SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE
Reviewed May 13th, 2001 by Brian White
Have you ever seen a DVD with this much Internet hype? You'd swear it was a Star Wars flick or something. There really isn't much I can say about this film that hasn't been said already, but I'll try none the less. Superman the movie was HUGE. This was a very successful film that fit nicely into the blockbuster genre that Speilberg and Lucas pioneered. It was a must-see film, and a very major film of the seventies. Going to that Saturday afternoon matinee with my buddies is still a great childhood memory.
One of the most striking things about the movie is that director Richard Donner pulls it off in our world, with his motto or mantra for the film: verisimilitude. With Batman, his world is made surreal, so that you don't confuse it with our world. It's a little bit like the city in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Gotham isn't in our world, so it makes sense that a guy might dress like a bat and fly around. Superman exists in our world. You had to believe that this man could fly. With the tools they had at the time, they do a very good job of making you believe it's true.
The first task for Donner, and “creative consultant” Tom Mankiewicz , was to revisit the original, campy script. It was based on story by Mario Puzo, and script written by several others. Donner and Mankiewicz treated Superman as American mythology (I can't help but add, as a Canadian, that a Canuck was a co-creator of Superman). The movie is set in three acts: one on Krypton, which plays almost like a biblical epic, one act in Smallville, which borrows heavily from Americana films, and Metropolis, which plays like a comic book. Mankiewicz is in fact the screenwriter but stupid rules prevented him from being credited as such.
While the Salkinds are deservedly maligned for their treatment of Donner, as is well explained in the documentaries, you have to hand it to them for putting the best of the best up on the screen: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper and Glenn Ford. Behind the scenes was the production design of Star Wars' John Barry, and composer John Williams, whose score is still as thrilling today as it was then.. The marquee value is extraordinary.
So what about this DVD? There is talk that Warner Bros. recomposited all of the special effects shots, to repair the film elements, and put them together better than they were in the first place. How does it look? Well this is a hazy movie, as was the style in the late seventies, and there are also fuzzy beauty shots thrown into the mix as well. I haven't been able to compare this transfer to the recent laserdisc, but it looks much better than I've ever seen Superman the Movie look. I can recall being eight years old and noticing in the theater that Superman's costume was green. They had to alter the color to allow the bluescreen effects. In this transfer, the colors have been corrected. The transfer is very colorful, and clean. As with any restoration though, it's a little inconsistent and reliant on the source material. Look at the scene with Superman and Lois on her balcony. There are some crystal clear shots of Superman, beauty-blur shots of Lois, and downright grainy shots of the two of them flying. The transfer is anamorphic, 2.35:1. Considering the lousy quality of previous releases, high marks must be given for the quality of the print that we have on this disc.
There's nothing inconsistent about the audio mix. A 5.1 mix has been created with some new sound effects (you might call this blasphemy, but the movie isn't Citizen Kane after all), and a recently discovered 6-channel recording of the score. It sounds great, and much better than expected.
For extras, we get it all and the kitchen sink. Superman is a DVD-18, and thank God, because Warner put it in a snapper case, and I don't think I could take the little pocket on the side like JFK. On side one, you get the movie and a great commentary by Donner and Mankiewicz. I like this commentary, and quite it's astounding when you consider that it features the fired director and uncredited screenwriter. They alternate between gushing about the performances and describing the visual effect techniques used. Side one also contains a music-only mix, so that you can enjoy Williams' score in all its glory. On side two you get the trailers, three excellent documentaries about the making of the film, and screen tests. The interviews are all current, except for the footage of Brando discussing his salary in 1978. It is touching to see Christopher Reeve, in his current condition, going into great detail about playing the part.
Here is a fantastic effort by Warner Bros. on a release of a great film.
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