ago. The same can't be said of Hollywood. But I digress. As comic-mythos reinventions go, they simply don't get much better than Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "All-Star Superman." Retooling a character as monumental as the Man of Steel is no easy task; casting new light on an indispensable household hero in the wake of thousands of stories and some eighty years of appearances is as daunting a challenge as a writer and artist in the comic industry can face. And yet from 2005 to 2008, Morrison and Quitely did just that and made it all look effortless, in twelve short issues no less. It remains one of the best comic runs of the decade and one of the finest Superman tales to date. To say expectations are high for producer Bruce Timm's animated adaptation is a colossal understatement.
I suppose it's important to note that I've never been a big Superman fan. When the comic stars have aligned, some truly captivating stories have crawled out of the DC Comics depths. (Many of which are lovingly tucked in a stack of white boxes in my basement.) But for the most part, I've never found the apple-pie exploits of creator Jerry Siegel's invulnerable yet humble would-be world-supersavior to be all that interesting. Why? Ironically, his invulnerability, an essential trait that's made him inaccessible to readers like myself who favor heroes that have to dig deep to overcome insurmountable odds. And therein lies the brilliance of "All-Star Superman." Morrison takes that invulnerability and, through a series of maniacal machinations I won't completely spoil here, transforms it into Superman's greatest vulnerability. The setup? After rescuing the crew of the first manned mission to the sun, Superman (voiced exceptionally well by James Denton, Desperate Housewives) learns he's dying. While the sun has long been the source of his power on Earth, his recent proximity to the yellow star has left his cells supercharged but poisoned with lethal doses of radiation. In short, Superman is diagnosed with the solar equivalent of terminal cancer.
After the news sinks in, he sets out to make his last days meaningful. He reveals his true identity to Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men), attempts to inspire and reason with the recently incarcerated Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia, Without a Trace), say goodbye to his mother (Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under) and put his Fortress of Solitude affairs in order. But Lois has difficulty accepting Clark as Superman: her co-worker's posture, presence and awkward demeanor (as well as a few clever tricks he's pulled over the years) have convinced everyone who knows the mild-mannered reporter otherwise. Even Luthor doesn't suspect Kent is Superman: why would an invincible demigod masquerade as a hapless coward? The idea is so foreign to the power-hungry madman that he overlooks the possibility entirely. (The first of many narcissistic fatal flaws that undo Morrison's Luthor.)
The resulting story is largely episodic, tracing thematic threads rather than clinging to meta-plot developments. But no matter: it's the inner-workings of the Man of Steel that Morrison and, by extension, All-Star Superman director Sam Liu and screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League Unlimited) are concerned with. An inevitable showdown with Luthor and his villainous niece (Linda Cardellini, ER) erupts in due time, but not before Superman gives Lois an unconventional birthday gift (twenty-four hours with superpowers), competes with arrogant deities Samson (John DiMaggio) and Atlas (Steve Blum) for Lois's affections, attempts to answer an unanswerable question posed by a mighty Sphinx, interviews Lex in prison as Clark Kent, clashes with a power-absorbing beastie while concealing his secret identity, battles a number of vicious creatures and faces two surviving Kryptonians (Arnold Vosloo and Finola Hughes) hellbent on enslaving humanity. Oh, did I mention he has to stop a nigh-unstoppable entity (Robin Atkin Downes) from destroying the sun?
Yet, amazingly, the film doesn't feel overcrowded or seem convoluted in the least. Even with seventy-seven all-too-short minutes at Liu and McDuffie's disposal, each story nugget they trot out is given proper attention, every key character (save Jimmy Olsen) undergoes remarkable development, and each twist, turn and subplot works wonderfully within the overarching narrative (on multiple levels to boot). How? The filmmakers never attempt to cram in every storyline and character from Morrison's "All-Star Superman." (A decision that would have served Superman/Batman: Apocalypse well.) While cutting out entire issues and adventures from the original comicbook might strike some as sacrilege, Liu and McDuffie clearly understood their limitations and have crafted a fittingly succinct adaptation with the exacting precision of master surgeons. All of the crucial beats remain where they belong, many of the series' fan-favorite storylines are intact, only the most complex and inconsequential subplots have been sliced from their script, and the film is surprisingly faithful to Morrison's pages in tone, pacing, dialogue, wit and heart. (The award-winning comic writer expresses his absolute delight with the animated adaptation in his audio commentary... many, many times.) Even Quitely's art style -- easily the most difficult challenge Timm and his adaptation team faced -- is respectfully reflected in the film's simple but satisfying animation and character designs. It isn't an ideal representation by any means, but subtle Quitely-touches are everywhere, from the characters' expressive reactions to their posture and poise to the composition of each pose, frame and scene.
Better still, those who've never read a single issue of "All-Star Superman" -- people who wouldn't know a tyrannical intergalactic supercomputer if it latched onto their sun and turned it blue -- will be taken with the film. Of all of his animated appearances, Superman has never been this vulnerable, never been this human, never been this compelling, never been so heroic as he is in the final act of All-Star Superman. I even found myself getting choked up on three or four occasions, something I certainly can't say of other DCU original animated movies. "No Batman, no Green Lantern, no Wonder Woman, no heavy hitters," they'll cry. But this isn't a JLA symposium. This is an intimate character study of Superman, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane. Any other major characters would hinder Morrison's tale and Timm's production. Thankfully, a deep knowledge of comics lore isn't required to keep up with the D-level heroes and villains that pop up from time to time. Each one serves a greater purpose, but only insofar as they contribute to the story of Superman and his terminal prognosis. It isn't disjointed, just episodic. It isn't unwieldy, it simply evokes different emotions from scene to scene. Moreover, it isn't just another DCU animated flick, it's quite possibly Timm and Warner Premiere's best animated production to date. I'm sure some will shrug their shoulders and yawn, but I was blown away.
All-Star Superman Blu-ray, Video Quality
All-Star Superman's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode hits many of the same highs and lows as previous DCU animation Blu-ray releases. The high definition image is incredibly striking: beautiful splashes of color adorn every frame, razor sharp lineart brings the characters and their world to life, and the presentation represents a substantial, undeniably worthwhile upgrade over its DVD counterpart. But the encode is also riddled with faint but persistent issues. Banding is a prevailing problem, artifacting undermines the integrity of the picture again and again, pixelation and aliasing haunt the animators' tight linework, and other arguably minor eyesores abound. Granted, each individual anomaly is relatively minor. Together though, they manage to land a number of devastating punches on Superman's unflinching jaw. Watch faces, light sources and backgrounds. See it all? When Lois first tours the Fortress of Solitude, note the rampant banding on the walls and corridors; when she and Superman go flying the following night, notice the artifacts that stir in the red of his cape and the stair-stepping that plagues the skies; when Lex escorts Clark out of his prison block, keep your eyes locked on the reporter's suit coat. These are just a handful of scenes in which the technical image fails to soar as high as the visuals the film has to offer.
That being said, some DCU releases (Superman/Batman: Apocalypse springs to mind) suffer at the hands of more glaring, more frequent and more distracting anomalies. And because many of these issues -- many, not all -- trace back to the film's source, the extent to which Warner's encode is at fault in each case isn't certain. Ultimately, it's important to consider the sheer leap-forward in quality the Blu-ray edition offers over the standard DVD, especially when determining a subjective score. All-Star Superman's presentation isn't perfect by any means, nor will it earn any hyperbolic praise from me. But its flaws aren't debilitating or distracting enough to prevent anyone from enjoying the film, its animation or the encode's strengths.
All-Star Superman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
All-Star Superman's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is far more satisfying. While the film's at-times two-dimensional sound design limits the immersiveness of the experience, the impact of the mix is most appreciated. Dialogue is crystal clear, voices dwell within the on-screen world rather than floating above it, and ambient effects are clean and engaging. The LFE channel packs welcome punch as well. While the film itself isn't a bombastic actioner per se, Superman's super-heroics shake the earth and rattle the windows quite effectively. Explosions roar, ground-slams reverberate and every destructive blow is backed by crippling power. It may not boast the nuance of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it is potent. The rear speakers are just as active and aggressive. Sound echoes through the Fortress of Solitude and Lex's secret underground cavern, wreckage hurtles past the listener, energy blasts crackle and gusts of wind whip past. My only complaint? Christopher Drake's score isn't always given the support and stature it deserves in the mix, and often gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. Even so, All-Star Superman has the sonic muscle necessary to back its convictions.
All-Star Superman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Now this is how you treat a DCU animated feature. Multiple exclusives, a filmmakers audio commentary, a meaty must-see documentary, an excellent featurette, a lengthy preview of the next DCU animated project and a bevy of lesser goodies. If only every DC Universe animated original movie had a well-produced, high-quality package.
All-Star Superman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
All-Star Superman may just be the best DCU animated original movie to date. At the very least, it's the best Superman feature Timm and his team have put together. It's not only a fantastically faithful adaptation of Morrison and Quitely's 12-issue comic run, it's a riveting reinvention of Superman and his mythos, a fun but poignant look at a decidedly human superhuman, and a gripping, episodic epic all around. I doubt everyone will enjoy it as much as I did, but fans of Morrison and Quitely's comic, Superman aficionados and filmfans without any Super-baggage will be enamored. Warner's Blu-ray release makes purchasing the flick that much easier. While its video encode isn't without the usual flaws, it offers a fairly impressive image (that handily bests its DVD cousin), an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio surround track and a strong selection of top-drawer special features. DCU animation junkies shouldn't hesitate, casual superhero fans should give it serious consideration and even Superman's most ardent critics should add it to their rental queue. All-Star Superman delivers.
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