Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology, 1978-2006 Blu-ray Review
This is an eight-disc Blu-ray set, which was just a lot of fun and filled with a lot of surprises. Please don’t think of this a long review, but series of eight short ones. This set sells for about $40 (used) and it is well worth it. New ones can be gotten for as low as $60.
The first thing I want to mention is that the commentary, by the director and creative consultants, Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz are exceptional and, more than most commentaries, helps an interested viewer understand how the first two movies came together…and fell apart. And you will definitely hearing a disappointment in their voice of what could have been a James Bond kind of series with a new movie every few years.
Forget the Original Theatrical release on Superman, and go right to the Director’s Cut, the Expanded edition. (And check out my piece on the definition of a “Director’s Cut”.) Here, the beginning scenes on Krypton are longer and better presented. But you also get scenes with Marlon Brando not in the original movies. There is one where Jor-El speaks to his son about having a secret identity at the Fortress of Solitude.
Video: 4.5 out of 5
Audio 4.5 out of 5.
A lot of pieces came together for me listening to Donner and Mickiewicz. Both Superman I and II were filmed at the same time. However, with only 70% of II finished, the producers fired Donner and hired Richard Lester to finish it. The producers thought that Donner was taking too much time, spending too much money and was creating a more serious movie than they wanted. The producers wanted Superman to be more like the light-hearted Batman TV show. Wow, did they make a mistake. So the theatrical release of Superman II often takes the new approach. As a movie, I give it 2.5 stars out of 5. In fact, Donner was not able to film the ending he wanted for the first Superman, so it ends with the ending filmed for Superman II.
There was also a legal fight with Marlon Brando over money. Brando got $11 million dollars and a piece of the profits for appearing in Superman I and II. Simply, the producers did not have to pay him additional residuals, so Brando was cut out of Superman II. This included scenes with Chris Reeve and a resolution to the problem of how Superman gets back his powers after he loses them. This was NOT shown in the original release. In fact the original release doesn’t show you how Superman gets his powers back, we just had to guess. All this is now back in perhaps the best “Director’s Cut” ever. Here they restore the best they could, Donner’s original intent. With Marlon Brando now gone, his estate and Warner Brothers reached a settlement, allowing Brando to appear in Superman II (and V!), so all his scenes were restored. Sadly not all the scenes needed for a full Donner cut. So many of the scenes included here were filmed by Lester. His scenes have a lighter tone, as you will see. If you haven’t seen Superman II, please view The Richard Donner Cut first. Then watch the released version and tells us what you thought!
There is one shot, in Superman II, which was so important that Donner used it for the screen test of Chris Reeves and Margot Kidder. Lester changed the plot and never filmed that important scene. Well (and they tell you this at the beginning) Donner uses the actual screen test for when Lois discovers that Clark is Superman. I give this movie 3.5 stars out of four, but an A+ for effort
Video: 4.5 out of 5
Audio 4.5 out of 5.
If you want to see the full Batman light hearted approach, watch Superman III, which is Richard Lester’s baby. While it had some possibilities, the opening was funny and the conflict between Clark and Superman was interesting, the movie fails on almost every level, including the comedic one. It was more of a showcase for Richard Pryor than anything else. Years later, a great deal of information has come out showing that this was not the film the director wanted to make, but the film the studio wanted. And Robert Vaughn, looked like he had trouble staying awake. For us Home Theatre fans, you will see differing colors on screen as different films were used and stored over time.
Video: 3.5 out of 5
Audio 3.5 out of 5.
With new producers, director Sidney J. Furie directed the cheapest looking film you can imagine for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. ‘Nuff said.
Video: 2.5 out of 5
Audio 3.0 out of 5.
Almost 20 years later, director Bryan Singer, who had done the first two X-Men movies, directs Superman Returns. He wanted to forget about the last two movies and have this movie considered the real Superman III. He failed. He did not grasp the character of Superman or Lois Lane at all. Superman left Earth for five years, not telling Lois why. Lois marries someone else, even though she had his super-child and doesn’t explain that to him. And Superman is too dumb to figure it out. I made no sense to me, but it is a watchable movie. And with the Marlon Brando lawsuit resolved, he appears in this movie too!
Video: 5 out of 5
Audio 5 out of 5.
Done in modern, DVD times, Superman Returns has the most features and documentaries. They include the never-before-seen original opening to Superman Returns and how they restored Jor-El (Marlon Brando).
Believe it or not there is a sixth movie…from 1951, Superman and The Mole Men. This served as a pilot for the original Superman TV show. It stars George Reeves and Phyllis Coates. It is in black and white. If you saw the TV show you may remember the two part episode with the Mole Men. That was taken from this movie, which is about 10 minutes longer and a bit darker than the TV presentation. My favorite scene has Clark Kent in front of a building surrounded by Lois, the police and reporters. He goes inside and comes out, ten seconds later, as Superman, and no one notices anything.
Also included and looking great, are the 18 original Superman Cartoons from the early 1940s. The first 9 were done by the Fleischer Studios and then, when they went under, were finished by Paramount. They look great. Time-Warner now owns the DC Comic and Superman, so they give us three Looney Tunes, Super-Rabbit (1943) Snafuperman (1944) and Stupor Duck (1956).
When George Reeves died, the studio and sponsor still had investment in the sets and equipment. So they produced, in 1958, a pilot entitled “Superboy.” It failed, and is not presented here, but on the Smallville complete set. We do get the second pilot they produced, the worst one is history. Superpup features live action dogs, in a comedy, mimicking the Superman characters. So you get (and I am not making this up) Bark Bent and Terry Bite.
My favorite of the 20 hours of special features are the screen tests. You get to see Stockard Channing, Leslie Ann Warren and several others test for Lois Lane.
Before there were “DVD” features, studios made one hour shows for local stations. Usually the station was given the show free, and they made money by getting sponsors. So we have here from 1978 “The Making of Superman: The Movie,” from 1980,”The Making of Superman II;” and from 1988 “Superman 50th Anniversary Special.” There are also many other shorts including: “Taking Flight: The Development of Superman,” “Making Superman: Filming the Legend,” “The Magic Behind the Cape,” “First Flight,” the Fleischer Superman series, and much more.
There are many deleted scenes from each movie, perhaps the longest segments are 30 minutes from Superman IV.
WHAT IS NOT HERE: Are a few of deleted scenes made just for TV. TV was once highly censored so films had to be edited for airing. Two scenes missing are the feeding of Luthor’s pet “dragon” at the bottom of the subway station and Valerie Perrine being feed to the dragon and being rescued by Superman. Also, at the end of Superman II, the bad guys could not be left for dead. So there was a scene in the TV version where police cars are at the North Pole arresting the villains.
There is also a tribute to Christopher Reeve, who, before his accident, was not the most popular actor in Hollywood. With the exception of Gene Hackman in Superman IV, notice how no one had ever worked with him twice.