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Death of Superman, The
Not exactly a shocker, right?
Nor was it when Warner Bros. decided to capitalize on the fatal bout time and time again. Most people are familiar with Batman v Superman's live-action take, but it left fans disappointed, and not for the first time. WB's first adaptation was actually an animated feature from 2007 - Superman: Doomsday - but because it bared little resemblance to the comic's storyline, it left a nasty taste in the mouths of many. So that was it, there'd be no justifiable shot at a do-over… right?
Things changed in 2011 when DC comics decided to completely revamp its existing properties. They cancelled most of what they had and debuted fifty-two new series that September - now known as The New 52 - and Warner Bros. followed suit with a similarly refreshed continuity a couple years later. It was therefore inevitable that The Death of Superman would get another translation and it's finally come to fruition in 2018, with a follow-up titled Reign of the Supermen slated to come next year. The question is, did WB learn from their mistakes or deliver another clunker?
Conceptually, The Death of Superman had a serious dilemma to resolve before letting the animators work. This continuity previously had Superman dating Wonder Woman, yet everyone knows that infamous page from the comic where a bawling Lois Lane is holding the bloodied and deceased hero in her arms. Warner Bros. already strayed from the comic once and we know how that turned out, so they kicked Wonder Woman to the curb and put Lois front and center. As far as how… well, the script provides only the briefest glance in the rearview mirror. The break-up happened between films, and even the beginning of Lois and Clark's relationship isn't explored. As a result, her inclusion feels rushed. Her introduction should have been organic, but instead the studio clearly opted to put the cart before the horse. I understand why though; a mainstream audience wouldn't have cared about a film exploring Superman's romance options, so it is what it is.
That said, this film - roughly 80 minutes in length - does a decent job of catching us up to speed. Lois' long-term relationship with Clark, as wonderful as it's been, is at a troubling juncture. She loves the guy, but being so secretive about his past has thrown up red flags that she simply can't ignore. This leads us to the most pivotal moment in their relationship yet, and by the time Superman has given his all in a blow-for-blow knuckleduster with Doomsday, things get emotional. I never thought a DC animated film could pull on my heartstrings, yet here we are.
The rest of the plot is fairly straight-forward. Doomsday comes to Earth as a biological wrecking ball, threatening to destroy anything and everything in his path. The Justice League does their best to intervene, but the space monster - with thick skin protected by sharp protruding bones - makes quick work of them. With that, it becomes clear that Superman is the only hope the world has of defeating this thing.
Which brings me to what's an appreciable improvement over the comics: it does a better job of humanizing the Justice League before their confrontation with Doomsday. In print, the heroes show up, get blasted by Doomsday and then disappear. The beast's destructive capabilities are supposed to instill real dread, and personally, I feel this film does a better job of that. We actually get to know the Justice League before taking their inevitable beating, thus providing more weight to their eventual defeat. The intensity of the weight this places on Superman's shoulders can also be felt as a result.
Another improvement when compared to other animated DC flicks, is the pacing. Previous efforts presented story and characterization in ways that dragged, but The Death of Superman strikes a fine balance that just gets more and more exciting until the epic finale. Couple that with fantastic voice work from real life couple Jerry O'Connell and Rebecca Romijn, along with support from Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion and more, and I'm able to say with confidence that this is probably the best animated DC Universe film we've had in a while. Reign of the Supermen is going to have more moving parts to handle, so we'll see how they'll manage its pacing, but as is, The Death of Superman is the adaptation we've all been waiting for.
The Death of Superman hits 4K UHD at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 via the HEVC codec, and it's quite good. Of course, there's always been plenty of debate as to whether the animated DC Universe ever justifies their existence at such a high resolution, and the answer is ‘yes'.
The animated style is quite simple, and the standard 1080p Blu-ray does a fine job of exhibiting the necessary sharpness with lines, showing saturated colors, and doing so without introducing noticeable macroblocking or edge-enhancement. The one area the 1080p disc tends to falter though is with banding, something the 4K disc is able to correct considerably.
This release has HDR but it's nothing you're going to notice. There's no real appreciable difference in the color palette - some primaries look a tad better, but it's not a night-and-day difference - and there's maybe a moment or two where an increase in peak brightness comes into play, but again, it's nothing you're going to notice over the standard Blu.
So while the answer to this disc being superior over the Blu-ray is ‘yes', it's not a ‘everyone should buy the 4K over the Blu-ray' sort of recommendation. The price between the Blu-ray and 4K will give many pause and considering how similar both releases are, it should. Only the most devout fans of these animated films should consider the upgrade.
This 4K disc comes with the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that the Blu-ray does. Animated DC films can certainly impress with how much they pump into their surround design, but rarely do. Things are mostly constrained to the front channels, so forget about environmental ambience and pinpoint precision, let alone something that's truly immersive. That's not to say that the surround field doesn't get utilized when it really counts, but the sonic experience is simply ‘good' as opposed to… well, something better. It's truly a shame because if there's one animated DC movie that could benefit from such sound, it's this one. The score probably makes the most use out of the surrounds overall, and it sounds fantastic. Dialogue is always prioritized as well, so that's never of concern. So while some 4K enthusiasts out there may question why there isn't an Atmos track, the sound design doesn't justify one. Of course, using the same lossless track that's on the Blu-ray leaves yet another reason why people may not need the 4K disc when the Blu is a bit cheaper.
The supplemental package here is extremely light. I would understand if this were an original story, but this is an adaptation of one of the most notable comic threads of all time. For what it's worth, The Brawl That Topped Them All delves into the history of the original four issue story, and it's nice that we have a couple of episodes of Legion of Superheroes (and in 1080p, no less), but I feel more could have been done.
-The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All
-From the DC Comics Vault: Legion of Superheroes - Season 2 - Dark Victory: Part 1
- From the DC Comics Vault: Legion of Superheroes - Season 2 - Dark Victory: Part 1
Based on WB's track record I half-expected this movie would drop the ball, and in a pretty big way at that. Instead, The Death of Superman is the adaptation we've wanted all along. Not only does it hit all the right notes while making plenty of nods to the source, but it even improves upon certain aspects of the story as well. You won't have to be an animated DC Universe fan to appreciate this film either. The only real question left is if this 4K disc is worth the extra asking price. For many, the answer will undoubtedly be ‘no'. When people spend premium money they expect a premium product, and there's not a substantial enough difference between this and the Blu-ray to make it feel as such. The small offering of supplements isn't much help either. Still, the 4K is truer to the source than the Blu-ray is. As far as the film is concerned, I'd highly recommend that everyone see it as soon as they can, but as far as DVDTalk's review scale is concerned, I'll only give a recommended rating. I expect that Warner Bros. will do something similar to what they did with The Dark Knight Returns, meaning once Reign of the Supermen comes out, they'll probably edit both films into a single massive feature. For that reason alone, it's probably best to wait.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!