Review for Superman The Movie
Introduction: The Theatrical Cut
The last survivor of a doomed planet is sent to Earth as a child, in the hope that he can bring out humanity’s capacity to do good. He’s adopted and raised as Clark Kent by John and Martha Kent, on a farm in rural Kansas, but it’s when his adoptive father dies that he is awoken to his legacy from his father Jor-El. He has super-powers and virtual invulnerability and he will stand as mankind’s guardian. Although by day he gets a job as a mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper in Metropolis.
But his first real challenge may be his last. Arch-criminal mastermind Lex Luthor has the ultimate real estate swindle in his sights, and he’s also worked out Superman’s (as reporter Lois Lane has dubbed the new hero) Achilles heel.
Picture: The Theatrical Cut
The image is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, the original DTS-HD 2.0 English track, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround French, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles in these languages and Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. It’s a pretty decent transfer for the most part, clear and colourful, with good detail, although it seems that they haven’t gone back to re-master the original source for this release. The print does feel a little tired, colours aren’t as vivid as you might expect, and while it does feel properly filmic, sometimes I wondered if the softness I was seeing was less down to the iconic cinematography than it was the transfer. And after all this time, some of the effects looked creaky, although it wasn’t the flying sequences so much as it was the miniatures. The dam break scene looks like nothing other than a model getting a bucket of water thrown over it in slow motion. The audio on the other hand can’t be faulted; an excellent surround track that brings the action across well, as well as John Williams’ legendary themes. You might have to turn the volume up a little more than usual though.
Conclusion: The Theatrical Cut
There were comic book movies prior to 1978, films like Barbarella, Modesty Blaise, Doc Savage - The Man of Bronze, the Batman movie with Adam West, but Superman in 1978 was the first superhero movie given the big budget and special effects treatment. Prior to this, superhero adventures were serialised like the old Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and indeed Superman features. These days, it seems more of a risk to release a movie that isn’t a superhero movie, so it’s hard to think back to a time when the reverse was true, just how radical it was to even countenance the idea of a film where the hero wore tights and a cape and flew.
The risk paid off for Warner Brothers, partially, as audiences were willing to accept Superman on the big screen as long as the characters and the writing were good enough to suspend our disbelief. Ten years later, Warners had another hit franchise when Tim Burton added style to a superhero franchise. But it would be twenty years before special effects were good enough to do the heavy lifting when it came to suspending disbelief, and the superhero movie took over the world.
Today, Superman The Movie feels quaint, it feels naive, harking back to a world where our problems weren’t as immediate, where humanity was a lot more optimistic, and you could indeed believe in the decency and goodness at the heart of the average man or woman in the street. The DC Universe today is a lot darker, grittier, pessimistic, while Marvel’s ethos is to keep tongue in cheek and wisecracks at the ready. The heartfelt innocence of Superman The Movie is in short supply, and it’s been a long time since Superman felt like the world’s strongest boy scout. You can’t make this movie today, but you can certainly watch it with the rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia in place.
The film sets its stall with gravitas, with Marlon Brando as Jor-el, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent; you have such a heavy-weight start to the movie that you’re drawn in. Then you have Christopher Reeve, still in my mind the definitive movie Superman, with a career defining role, or rather roles playing the duality of Clark Kent and Man of Steel, and you have the perfect feisty Lois Lane in Margot Kidder. The character arcs really work well, with Superman torn between Jor-el’s admonition to be a detached saviour, and his adoptive father’s belief that he is there to make a difference. And all the while Lois Lane’s cynical outer shell is chipped away as she gets to know ‘both’ characters.
Lex Luthor makes for an interesting antagonist, as it’s obvious that this is a family film, and can’t be too dark. Gene Hackman plays the character with a delicious camp sensibility, he and his henchpeople carry much of the humour of the film, but there is a sinister edge to Lex Luthor that occasionally peeks from beneath the flamboyant surface.
I used to think of Superman: The Movie as the definitive superhero film, but 40 years down the line, 20 years into the comic book reign of the box office, it doesn’t quite hold the same cachet anymore. Certainly there are moments that don’t quite fit tonally, one or two plot holes and that time reversal ending is just so corny now, but it is still the best movie in this collection.
Introduction: The Expanded Version
Disc 2 of the collection is devoted to the Expanded Version of Superman the Movie, and if you originally bought the DVD in the UK, that was the version you got on a two-sided disc, a DVD-18. It’s 11 minutes and 3 seconds longer than the theatrical version, and you get some added character moments to the film, some more interactions with Jor-El, and some more Lex Luthor. Oddly enough, this isn’t one of those extended versions that seem like an indulgence, and there’s really only one scene that for me slows the pace down. The rest of the added scenes are pretty seamless.
Picture: The Expanded Version
Once again, you have a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer which is nigh on identical in quality to the theatrical version. Where the disc does differ is in the audio offering DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 Surround French, German, Spanish and Italian, with subtitles in these languages plus Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Russian. Once again, the audio experience for English language viewers is akin to the theatrical version.
Conclusion: The Expanded Version
It’s a brief review appended to the theatrical version review, but there is little more to say about the Expanded Version of Superman the Movie. It’s just the same as the theatrical, but with just a little bit more.