Featurette - 3 screen tests for Superman, Lois Lane and Ursa
Isolated music score
3 Documentaries - on the special effects.
Superman - Special Edition
Warner Bros./Warner Bros. .
R4 . COLOR . 145 mins .
PG . PAL
In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, two struggling artists looking for a new comic book hero, came up with the "Superman". From there, the rest is history. Through many a TV series, comic book incarnations, radio broadcasts and even a musical, Superman has captivated all manner of audiences in all manner of age groups. It wasn't until 1978 when Alexander Salkind decided to bring the fantastic tale of a man from Krypton that was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound to the silver screen.
Red Bull gives you wings.
In what seemed to be a project going nowhere, the Superman movie was in developmental hell, with the producers signing on Marlon Brando for a record 4 million dollars and then signing Gene Hackman, all without having any real concrete schedule, plan or even the backing of a studio. They even resorted to hiring a plane with a large banner in tow to fly over the Cannes film festival stating "Superman the movie is coming, starring Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman" - just to get investors onboard.
Once the dust had settled it was time to cast Superman himself, and when Christopher Reeve walked into the auditions it was finalised. His screen presence, especially opposite Margot Kidder, was undeniable and both casting agents and director agreed that they were on a winner - and a huge one at that, for Christopher Reeve was forever to be known as 'the' Superman.
The movie follows the travels of the young Kal-el being sent to Earth by his parents as Krypton is being destroyed all around them. On his arrival on Earth he immediately focuses on his incredible abilities and soon, growing up through his teens, he finds a green crystal calling to him to begin his journey and transformation into Superman. His first full appearance on Earth is a trial by fire, as Lois Lane falls victim to a heart-pounding skyscraper roof-top helicopter accident. As time has gone by this scene has gone on to be remembered as one of the greatest ever witnessed, when the audience first did believe a man could fly.
From here the romance between the two blossoms, and a chance interview with the Man of Steel inadvertently reveals his weaknesses to the greatest criminal mind of our time, Lex Luthor, who has plans to use the US Army's new XK-101 missiles to cause the west side of the San Andreas fault to fall into the sea, leaving the new owners of the land on the east side - Lex Luthor Inc - as very, very rich men indeed. Mind over muscle prevails, as Luthor leaves Superman incapacitated with a chunk of Kryptonite whilst his deadly plan is unfolding.
Director Richard Donner has crafted a masterful piece of film making, bringing the comic book character to full life. Each and every frame is a page of a comic book itself and the way each shot is executed is a testament to the respect Donner has for the subject and the intelligence of the audience. Never once does the movie feel contrived; it takes itself seriously when it needs to and adds humour and innuendo at other times. This movie is often touted as the best super hero movie ever made, as nothing before or since has come close to capturing the true essence of the character at hand.
It's not just character, the director or the great cast that makes Superman a classic. The original score by John Williams is definitely one of his best efforts, with an exceptional fanfare for the man himself, the brilliant march of the villains and the emotionally charged love theme. Couple that with some groundbreaking special effects and an Academy Award to boot and you've got the perfect blend for great entertainment. This is something special, something that will live on through the ages.
In this digitally remastered release, Donner has also gone back and added a few more scenes to give us a fresher movie. Whilst there are nine minutes of extra scenes added, you don't feel that the film drags on and, in fact it actually makes for a more complete movie. Some may argue that the only version of Superman they know is the three hour cut made for TV. This is not the director's version, this is the version the Salkinds released to television studios because it would make them more money if the movie was spread across two nights of viewing. This reviewer also grew up with the TV version on VHS but does not in any way feel cheated as THIS is the director's final cut, as it should be.
Having experienced this movie in all possible video formats from the last widescreen release on laserdisc to a sell-through VHS version and a dubbed extended TV cut version, nothing could prepare this reviewer for what this print had to offer. Donner and co went back to the original stems, cleaned them up considerably, tweaked the optical effects shots and used a bit of digital trickery to colour correct certain key images. The results are nothing short of stunning and provide an image that is the best this movie is ever going to look.
There is a sense of disdain when looking back at the old prints of this movie. This new release is simply a revelation in comparison, a night and day difference, an image that will put a smile on every single fan's face for a long time; as it did with the rest of the reviewers on this evening.
Not happy Jan
What stands out the most here is the improved dynamic look of the picture. The depth of field is much improved in its presentation, blacks are truly blacker, and the richness of colour in the Superman costume is incredible (as can be seen by these screen grabs). The amount of detail in the image is apparent for all to see, no matter what equipment you are using. This is simply a rebirth of a movie that had fallen by the wayside over the years, neglected, given a mediocre treatment on laserdisc, a medium that was once considered the high-end of home theatre. There are not enough superlatives to describe the image here. My favourite movie has been revitalised.
Vince says: Can I describe my satisfaction with the transfer without gushing? I don't think so, so I won't bother trying. Watch this DVD, and you will believe that Superman is real. His outfit, stunning reds, yellows and blues, seem to have a majestic presence of their own, and you'll find yourself asking, as we did "How incredible does he look?" The deep colors of the film evoke a quality of rich inks along with the cinematography wonderfully evokes the sensation of the ultimate comic book conversion come to life.
The clarity and detail revealed throughout Superman was in no way anything but a revelation for me, revealing every intricate detail of the elaborate model work while at the same time smoothly rendering the scenery as a beautiful backdrop when focus shifted to the leads. This DVD is nothing short of an absolute pleasure to experience.
Anthony says: 23 years after its original cinema release, Superman finally scores the home video treatment it’s always deserved on this DVD, with the job done by the restoration team being nothing short of spectacular, especially given the limitations of the technology of the era in which the film was made. Presented at 2.35:1 and of course 16:9 enhanced, this carefully-supervised video transfer captures director Richard Donner’s “final” 151-minute cut (running just over 145 minutes on PAL DVD) to perfection, with many - but understandably not all - of the visual inadequacies of the original movie now corrected with 21st Century technology.
There is a fair amount of film grain visible at times, but this mostly occurs on the optical effects sequences of the movie - and it has to be remembered that this was 1978, when pioneers created ambitious visual effects such as these with only old-school cinematic tools at their disposal. Like most films of this era that use optical printing of any kind (and there was a huge amount of optical work used in early attempts at high-end visual effects) the resulting film grain is there to stay - unless your name happens to be George Lucas, you own your own visual effects company, and can invest time and money in recreating them all from scratch. Some of the effects here are, in retrospect, remarkably dodgy - the blue-screen work isn’t always flawless, and the miniatures during the dam-burst sequence are almost comically fake. But that’s how the movie was made, and to their credit, the restoration team have not attempted to remake the movie in any way. Will all apologies to fans of Lucas's ongoing Star Wars renovation program, to do that would have been criminal.
With that in mind - as well as the obvious limitations of 1978-vintage film stock and lenses - it’s quite remarkable just how fresh and clear Superman looks in this new version. Colours are rock-solid throughout, and there’s plenty of detail present. The disc is spotlessly authored, with not a compression artefact in sight (one of the advantages, we’d guess, of using almost the entire capacity of a dual-layer disc side for a 145 minute movie). The layer change is placed in a reasonably unobtrusive position in the film - just after, rather than on, a scene change - but does take longer than usual for the player to negotiate. That would be just about the only complaint about this entire disc (and it’s a very minor one); beautifully restored by people who obviously care, and spotlessly authored by the ever-reliable WAMO, the disc brings Superman into the DVD age with style.
If the picture looking as great as it did wasn't enough, then the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack should close the sale for you right now. Donner and his team have gone back through the archives to find all the original audio stems that they could and then recreated the foley effects as best they could. The results are simply astounding. Every nuance of sound possible in the movie literally comes alive and at you from all directions and through all possible frequencies. For a 1978 movie this sure puts a lot of recent soundtracks to shame.
A picture tells a thousand words.
Most notable about the Superman soundtrack has always been the wonderful score by the great John Williams. In the few years before he had produced the soundtracks for Jaws and Star Wars and was thus in his prime at the time and it shows with Superman being the most emotionally triggering of soundtracks he'd completed for a blockbuster movie to date. Donner's team was able to find, through a mere accident more than anything, the original 24 track recordings that Williams had done and used them to create a brand new, fully immersive, five channel score that is the best it has ever sounded, even better than the most recent of double disc CD sets released through Rhino Records.
Vince says: How many times can the hairs on my arm standup during one film? Well, I lost count, to be honest. From the very first strains of that amazing score (I'll fight anyone who says it isn't the greatest score ever written), with the titles flying over your head and the orchestra working up into a frenzy, you just know this is going to be great. In fact, by the end of the opening titles, I was quite prepared to just get up and walk out of the group review and never watch another dvd ever again as long as I lived, so as to never sully the memory of what I'd just heard. Any lesser man than me may have been moved to tears. I do believe I heard a sniffle coming from Anthony and Steve.
Then, the actual movie gets underway. You are enveloped by a soundstage that is creative, immersive, and dynamic. The limitations of the original dialogue track are quickly overlooked, and you are drawn into the world of Superman, from the bombastic destruction of Krypton, which brings the end of the sonic mayhem of the dying world right into your room, the bustling streets of Metropolis and The Daily Planet offices. As the nuclear missiles detonate, and the earthquakes begin, Superman's efforts to save the people he loves is propelled by an audio mix which has an urgency, clarity and dynamic that is truly stunning and undoubtedly the most refined and complete we will hear for this film for a long, long time to come.
This was, quite simply put, with the combination of picture, sound and story, possibly the most fulfilling movie experience I've ever had.
Anthony says: This reviewer first saw Superman during its debut Australian cinema run in less than ideal surroundings. In a suburban Melbourne cinema (now renovated as a state-of-the-art multi-screen venue), the movie was projected from a scratchy print onto a white painted wall rather than a screen, with the mono sound emanating from a single 1950s-vintage speaker below. Hearing the film’s sound in stereo for the first time many years later - on home video - was a whole new experience. But the new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on this DVD is something else altogether.
Restored with absolute reverence - but taking the opportunity to recreate most of the effects - this new mix is, to put it simply, absolutely incredible. Just to hear John Williams’ orchestral score - one of the best he’s ever written - burst out of the speakers is quite startling. Compare the music score on this DVD with the excerpt on Sony Music’s recent John Williams’ Greatest Hits CD set (and easy comparison to make, thanks to the wonderful inclusion of a music-only track on the DVD) and you’ll spot the difference within seconds. The music is quite actively mixed across the 5.1 stage (the source was the original 24-track analogue master tape) but despite the extensive use of the rear channels for discreet instruments - not the usual way of mixing orchestral music in surround - the resulting music bed serves only to heighten the excitement of the film.
uno momento por favor.
The newly recreated and mixed effects are perfectly, startlingly stunning as well. With very active surround activity and some serious subwoofer action in the opening half hour of the movie, this is undeniably demo material, yet is never excessive or tacky when it comes to the “wow” factor. Only the dialogue occasionally lets the audio side down - but it must be remembered that this is one element that cannot be restored beyond what’s on the audio tapes recorded on the set or in the looping studio - and far, far less attention was paid in the late ‘70s to dialogue fidelity, engineers preferring to go for a sharp midrange sound to ensure the dialogue was intelligible in the cinemas of the day. Some restoration has been done to clean up the dialogue, but there’s still some minor crackling during Marlon Brando’s scenes early in the film; this is not a major problem, and most won’t even notice. Note, by the way, that Margot Kidder’s poetic speech during the Can You Read My Mind sequence sounds perfectly hi-fi - this is, of course, because it was sourced from the multitracks of the orchestral score, and thus was recorded with a music engineering mindset on higher-quality equipment.
Long-time fans of Superman will be thrilled with the audio here, and are advised to crank the volume to something approaching house-shifting level.
If the video and audio weren't enough to satisfy any die hard Superman fan then the collection of extras included, that fill up this DVD-18 (double sided, dual layered) DVD, are enough to keep you glued to the screen for the rest of the night, in awe of what efforts the creators of the movie went to so that you would believe a man could fly. Bringing back the main people who were involved as both cast and crew to film interviews, and creating some all new documentaries that are simply exceptional.
Side A, whilst including the movie itself, also features a slew of extras that could make for a special edition in itself. Starting off with some very sweet Animated menus that take us through a crystal S emblem whilst clips of the movie are presented continuously. The main feature on this side though is the Audio Commentary by director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, who are both very enthusiastic about the project that really launched their careers. There is a slew of information that only a director would know and Donner, with his deep voice, tells us every minute detail about the production of the movie with such things as Marlon Brando reading his lines off the diapers of the baby Superman. Tom provides his own personal experiences and both really show how much respect they had for the movie, for each other, for the cast and crew and for what they were trying to achieve. You can really tell that they loved this movie, which is what you want to hear as a fan.
Rounding off disc one is the Superman Legacy, some 12 pages of information about where Superman came from and where it is likely to go in the future. John Williams' exceptional score can be heard in its entirety on the included 5.0 channel Isolated Score, and it is simply mesmerising. It is the only movie that the reviewers involved have stated that they will sit through the end credits simply to appreciate the score. Furthermore, there are Cast & Crew biographies of the main leads in Brando, Hackman and Reeve as well as a theatrical trailer that plays more like a teaser than anything else.
As this release is the extended director's cut with some nine minutes of added scenes, there is an Added Scenes section where you can view the exact cuts that have been added in. These are simply some links to specific sections of the actual movie and not separate footage just for the extras, as it should be.
The Dynamic Duo?
If that wasn't enough, Side B takes the Superman legacy to a place it's never been before with some astounding documentaries and more. The first documentary Taking Flight - The Development of Superman runs for 30 minutes and is hosted by Jimmy Olsen himself, Marc McClure. It focuses on how the cast was brought together (Hackman and Brando being the first), how investors were lured, how writers such as Mario Puzo (The Godfather Trilogy) became involved and how it all started to fall in place from there. Casting for Superman himself ranged from actors like Robert Redford being considered to Illya Salkind's wife's dentist, with some hilarious clips of screen tests of said dentist and more would-bes, when finally they opted for an unknown in Christopher Reeve. Recently recorded interviews with Richard Donner, Tom Makiewicz, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman are included which make this a short and entertaining doco to begin with.
Following on is the second 30 minute documentary, entitled Making Superman - Filming the Legend which extends on the first and concentrates more on the filming of the movie itself. There is a small tribute to cinematographer Geoffery Unsworth about his unique ability for creating grand vistas and setting up proper lighting for cast and scenes. John Williams comments on his role within the movie and what he felt was required to provide the perfect super hero score, and then the doco soon moves on to talk about the firing of Richard Donner and his team from Superman II and the effect on the cast left behind to finish off a movie that was almost completed with a new director at the helm. The third and final documentary looks at The Magic Behind the Cape. This shorter feature, some 23 minutes, is a look at the special effects created specifically for this movie to make Superman take flight. Academy Award winner Roy Field takes us through the effort and ideas involved in making the impossible possible and it is both fascinating and hilarious to see the different attempts used to get the right effect. Let's just say we got the best effects out of the bunch as the others would have just been plain wrong.
One feature this reviewer was craving for even before the DVD extras were announced was the Screen tests for Superman, Lois and Ursa. It is evidently clear how far ahead the chosen actors were compared to the competition they were up against and is a fascinating look at what the film makers were looking for in the characters they were to bring to life. It's interesting to note that Sarah Douglas herself is not actually shown doing her screen test though, unless I didn't recognise her.
Concluding ALL the extras on this DVD are 2 Deleted Scenes, where Otis must "feed the babies" with a) meat and b) Miss Teschmacher, both in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 2 channel stereo. The original Teaser Trailer to spawn hype for an as yet un-filmed movie is included as well as a TV Spot. If the isolated score on side A wasn't enough, they've also included 8 additional music cues in 5.0 to give you that extra fix you needed. And last but not least is the inclusion of the DVD-Rom content which is the same as the region 1 disc minus the MPEG-1 trailers for all four Superman movies.
If that feast of extras doesn't satisfy any fan out there then I don't know what will.
Clark Kent - OPSM model.
Movies like these aren't made any more, which is a shame as they are true to the characters portrayed and to the intention of the director. In this day and age of MTV styled cuts, quick action, bad acting and overdone special effects, a film like Superman allows you to enjoy how this used to be and how grand and epic in nature they deserved to be.
Fans can take heart in knowing that this is the best the movie has looked and sounded since being released into the cinemas some 23 years ago. For you to be able to own such an excellent DVD for another two decades is the icing on the cake. This reviewer's collection is now complete.
A Special Thank you
The Melbourne based DVD net staff would like to thank Trevor Lees for providing the high end equipment used to review this disc on. Trevor Lees Audio is located at the following contact details: