SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE
For my money, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE remains one of the greatest fantasy movies ever to be produced and amongst my personal favorite films of all time. Considering the troubled production of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, it is amazing that the film turned out to be the classic it is widely recognized to be. The production history of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE is an epic saga unto itself, and it is something that I'd rather not have to condense for the purpose of this review. Interested parties should instead visit the Superman Cinema web site for full details on the behind-the-scenes drama.
The plot of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE chronicles Superman's origins on the Planet Krypton, his arrival on Earth and adoption by human parents, his reaching maturity to discover his true origins, and finally, his arrival in Metropolis as his alter ego- newspaper reporter Clark Kent. Although brief, the Krypton sequence is probably my favorite section of the movie. Marlon Brando's performance as Superman's father Jor-El is totally captivating- proving that Brando was worth every penny of his astronomical salary. Christopher Reeve was an unknown when he first donned Superman's cape, but the role transformed him into a household name. For my money, Reeve made a great Superman- his earnestness and modesty always seemed genuine because Reeve had the wisdom to underplayed The Man of Steel. Still, it is Reeve's unsophisticated and somewhat comic interpretation of Clark Kent is what people tend to remember most about his performance. Some have complained that this Clark Kent is a buffoon, but I see the character as a naive and awkward small town individual trying to fit in, in the big city.
In my opinion, the film's only weakness stems from the fact that there is too much humor associated with the film's villains. Lex Luthor should generate a greater sense of menace than he does in the film. Gene Hackman makes the most of the role as written, but how can anyone take seriously his lines about being the greatest criminal mind of all time, when Luthor can't even figure out that his incompetent henchmen will be the undoing of all his evil plans. Director Richard Donner deserves credit for every bit of greatness that SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE achieves, as well as keeping the comic elements of the screenplay from descending into camp. The super cast of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE also features Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jeff East, Marc McClure and Sarah Douglas.
SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT
In the realm of Superman cinema, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT is a fascinating curiosity; but by no means is representative of what SUPERMAN II would have ultimately been, had director Richard Donner not been replaced on the project by the film’s producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind. SUPERMAN II was in production simultaneously with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and Richard Donner had roughly seventy percent of the second film in the can at the point of his termination. When Richard Lester was brought on board as the new director, much of Donner’s footage was either re-shot, or the film’s scenario so changed, so that his footage became superfluous to the plot of the revised motion picture. Additionally, the producers did not wish to pay Marlon Brando for his services on the second film, so all previously filmed sequences featuring Jor-El were either eliminated or replaced with other actors- that is, where necessary. Lester also filmed all the additional material required to complete the film, whether it was as laid out by Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, or as part of the revised scenario.
Assembled by Michael Thau from the footage shot by Donner, along with screen tests and necessary sequences from the completed Richard Lester film, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT gives fans a rough idea of what might have been, had the producers stayed the course. Since the fan sites will detail the minutia of the differences between the completed Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II and THE RICHARD DONNER CUT, I won’t bother. The general differences include the restored Marlon Brando footage, which more closely ties together the father/son story arc between Jor-El and Kal-El, as well as making the three Kryptonian criminals even more menacing and deadly. Additionally, the camp elements of the Richard Lester version are eliminated in THE RICHARD DONNER CUT. Finally, the envisioned ending for THE RICHARD DONNER CUT had already been utilized for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, but Donner and Mankiewicz left the production of SUPERMAN II before a new ending could be devised- therefore, the plot device used for the ending of this cut is identical to the first film.
Now, as I stated above, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT is a curiosity and only represents a competed motion picture in the most general sense- there are continuity issues, logical gaps and other problems. Therefore, comparing the two versions with the intention of saying which is the better movie is really moot; as there is only one truly compete version of SUPERMAN II. I personally liked where Richard Donner was going with his vision, the Jor-El / Kal-El story arc would have intensified the Superman movie mythology, but again, this "Original Director’s Cut" isn’t representative of what SUPERMAN II would have ultimately become had Donner completed the film.
Because of the basic framework set down by Donner and Mankiewicz, Richard Lester’s version of SUPERMAN II was and still is a great movie… Of course, without the Donner and Mankiewicz imprint, we all know what SUPERMAN III turned into. The basic premise of both versions of SUPERMAN II finds Superman (Christopher Reeve) facing off against General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran)- the three Kryptonian criminals, who were exiled into the Phantom Zone by Jor El at the start of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. The love story between Superman and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is also significant to the storyline of both versions. And again, Gene Hackman adds the right level of comic book villainy to the role of Lex Luthor. The cast of SUPERMAN II also features Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall and Marc McClure.
After experiencing The Richard Donner Cut, of SUPERMAN II I don’t see the Theatrical Version of the film in the same light. Original Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz were definitely on the right track with their intentions for SUPERMAN II, which would have ultimately resulted in a more epic film than what replacement Director Richard Lester ultimately delivered. The elimination of the Marlon Brando footage proved to be a tremendous loss to the film, not to mention, the mythology Donner and Mankiewicz were trying to establish. Also, the flaws in the Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II become more glaring in the light of THE RICHARD DONNER CUT, with all the unnecessary camp humor sucking the life out of a number of key sequences- especially the climatic battle between the Man Of Steel and the three Kryptonian Super-villains. Of course, I don’t want to make it seem that I no longer like or enjoy the Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II, its still a highly entertaining film, but there is a gnawing feeling it could have been something greater.
The plot of SUPERMAN II reintroduces the three Kryptonian criminals exiled into the Phantom Zone by Jor El at the start of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. After Superman (Christopher Reeve) saves Paris from a nuclear bomb by launching the device into space, the resulting explosion cracks open the Phantom Zone, allowing General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) back into our universe. Landing on Earth, these three criminals are now imbued with the same invincible powers as Superman. Quickly taking over the planet, the three Super-villains find recent prison escapee Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) on their doorstep, with the greatest criminal mind of our time offering them a proposition to deliver the only being on Earth capable of challenging their rule- namely Superman. Although Superman has to overcome a few personal hurdles on his way to the battle, he does arrive in the nick for his showdown with Zod, Ursa and Non on the streets of Metropolis. The cast of SUPERMAN II also features Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall and Marc McClure.
SUPERMAN III confirms that director Richard Donner and "creative consultant" Tom Mankiewicz were the men responsible for the success of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and everything that was great about SUPERMAN II. For those unaware of the turbulent production of the first two movies, Donner was dumped as director when SUPERMAN II was already halfway completed. Donner’s unceremonious dismissal also brought about the departure of Mankiewicz (not to mention composer John Williams) for the production. Since much of SUPERMAN II was already in the can and the script had the fingerprints of the "creative consultant" all over it, the second film was almost as bullet proof as the Man of Steel and couldn’t be damaged by their replacements.
SUPERMAN III levels the playing field by removing all traces of Donner and Mankiewicz- thus showing what the first two films might have been had it not been for the intervention of the original director and his "creative consultant." All this build up about the success of the first two films brings us to an absolutely disappointing third installment. My only question about SUPERMAN III is as follows- did anyone bother to read the script before putting this turkey into production? The campy treatment the Man of Steel receives in SUPERMAN III is a totally disservice to the character, as well as the fans that loved the first two films. Sure, there were camp elements in the first two films, but at least there was a sense of restraint. More importantly, the humor in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN II was actually funny. Despite the presence of Richard Pryor, there is nothing funny about SUPERMAN III. And that’s another thing, what the heck is Pryor doing in a Superman movie? Sheesh!
The only interesting aspect of SUPERMAN III revolve around Superman being exposed to artificial Kryptonite, which turns him into an uncaring lout, then splits him into two people for a super-showdown. Other facets of the plot fail to engage because the characters are so poorly written. I had high hopes for Clark Kent's return to Smallville, where he encounters his high school flame, but even that section of the plot just lies there waiting to be put out of its misery. As for the villains, they seem to have started out as Lex Luthor and Eve Teschmacher, but had to be (badly) rewritten for different performers. Actors that embarrass themselves in SUPERMAN III include Christopher Reeve (although he does try to overcome the material), Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn and Margot Kidder, who is fortunate to escape most of this mess with very limited screen time.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE
After watching SUPERMAN III, I never had any interest in seeing SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE. However, when the entire series appeared on DVD, I figured it was about time that I gave the final Christopher Reeve Superman outing a chance. When I first watched SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE on DVD, I came away with the impression that it wasn’t as great as the first two films; and in no way was as offensive as number three. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I think SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE is a particularly good movie, but it is certainly watchable because it treats the Superman mythology and characters with far more dignity than was afforded them in the third installment.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE was produced but the low budget mavens Golan-Globus, so there is a certain level of cheapness associated with this project- most noticeable in the special effects. However, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE does seem to have its heart in the right place, with its anti-nuclear weapon/anti-war message that was developed by series star Christopher Reeve. Unfortunately, Reeve's ideas are shoehorned into a script that is at times too preachy and at other times just plain dumb. Additionally, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE runs a scant ninety minutes, with the choppy editing and seemingly unresolved subplots making the theatrical cut feel like the pared down version of a longer movie.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE does offer fans a number of character moments that make this film worth watching at least once. The plot of SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE involves Superman's desire to save his adopted world from destruction by ridding it of nuclear weapons. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) appears on the scene to make a fast buck by rearming the world, with the help of the solar powered Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), whom Luthor has genetically engineered from a strand of Superman's hair. Meanwhile, over at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent and the gang face a hostile takeover of the paper by a muckraking media mogul (Sam Wanamaker) and his daughter (Mariel Hemingway), who has eyes for a certain mild mannered reporter. The cast of SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE includes Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
For my money, SUPERMAN RETURNS is an iconic and emotionally resonant superhero movie. Following the mythology as laid down in director Richard Donner’s original film, Bryan Singer and company have brought fans the type of movie that SUPERMAN III should have been. Ignoring the two SUPERMAN sequels that are best left ignored, the plot of SUPERMAN RETURNS follows a logical progression in the lives of the characters. Brandon Routh is near perfect in capturing the spirit of Christopher Reeve’s performance- from the humbleness of his man of steel to the awkwardness of his Clark Kent. Routh also brought his own special quality to dual character; something which I would have liked to have seen further developed, had the studio stayed the course and produced sequels to this film. Also capturing the right spirit is Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. Kevin Spacey is certainly more menacing that Gene Hackman in the role, but Spacey maintains the slight comic tinge.
Okay, I’ll admit SUPERMAN RETURNS is not wholly perfect, as it is saddled with twenty years worth of moviedom exposition to get modern audiences up to snuff with the characters and mythology. Also, Superman needs to be fighting a much larger menace than just Lex Luthor- perhaps he could face off with someone like Darkseid or Doomsday in the franchise reboot, which would allow for much more action and visual awe than is found in this film.
SUPERMAN RETURNS opens with a written prologue that announces that the Man of Steel disappeared shortly after astronomers discovered the remains of his home world- the planet Krypton. When Clark Kent crash lands back at his adoptive family’s Kansas farm, it has been five years since Superman’s disappearance and the world has moved on without him. Along with the rest of the world, the Daily Planet’s intrepid reporter Lois Lane has moved on with her life while the Man of Steel was MIA- writing a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial entitled Why The World Doesn't Need Superman. And, on the personal side, Lois is also now engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), as well as being a mommy, raising a young son named Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu).
Also during Superman’s absence, Lex Luthor has been released from prison, due to legal technicalities resulting from the fact that the star witness was unavailable to testify against him. Although five years have passed, Luthor’s obsessions with both Superman and beachfront property remain unchanged; with the criminal mastermind infiltrating the Fortress of Solitude and stealing the crystal based Kryptonian technology that would allow him to grow his own continents. Of course, Luthor’s plans do come with the unfortunate side effects, which include supplanting existing landmasses and killing billions. The cast of SUPERMAN RETURNS also features Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando, Kal Penn, David Fabrizio, Jack Larson and Noel Neill.
Warner Home Video has made has made the films that comprise THE SUPERMAN MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY ($130) available on Blu-ray Disc in 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentations, which have been encoded in the AVC/VC1 codecs. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE is offered in both its 1978 Theatrical Version and 2000 Expanded Edition on separate discs. The 1080p AVC presentations of both version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE are of similar caliber, due largely to the restorative work undertaken in 2000. Image sharpness and detail are the best they can possibly be, as much of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was shot in a diffuse style. Optical effects also have their share of issues. Colors are vibrant, while the flesh tones appear natural. Black and whites are accurate, but shadow detail is limited. Grain is a bit variable, but there are no complaints.
SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT has a solid 1080p VC1 presentation, which appears inconsistent, due to the various film elements required to assemble this version of the film. Sharpness and detail are all over the place; as are the colors, but again, the film elements remain the limiting factor. The Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II comes with a far more consistent 1080p AVC than THE RICHARD DONNER CUT, as it complete fully produced motion picture. Image sharpness and detail are pretty darn good and certain to please fans of SUPERMAN II. Optical special effects do display inconsistencies. Color reproduction is strong, with bold stable hues and fairly natural flesh tones. Black are deep and the whites are crisp. Contrast is just fine, although shadow detail isn’t what one would find in a modern motion picture. Grain appears appropriate to a production of this vintage.
SUPERMAN III sports a rather nifty 1080p AVC presentation that is probably a whole lot better than the film itself. Sharpness and detail are improved over the first two films in the series. Colors are bright, nicely saturated and rather impressive, while flesh tones appear attractive. Blacks are deep and true, while the whites are stable. Contrast and shadow detail hold up very well. The level of grain appears correct for a late seventies early eighties production. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE features a winning 1080p AVC presentation that shows the film off in a very positive light. Of course, a good transfer only makes some of the cheap special effects work appear even cheaper. The image is sharp, clear and nicely detailed. Colors appear fully saturated and are rendered with good stability. Flesh tones also look good. Blacks and whites are accurate, while contrast and shadow detail are just fine. The presentation displays wholly appropriate levels of grain.
SUPERMAN RETURNS comes with a solid 1080p VC1 presentation, which probably could have been upgraded or fine-tuned a bit more. Shot with the Panavision Genesis cameras, SUPERMAN RETURNS sometimes appears more video-esque than filmic. Image sharpness and detail can be striking and impressive, or somewhat flat and ordinary. Melding of live action to computer generated effects sometimes appears softer than it should, not sure if it is the encode, or a postproduction issue traceable to the final composite digital files. Colors have a nostalgic quality that wants to take the look back an earlier era, which also tends to skew the flesh tones to the color palette. Blacks are deep, white are clean and the image displays smooth contrast. Being a wholly digital production there is no film grain within the image.
The films that comprise the THE SUPERMAN MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY are presented on Blu-ray Disc with 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, except for SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, which is 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE had its sound upgraded and tweaked for the 2000 restoration, which provides the film with a modernized sounding track. Sound effects are more aggressively implemented and effective than they were during the film’s Dolby Surround era theatrical run. The sound is invigorated and fun. Fidelity is strong, but some of the foley work does show its age. Dialogue is clean and clear sounding. Soundtracks for both versions of SUPERMAN II show more signs of age than the first film, but still manage to sound quite good. Directional effects are well handled, but are not as engaging as newer films. Fidelity is as good as the vintage recordings allow. Dialogue is always easy to understand, but voices can sound a bit thin in places.
The soundtrack for SUPERMAN III is efficient, but the mix is unremarkable, even in 5.1. Directional effects are pretty mild and overall fidelity is not particularly impressive. It is highly unlikely that anyone thought SUPERMAN III was worthy of a major sonic overhaul and just worked with the best available sound elements to produce this track. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE has some nice stereo imaging and clean sounding dialogue. Fidelity is more than reasonable and holds up well enough. SUPERMAN RETURNS being the newest film has the best sounding track. It features highly aggressive modern mix, with excellent imaging, panning and sound effect placement. Fidelity is robust for both the music and sound effect. The bass channel is tight and potent. Dialogue is warmly recorded and full of character.
The Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE also includes an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, plus French and Spanish Dolby Digital monaural tracks. The Expanded Edition SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE also includes French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks. The Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II also includes French and Spanish Dolby Digital monaural tracks. SUPERMAN III and SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE also include Dolby Digital French and Spanish 2.0 channel tracks. SUPERMAN RETURNS also includes French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish across the board.
The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials that pertain to each of the films and series in general, many of which have been ported from previous releases. The Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE starts off with a running Audio Commentary with Producer Pierre Spengler and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind. The Making Of Superman is a vintage fifty-minute documentary that looks at the production. Up next, is the 1951 feature film SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE-MEN starring George Reeves, which also served as the pilot for the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN television series. One will also find the following cartoons on the disc: Super-Rabbit, Snafuperman and Stupor Duck. A TV Spot, Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer close out the fist disc.
The Expanded Edition SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE starts off with a running Audio Commentary with Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Next up are three documentaries: Taking Flight: The Development of Superman runs thirty minutes and looks at what it took to bring Superman from the pages of a comic book to a workable film production. Making Superman: Filming The Legend also runs thirty minutes and takes one behind-the-scenes as SUPERMAN went before the cameras. The third documentary entitled The Magic Behind The Cape runs twenty minutes shows the massive amounts of work that it took to make a motion picture audience believe that a man could fly. Also included three are Christopher Reeve's Screen Tests for Superman, as well as Lois Lane Screen Tests featuring various actresses, plus two Screen Tests for the role of Kryptonian villain Ursa. Restored Scenes isolates moments added back to the film. Two Deleted Scenes are presented, but I'm sure there is plenty more unused footage in a vault somewhere that fans would still love to see. Additional Musical Cues from the John Williams score are presented in Dolby Digital 5.0; these eight cues are alternate versions or bits of music not used in the film.
The Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN II starts off with a running Audio Commentary with Producer Pierre Spengler and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind. The Making Of Superman II is a vintage fifty-minute documentary that looks at the production. First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series is a thirteen-minute look at the Dave & Max Fleischer animated shorts that first depicted the Man Of Steel on the silver screen. The Fleischer Superman cartoons include: The Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano and Terror On The Midway. A Deleted Scene and Theatrical Trailer close of the extras included on the Theatrical Version. SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT starts off with a running Audio Commentary with Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Director Richard Donner is also on hand to provide an Introduction to the reassembled "Original Director’s Cut" of SUPERMAN II. Superman Ii: Restoring The Vision is an interesting thirteen minute program that gives fans a glimpse into the process of creating this cut of the movie. Some Deleted Scenes are also provided, as are eight of the Famous Studios Superman Cartoons from the 1940’s. The featured cartoons are as follows: Japoteurs, Showdown, Eleventh Hour, Destruction, Inc., The Mummy Strikes, Jungle Drums, The Underground World and Secret Agent.
SUPERMAN III starts off with a running Audio Commentary with Producer Pierre Spengler and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind. Next up is The Making Of Superman III, which runs nearly fifty minutes. Twenty minutes of Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer close out the film’s supplements. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE starts off with a running Audio Commentary with screenwriter Mark Rosenthal. Superman 50th Anniversary Special is a vintage program from 1988 that runs fifty minutes and celebrates the Man of Steel. Thirty minutes of Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer close out the film’s supplements.
SUPERMAN RETURNS has an impressive array of supplemental content. Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns is a three hour documentary the chronicles the making of the film in excellent detail and is comprised of the following parts: Secret Origins And First Issues: Crystallizing Superman, The Crystal Method: Designing Superman, An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman, The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman and He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman. Next up is Resurrecting Jor-El, a brief featurette that looks at how unused footage of Marlon Brando, along with CGI assistance, were utilized to bring the only primary cast member of Richard Donner’s film into this latest incarnation of the franchise. Also included is an hour and twenty minutes of director Bryan Singer's Video Journals, which chronicle the production. Twenty minutes of Deleted Scenes, including the never before seen Return To Krypton are provided, along with a Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer.
The Bonus Disc features the following programs: Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story Of Superman (one hour fifty minutes), You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga Of Superman (one hour thirty minutes), The Science Of Superman (fifty one minutes), The Mythology Of Superman (twenty minutes), The Heart Of A Hero: A Tribute To Christopher Reeve (eighteen minutes) and The Adventures Of Superpup (twenty two minutes).
While I still have my issues with SUPERMAN III, THE SUPERMAN MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY is a pretty wonderful Blu-ray release that offers up a lot of great entertainment, as well as an exhaustive amount of supplemental materials. High definition enhances one’s enjoyment of the films. Definitely recommended to fans of the film series.
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