The Superman: The Complete Anthology is a fine set for sure and while the features are certainly comprehensive between vintage featurettes and multiple expansive documentaries and commentaries, but in particular the video has much to be desired. This isn’t to say they don’t look good but compared with the work Fox did with their Alien complete set, this one pales by comparison.
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Warner Bros. | PG/PG13 – 906 min. – $129.98 | June 7, 2011
Directed by: Richard Donner, Richard Lester, Sidney J. Furie, Bryan Singer
Writer(s): Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (‘Superman’ creators); Superman – Mario Puzo (story), Mario Puzo and David Newman & Leslie Newman and Robert Benton (screenplay); Superman II (Lester and Donner cuts) – Mario Puzo (story), Mario Puzo and David Newman & Leslie Newman (screenplay); Superman III – David Newman & Leslie Newman (screenplay); Superman IV – Christopher Reeve and Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (story), Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (screenplay); Superman Returns – Bryan Singer & Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris (story), Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris (screenplay)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, Margot Kidder, Kate Bosworth, Jackie Cooper, Frank Langella, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Annette O’Toole, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Sam Huntington
Theatrical Release Dates: Superman – December 15, 1978; Superman II – June 19, 1981; Superman III – June 17, 1983; Superman IV – July 24, 1987; Superman Returns – June 28, 2006
Features: Commentaries, Featurettes, Documentaries, Deleted Scenes, Classic Cartoons, TV Spots, Theatrical Trailers
Number of Discs: 8
Audio: All Films – English (DTS-HD MA 5.1) and multiple other languages.
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and multiple other subtitles
Regions: A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 3/5
For the sake of time and space, I’m going to just briefly provide my thoughts on each film placing the majority of my focus on the features and audio & video aspects.
Superman: The Movie (Theatrical and Extended) (4.25/5) – The first one is no doubt a classic but having not seen this in years I’m not sure how well this holds up. It’s a great origin story where we don’t even get to see the Man of Steel for 45-minutes or so and where sometimes the origin can drag down a film, this one goes by quite well. Moving past that, Christopher Reeve is the gold standard for perfect casting for which other projects have come close (see: Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man and maybe Christian Bale for Batman Begins). Hackman was a decent choice for Luthor but he’s not exactly a formidable foe.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (4.25/5) – Even though this was released a few tears back, this was my first viewing of the Donner Cut. It doesn’t exactly flow well from one scene to the next since some scenes Donner couldn’t shoot and had to use either some Lester footage or even screen tests. It’s a shame we couldn’t see what could’ve been if Donner had been given the chance to make his movie, but this as close as it’ll come and for that effort, it’s still an entertaining flick.
Superman II (3.75/5) – The Richard Lester cut of the sequel is only good I suspect because of what Donner shot and not so much the changes Lester made. Since the changes are, for the most part, minute, I’d say this is still a good movie even without Brando’s appearance. Here he’s replaced by Superman’s mom, Susannah York, which is an OK quick replacement as Brando sued the project but she doesn’t carry nearly the weight that Jor-El does when communicating with his son. In any case, the movie itself is serviceable but for all the flaws that might be in the Donner Cut in terms of what footage they were able to use, that is the version I will consider as the sequel and leave this as a fine alternate take.
Superman III (2.25/5) – The second sequel wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered but it’s still a large drop from the previous two and the beginning of that decline was removing the classic opening credits with going over basically a sitcom-like opening where some zany things happen. I know this was Lester’s way of showing the audience that this was going to be different from what has come before, but I missed those credits… In any case, I can’t get past that Richard Pryor is in this and that Robert Vaughn is actually the big villain but that character was basically Lex Luthor without the prestige that goes with the name. As a whole, it’s much smaller in scope and outside of maybe the dark Superman vs. Clark Kent scene, this is a forgettable entry.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1.5/5) – Ugh. Although not as bad as Batman & Robin, it’s still so silly and features stiff acting and a fairytale storyline where Superman gets rid of nuclear weapons and makes various speeches which even MSNBC would laud… probably. But even so, I’m kind of shocked that Gene Hackman would agree to this (of course, everyone needs to make a living) as this time Lex Luthor is a shell of his former self as the criminal genius creates Nuclear Man as a way to defeat Superman which leads to some of most boring fight sequences ever filmed. It’s quite obvious that the budget for this was a mere fraction of what the first two were and it shows.
Superman Returns (3.5/5) – The last entry, at least until Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel is released sometime in the couple of years, was a mixed bag. First, the casting of Brandon Routh wasn’t exactly brilliant but he certainly got the cadence and look of Christopher Reeve down which might be one of the problems this film had. While I appreciate what Bryan Singer did by making this a direct sequel to Superman II (completely ignoring the previous two entries), he might’ve stuck to the Richard Donner blueprint a bit too much rather than making it his own. It was definitely an interesting idea for sure but the story itself was a tad boring at times and the few action sequences there were didn’t light up the screen save for the airplane scene which was indeed fantastic. Also, I liked the casting of Spacey as Lex Luthor but his land grab scheme was at best lame and at worst impractical. Then you have Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane which was an absolute misstep as she doesn’t nearly have the tenacity compared with Margot Kidder. On the whole, there some fine scenes but when pieced together it makes for a film with so much potential that is ultimately wasted. Thankfully with Blu-ray (and DVD), I can skip to the good stuff…
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.75/5
DISC 1 – Superman: The Movie
Feature Commentary – Producer Pierre Spengler and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind (recorded separately) provide their experience with this version of Superman on how it was made, bringing together all the pieces and such. There’s definitely a good amount of info here but some of it was already talked about in the various featurettes and documentaries.
The Making of Superman: The Movie (51:50; SD) – This vintage making-of documentary looks at how the project came to be while it was being filmed, something rare in certain older movies and even more rare that it’s substantive.
Superman and the Mole-Men (58:05; SD) is the theatrical feature starring George Reeves released in 1951, a precursor to “The Adventures of Superman” television series. It’s nice for fans to see it included on the disc.
Classic Cartoons (19:27; SD) – Here we get the cartoons “Super-Rabbit”, “Sanfuperman” and “Stupor Duck” from Merrie Melodies where Superman is the focus/subject.
Last is a TV Spot (0:31; SD), a Teaser Trailer (1:14; SD) and the Theatrical Trailer (2:40; SD).
DISC 2 – Superman: The Movie – Extended Version
Feature Commentary – For an alternate take, the extended version has director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz who together give their experiences on making the film. I like commentaries with more than one participant talking with one another and this one is pretty good albeit there are a few quiet moments.
Taking Flight: The Development of Superman (30:14; SD) – This is another behind-the-scenes featurette, with some screen tests, hosted by Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) that I think was released in 2001 and features comments (some new, other archival) from various members of the production including the cast and crew.
Making Superman: Filming the Legend (30:41; SD) is the second part of a making-of documentary, this one covering the actual filming. Again, we get more archive and newish (2000/2001) interviews with the cast and crew. Like the “Development” featurette, this is also quite interesting and a must-see for anyone interested in filmmaking.
The Magic Behind the Cape (23:45; SD) – What is the third part in a 3-part documentary; this one covers the visual and special effects used in Superman. It’s quite interesting to watch and see the techniques used back in the 1970s.
Rounding out the disc are 3 Screen Tests (22:25; SD) with Superman, Lois Lane and Ursa; 10 interesting Restored Scenes (11:14; SD); some Additional Scenes (3:23; SD); 8 Additional Music Cues (TRT 35:44); and a Music-Only Track which is a fantastic way to hear all of John Williams’ score, though I highly recommend just buying the soundtrack.
DISC 3 – Superman II: Theatrical Release
Feature Commentary – Spengler and Salkind return (again, separately) give their thoughts on the controversial sequel that saw the dismissal of Donner and the hiring of Richard Lester to complete the project.
The Making of Superman II (52:15; SD) is another expansive vintage featurette, probably made for TV, detailing how the sequel came to be, also with footage of the premiere (attended by Caroline Kennedy and Arnold Schwarzenegger, go figure) which is interesting in itself. Of course, this is all very PC so you’re not going to get the dirty details of how Donner left the project but still it’s worth watching.
Deleted Scene (0:40; SD) – In this single scene while having dinner with Lois at the Fortress of Solitude, he uses his heat vision to cook a soufflé. It’s one of those scenes where it starts out as something, a sexual innuendo, and turns it into being about something else. It’s the standard sitcom technique.
First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series (12:55; SD) chronicles the classic cartoon series of the 1940s. Here you get interviews with those in the field including the iconic Bruce Timm, who brought us the “Batman” and “Superman” animated series. Anyone interested in the world of animation will probably be fascinated by this.
The Fleischer Studios Superman (1:19:29; SD) is a compilation of 9 animated shorts for fans to peruse either individually or with a Play All option.
Theatrical Trailer (2:22; SD)
DISC 4 – Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Introduction by Richard Donner (1:54; SD) – The director explains his pleasure for getting as close to his cut as possible and, briefly, the work that went into piecing it together.
Feature Commentary – Donner and Mankiewicz return and probably give a much more interesting commentary on this cut and the ins and outs of what occurred. This track also allows Donner to vent a little but provide his thoughts on what they were able to include. The two also talk about the impact Christopher Reeve, who this film was dedicated to, had on these films.
Superman II: Restoring the Vision (13:20; SD) is an excellent, albeit short, featurette that details the process of putting together “The Richard Donner Cut”. Anyone interested in this version should check this out.
Deleted Scenes (8:44; SD) – Here we get 6 scenes, mainly with Gene Hackman, that I were shot by Donner that didn’t make it into either cut. It’s nice to see them there but ultimately they were excised for good reasons.
Famous Studios Superman Cartoons (1:07:49; SD) are a collection of 8 (more) animated shorts. I’m not sure why these weren’t included on the same disc with the Fleischer cartoons but for animated fans, I’m sure they’re fun to watch wherever they are.
DISC 5 – Superman III
Feature Commentary – The dynamic duo of Spengler and Salkind mark their third commentary for the second sequel with basically more of the same. Like their others, they talk about how the picture came to be after the successes of the first two and go into the story and other tid-bits.
The Making of Superman III (49:08; SD) is like the other two made-for-TV documentaries/featurettes chronicling how the second sequel came to be. It features more behind-the-scenes footage and archival interviews with the cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes (19:43; SD) – 11 scenes were rightly excised from the final film, but now you can watch them for yourself. These aren’t bad and fit right in with what’s already in the movie as they wouldn’t make it any better.
Theatrical Trailer (3:11; SD)
DISC 6 – Superman IV
Feature Commentary – Co-Screenwriter Mark Rosenthal has the unfortunate job of commenting for this sequel and he makes a go of it offering up its shortcomings and the reception it received.
Superman 50th Anniversary Special (48:10; SD) – Instead of a “Making-of” special like the other three movies, this one gets an overall look at the character and his incarnations in the media. For whatever reason, this was hosted by Dana Carvey and features more archival interviews.
Deleted Scenes (31:02; SD) – Here we get several scenes removed from the final picture and some of which fans believe would’ve made for a better picture overall. Personally, I’m not sure how much it would’ve helped but a few are admittedly half decent… I guess. There was one odd scene where Superman and Lois are flying and he lets go of her and somehow Lois is able to fly on her own! Um… ok.
Theatrical Trailer (1:26; SD)
DISC 7 – Superman Returns
Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns (2:53:41; SD) is a 5-part documentary detailing every aspect of how the film was made. It includes interviews and home video footage with Bryan Singer laying out the story for Superman Returns. Whether or not you liked the movie, this is certainly an interesting documentary as you can see the passion Singer brought to the project and some would argue, maybe he was too close to it. Yeah, it’s a hell of a long feature but well worth checking out.
Resurrecting Jor-El (40; SD) further shows that Marlon Brando had more to do with the franchise after his death than before with his appearance in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and also in Superman Returns.
Bryan Singer’s Video Journals (1:22:00; SD) is comprised of 29 entries that were made for online viewers to keep tabs on the making of Superman Returns. These are interesting blog entries but of course they don’t divulge a whole lot.
Deleted Scenes (21:27; SD) – There are 13 scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut including the infamous “Return to Krypton” which, I believe, was to be the original opening but was canned. It shows Superman exploring the remnants of Krypton in his ship when he comes upon a section with exposed Kryptonite where he passes out but not before setting return trajectory back to Earth and the Kent farm where he crashes. As far as I know, these are ** Blu-ray Exclusive **.
Last up is the Teaser Trailer (1:28; SD) and Theatrical Trailer (1:52; SD).
DISC 8 – BONUS DISC
Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (1:50:30; HD) is the incredible, and lengthy, history on The Man of Steel, how he was created and all his incarnations from radio shows, the movies to the various television series. It was produced by Bryan Singer, directed by documentary icon Ken Burns and narrated by Kevin Spacey. It features interviews with Kate Bosworth, Dean Cain, Richard Donner, Mark Hamill, Margot Kidder, Stan Lee, Annette O’Toole, Christopher Reeve (archive footage), Brandon Routh, Adam West and Bryan Singer amongst many others.
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (1:29:24; SD) – This is a 5-part documentary that focuses on the first four Superman movies and takes the viewer from the original script through the nail in the coffin that was Superman IV. It features more interviews with a variety of people involved both on the project and those on the outside. It’s a nice documentary for sure though not as polished as “Look, Up in the Sky”, but certainly worth checking out.
The Science of Superman (51:01; HD) is a special that originally aired on National Geographic and explores the physics and science of The Man of Steel. Similar to the special they did before the release of The Dark Knight, this one is fairly interesting.
The Mythology of Superman (19:34; SD) takes a look at the legendary impact of Superman. Narrated by Terence Stamp, this featurette has more interview sound bites with those involved with the comic book and experts in mythology.
The Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve (18:00; SD) – This is a poignant tribute to the man who made people believe a man could fly. You get to hear from people who knew or worked with him.
The Adventures of Superpup (21:34; SD) – Yeah, you can now see the embarrassment that was this pilot episode that thankfully went nowhere.
VIDEO – 3.75/5
All 7 films are presented in their original 2.35 aspect ratio and in 1080p high-definition. From what I can tell, other than Superman (theatrical version), Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut and Superman Returns, this is the first the other movies were available on Blu-ray.
Superman: The Movie (Both Versions) (4/5) – Although I would consider this release a bit uneven thanks to some scenes having seemingly different grades in film (in one scene alone colors look even and in the next it’s oversaturated). That being said, I didn’t notice any sorts of dust or scratches and overall it looks fairly impressive for a film that’s not 30+ years old. There’s a certain amount of natural film grain that gives way to good detail levels throughout.
Superman II: Original Theatrical Release (4/5) – The sequel pretty much resembles the first for a reason since a good portion was shot by Donner. The picture is pretty much flawless and colors look just right. Detail levels are also decent though at times the picture could get a tad soft, but overall it’s a fine transfer.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (3.5/5) – One would assume the picture for both would be comparable but because some footage had to be reinserted from old masters, it’s not going to match. The one scene that stands out is the screen test between Lois and Clark, it’s a necessary scene of course but doesn’t look the best… at all. Otherwise, it’s an OK transfer but nothing special.
Superman III (4.25/5) – As we get to “newer” Superman films, the picture is going to look a little better and this one does look quite good. As with the previous two, the colors look spot on and detail levels throughout is great. There’s also a discernable amount of natural film grain that lends to a good looking video transfer.
Superman IV (4.25/5) – Like the last one, the picture looks good and for the limited budget, it looks really good. The amount of flaws is minimal to nothing thanks to the work Warner did on it back in 2006 for the Deluxe Edition release. Colors also look good from Superman’s red and blue suit to the earth tones and greens when we’re in Smallville.
Superman Returns (3/5) – Yeah, no work has been done with this disc as it is the same flawed transfer as was initially released. The detail level is spotty at best where some scenes look fantastic while others, and in fact a good number, look utterly soft. Skin tones are also a mix bag. I have no idea why this received such a poor transfer as it’s only a few years old and should look absolutely stunning especially since Singer crafts great visuals but instead we get a half-assed job on this.
AUDIO – 4/5
Superman: The Movie (Both Versions) (4.25/5) – The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is pretty impressive especially when it comes to John Williams’ iconic score and goose bump-inducing theme; when you hear that theme and all its bass and depth, you can’t help but just get a smile on your face. The other elements such as dialogue levels and various action sequences also had a certain boost to them. Now, during those action scenes, like the climax near the end, it doesn’t have a whole lot of depth but I imagine it could be the original mix than something wrong with the transfer. Also available on this disc is the original 2.0 (in DTD-HD MA) mix for those wanting a more authentic movie-watching experience.
Superman II (Both Versions) (4/5) – Both the Donner and Lester Cuts received fine DTS-HD MA tracks which are nicely on display during Williams’ rousing theme (and score by Ken Thorne) while dialogue levels were crisp and clear. Where these tracks might fall flat is when we get into audio effects which can sound a tad muffled and neither offer a whole lot of depth. That being said, these are still good tracks and a modest upgrade over their DVD counterparts.
Superman III (4/5) – Again, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is certainly more than a decent upgrade over the DVD’s standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Like the previous films, the track succeeds thanks in large part to the music it’s not the best lossless audio I’ve heard for a track of its age, yet still good enough.
Superman IV (3.5/5) – This one receives a lossless upgrade as well but only a 2.0 track instead of 5.1 channels. The DTS-HD MA track for obvious reasons doesn’t sound the best but at the same time, I’m sure how the film was shot in the first place, for how cheap it looked, it’s still at least serviceable.
Superman Returns (4.5/5) – While the video portion of Returns was disappointing, the audio experience at least lives up to the quality I expect from the format. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track has a wide array of areas to test. First, dialogue is obviously clear and understandable without having to adjust the settings to hear even quieter conversations while the action sequences, including the airplane rescue or the beginning when Superman returns to Earth, reverberates the entire room.
OVERALL – 4/5
Overall, the Superman: The Complete Anthology is a fine set for sure and while the features are certainly comprehensive between vintage featurettes and multiple expansive documentaries and commentaries, but in particular the video has much to be desired. This isn’t to say they don’t look good but compared with the work Fox did with their Alien complete set, this one pales by comparison.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.