I am happy to report that Superman has indeed returnedÖ and its about time. Absent from the silver screen for roughly two decades, Superman was the greatest comic book superhero of the twentieth century, and while MIA in the multiplex, the character continued to maintain his appeal to fans in the print and television mediums. Not only has Superman died and been resurrected on the pages of comic books- the medium that spawned him, the mythology of the Man of Steel has been explored and reinvented in two popular television series- one of which is still running.
For my money, SUPERMAN RETURNS ($35) is an iconic and emotionally resonant superhero movie. Following the mythology as laid down in director Richard Donnerís 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 Reeveís performance- from the humbleness of his man of steel to the awkwardness of his Clark Kent. Routh also brings his own special quality to dual character; one which I would like to see further developed in the sequels to this film, as the plot of SUPERMAN RETURNS calls for him to be too introspective, too much of the time. Also capturing the right spirit is Kevin Spaceyís Lex Luthor. Kevin Spacey is certainly more menacing that Gene Hackman in the role, but Spacey maintains the slight comic tinge.
Okay, Iíll 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 sequel, 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 familyís Kansas farm, it has been five years since Supermanís disappearance and the world has moved on without him. Along with the rest of the world, the Daily Planetís 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 Supermanís 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, Luthorís 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, Luthorís 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 SUPERMAN RETURNS available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Stunning would be an accurate way to describe the visual content of the SUPERMAN RETURNS DVD. The image appears wonderfully sharp and produces an excellent level of detail. Colors deeply saturated, while flesh tones are wholly natural and incredibly appealing. Hues appear rock solid and are rendered without incident. Blacks are on the money and the whites are stable. Both the levels of contrast and shadow detail are top of the line. The film elements used for the transfer are virtually pristine and there is little apparent grain during the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are always well camouflaged.
SUPERMAN RETURNS comes with an incredibly potent Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Aggressively mixed; all of the outlying channels are well utilized during the action sequences, with the sound design coming to explosive life during those moments. Quieter moments are more atmospheric, but remain enveloping and create living sonic environments. Sound effects are distinct and move around the soundstage effortlessly. Fidelity is excellent; with the John Ottman/John Williams score coming across with a genuine sense of musical presence, not to mention the convincing, fully weighted quality of the sound effects. The bass channel is deep and is truly ground shaking when required. Dialogue is warmly rendered and maintains complete intelligibility. A Spanish 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been have been relegated to disc two of this set. The primary supplement is pretty darn impressive- 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 Donnerís film into this latest incarnation of the franchise. Deleted Scenes, an Easter Egg and Theatrical Trailers close out the supplemental materials.
I really loved SUPERMAN RETURNS, as it returns the Man of Steel to his rightful place on the silver screen. Warnerís DVD looks and sounds super, and the two-disc version offers a tremendous wealth of supplemental material. Fanboy gushing aside, I will admit that SUPERMAN RETURNS is not wholly perfect, but is a wonderful first act on a reinvigorated franchise. I canít wait to see what happens next. Recommended.
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