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The inevitable DVD release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE ($25) is something that I have been anticipating and dreading since the early days of the DVD format. While I consider myself a fan of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, I still remember the awful looking wide screen Laserdisc release of the film, which was supposedly mastered from the best available film elements. The Laserdisc image was grainy, faded, dirty and soft looking, so if the same film elements were used again for the DVD, these handicaps would have to be overcome in order to generate nothing more than a decent transfer. Fortunately, Warner announced that they would be restoring SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE for a DVD release and a possible theatrical re-issue. While the entire theatrical re-issue has consisted of a couple of screenings, fans can satiate themselves with a first rate DVD release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.

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. As for the plot of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, it 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.

Warner Home Video deserves a whole lot of praise for restoring SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE prior to its transfer to DVD. The restoration removes or greatly lessens the flaws that have plagued SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, since the time of its original theatrical release. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE still doesn't look like a brand new movie, but it looks a whole heck of a lot better than it has ever looked before. Presented at 2.35:1, the 16:9 enhanced image on the DVD is crisp and offers a better level of detail than it has in the past. However, Geoffrey Unsworth's diffuse cinematography keeps the image from achieving razor sharpness. In terms of image clarity, one will notice that overwhelming film grain that present in many special effects shots is either absent or diminished to an unobjectionable degree. Also, the dirt that was part of the film's rushed optical compositing has been eliminated in the restoration. Color reproduction is light-years ahead of what has come before. Modern color correction keeps Superman's costume a consistent bright blue throughout the film. Flesh tones now appear healthy, instead of ashen. In general, all colors appear more vibrant and a far more stable. There are no major concerns with chroma noise or smearing at any time during the presentation. Blacks appear solid and inky, but shadow detail does fall below modern levels. Contrast is very smooth, plus in the Krypton scenes, where the blinding white costumes used to blow out everything else, backgrounds and skin tones are more readily discernable. For this release, director Richard Donner has integrated eight minutes of footage into the body of the film- there are no visual differences in quality between the theatrical cut and the additional footage. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed on this beautifully authored dual layer DVD.

For the restoration, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE has been given a new Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. The new mix incorporates the original dialogue and music recordings, but the sound effects track did not survive intact, which necessitated re-recording the effects for the new mix. Purists, of course, will be outraged, but there is little else to be done, since the original recordings are beyond salvaging. The end result of this new mix is fantastic, although the new foley work sometimes sounds as though it has a more lifelike quality than the dialogue and music. While watching the DVD, I came to the realization that SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE has never sounded as exciting as it does on this release. Working from individual elements gave the sound engineers the ability to create a very modern mix, with aggressive sound effects placement and better fidelity in all the channels. Both the forward and rear soundstages are very lively, plus there is clean panning of sound effects and especially good use of the split surround channels. Dialogue is crisper and more precise, which allows for greater intelligibility than there was on previous incarnations- throwaway background dialogue can be heard without one straining themselves to hear it. The bass channel pumps up the soundtrack quite nicely, lending weight to all the sound effects and enhancing the music. John Williams' inspiring score has an open, musical quality that wasn't there on the Laserdisc- on that release the score sounded pretty flat and lifeless. My favorite musical cue is The Planet Krypton fanfare and listening to it on the DVD gave me Goosebumps- this is something that the Laserdisc experience never did. Subtitles are available on the DVD in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound all enhance the very stylish interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some very nice supplements. First up is a "must listen audio" commentary featuring Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz. If you want to know what went on behind the scene during the production of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, you've come to the right place- this track provides plenty of detail on how the film actually got made and who actually did what. The other major feature on side one is John Williams' score in isolated Dolby Digital 5.0. Music quality is good, but for better fidelity, one should check out the re-issued 2-disc soundtrack CD. Also included on side one is Superman: The Legacy, which is a text feature that outlines Superman's history and how the character has appeared in various media. A theatrical trailer and cast filmographies close out side one.

Side two includes three excellent documentaries that look back on the production of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. 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 on side two 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. Two deleted scenes are presented on the DVD, 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. A theatrical teaser and TV spot close out side two's supplements.

With their release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, Warner Home Video has created a superb "must own" DVD, not only for Superman fans, but anyone else who enjoys a great fantasy movie. Absolutely recommended.


Superman - The Movie (Special Edition)


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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