page added: 6/6/11
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits
The Superman Motion Picture Anthology
1978-2006 (2011) - Warner Bros. (Warner)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 7th, 2011
Region: Free (at least A/B/C)
Released previously on DVD
Individual films previously available on DVD and BD
Film Ratings: See Below
Disc Ratings: See Below
Extras (Overall): A
Let me just note right up front that, if you're a Superman fan, Warner's new 8-disc The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006 Blu-ray box set is very close to a must-have release.
|Really, the only question you have to ask yourself is: If I already own Warner's previous Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD set, should I still upgrade to the Blu-rays? That's really going to be an individual call, and will depend on your love (or not) of Superman and Blu-ray in general, as well as finding a good sale price. That said, without exception, these films are presented here in the best quality they've ever been available in on disc. The supplements are terrific and (in an couple of cases) have even been slightly improved. This is not quite the perfect Superman Blu-ray set, but it's damn close and it's well worth your time, attention and money... especially if you're a serious Superman enthusiast.
Now, I'm not going to review the individual films contained in this Blu-ray set, because we've covered most of them before in extensive detail. If you'd like to read our previous reviews of these films on disc, here they are: Superman, Superman II, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman Returns, Superman: The Fleischer Animated Adventures and Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman. Yes, I know... we haven't reviewed Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. But you either love those films or you don't, and my opinion of them isn't likely to change yours.
As it happens, I've also reviewed the previous DVD version of this box set, in the form of Warner's aforementioned 14-disc Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition. The most important thing you need to know about this Blu-ray upgrade is that it includes ALL of the disc-based special features from the previous DVD set. You obviously don't get the collector's tin packaging, the mini comic book, the reproduction movie poster art cards and the Daily Planet replica guide to the set's contents, but those items aside, everything that was contained in the DVD set carries over to Blu-rays. There are even a couple of nice upgrades to contents from the DVD set (more on that shortly). The point is, if you want to sell that set and upgrade to Blu-ray (unless you care about the tin case and swag), you can safely do so.
The other thing you should know, is that virtually all of the special features from the previous individual DVD and Blu-ray releases of these films have carried over too. The ONLY exception worth mentioning is that, if you own one of the previous DVD releases of the Fleischer Studios animated shorts, those DVDs contain a couple extras not available here (specifically the 14-minute The Man, the Myth, Superman featurette from the 2009 Warner DVD release, and the 20-minute Joan Alexander phone interview from the 2006 VCI DVD release). Other that that, you can safely sell or trade away your previous individual film DVDs and Blu-rays too.
Let's go through the set disc by disc. I'll list the contents of each (highlighting what's new and upgraded), address the video and audio quality, and offer a few additional comments where appropriate.
Disc One - Superman: The Movie (Original 1978 Theatrical Release)
The extras on this disc include audio commentary (by producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler), the 1978 TV special The Making of Superman: The Movie (in SD), the 1951 Superman and the Mole-Men feature (SD), 3 vintage cartoons (all SD - Super-Rabbit, Snafuperman and Stupor Duck) and theatrical trailers (SD).
The Blu-ray's 1080p video presentation is generally very good - certainly it's the best this film has ever looked on disc at home. To be sure, the film's appearance is very soft, but that was by design of the filmmakers. Most shots are crisp and clean, while opticals (with titles and visual effects composites) tend to be softer as you'd expect. There's good contrast and color. All in all, it's a fairly pleasing image. The film's soundtrack is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless. The mix isn't quite as "reworked" as the Extended Edition, but it still sounds quite good, with a wide, immersive presentation and nice staging. Fans will also be pleased to know that the disc DOES include the film's original 2.0 stereo audio in DTS-HD MA format.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 17.5/17
Disc Two - Superman: The Movie (2000 Extended Edition)
The extras on this disc include audio commentary (by director Richard Donner and co-writer/consultant Tom Mankiewicz), a music-only track, 3 documentaries/featurettes (all in SD - Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, Making Superman: Filming the Legend and The Magic Behind the Cape), original screen test footage (SD), a selection of restored scenes (SD) and additional music cues.
It's important to note here that the HD presentation of the Superman: Extended Edition in this set is newly-remastered and slightly improved from the previous Blu-ray release of the film. It features extensive MTI dirt clean-up, along with slightly improved clarity, contrast and shadow detailing. By our usual Blu-ray video grading scale, I would put it at about a .5 improvement over the previous Blu-ray - not enough that casual viewers will likely discern it, but enthusiasts will certainly notice and appreciate the subtle differences. The audio is once again 5.1 DTS-HD MA - essentially the same audio mix that was found on the previous Blu-ray. It's a controversial mix to be sure, with subtle (and not so subtle) staging and sound effects changes that irritate some longtime fans of the film. Still, the mix's clarity and dynamic range are outstanding, so I would call it slightly better than the mix on the theatrical Blu-ray ONLY grading on those counts - not the creative changes.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 18.5/18
Disc Three - Superman II (Original 1980 Theatrical Release)
The extras on this disc include audio commentary (by producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler), the 1980 TV special The Making of Superman II (SD), a deleted scene (SD), the First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series featurette (SD), 9 Fleischer Studios' animated Superman shorts (in SD - Superman, The Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano and Terror on the Midway) and the theatrical trailer (SD).
The HD video quality here is virtually identical to that of the Superman theatrical presentation. The film is soft looking, with good contrast and color - certainly the best this film has ever looked in your living room. The presentation clearly hasn't gotten quite as much mastering attention as the Superman: Extended Edition or the Superman II: Donner Cut, but it's still generally faithful to the theatrical experience and is pleasing to the eye. Audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA, again with a wide, immersive presentation and nice staging.
The two Superman II Blu-rays in this set contain one of our all-time favorite releases: The Fleischer Studios' animated Superman shorts. These are absolutely must-see viewing for any Superman fan, as well as classic film enthusiasts. Their visual style and flair is just stunning, and fans know well how important they are to the legacy of the character and the franchise. When this Blu-ray set was first announced, it was our sincere hope that Warner would upgrade these shorts to full HD, as they've done with the classic shorts on many of their other UCE film releases on Blu-ray. Sadly, that hasn't happened and it's THE SINGLE MOST DISAPPOINTING THING about this new Blu-ray box set. Upgrading these to HD should have been an absolutely obvious and easy decision for the studio, and doing so would have made this set a complete home run. Is there a single longtime fan of the Superman franchise - or of classic films in general - who would wouldn't have be thrilled to see these glorious shorts in HD?! We doubt it. Shameful!
[Editor's Note: One other comment about the Superman II theatrical cut, as well as Superman III and IV - our friends at the Caped Wonder.com website report that some of the wires used in special effects "flying" sequences have been digitally removed from these Blu-rays, so they're no longer a distraction. Good news indeed!]
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 17.5/17
Disc Four - Superman II: The 2006 Richard Donner Cut
The extras include audio commentary (by director Richard Donner and co-writer/consultant Tom Mankiewicz), an introduction by Richard Donner, deleted scenes (SD), 2 featurettes (in SD - Superman II: Restoring the Vision and Famous Studios' Superman) and the remaining 8 Fleischer Studios' animated Superman shorts (in SD - Japoteurs, Showdown, Eleventh Hour, Destruction, Inc, The Mummy Strikes, Jungle Drums, The Underground World and Secret Agent).
On the whole, this HD presentation is on par with the Superman: Extended Edition in terms of quality, with the exception that some portions of the new, restored footage are obviously in better shape than others. Still, detail, clarity, color and contrast are all generally pleasing. Audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA of generally excellent quality, though again some of the restored material isn't quite as good as the rest. If you have the previous Blu-ray, what you get here is essentially the exact same A/V presentation.
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 18/18
Disc Five - Superman III
The extras include audio commentary (by producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler), the 1983 TV special The Making of Superman III (SD), deleted scenes (SD) and the theatrical trailer (SD).
Like the theatrical cuts of Superman and Superman II, this 1080p presentation offers generally good detail, color and contrast. Better, in fact, that I might have expected. It's also worth noting that this film now features a 5.1 mix in full DTS-HD MA (the previous DVD version of this film only had 2.0 audio). The mix isn't award-winning, but it's solid and matches the visuals nicely.
Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 17.5/17
Disc Six - Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
The disc's extras include audio commentary (by writer Mark Rosenthal), the 1988 TV special Superman 50th Anniversary Special (SD), deleted scenes (SD) and the theatrical trailer (SD).
Again, the HD video presentation is on par with the other theatrical cut Blu-rays, featuring good (if not great) detail, color and contrast. Alas, the audio here is only 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Still, it's fine for what it is. I don't imagine there will be too many complaints.
Film Rating: D
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 17.5/15.5
Disc Seven - Superman Returns
Extras on this disc include the 7-part Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns documentary (SD), all of Bryan Singer's Video Production Journals (SD), the Resurrecting Jor-El featurette (SD), all the deleted scenes (UPGRADED TO HD FOR THIS RELEASE and now including the never-before-seen Return to Krypton original opening) and theatrical trailers (SD).
Superman Returns is presented here with the same HD master as the previous Blu-ray release. It's not going to blow you away when compared to some of the newer Blu-ray transfers from the last couple of years, but it's generally fine, with nice detail, good contrast and accurate color. It's worth noting that this new Blu-ray release offers an excellent 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio mix. The original Blu-ray release of this film included 5.1 Dolby Digital, while a second (much more limited) release included 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. The qualitative differences between these three mixes are minimal, but I know DTS enthusiasts will appreciate the new audio presentation regardless.
Upgrading all the deleted scenes for this film to full HD is a very nice touch, and I especially appreciate the chance to finally see the film's oft-discussed (but never seen) original opening sequence. It's probably best that it was cut from the final film, but it's sure damn cool viewing. I should also note here that, for me personally, my friend Robert Meyer Burnett's 3-hour Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns remains one of the major supplemental highlights of this box set. It's just a superb bit of documentary filmmaking - one of the best "all-access" looks at the start-to-finish making of a modern SciFi/Fantasy film that you'll ever see. If you view nothing else on this Blu-ray... don't miss it.
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio): 17.5/18.5
Disc Eight - Bonus Disc
This disc is a catch-all for the remaining extras content from the DVD set, plus a bit of new material. It includes the Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman documentary (NOW IN UPGRADED HD FOR THIS RELEASE), the 5-part You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman documentary (SD), The Science of Superman (NEW IN THIS RELEASE and included in HD), 2 featurettes (in SD - The Mythology of Superman and The Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve) and the 1958 TV pilot The Adventures of Superpup (SD).
For me, the feature-length Look, Up in the Sky! documentary is the other major extras highlight of this set, and I really appreciate finally having it in full HD. It was produced by Singer and directed by filmmaker Kevin Burns, who was also responsible for the outstanding Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy from the last Star Wars DVD release. Like Requiem for Krypton, you're doing yourself a real disservice if you miss out on it. One other note: You know how I mentioned my disappointment that the Fleischer shorts weren't upgraded to full HD, and how good they would surely have looked if they had been? Proof of that can be found in the new HD The Science of Superman documentary (also directed by Burns). If you watch its opening credit sequence, you'll see a couple clips from the Fleischer shorts in HD. As expected... stunning (and oh-so heartbreaking!).
All of the above is contained in a multi-disc Digipack case, with a handsome 2-piece slipcover that features a strikingly raised and embossed Superman logo on the front. The packaging here is not as impressive as the previous UCE DVD's metal tin case, but it's still an elegant package and it takes up much less space on your video shelf.
In the end, as I said at the outset, this is a great Blu-ray Disc release. It takes an already terrific DVD box set and upgrades it with fine HD transfers, lossless audio and even a few extras upgrades too. Again, the one major disappointment is that the Fleischer Studios' animated Superman shorts haven't been upgraded to HD. I sincerely hope that when the new Zack Snyder Superman: Man of Steel film comes out, Warner will finally see fit to release these shorts on Blu-ray in the remastered HD quality they so richly deserve. Still, this new Blu-ray box set should please longtime Superman enthusiasts and casual fans alike. If you're a diehard Superman buff, I think the set is generally worth the upgrade price. Just do yourself a favor and make sure you find a good sale price (like Amazon's usual 30% off) - ALWAYS wise advice. Recommended.
Bill Hunt, Editor