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(Four-Disc Special Edition)

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE ($40) was and is one of the greatest fantasy films ever produced. Bringing to life the saga of The Man Of Steel, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE really did make the audience believe that a man could fly, because they were right alongside soaring with him. Under the stewardship of Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE had a sense of genuineness that generated awe and wonder in audiences, not to mention the film having a sense of humor that did not push things to the level of camp excess, which was found in the later films, after Donner was removed from the franchise by the producers. 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 Reeve's 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. Every time I SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE I become more and more blown away by the simplicity and elegance of Reeve’s performance in both roles.

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. Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz deserves credit for every bit of greatness that SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE achieves. The superb 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 has made both the 1978 Theatrical Version (disc one) and 2000 Expanded Edition (disc two) of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Both versions of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE look terrific, with each benefiting from the restorative work undertaken for the theatrical re-issue and initial DVD release. The levels of image sharpness and detail are great, but much of the film utilizes a diffuse style of cinematography, which is inherently softer that what one normally sees in newer films. Colors are vibrant and stable, with the flesh tones appearing natural. Blacks appear solid and inky, but shadow detail does fall below modern levels. Contrast is generally very smooth, but the Krypton sequence has blinding white costumes, which do affect the rest of the image. The film elements appear very clean, although there are some inconsistencies related to the original production. Film grain is noticeable, but never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are never a concern on either version.

Both versions of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE feature Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtracks, which were created for the 2000 restoration. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE has never sounded as exciting as it does it 5.1, but that has a lot to do with the then newly recorded sound effect that were integrated into this mix. This is a very modern sounding mix, which utilizes aggressive sound effects placement. The overall effect is very lively, plus there is clean panning between the outlying channels. Dialogue is crisper and more precise, which allows for greater intelligibility- 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. French language tracks are also provided, while subtitles are available on the DVD in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Please note: a manufacturing error precluded the original English Dolby Surround soundtrack from being included on the Theatrical Version, but Warner is aware of the situation and replacement copies of disc one are in the works.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene/episode selection and set up features, as well as the extensive supplements included on the four-disc set. Disc one features a running Audio Commentary with Producer Pierre Spengler and Executive Producer Ilya Salkind. Disc two features a running Audio Commentary with featuring Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz.

Disc three features 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 disc 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. 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.

Disc four features additional supplemental programming, including the Vintage TV Special, The Making Of Superman: The Movie, which runs fifty minutes. 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. Nine of the Fleischer Studios Superman Cartoons from the 1940’s close out disc four. The Fleischer Studios' cartoons have been re-mastered from superior film elements and look better in this collection than I have ever seen them. The featured cartoons are as follows: Superman, The Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano and Terror On The Midway.

As I stated above, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was and is one of the greatest fantasy films ever produced. Barring the omission of the original soundtrack on the Theatrical Version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, Warner has done their usual tremendous job with the DVD release of the Four-Disc Special Edition (again, replacement discs are in the works). If you are a fan, you will want to add the Four-Disc Special Edition of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE to your personal collection. Absolutely recommended.

Note: Replacement discs can be obtained by calling: 800-553-6937.



Superman - The Movie (Four-Disc Special Edition) (1978)



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2006 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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