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Of the Superman movies, I'd rate SUPERMAN II ($20) as the strongest entry because the second film isn't bogged down in tons of exposition, plus the villains are truly menacing, which makes them worthy opponents for The Man Of Steel. Although my next comment is kind of wimpy, I think that the love story in SUPERMAN II also works exceedingly well- it takes the entire Lois-Clark-Superman dynamic to the level where it needed to go to. In hindsight, the success of SUPERMAN II seems almost miraculous, especially when one considers the chaos that occurred behind-the-scenes. A lot of people didn’t know that director Richard Donner was fired from the production, even though he had much of the sequel already in the can. The completed version of SUPERMAN II combines much of Donner’s footage, with additional scenes lensed by replacement director Richard Lester. In addition to this, every scene in which Marlon Brando should have appeared as Superman’s father Jor El had to be reworked, because the larger-than-life star brought a lawsuit against the producers for trying to get two films worth of Brando out of a single paycheck.  For more details on the production history of SUPERMAN II, check the Superman Cinema web site. 

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 a proposition to deliver to them the only person 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. I remember seeing SUPERMAN II opening weekend and the audience went nuts during the film's super climax- they were also cheering at the end credits flashed "COMING SOON: SUPERMAN III." Had they actually known what was coming in that third installment, they wouldn't have been cheering. 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.

Unlike SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, Warner did not restore the film elements for SUPERMAN II prior to its transfer for DVD. In my opinion, this is a mistake, since SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE now looks so much better than its sequel. I don't want to give the impression that the SUPERMAN II DVD looks bad, quite the contrary, much of the film looks pretty nice. Looking at the transfer, it is fairly obvious that the 2.35:1 image has received some digital cleanup work to minimize the most glaring flaws in the existing film elements. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is fairly sharp and the level of detail is decent. However, the film's diffuse cinematography and twenty year old optical work keeps the image from having the snap of a new (or newly restored) movie. Some of the special effects work appears pretty fuzzy and film grain is noticeable in many of these shots. Still, SUPERMAN II looks a lot better in this release, than it did on Laserdisc. Color reproduction is something of a mixed bag- most of the time the hues appear strong, but there are places where fading is obvious. There is no sign of chroma noise, although some of the more intense color don't appear rock solid. Nevertheless, I would imagine that this is not a flaw in the transfer, but is more likely attributable to the film’s original photography and optical printing. Blacks are adequate and shadow detail seems a bit muddy. Digital compression artifacts are disguised by solid dual layer authoring. Overall, the transfer of SUPERMAN II is quite respectable, but as evidenced by SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, this film could be made to look a whole heck of a lot better.

SUPERMAN II really should have a better soundtrack than what is presented here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track decodes to standard surround, but is pretty flat and uninspired. In actuality, SUPERMAN II sounds exactly like a twenty-year-old movie in desperate need of a complete soundtrack overhaul. Limited frequency response really hurts the monaural surrounds, which provide little more than ambient sound. The forward soundstage fares better, providing some directional sound effects, but nothing to get excited about. Main dialogue is intelligible, but the throwaway lines uttered on the periphery are hard to make out. Ken Thorne's re-working of John Williams' SUPERMAN themes sound canned, with less than impressive fidelity. There is some bass in the soundtrack, but not enough to lend real authority to the film's sound effects. A French monaural soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

I can't totally dismiss this release of SUPERMAN II, because the movie is so entertaining. Sure, the presentation is less than awe inspiring, but it isn’t bad. While I would rather have this release than nothing at all, I still have to urge Warner to give SUPERMAN II the same treatment that they bestowed on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. SUPERMAN II deserves a total restoration of the film elements, as well as its soundtrack. Additionally, the fractured production history of SUPERMAN II certainly could be the basis for some truly interesting supplemental materials.


Superman II


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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