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Superman: Special Edition

List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted April 20, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Well, the new version which was said to star Nicholas Cage and be directed by Tim Burton has still not broken out of the planning stages (and might even be cancelled by this point), but you can still read Kevin Smith's interesting screenplay on the web. That, and you can also get the outstanding original version in this new restored special edition DVD from Warner Brothers. What am I discussing? "Superman", of course. I won't go into great detail about the story, because, if you've never heard of it, much like Superman, you must be from another planet.

This DVD restores eight minutes worth of footage to the film, thankfully these moments are designated on the chapter selection menu, where chapters containing this footage is highlighted. As for the film itself, I don't mean to be too critical of the picture, but there are some moments early on that go too long. That's about it, though. "Superman" contains some wonderfully entertaining moments and once it really gets going, it becomes a great deal of fun and solid entertainment.

Restored and paired with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation, this is really the ultimate edition of the film on home video, with some great additional features. The only complaint, and its a relatively minor one, is that I think that Warner could have made some more elaborate packaging instead of the usual snapper case for this special edition release. They've done such a fine job on the actual disc itself, they could have gone the whole nine yards, but oh well. The actual disc itself is a DVD-18 (dual-sided/dual-layered). A great film and a fantastic DVD package. Obviously, those who are reading this review are more interested in the DVD's technical features, so let's move on.


VIDEO: Warner Brothers has provided a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer of the restored presentation that is an absolutely tremendous piece of work. It's not going to rival the smoothness and clarity of recent films, but after seeing previous editions of the film, this is a pretty strong night/day difference. Sharpness is generally good and at times, very good. There's parts of the film that are shot with a rather soft focus though, but these scenes never seemed too soft to the point of being hazy or blurry.

There are a few minor problems, but for the film's age, there's really nothing that I have to complain about. A slight amount of grain is visible on a couple of occasions, but certainly not enough to cause even a slight distraction. Print flaws are almost a non-issue, as well - there were a few very tiny marks and speckles, but the film certainly has never looked so clean and clear. There's nothing in the way of pixelation or edge enhancement.

Colors are really the image quality's highest achievement here - the film provides bright, bold colors that look remarkably good here - they almost pop off the screen at times. This is wonderful work from Warner and they really did a great, great job with the restoration.

SOUND: There has been a good deal of controversy about the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation for this DVD release - I'll let the discussions of that go on where they function best - on message boards, but I will at least talk about what the controversial aspects are. Apparently, the elements of "Superman" in terms of both audio and video were in need of restoration. On the audio side, the dialogue and music were in fine condition, but the effects sounds were not. Newly recorded effects are mixed in with the original audio presentation.

Ah, but how does it sound? It sounds absolutely outstanding. The audio quality for "Superman" is one of the few instances where a 22 year old film will really provide a stunning and agressive sound experience. It's not quite perfect in terms of audio quality, but the amount of activity honestly stunned me. Surrounds are almost constantly active throughout the whole movie, whether for the film's musical score of for effects. There's some highly effective surround use as well - these aren't little bits, but occasionally intense use that really adds to the proceedings and is very appropriate for the movie - they didn't turn the film's audio experience into something like "The Haunting", or anything like that.

Not only is the sound design and presentation here appropriate, but it's simply exciting. Having the bold, triumphant John Williams score envelop and fill the listening space really drew me into the movie like never before. No longer was I watching the film, but I felt more like I was "experiencing" it. Even in the film's more subtle scenes, there was a good deal of ambient sounds that drew me in even further. Audio quality seemed terrific throughout the movie, whether it be for the music, effects or dialogue. Dialogue seemed a little bit thin at times, but it still sounded clear and clean for the majority. As I've mentioned before, the John Williams score sounds excellent - the score sounds warm and rich. There's even strong, rich bass often during the more action-heavy moments.

MENUS:: The main menu provides a wonderful animated opening, complete with the John Williams score in the background. Since we're on the topic of presentation, it's really unfortunate that a disc this wonderful would be presented in a very plain cardboard snapper case like the one that Warner Brothers usually uses. If they had to use the snapper case, they could have at least made it glossy or holographic or something. Also, a 2 DVD set would have been better than a DVD-18. Those with multi-disc players could have switched to the second disc rather than having to get up to change - plus, it's somewhat easy to get prints on a dual-sided disc, if not careful.


Commentary: This is a very good commentary from director Richard Donner and consultant Tom Mankewicz. The two are occasionally very funny, as they maintain a sense of humor about some of the old-school special effects that wouldn't work as well today. During some of the destruction scenes in the begining, Mankewicz comments that "these scenes were filmed during a party at Richard's house." The two have been good friends for years and it shows as they argue jokingly throughout. Donner's dry sense of humor makes for some very funny moments throughout the track, and both are really able to remember quite a bit about the making of the film - there's a lot of tales to be told about what went on - Donner even asks Mankewicz at one point, "how do you remember that?". The track is all you could want to know about what went on behind-the-scenes.

The recording seemed to be a little less than the usual quality of commentary recordings - it's not as if I missed anything, but it just wasn't quite as smooth sounding for some reason. Maybe they recorded it at Donner's, but who knows. There are some pauses throughout the track, but I think it's a fairly long movie and the two spaced out their comments quite well and there's certainly no major bits of silence.

Anyways, I thought it was a great track, delivering both some great bits of humor and a wealth of stories about what happened on the set. It's a commentary well worth a listen.

Also On Side A: Music-Only Track (Dolby 5.0), Superman: The Legacy(text notes), cast/crew bios, awards text and trailer.

Taking Flight: The Development Of Superman: This is the first of three lengthy documentaries that are included on the DVD - and it's a really wonderful one. Donner, Mankewicz as well as other members of the crew and cast (including Christopher Reeve) discuss the origins of the movie, getting a screenplay together (Mankewicz rewrote the screenplay but didn't get credit, unfortunately) and other production elements. Stories about every element of the process - from casting to financing and filming, are shared. These aren't dry statements, either - the participants are funny, insightful and entertaining. The documentary is hosted by Mark McLure, who played Jimmy Olsen, and lasts about 30 minutes.

Making Of "Superman: This is a "part two" of the complete look at the making of the films that the documentary provides. We get a complete behind-the-scenes look at the production, complete with interviews from those who were involved in the first part, as well as folks like editor Stuart Baird, who went on to direct his own pictures ("Executive Decision" and "U.S. Marshals") and work with Donner on many others. Both "Superman" and "Superman 2" were shooting at the same time, and much of the documentary takes a look at the heavy obstacles of having to do that much work. There is also a portion dedicated to Geoffrey Unsworth, the fantastic cinematographer who passed away shortly after the film was completed.

This also tells us all of the problems that went on throughout the shoot, including the behind-the-scenes fighting and pressure that director Richard Donner had to go through with the producers - they literally ran out of money for the second picture. The documentary is a great, honest, open look at what had to be gone through to get the film(s) to the screen.

Magic Behind The Cape: This third piece definitely does a fine job rounding out the look at the making of the film. The effects supervisor discusses and leads us through the techniques that were used to help the audience believe that Superman was flying. The film's visual effects don't really compare to all of the new techniques, but they're not bad either - they definitely don't look silly 22 years later.

Deleted Scenes: Although there are additional scenes already added into the picture, two additional sequences are available here. They don't do a great deal, but they're interesting to watch.

Screen Tests: About 9 minutes worth of screen test footage is shown for Clark Kent/Superman and the several actresses who tried out for Lois and a short bit for the auditions of Ursa. Casting director Lynn Stallmaster introduces these tests and also provides commentary/narration for the Lois tests.

Additional Music Cues: Eight additional music/score cues that didn't appear in the final film are offered here in Dolby Digital 5.0.

Also: Teaser trailer/tv spot.

Final Thoughts: This is easily a must-see DVD - the film is highly entertaining and one that most will want to watch again and again, especially with the outstanding job that was done on both the image & audio quality. There's a very solid group of extra features, as well. Highly Recommended.
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