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Superman: The Movie(1978)
The enduring adventure spanning the Man of Steel's life, from his Krypton infancy and Midwest boyhood to his career as Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, and through his titanic struggle with archnemesis Lex Luthor.
For more about Superman: The Movie and the Superman: The Movie Blu-ray release, see Superman: The Movie Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on March 6, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Marc McClure
Director: Richard Donner
» See full cast & crew
Superman: The Movie Blu-ray Review
One of the most endearing superhero movies gets an upgrade more powerful than a locomotive.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, March 6, 2008
The special effects, sets, haircuts and wardrobe may all look dated, but Superman: The Movie remains among the most beloved films of the 1970s. Director Richard Donner brings the comic book hero to life in Christopher Reeve, who admirably adapts from the bumbling Clark Kent to the ultimate caped crusader. The entire cast is brilliant in its supporting roles. Gene Hackman gives a great performance as the unapologetically wicked Lex Luthor. And Margot Kidder delivers a portrait of a strong, ambitious Lois Lane at a time when women were starting to break the glass ceiling. But it is Donner's dedication to the spirit and style of the original Superman's comic book roots, as well as to inject a heavy dose of humor, that make Superman: The Movie a classic. In some ways, it has still not been surpassed, even by the CGI effects and faster-paced action of today's superhero movies.
The film starts on planet Krypton, the way Jerome Siegel's original comic book saga began in the 1930s. Jor-El (Marlon Brando in the highest paid role of any actor at that time) and Lara (Susannah York) are celebrating the birth of their son, Kal-El, but their elation is tempered by grave danger. Krypton's sun is expanding. Jor-El, a respected scientist and leader, predicts it will soon engulf and destroy the planet. Although Jor-El advocates evacuating Krypton, the high council will not let him go public with his prediction and forbids him from leaving. Unable to save himself or his wife, Jor- El builds a capsule for Kal-El. The capsule and other crystalline sets of Krypton are futuristic considering the film's original release date, but they are dated by today's standards.
As disaster draws near, Donner shows the sets shaking, and the people of Krypton panicked. Jor-El and Lara place their son in the capsule, share a moment with him and Kal-El begins his journey to Earth, where the yellow sun will give him power and strength far beyond those of ordinary humans. Jor-El's plaintive advice is quite powerful with Brando's voice: "Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all--their capacity for good--I have sent them you, my only son."
With a lifetime's worth of lessons packed into materials in the capsule, Kal-El's journey across space ends when he crashes in a field in Midwest America. Raised as Clark Kent, his powers are quickly recognized, but his identity is protected. He learns valuable lessons in morality and the beauty and frailty of human life from his adoptive parents. As he transitions into adulthood, he becomes aware of one of the crystals saved from the capsule built by Jor-El. Now painfully aware of his differences from normal humans and unsure of his identity or path on Earth, Kal-El takes the crystal , leaves his widowed mother Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter) and travels to the North Pole. The crystalline ice reminds him of his ancestral home and he uses the crystal to create a sanctuary. There, he finally learns the full truth about his past and his identity. When he leaves the fortress of solitude, he emerges as Superman.
The rest of the film focuses on Superman's emergence in Metropolis, his dual existence as the caped crusader and the Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent and his race to avert a nuclear disaster set in motion by Lex Luthor. A few minutes of bonus footage included in the Blu-ray is not in the theatrical version, including heavily outdated special effects as Luthor tries to freeze and burn Superman. Of greater success is Hackman's villainous charm, which is the perfect vehicle for Luthor's lines. He frequently calls himself, "the greatest criminal mind of our time" and his sarcasm is especially good: "It's kryptonite, Superman. Little souvenir from the old home town. I spared no expense to make you feel right at home."
Superman: The Movie Blu-ray, Video Quality
With its VC-1 encode at 1080p, the resolution of this Blu-ray is far superior to even the most recent DVD version. Still, the picture is not what anyone would call perfect. Most scenes are quite vivid and sharp, with superb color vibrancy and good depth. In other scenes, the vibrancy is lacking and the picture appears to emerge from behind a thin layer of noise. Still, even the moments of weakest picture quality are no worse than one would expect from a movie three decades old. Overall, the definition is very good and watching the film in its true aspect ratio at 1080p is a revelation. It may not compare favorably to reference quality BDs, but compared to every previous version of Superman: The Movie, the Blu- ray appears more lifelike.
The night scene when Superman is first making an impact fighting crime in Metropolis is especially clear and vivid. With good gradation between blacks and greys in the darkness and shadows, colors and resolution are of equal clarity to daylight scenes. For that matter, watch the excellent depth of the shots of the countryside as Lois Lane's car meanders the open roads during her investigation of Luthor's land grab. The hillsides and foliage show good definition. While some grain is visible, few will have complaints about the video performance of this Blu-ray disc. It is a very significant upgrade from NTSC versions of Superman: The Movie in terms of the resolution and film-like qualities of the picture.
Superman: The Movie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
It would be nice if Warner included a lossless PCM track on all of its catalog titles, but unfortunately they didn't. Part, if not all, of the reason was that Warner released the same titles on HD DVD at the time, and needed to develop content that would fit on the lower-capacity format. It is likely that is the reason that the BD version of Superman: The Movie has only a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track encoded at 640 kbps. Surprise--that is the exact same content as the HD DVD version, even though a BD-50 disc was used, with much of the capacity going to waste. Too bad, as one can hear the somewhat thinner soundstage and imprecise definition reminiscent of DD. The good news is that this particular mix is not bad at all, with ample LFE and surround content, and a strong vocal presence and orchestral score that is virtually free of distortion.
The DD track features very good detail, but it can get a bit muddled during busy passages when many sounds are vying for attention in the mix. The busy Metropolis scenes do an admirable job in resolving the orchestra, street traffic and some dialog, without becoming too congested. Listen to the scene when Luthor's sidekick, Otis (Ned Beatty), makes his way through the crowded streets into the subway while being tailed by police, all while a comical score played. The audio is crisp and clear and doesn't sound like it was recorded too "hot" even when the train roars by. There is definitely much room for improvement, but the DD is better than average. Certainly it is no reason to avoid the BD.
Superman: The Movie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Since Warner couldn't be bothered to produce a high definition audio track for Superman: The Movie, it's not surprising that the bonus content is not in high definition either. While, plenty of good material is included, it's all basically NTSC. You might as well be watching it 30 years ago on your CRT television. The content is ported from the Spring 2000 DVD release, which was one of the more acclaimed reissues in Warner's catalog, restoring some of Donner's original content, and providing material he was finally able to expose to the film's fans. Unfortunately, not all the bonus material made it on the BD version. But the inclusion of much of it raises the rating for supplementary material. Good stuff.
As most Superman fans know, the rift between Donner and producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind created many problems. Cast and crew began to split and align with one faction or the other. The tension and drama of the behind-the-scenes politics in some ways rivaled that of the film itself. Christopher Reeve proved to be the hero not just of the film, but of the "making of" story, too, by virtue of his power to bring people together and keep up the hectic pace of the production. Donner was fired after shooting the entire first film and most of the second, Superman II, which was later released in 1981. He was replaced by Richard Lester, who did not share Donner's commitment to or fascination with the original comic book story and went for a more humorous, campy approach that some have described as "cheesy". While the real drama of the rift is explained in more detail within the extras of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, the first Blu-ray includes 80 minutes worth of instructive extras.
Taking Flight: The Development of 'Superman and Making Superman: Filming the Legend. provide extensive, lengthy interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with Reeve, consultant Tom Mankiewicz, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, editor Stuart Baird, composer John Williams, the effects team and, of course, Donner himself. One gets a sense of his frustrations with the Salkinds and the studio, but he discusses what happened in a professional, forthright manner. Above all, his dedication and passion for the film come across strongly. The behind-the-scenes footage is an eye-opener and probably the most entertaining feature of the bonus materials. A highly detailed audio track is also included, in which Donner and Mankiewicz comment on the challenges and expenses involved in writing, shooting, casting and feuding. To cut production costs and efforts, the script was continually revised until both Superman: The Movie and the sequel could be filmed together, and not require separate shoots for every scene. One is left with a new understanding of the brutal nature of the film industry and a glimpse of how the creative minds behind a movie can get no credit in the end. If not for the advent of home video and Warner's willingness to revisit the first two Superman films, Donner's story may never have been widely told.
Rounding out the supplementary materials are screen test with Reeve, John Williams' full orchestral score in DD 5.1, a teaser, trailer and TV spot, which brings us back to yesteryear (especially in video quality).
Superman: The Movie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, Superman: The Movie will always be special. It emerged as the first Star Wars film was still the state-of-the-art in action/adventure. But Superman hit closer to home and brought to life the ultimate superhero straight out of comic books and Saturday morning cartoons. Reeve's Superman epitomizes the values of America and the role made him a legitimate movie star. The goal of the actor was honesty--what Donner called "verisimilitude"--to convey Superman's underlying earnestness and message of truth, justice and the American way. Donner and Mankiewicz added plenty of light, humorous touches. The pace of the film is also enjoyable. It's a welcome addition to the catalog titles available on Blu-ray.
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