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The Superman Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray review


The classic Superman movies - and Bryan Singer's tribute to them - hit hi-def in spectacular fashion...

Superman Motion Picture Anthology blu-ray review

It was a time of sex, cynicism and Star Wars - and endless lampoons of the old Batman TV shows. Almost inconceivably, given the era that we live in, there had never been a superhero movie that wasn't cheap, laughable, aimed at kids - or all three. So when Superman producers the Salkind brothers decided to follow up their success of the Musketeers movies with another ambitious two-part movie project, they knew they'd need to throw high-level talent at the first ever serious cinematic account of the Man Of Steel.

Enter Richard Donner, riding a high wave of interest from The Omen; enter Marlon Brando, superstar Gene Hackman, Godfather screenwriter Mario Puzo...enter years of hard-working hell inventing entirely new cinematic processes to make us all believe a man can fly. And enter unknown actor Christopher Reeve, ready to take on the dual role of Clark Kent and Kal-El in what remains a definitive interpretation.

Superman (1978) is sheer magic, even now. Witty, moving, exciting, visionary, extraordinarily beautiful to look at and boasting perhaps the most inspiring of all the scores in John Williams' 'bombastic' period. So it's fantastic to see this movie hit Blu-ray in such a superb hi-definition transfer. Superman needs hi-def: shot by legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth in a gorgeous romantic haze, the original two of the 70s/80s Superman movies (largely shot by Richard Donner; though he was replaced by Richard Lester on Superman II, most of the footage in the second movie is Donner's) are famed as very hard to compress. Well, it hasn't looked this good since the early days of the freshest prints - if that. And in terms of sound quality, Superman is truly out of this world; the score was made for capable speakers with ASBO-inviting subwoofers.

But there's more. Much more. The Superman Motion Picture Anthology delivers a hi-definition version of every Superman movie to date, including the Bryan Singer homage to the Donner era, Superman Returns (2006). It's perhaps a little unfair to take Singer's stance when originating his own take on Supes, and simply 'ignore' Superman III and Superman IV. To be sure, these sequels have nothing like the fiduciary or creative energy of the double-entry first movie which is comprised of Superman and Superman II. Nonetheless, almost irritatingly, even the last two of the Reeve entries have something or other to recommend them, or for which they are recalled with odd fondness (notably by Mike Judge, who referenced Superman III's 'fractions' scam in 1999's Office Space).

Superman III shows us the old genre favourite - a superhero gone bad, when the Man Of Steel is semi-successfully poisoned by nicotine-laced faux Kryptonite, and turns to 'the dark side'. Plus it has the Office Space scam, which is almost enough to make you forget that it's really a Richard Pryor movie in which Superman is a guest. Meantime the very underfunded Superman IV (with grim UK locale Milton Keynes giving a very poor impression of New York/Metropolis) nonetheless brings us the return of Gene Hackman in a welcome Lex Luthor cameo, and the entertainingly awful 'Nuclear Man'.

Bryan Singer's 2006 revival of the Donner-style Superman movies is so faithful and reverent to the excellent originals as to produce in the viewer a little sadness at the lack of familiar faces. But Superman Returns also the most expensive Superman movie ever, and if you're not convinced at how much it cost, check out the gargantuan extras documentaries and marvel at the breadth of a vision that sadly needed a little 'Donner luck' that it didn't quite get. That said, the script isn't as sharp, the casting has some problems and, perversely, the original two movies seem to be getting in the way of having fun with the Superman myth. Even so, Returns is packed with spectacle and a brace of first-rate character actors; and if Brandon Routh lacks Reeve's dark intensity as Kal-El, he's an impeccable Clark Kent and a warm and likeable presence. Shame about the kid and the Lois-stalking, though.


The Superman Motion Picture Anthology is currently retailing at Amazon UK for a measly 36 quid. For any fan of any one of the movies, that's an incredible starting price for the hours of entertainment the collection provides. All the gems of previous editions of all the movies are gathered safely into the fold, and among them are included some of the best extras ever to emerge from the Laserdisc > DVD 'golden age' of extras. Even if you're not usually a fan of commentaries, consider delving a little deeper into the secondary audio tracks of the Anthology - there's enough dissent and lingering hostility among the various participants to rival the movies themselves! But there's also a ton of humour, happy memories and amazing stories. No fan of film history can ignore the best of the extras content in this collection. And like that wasn't enough, you get a true all-time movie classic to cherish in the sparkling high resolution it so richly deserves. If this was a £90 initial-price prospect, the Anthology would be a 'waiter' for most Superman fans. But at this price, and with this much fun to be had, it's a no-brainer.

5 stars

Complete list of extras:

Disc #1

Superman: The Movie, Original Theatrical
Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler (Original Theatrical Version)
The Making of Superman: The Movie [1978 TV special]
Superman and the Mole-Men [1951 feature]
Warner Bros. Cartoons

Super-Rabbit [1943 WB cartoon]
Snafuperman [1944 WB cartoon]
Stupor Duck [1956 WB cartoon]


Disc #2

Superman: The Movie, Expanded Edition
Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz (Extended Version)
Taking Flight: The Development of Superman
Making Superman: Filming the Legend
The Magic Behind the Cape
Screen Tests
A Selection of Restored Scenes
Additional Music Cues
Main Titles
Alternate Main Titles
The Council’s Decision
The Krypton Quake
More Mugger/Introducing Otis
Air Force One
Can You Read My Mind (Pop Version)

Music Only Track (Donner Cut)

- Superman II (1980 and The Richard Donner Cut)

Disc #3

Superman II, Original Theatrical
Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler (Original Theatrical Version)
The Making of Superman II [1980 TV special]
Deleted Scene
First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series

Fleischer Studios’ Superman:
-The Mechanical Monsters
-Billion Dollar Limited
-The Arctic Giant
-The Bulleteers
-The Magnetic Telescope
-Electric Earthquake
-Terror on the Midway

Theatrical Trailer

Disc #4

Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut
Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz (Donner Cut)
Introduction by Richard Donner
Superman II: Restoring the Vision
Deleted Scenes

Famous Studios’ Superman

-Eleventh Hour
-Destruction, Inc..
-The Mummy Strikes
-Jungle Drums
-The Underground World
-Secret Agent

Superman III Theatrical Version (1983)

Disc #5

Superman III Theatrical Version
Commentary by Iilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler
The Making of Superman III (1983 TV Special)
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer

Superman IV The Quest For Peace Theatrical Version (1987)

Disc #6

Superman IV The Quest For Peace Theatrical Version
Commentary by Mark Rosenthal
Superman 50th Anniversary Special (1988 TV Special)
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer

Superman Returns (2006)

Disc #7

Superman Returns

Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns

- Pt. 1 Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallizing Superman
- Pt. 2 The Crystal Method: Designing Superman
- Pt. 3 An Affinity for Beach-front Property: Shooting Superman- Superman on the Farm
- Pt. 4 An Affinity for Beach-front Property: Shooting Superman- Superman in the City
- Pt. 5 An Affinity for Beach-front Property: Shooting Superman- Superman in Peril
- Pt. 6 The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman
- Pt. 7 He’s Always Around: Wrapping Superman

Resurrecting Jor-El
Deleted Scenes including the never-before-seen original opening to Superman Returns
Bryan Singer’s Journals – Video production journals

Disc #8 Additional Bonus Material

Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman [Hi-Def]
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman

- Pt. 1- Origin
- Pt. 2- Vision
- Pt. 3- Ascent
- Pt. 4- Crisis
- Pt. 5- Redemption

The Science of Superman [Hi-Def]
The Mythology of Superman
The Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve
The Adventures of Superpup [1958 TV pilot]

5 stars

The Superman Motion Picture Anthology is out now.

See also:

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage Blu-ray review

Apocalypse Now Blu-ray review

Avatar three-disc extended collector's edition Blu-ray review

Review: Alien Blu-ray 'Anthology' transfer - by Alien's art director

Six unlikely changes for the Blu-ray release of Star Wars

Is Justice League headed for theatres?

Is Superman dead?

Top ten episodes of Smallville


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#1 The Super-Uncanny Valley Eric F 2011-06-20 14:52
"so faithful and reverent to the excellent originals as to produce in the viewer a little sadness at the lack of familiar faces."

On a private forum shortly after the theatrical release, I had suggested the problem with Superman Returns is that it lies inside the "Uncanny Valley" -- like a robot that looks almost human, but just off enough to make us uncomfortable. Double that idea with Routh's Superman having looked like he was airbrushed for the entire movie, and thus literally inside the valley.

By the way, I believe you meant Superman III in this comment: ... simply 'ignore' Superman II and Superman IV.
#2 Thanks Martin Anderson 2011-06-20 18:41
Quoting Eric F:
By the way, I believe you meant Superman III in this comment: ... simply 'ignore' Superman II and Superman IV.

Quite right - I'm obliged to you! :)

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