REVIEW: Superman the Movie
There have been few films as edited, re-edited, and repackaged as Superman the Movie. It has been resurrected and represented to a few generations of fans for good reason. Prior to 1978, any attempt at a super-hero movie was usually done on the cheap and/or with tongue firmly in cheek.
The tag line, “You will believe a man can fly”, and the S-shield was all you needed to whet your appetite back then. The first pictures released to the media certainly got us interested but until you sat in the theater and heard John William’s opening march, you had no idea what you were getting.
And what we got was, arguably, the first super-hero film to treat the genre with dignity and respect. Visually, it was stunning, and you could not ask for a more pitch-perfect lead than Christopher Reeve. He was Curt Swan’s Man of Steel made flesh and the world conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster rarely looked better.
Director Richard Donner had a falling out with producer Ilya Salkind and the Mario Puzo script was a challenging mess requiring rewriting by Robert Benton and David & Leslie Newman. Once Donner was fired and Richard Lester brought in to replace him, the film and its sequel, Superman II, suffered.
What endures and remains the measuring stick for all other heroic films is the first half from Krypton’s destruction through Superman’s first night in Metropolis. Once we meet Otis (Ned Beatty), the tone shifts to something lighter, a massive disconnect more jarring today than back then, when we were so eager for a good Superman movie that we forgave its flaws including its illogical mind-warping time travel denouement.
Much was cut from the theatrical version to fit a hefty running time of 0:00 so missing pieces were added when ABC first ran the film. Since then, various cuts have been released but now, Warner Home Entertainment has delivered a 4K release of that theatrical version (and it’ll be in movie theaters for three nights this season).
The scan was taken from the camera negative, color-corrected and upgraded for this release in a 4K, Blu-ray and Digital HD combo pack. The Blu-ray is the same from the 2011 Superman Anthology box set with extras from that and the original DVD release. The sole bonus on the 4K disc is the audio commentary.
So, is it worth the extra bucks? Visually, the 2160p, HEVC/H.265-encoded UHD transfer is lovely. Given the way special effects were shot back then, the Krypton scenes tend to have a lot of grain, which may mar your enjoyment of the early minutes. The new, sharper definition also means you see more of the flaws, the matting, and occasional cheap props or sets, which also may spoil the fun. On the other hand, the color correction keeps Superman’s uniform a consistent set of colors. Geoffrey Unsworth’s photography, especially the Kansas scenes, is gorgeous.
Superior, though, is the newly remixed Dolby Atmos track, which is accompanied by the more traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 track. We have an upgraded version of the original score without any of the 2000 additions from Donner.
The movie still stands tall and is a joy to watch once better but this edition is only for those with the most current audio and visual players.