Many of us may not remember the thrill as we watched Christopher Reeve grace the screen as Superman for the first time. How for the first time, it seemed as if the man of steel was something tangible, possible, real. I’m talking, of course, about Richard Donner’s revered masterpiece Superman: The Movie. Warner Brothers Archives recently re-released this film as a combo 2 film release. Including the Director’s Cut and The extended TV version. This is a film that paved the way for, what now seems to make up half of the films being released, comic book films. This would not have been possible without triumphs like this. What I like about this film is that it is straightforward. I may end up stepping on toes here, and I apologize in advance, but this simple and straightforward plot seems to be taken for granted in the DC Films today (with the exception of Wonder Woman). This is proof that a film doesn’t have to be all spectacle in order to entertain and please the masses. Now – is the audience of today harder to please? Yes! Do we demand more of our films? Of course! But it is the bare bones of a film that makes it last. That is why 42 years later this film is still watchable (and why I cannot watch Batman V. Superman twice).
Our story follows Kal-El an alien that was sent to Earth right before the destruction of his home planet Krypton. Kal-el is adopted by a human family and adopts the moniker Clark Kent, seeing how for a portion of his life he has very little understanding of his roots he feels more human than Kryptonian. Since he is from another planet he has certain abilities that humans do not and these abilities in large part are due to the different sun (yellow on Earth, Red on Krypton). Clark finds himself impervious to anything that comes his way and, by all means, seems to be invincible. As Clark becomes an adult he finds the remains of his ship and is able to make a Fortress of Solitude using a crystal from the remains he found. This fortress teaches him the secrets of his people and unlocks the secrets of his heritage and powers. The transition leads to two new identities – Superman and Clark Kent (now a variable persona of klutzy, fragile, and nerdiness, that is ultimately a reflection on the way he perceives humankind). Clark, now a reporter for the prestigious Daily Planet, finds himself in a position where he feels he must intervene. Unfortunately, he can’t help himself and ends up going on a saving spree. Convinced to keep his secret identity by his father, he finds himself forced to live a double life. As he stumbles on the plot of Ultimate Supervillain Lex Luthor, things seem at their absolute worst where he needs to make a choice on who to save. Can he save the world in time and maintain his true self at the same time? Only time will tell.
I wonder how many of you skipped reading the previous paragraph altogether. I know I would have, or at least just skimmed it, because odds are you are more than very familiar with the plot to Superman: The Movie. I would even wager that if you haven’t seen it you were probably able to recite that plot out without looking (maybe not as eloquently of course). This, by and large, goes to show just how much of a classic film this really is. Not only is it engraved in the minds of millions of comic book and film fans alike, but it is has been re-made and made fun of so many times that it is as famous as Star Wars (try not to gasp until the end). What you may not remember is, how revered the film actually was. Although most of the effects really don’t hold up that well, the overall storyline is hard to argue with. However simple it may seem in retrospect, its simplicity and innovative choices are phenomenal.
I wondered what could possibly be so different in this special tv event version of the film. What we end up with is nearly an additional forty minutes in story. However, after watching the extended cut, I found the differences nearly indiscernible. There were so many difference spread throughout that were added however it was not enough for me to go nuts over.
The Film(s) 5/5
Richard Donner chose legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001: A Space Odyssey, Cabaret, A Bridge Too Far) to help aid in his interpretation of the man of steel. Unsworth and Donner together create something absolutely wonderful. It is amazing how much I have forgotten that I much enjoy this film. Immediately hitting with me with a full dose of nostalgia and taking back to times of sitting on the couch with my dad asking how they did that about a dozen times. Now while the effects would not be acceptable by today’s standards, the effects blew me away. Unfortunately, some of the grand effect moment lose some zeal with the upgrade although everything else took a turn for the better. A lot of incredible detail that went previously unnoticed is now more apparent than ever.
Picture Quality 3/5
This is where the film probably made the best decision possible. You may have forgotten or even never have known that the incomparable John Williams took the task of creating a completely unique score for Superman. What we end up with is an amazing, unforgettable, and unique soundtrack that stands the test of time. I also found the levels rather consistent for the home setting and was able to enjoy the film without making any adjustments.
Audio Quality 5/5
I absolutely cannot stand this type of packaging. It is reminiscent of those combo packs of two random movies that are not that great but are thrown together in hopes that you will buy them together. I’m thinking Van Wilder/Made or Eurotrip/Road Trip or even worse now there are four packs out there. On the inside, we get an even odder treatment of these editions. Instead of including the extended version as an alternate way to view it is included separately on its own disc, with a unique image on the disc even. However surprised I was to see that two discs were included, I still maintain the presentation on the front comes off cheap.
The Packaging 2/5
In a film this iconic, you always hope that the extras can shed some light on some of the aspects that made the film so great. I was pleasantly surprised to see some decent extras included in this edition. Warner Archives doesn’t always get to include a ton of features but this time they made good and we get quite a few. The special features included are as follows:
- Commentary by Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz
- 3 Documentaries: Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, Making Superman: Filming the Legend, and The Magic Behind the Cape
- Taking Flight: The Development of Superman
- A 30-minute documentary short about the conception and production of the film and how it came to be.
- Making Superman: Filming the Legend
- We get to see all the work that work into the intricacies that made the film feel so unique
- The Magic Behind the Cape
- This short takes us on the journey of how the practical effects were accomplished
- Taking Flight: The Development of Superman
- Screen Tests
- We get to see what the screen tests for Christopher Reeve and the several hopefuls maybe’s that tested for Lois before Margot Kidder got the role.
- Restored Scenes
- We get to see several of the restored scenes in all their glory
- Additional Scenes
- We get to see some of the scenes that weren’t in the film
- Additional Music Cues
- Music Only Track
- An interesting way to enjoy the music of the film without the rest of it getting in the way.
Special Features 5/5
Let’s be honest, this one is an easy call. Not only is this film a classic, but its handling was elegant and beautiful. The upgrade is great and watching this again for the first time in years was a blast. Is the film corny, yes, however it works really well. The biggest issue I had with the release is the packaging and I can’t help but think there was a much better way to present this. I honestly cannot think of any release that wanted to include two versions of a film that presented it this way. However, if you love the film and have never seen the extended version this is not an entirely bad way to go. I do not, however, recommend watching them consecutively as it can lose some zeal with around five hours of content to view. You can purchase this edition HERE.
Overall 4/5 – Love the film hated the packaging