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There has always been a lot of interest in Hollywood over comic book adaptations, from underground material like Spawn to the more mainstream Batman franchise and the upcoming Spiderman.  It’s fair to say that these interpretations are not always handled well by Hollywood.

In terms of fantasy adventure, Superman would have to rank as one of my favourites.  It has lofty aspirations, whilst still being grounded in a recognisable reality (albeit a reality of big hair and bad 70’s fashion).  Followed by an equally capable sequel it ultimately became an uneven franchise that didn’t seem to realise the potential of the wealth of available material. Looking back over this disc, I was struck by how well Superman has aged.

Superman The Movie: Special Edition
Movie
I would be surprised if there are many out there who don’t know the story of the Man of Steel. For the uninitiated, here is a brief summary:

Superman (Christopher Reeves ) is sent from his home planet of Krypton by his father moments before it is destroyed.  He is sent to the planet earth, where his natural abilities are infinitely enhanced by Earth’s atmosphere.  His superhuman strength and ability to fly captures the public imagination and he becomes a symbol of truth and justice to everyone except master criminal Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).  Luthor has a plan to make millions of dollars in real estate by destroying half of the Californian coastline.

Superman then has to work to foil Lex Luthor’s grand plan. All the while balancing his true identity with his working guise as Clark Kent, a meek journalist at The Daily Planet.  A romantic interest in fellow reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) adds a further dimension to this timeless story.

With a clever, funny script and tremendously ambitious direction from Richard Donner, this movie still holds up as a classic piece of Hollywood.

Video
The feature is presented in anamorphic Widescreen format, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is obvious that Warner have spent a lot of time of this release, using a clean crisp print, free of flecks and dirt. The video is generally excellent despite the age of the source material.

The colours have been digitally corrected and are solid throughout, with only intentional bleeding effects.  Skin tones are somewhat washed out, but again this comes from the cinematographer’s visual style.  This is the best I have seen this film.  To fully appreciate the quality of the video in the main feature, you just need to watch the film footage in one of the documentaries.

This is an expanded version of the movie, containing eight minutes of extra footage.  The new scenes are not completely unwelcome, but it might’ve been nice to include a seamlessly branched theatrical version as well.

Audio
Purists beware.  This DVD only has a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack.  The soundtrack has been recently remastered and adds a lot of separation and direction. Directionality however comes across as contrived and seemed to be added for the sake of adding new ‘effects’. I found the soundtrack was great considering the age of the movie, but it lacked the type of dynamic range modern digital sound tracks frequently offer.

The sound effects tracks were taken from (comparatively) dull stems and clashed with the fidelity of the score (which isn’t as obtrusive a problem here as it is on some other recent Region 4 releases).

The score, written and orchestrated by John Williams, is stylish and adds a solid dimension to this film.  It has a character that is a perfect example of John William’s depth of talent.  I defy anyone to watch this movie and not come out of it humming the main theme. The quieter moments also benefit from the incidental music and really help to set the tone. The audio is a very important part of any DVD and this is one of the best examples of a newly remixed soundtrack of late.

Superman The Movie: Special Edition
Extras
Another clue to just how long and presumably expensive preparing this release must have been is the extras list. The extensive list includes –

An audio commentary, which is interesting, and the banter between Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankewicz seems effortless.  It is spontaneous, giving an insight into some technical and production information.

Other worthwhile extras include the 3 sets of screen tests.  They are Superman, Ursa and Lois Lane. This gives viewers an insight into the casting process. It would have been a very different film indeed had Stockard Channing been Lois Lane.

There is an isolated music-only soundtrack of John Williams’s score.  With such a score, this is a sensible inclusion.

There are also 3 documentaries that make up the bulk of the extra features.

‘Taking Flight: The Development of Superman’ (30 mins).  Includes on-set footage, film footage and old new interviews with cast and crew.

‘Superman: Filming the Legend’ (30 mins).  An in-depth featurette, concentrating on principal production, with film footage and cast and crew interviews

‘The magic behind the cape’ (25 mins).  This featurette looks at special effects, comprehensively covering a wide range of effects and other technical aspects of the postproduction.

There are also deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer and a TV spot to round out the extra features.  An outstanding compliment to the feature..

Superman The Movie: Special Edition
Overall
Superman is one of the best comic book adaptations to come to DVD to date.  Credit has to go to Warner for investing their time and money into the production and marketing of this title.  A well-rounded package.


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