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The Superman Motion Picture Anthology(1941-2006)
Over 20 hours of bonus features. Includes: Deleted scenes, The Cinematic Saga of Superman, Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman, Superman and the Mole-Men, the complete Fleischer/Famous Studios 1940's cartoons and much more.
For more about The Superman Motion Picture Anthology and the The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray release, see the The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 2, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp
Directors: Richard Lester, Richard Donner, Max Fleischer, Bryan Singer, Sidney J. Furie, Dave Fleischer
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray Review
"There's a strong streak of good in you, Superman. But then nobody's perfect... almost nobody."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 2, 2011
"You'll believe a man can fly," touted the poster for Superman: The Movie. I have a feeling, though, that no one knew exactly how precise a statement it would prove to be. '70s and '80s audiences certainly marveled at the sight, courtesy of then-groundbreaking optical effects, but it didn't stop there. A successful film franchise was born, a comicbook icon soared to new heights, careers were made, and legacies were forged. Superman's flights of fancy were so convincing, visually and thematically, that people the world over would even come to believe a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair could really, truly fly; not on screen, but in the hearts and minds of actor Christopher Reeve's many fans. While the various filmmakers who laid their hands on the franchise deserve some of the credit, Reeve's dual performance as an all-too-human Clark Kent and an all-too-superhuman Man of Steel solidified Superman and Superman II's place near the head of the genre table and made the franchise everything that it is and more. Reeve even stood strong when the series' weakest entries -- the tonally disjointed but altogether watchable Superman III and the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace -- tried to crush him. His performance was so elemental that Superman Returns director Bryan Singer did everything in his power to find an actor who could embody Reeve first and foremost, Clark and Superman second. Even now, some thirty-three years after Reeve first donned a cape and tights, some twenty-five years after the films' visual effects began to show signs of aging, some five years after the debut of the last entry in the original film franchise, the Superman movies still manage to make viewers believe a man can fly.
Superman: The Movie remains a tried and true classic, creaky Old Hollywood conventions and all. And it isn't just Reeve who leaves an indelible mark on the screen. Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor) and even Marlon Brando (Jor-El), with all of his eccentric musings, ground director Richard Donner and co-screenwriter Mario Puzo's imaginative adventure rather brilliantly. Their performances dwarf the film's visual spectacle in every way; a crucial trait of nearly every special effects extravaganza that has withstood the test of time. Even when Superman turns back time itself -- in a sequence that undercuts whatever suspension of disbelief Donner and company earn -- Reeve's tear-streaked face, Kidder's wry smile and Hackman's Machiavellian schemes makes it easy to give yourself over to the magic of the movies. Superman II, though often considered a lesser film than Superman: The Movie, is just as absorbing. Without an origin story to tend to, Donner and his mid-production replacement, director Richard Lester, double the action, double the romance, double the sacrifice and quadruple the stakes with four villains. Terrance Stamp stands shoulder to shoulder with Reeve and Hackman, creating a genuinely sinister force of nature, and Superman's battles with Zod and his rogue Kryptonians run physical and psychological gamuts. It isn't as tight as the first film, but it's just as entertaining. I've always been particularly fond of Superman II (more so than Superman: The Movie in some ways) and it holds tremendous nostalgic sway over me, flaws and all.
Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace represent increasingly drastic departures from the first two films. Lester, returning to take the reigns of Superman III, amps up the camp, gags and one-liners to dangerous levels, making a Richard Pryor comedy out of what could have been another strong sequel. Gone is Hackman's Luthor, Stamp's Zod and, really, any frightful foe; in their place, a laughably superpowered super-computer and a smarmy Lex Luthor hopeful. Kidder, Lois Lane and Metropolis are relegated to the sidelines in favor of Annette O'Toole, Lana Lang and Smallville; the thrill is gone and so is the romance, no matter how much Lester tries to position Lana and her son in Clark's heart. The grandeur diminished, the flame extinguished, Reeve is forced to save the film from itself, which he does with some measure of ease... when he's on screen. Superman III isn't unbearable, just misguided. Some great scenes are buried in Lester's muck -- Superman battling his dark side chief among them -- but too much time is devoted to inconsequential subplots, leaving Superman MIA for far too long. (No, clashes with farm combines don't count.) Then there's Superman IV, a botched would-be franchise killer whose woes began when its budget was slashed by more than half. Little more than a glorified bonus film at this point, Reeve and Hackman's performances are all that prevent the Superman ship from sinking straight to the bottom of the sea. Even then, their efforts are in vain.
Released in the wake of Christopher Nolan's wildly successful Batman Begins (a study in how to properly reboot a comicbook film franchise), Bryan Singer's Superman Returns takes a different approach, ignoring the existence of Superman III and IV and picking up where the first two films left off. Adhering to the series' mom-n-pop sensibilities, Superman Returns is an at-times stately tribute to Donner's take on the character. Not only does Singer repress the inventiveness he so readily injected into his X-projects, he constructs a somewhat antiquated film. Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty's screenplay is partially to blame, but Singer never quite elicits the raw emotional response his writers are gunning for. Be that as it may, there's still a lot to love about Superman Returns. Like Reeve before him, Brandon Routh's turn as Superman is simply magnetic, holding the entire story together even when transparent sentimentality and foreseeable developments loom on the horizon. Spacey hypnotizes as well, and his unhinged hilarity infuses the film with some much-needed soul. His Lex is far more terrifying than Hackman's and he commands the screen whenever he waltzes into view, reeling, ranting and sinking his teeth into each scene with a maniacal grin that screams I'm a certifiable madman and I love it. In the end, Singer's Supes is still a pillar of principle and moral fortitude; a superhero who can stand in front of a flag and mean it; a nostalgic icon of a simpler time when good was good, and evil was evil.
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Video Quality
Superman: The Movie, Original Theatrical Release
Superman: The Movie mostly impresses with a 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer that represents, for all intents and purposes, a notable but imperfect upgrade from Warner's 2006 Blu-ray release. The main issue isn't the intermittent softness of the image, though, nor the inconsistencies that frequent its presentation. Filmic in every way, the pleasant softness and diffuse haze that hangs over Superman traces back to Geoffrey Unsworth's original photography and intentions, as well as the film's optical effects. No, the main issue with the new encode is that the glow of Unsworth's lighting and the film's well-preserved grain field is disrupted by at-times distracting digital artifacts. Note the blockiness, not graininess, that peppers the atmosphere of Krypton as its sun becomes more volatile; the difficulty the encode sometimes seems to have simultaneously resolving fog, smoke and grain; the clutter that disturbs prison spotlights and other light sources during nighttime sequences; the disparity between the film's natural grain and the (admittedly faint) noise that occasionally muscles its way in. Otherwise, Warner's transfer -- minted from a new HD master -- looks great. For the most part, colors and skintones are extremely accurate, black levels are suitably deep and contrast, despite some inherent wavering, is satisfying. Granted, when Superman takes to the skies in the dark of night, things become more problematic but, again, the eyesores that crop up is attributable to the film's source. Detail is actually quite remarkable as well. Many a closeup is refined and revealing, fine textures are apparent throughout, edge definition is clean and, on occasion, nice and crisp, and delineation is decent for a 33-year-old catalog title. And aside from the artifacts that mingle with the film's grain, there aren't many technical issues to report. Some minor banding and soupiness invade here and there, but significant stair-stepping, macroblocking, aliasing, crush, ringing and such isn't a factor. All in all, Superman: The Movie gets things off to a good start, flaws or no.
Superman: The Movie, Expanded Edition
While the expanded edition's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer isn't derived from the same newly produced HD master as the theatrical version, it does derive from a newer 1080p master than the one Warner used to create the Superman's 2006 Blu-ray release. Extensive MTI dirt clean-up was involved, but videophiles shouldn't be alarmed. Grain, on the whole, is intact, textures seem relatively unaffected and fine detail hasn't taken any perceptible hit. (Although I'm sure screenshot scientists will go pixel by pixel to find every last difference between the two new encodes.) I would even go so far as to say the two presentations are indistinguishable from one another under normal viewing conditions, despite noting a few arguably negligible deviations, mainly in regards to the aforementioned grain field. Once again, the intended appearance of the film has been preserved, softness and all, and the image is a faithful one. Once again, color, contrast and clarity are, by and large, on point. And once again, some obvious artifacting and not-so-obvious banding creep into the image, particularly where Unsworth's haze meets the film's grain field during in-space flights and nighttime sequences. All of that is to say this: the expanded edition of Superman: The Movie is comparable to its theatrical presentation. A frame-by-frame analysis is an inevitability -- someone, somewhere will invest days upon days into cataloging any and every variance, no matter how small -- but 99.3% of viewers and videophiles will shrug their shoulders, grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy watching both versions of the film without ever spotting a difference.
Superman II, Original Theatrical Release
The 1080p/AVC-encoded beauty that accompanies Superman II's theatrical cut is a more admirable, awe-inspiring presentation than its Richard Donner Cut cousin. (More on that in a bit.) Like Superman: The Movie, the sequel's transfer has been minted from a new HD master and the results are exciting. It goes without saying, I suppose, that Superman II has never looked better. Its comicbook palette is rich and colorful, skintones are warm and lifelike (even when everyone convenes at the Fortress of Solitude near the end of the film), Bob Paynter's photography has been granted new life, contrast and black levels are dramatic (even if some muted shadows sneak in) and few scenes look as if they could be improved. Detail is impressive as well. Textures are surprisingly resolved on the whole, edges are clean (barring the usual bit of source-based softness associated with early '80s catalog titles), delineation is commendable, a moderate veneer of grain is present (even though it tends to be uneven and prone to noise), and Gene Hackman's bald cap has never shown its seams so marvelously. On the technical front, minor artifacting remains an issue -- albeit a far less frequent and pervasive one -- but little else affects the integrity of the encode. Print damage has been meticulously eliminated from the picture, I didn't detect signs of any DNR or egregious edge enhancement, and any clean-up was performed with the strictest care. Those of you who've been anxiously awaiting the release of Richard Lester's theatrical cut can cast aside any fears you might have.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
The Superman Anthology presentation of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut repurposes the 1080p/VC-1 transfer that first appeared on the 2006 Blu-ray release. While that will no doubt disappoint those hoping for a fresh overhaul, the nature of the Donner cut and its reliance on various sources (some of which are woefully inadequate) makes it all go down a bit easier. It helps that Donner doesn't afford his cut any delusions of grandeur: "There's footage that, probably, if I had ever finished the film, I would have re-shot because it was done in such a hurry; because we were trying to get the first and second movie done together." Colors are pleasing at times, washed-out at others; skintones are lifelike one moment, sickly the next; black levels are inky in some shots, underwhelming in others; and contrast, technical proficiency and detail vary from scene to scene. Depth and dimensionality also waver, and tricky test sequences and newly inserted shots don't fare nearly as well as the footage Donner captured during his initial tenure on Superman II. For more impressions, see our 2008 video review of the first Richard Donner Cut Blu-ray release.
I don't know why, exactly, but I wasn't expecting much from Superman III's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. I certainly didn't expect it to brandish one of the more able-bodied presentations in the anthology box set. Everything from the smallest pore to the finest texture to the slightest speck of grain has been given the full high definition treatment using yet another new HD master, and the results are dazzling. Rocky valleys, Smallville wheat fields, penthouse snow caps, mangled circuit boards and evil Supes' five o' clock shadow (among many other things) boast excellent texturing, all of which is backed by sharp object definition and distinct edges. Some intermittent softness makes its presence known, but each instance is native to Robert Paynter's original photography. Likewise, some slight ringing and feisty noise marks up the proceedings, but neither amounts to much of an issue. And nighttime sequences once again challenge Superman's dominance of the skies. Still, overall color and contrast rarely (if ever) falter, skintones remain convincing no matter the lighting, primaries are bound and determined to get attention, and shadows are deep and daunting. Moreover, substantial artifacting, banding, print blemishes and other nuisances are nowhere to be found. As far as I'm concerned, Superman III deserves whatever praise videophiles are willing to afford it.
Superman IV isn't far behind with a 1080p/AVC-encoded head-turner that celebrates Quest's cheesiest charms with gorgeous colors, spirited primaries and exacting detail. Complaints about the presentation will no doubt surface, but I suspect many will be rooted in some of the film's fourth-rung optical effects, not Warner's encode. Minted from -- you guessed it -- a new HD master, the image is polished and proficient, clinging to Ernest Day's cheery comic-panel photography with the white-knuckled desperation of an excellent catalog transfer. Textures are nicely resolved, edge definition is gratifying (in everything but the film's inescapably soft shots) and delineation is quite good, despite a few murky space scenes. Better still, artifacting, print damage and other encoding issues are held at bay for the duration of Superman's quest for world peace, and the only major issues that tempered my enthusiasm involved uneven grain and some aggressive noise (Superman's costume is a breeding ground). Ah well, fans of the film -- I know you're out there! -- will be pleased.
Superman Returns features the same troubling 1080p/VC-1 video transfer as its critically panned 2006 Blu-ray release and 2008 BD re-release. Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel's amber-drenched palette remains fairly strong and stable, but inconsistent contrast leveling and dull, muddy skintones continually flatten the image. Dimensionality and detail are hit or miss as well. At times, Routh's pores take center stage; at others, his face looks as if it's been crafted from clay. A thrilling high altitude rescue is thwarted by soft edges and indistinct textures; an odd development considering the film was shot using the latest and greatest high definition wizardry. Moreover, scenes aboard Luthor's war-yacht are lifeless, Daily Planet rooftop-rendezvous shots are reduced to murky Golden Age gumbo, and underwater sequences exhibit some of the worst artifacting, banding and source noise you're likely to encounter on a high profile theatrical release. And that's only the tip of the erupting Kryptonian land mass. From a reckless application of noise reduction to a who's who of digital discrepancies, the picture is a mess from beginning to end. Only a handful of third-act confrontations between Supes and Lex manage to leave a lasting impression, and even those are less-than-spectacular. I have no doubt some of the presentation's unsightliness should be attributed to Singer and Sigel's intentions -- bronzed faces, overbearing shadows, impenetrable delineation, and limited depth among them -- but it's quite clear that Superman Returns is in desperate need of a fresh restoration; a newly minted transfer that will give its iconic hero the sort of stunning Blu-ray homecoming he deserves.
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Superman: The Movie
Both the original theatrical cut and the expanded edition of Superman: The Movie make the film's age a moot point. Bolstered by strikingly similar DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, both versions of the film step out of the past as well as any thirty-three-year-old superhero adaptation feasibly could. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, even when (largely harmless) air hiss and noise inherent to the original audio elements rear their heads. Sound effects make a heroic effort too, even if they're a tad thin by their very nature. LFE output is respectable, not to mention respectful of the tone and tenor of Donner's sound design, and rear speaker activity is stirring, particularly when John Williams' triumphant score swells across the soundfield. Ambience is light and limited, as are acoustics, but I was pleased with both. And directionality isn't entirely engaging, but remains true enough to its source to make the listening experience a fairly involving one. All told, Superman: The Movie sounds great, regardless of which version of the film you choose.
Likewise, both the original theatrical and Richard Donner cuts of Superman II feature comparable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks. While the Richard Donner Cut's track is forced to deal with a few obvious setbacks (all of which are associated with the director's reinserted scenes), both versions of the film excel. Dialogue is direct and decisive, voices weather every action-oriented storm and superpowered battle, and prioritization is excellent. Some hiss and noise wriggles its way into the proceedings (all intrinsic to the original elements), but it isn't a distraction. Dynamics are strong for an early '80s catalog film, the LFE channel imbues Zod and his loyalists with menacing power, and the rear speakers, while unsurprisingly subdued overall, make good use of John Williams' soaring themes and composer Ken Thorne's sequel score. Superman fans -- at least those with appropriate expectations -- will thoroughly enjoy both Superman II lossless tracks.
The anthology continues doling out high-quality catalog remixes with a solid Superman III DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Like Superman: The Movie and Superman II, the third franchise film holds its own with crisp dialogue, welcome low-end kick and responsive rear speaker support. And while the film's climactic showdown overpowers, leading to some minor distortion, there aren't many shortcomings to be criticized. None of it sounds as if it were recorded yesterday, of course. But unless you were hoping for a water-into-wine transformation, Superman III will delight your ears almost as much as its transfer delights your eyes.
Superman IV is the only film in the anthology that hasn't been given a lossless 5.1 remix. However, its DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track is more than suited to the task at hand. Voices never waver, dialogue is well-centered and neatly prioritized, music and effects rarely overwhelm the two-channel soundscape, and Superman's heroics and Luthor's sonic schemes are relatively unrestricted. Even so, a full surround track would have been ideal, especially considering one has been afforded to every other film in the collection. Without any LFE oomph or rear speaker flourishes, Superman IV simply sits on the screen, capably and competently as it may do so.
Superman Returns boasts a musclebound DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that offers the same punch and power as the Dolby TrueHD and uncompressed LPCM mixes featured on the film's 2008 Blu-ray re-release. Dialogue is exceedingly clean, crystal clear and perfectly prioritized, regardless of whether Superman is whispering in Lois' ear or hurtling past a burning aircraft. Better still, rear speaker activity is aggressive, ambience is lively and enveloping, directionality is as precise as they come, and interior acoustics are eerily convincing. I wouldn't go so far as to say I turned my head at every waning shout and clattering pipe, but the soundfield was immersive enough to slap a grin on my face. More importantly, the film's more memorable set pieces have been set free. The LFE channel boldly peddles its fearsome wares, lending its full support to the deafening impact of every explosion and the unexpectedly weighty whup-whup of Superman's windswept cape. Dynamics are powerful and resonant, fidelity is spot on and, aside from a couple of stocky pans that pop up early in the proceedings, Warner's lossless super-track is a formidable one.
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Similar in design and function to Warner's 2009 Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology release, the Superman Motion Picture Anthology comes packaged in a striking (if somewhat flimsy) box set. In fact, the only major difference between the two box sets is that the Superman discs are housed in an 8-hub, tri-fold DigiPak. As far as special features go, more than twenty hours of commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes and other bonus materials are spread across the set's eight BD-50 discs. Granted, a large portion of the content is presented in standard definition and there aren't any new individual-film production documentaries, but I doubt anyone will muster much of a complaint. The Superman Motion Picture Anthology will keep you busy for weeks on end and easily justifies its price point.
The 143-minute theatrical cut of Superman: The Movie is paired with an audio commentary and several vintage extras, among them a 1978 television special, a 1951 feature film, three Warner Bros. cartoons and more. There aren't any newly produced look-backs, but by the time you exhaust all eight discs (especially the set's final disc), any disappointment will fade.
The 151-minute expanded edition of Superman: The Movie arrives with special features all its own, including an audio commentary with Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, a three-part production documentary (culled from a previous DVD release), a collection of original screen tests, restored scenes, music cues and an isolated score track. Not too shabby.
The 127-minute theatrical cut of Superman II features another commentary with Salkind and Spengler, a 1980 television special, a series of Max Fleischer cartoons and more. The only downside is that the cartoons haven't been thoroughly restored, meaning several video and audio issues take their toll.
Not to be outdone by its theatrical counterpart, the 116-minute Richard Donner Cut arrives with another commentary from Donner and Mankiewicz, a look at the effort that went into reconstructing a new cut of the film, a selection of deleted scenes and six more vintage cartoons.
Superman III's special features mirror those of Superman: The Movie. Fans earn a third and final Salkind and Spengler commentary, another archive television special and twenty-minutes of deleted scenes.
The most reviled film in the franchise still drums up a solid suite of special features including a no-holds-barred audio commentary, a 50th Anniversary Superman television special and thirty-minutes of deleted scenes. Not bad, considering Warner could have simply tossed The Quest for Peace onto a barebones disc and called it a day.
Superman Returns offers all of the special features from its previous Blu-ray release – chief among them a fantastic three-hour production documentary – and sweetens the pot further with twenty-nine Bryan Singer video journals, high definition deleted scenes and, best of all, the film's oft-discussed, never-seen original opening.
The set's eighth disc is entirely devoted to extras. Treat yourself to a newly produced two-hour chronicle of all things Superman, a second feature-length documentary, a "Science of Superman" National Geographic Channel special and more.
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The 8-disc Blu-ray release of The Superman Motion Picture Anthology is worth the cost of admission. Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace feature impressive transfers minted from new HD masters, every film in the collection offers a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track, and more than twenty hours of special features are available for those eager to know anything and everything there is to know about the Superman films. There are a few drawbacks --Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and Superman Returns are saddled with the same problematic presentations Warner first released in 2006, and most of the supplemental video content is presented in standard definition -- but the good of the anthology far outweighs the bad. All things considered, Anthology owners will find their money has been well spent.
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The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Announces Superman Motion Picture Anthology UPDATE: Pre-or... - March 31, 2011
Warner Home Video has announced The Superman Motion Picture Anthology for Blu-ray release on June 7. The 8-disc collection features all five Superman movies (Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and Superman Returns) with 5.1 ...
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