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Warner Home Video / 1978 / 151 Minutes / Rated PG
Reviewed by Cliff Stephenson on March 23, 2001

A lot of movies achieve immense success at the box office and immediately gain a devoted following, but there are only a handful of films that become instant classics. Films like The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and Jaws had that something special and are rightly considered masterpieces. Superman: The Movie is just such a film. From the moment people first strapped themselves in for the ride, Superman was an Event. It's one of the truly great gems of modern American cinema.

The surprise of Superman: The Movie is that twenty-two years later, it still holds up extremely well. The pioneering effects work developed for the film, while not as seamless as today's digital technology, retains a classy, realistic look that brought the myth of Superman boldly to life. If I do have a nit-pick with the film, is that some of its late 70s aesthetics, clothes and hairstyles still inspire a giggle or too. But all films date a bit, and in the case of Superman, it still doesn't detract from my appreciation and enthusiasm for the film.

For this brand-new, fully restored DVD release of Superman: The Movie, director Richard Donner has reinstated eight minutes of footage cut from the original 1978 theatrical release. The overall effect of the new footage is just more of a great thing. The additions help to flesh out characters a bit more, especially Jor-El (Marlon Brando), given his short screen time in the original. Such additions as a scene where Superman discusses his newfound purpose with his long since gone father is a good example. This is a rare case in which the changes made for a new special edition don't detract from the story, such as they often do in many other director's cuts and alternate versions. (For a detailed look at the changes made to the new edition, visit our Cut List update.)

Of course, I really feel like writing this makes absolutely no difference anyway, as most people already love Superman: The Movie. If you are a die hard fan, I'd like to recommend that you take a look at the Superman Cinema site, which has loads of info and says it far better than I ever could. I've spent countless hours there, and you should too, for more than you ever thought you could know about Superman on the big screen. And if for some inexplicable reason you still haven't seen Superman: The Movie...smack! See it!

Video: How Does The Disc Look?

My only real reference point for analyzing this new transfer are my memories of seeing the film theatrically about two years ago, and the old widescreen laserdisc which is about ten years old now, and quite poor by just about any standard. Colors were dull and the picture was obscured by a hazy softness that, while somewhat reflective of the original look of the film, was full of grain and dirt, especially during the film's many optical effects shots. I think a lot of people naturally assumed that this is how Superman always had and always would look. Well, hold on to your Kryptonite, because the restored image presented on this DVD is absolutely breathtaking! (Click here for some screenshot blowups and see for yourself.)

All of that haze is gone. There's still a soft-filtered, dreamy quality to the picture, but it now appears as it should: intentional and appropriate. Instead of the whole frame being somewhat blurred, you can now see background details, yet the transfer still retains a diffused look to the lighting. I was absolutely astonished at how smooth and film-like this image appeared, with a high amount of detail and image depth. This is the first time that I've ever seen the film that I was able to make out that one of the future locations in Lex Luthor's "new West Coast" is actually "Teschmacher Peaks," complete with a not so subtle double entendre - twin mountain peaks with nipply snow atop!

Also greatly improved are the colors, which were pale in the original transfer, but now leap off the screen with great vitality. The red, blue and yellow of Superman's suit are bold and majestic. Fleshtones lose the grayish hue that dominated the older prints and the laserdisc transfer, looking far more natural here. This was immediately noticed in the early Krypton scenes, where the overblown whites of the costumes once dominated the screen, leaving all else washed out in the process. Now, they are much more solid, with true fleshtones visible even under the harsh lighting of Krypton. Color correction has also been applied that rectifies some of the deficiencies inherent in 70's photographic technology. Some of the flying shots were done against a blue screen, necessitating that Superman's suit be altered in those shots to turquoise, so as not to blend in with the background. Some tweaking was done originally to try and compensate, but they were never able technically to achieve the true blue of his suit. Digital technology has now been employed here to correct all of those shots, so that the suit now appears in its true hue.

Another major area where prior Superman transfers fell apart was in the area of dirt and grain. When the film's huge number of effects shots were created, effects artists had to combine separate elements optically from several pieces of film (also known as "compositing.") This usually resulted in film grain being much more pronounced, and any dirt that might have been present in between layers would be preserved in the final composite. With the new DVD, almost all of the dirt that was highly visible in older prints of Superman are gone. Period! It was most noticeable to me during the film's finale, when Superman flies into the clouds where he is confronted by the voices of his two fathers. Previously, the image was riddled with black dirt particles against the whites of the clouds. Not any more. Film grain has also been reduced, although it is still present. It is here that the new transfer most closely resembles the old - there were only a few times when I found it distracting, but for the most part I didn't even notice.

The disc has been well authored with no traces of compression pixel break up to mar the image. I did notice some slight edge enhancement, but I was never distracted by it at all. The new footage that has been added is blended seamlessly. I bet that if you didn't know a scene was new to this cut, there's no way you would be able to tell based on the transfer. This is one excellent picture that is sure to please all the fans that have been (eternally) waiting and hoping their favorite superhero would be treated well on DVD. Overall, the final result is one that I'm pleased to say most likely surpasses even the quality of the prints during the film's original theatrical run.

Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?

Alright, let's get on to the controversy. There has already been near-endless debate about the newly remastered 5.1 soundtrack created for this new version of Superman. But the most important two words when it comes to this discussion are tone and intent. But before we get into that, we must first go back a bit and retrace the history of the Superman soundtrack. Superman: The Movie was released on December 15, 1978, with both 35mm stereo and 70mm Dolby 6-track discrete presentations. Superman was the first film to use the "split surround" format that we are all quite familiar with today, and is now common in theaters with the numerous Dolby Digital, DTS and SDDS presentations out there. As this would seem an ideal situation for transferring the soundtrack for the home, a few interesting problems arose that made it more complicated. Apparently, the effects stems used for the 1978 6 channel mix of Superman were in less-than-pristine condition, and deemed not suitable for use as a new multi-channel theatrical track, much less on a DVD. The solution to the problem was to recreate the effects track using newly recorded effects, then remix the film with the new effects along with the original dialog and music tracks. It is the inclusion of these newly-recorded sound effects that has "purists" foaming at the mouth.

I've heard the argument by some that recreating the effects track was more cost efficient than restoring the original tracks. I've also heard complaints that if the dialog and music stems survived, why wouldn't the effects also have been similarly preserved? Speaking with a noted DVD technician (who has worked on more than a handful of discs you probably own) I was informed that recreating an entire effects track is in no way a cheap solution to restoring an original effects track, especially when the original track is missing, not just damaged. But how could just the dialog and music tracks have survived? Well, that seems a bit more obvious. It is impossible to take a twenty-two year old film and completely re-record the entire dialog track with every actor involved in the film. So with dialog, what you have existing is just about all that you can really use. With the music tracks, the word is that a completely new master of the score was discovered that was long thought to have been lost (which is why you might find the music on the DVD to sound even better than the Rhino 2-CD release from last year.)

So, after all that, how does it sound? Well, some may think that I'm nuts, but this soundtrack is amazing. Actually, it's better than amazing, it's a revelation. Fidelity is awesome, with sharp, defined highs and thunderous, beefy lows. The soundfield is almost constantly active with aggressive directionality hitting you from all sides. Dialog is crisper and cleaner than I've ever heard it before. There are so many lines of dialog in the film that I had never even heard before. The condition of the dialog track is generally excellent, with very little in the way of background hiss or distortion. Surrounds are really put to the test, and are heavily directional. Sounds are placed all around the back of the room including, in many instances, dialog that matches the onscreen action very well. Listening to Lex's high frequency invitation to Superman or the tutelage of young Kal-El as he journeys to earth, the voices are given space in the back of the soundfield, sounding completely convincing and appropriate. There's also some incredible imaging across the back of the room and along the sidewalls. As the cable thrashes around, just before crippling Lois' helicopter ride to the airport, the sound of the cable was clearly heard outside of the right channel, reaching solidly where there were no speakers.

So what of the new effects? Well I happen to think that the effects work done for this soundtrack is absolutely superb. I'm going back to those words I began with: tone and intent. Even with the new effects, this is still Superman: The Movie, only augmented and enhanced. The tone of the film remains intact. All involved have matched the new effects to much of the original track and, where appropriate, attempted to improve upon it. Again, the intent of the new remix was not to degrade the film but to enhance it. It's not like they took out the John Williams score and replaced it with a new one by Danny Elfman! I'm also on the side of this new recreation and remix for several other reasons. First, it just plain sounds better than the original. Comparing it to the older 2 channel track from the laserdisc, it's no contest. The original track is completely flat, without any of the punch that gives the new soundtrack so much life. I guarantee that most people, after hearing this new track all the way through, will never care to hear the older mix again. Second, director Richard Donner was involved and obviously had to sign off on it. When Superman was released, the filmmakers were up against an incredibly tight release schedule (they didn't even get a premiere because finishing the film went right up until the film's theatrical release). With a collaborative medium such as film, there are going to be compromises. Compound those with a looming release date that can't be missed under any circumstances, and you have a film soundtrack that most definitely isn't a complete representation of what the director ultimately wanted. If Donner is pleased with whatís been done here, who am I to tell him he's wrong?

Finally, this is not 1978's Superman: The Movie, this is 2001's Superman: The Movie. It's a new cut of the film with 8 additional minutes of footage, a cleaned up negative and retouched effects shots. If I'm allowing myself to readjust to new scenes and effects shots, why not the audio, too? Don't be a purist if you don't know what the word actually means. I have to say that the newly added scenes were far more of a distraction for me than any of the new effects could ever have been. If you love the movie, the new effects probably won't (and shouldn't?) bother you, as they truly do enhance the story and draw you in even more than before. Now, I do agree that Warner should have included at the very least the original 2-channel surround track of Superman, preserving the original mix in some way. But after hearing both, I would immediately take the reworked edition over the decades old original. But it should have been included nonetheless.

No foreign languages tracks have been included, but the disc does have English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, along with English closed captions.

Supplements: What Goodies Are There?

As if the amazing picture and sound isn't enough to already warrant an instant purchase, Warner has packed this DVD-18 with a wonderful collection of bonus material that will surely make every Superman fan foam at the mouth. But first, I must mention the fully animated menus that just left me in awe. (Click here for a menu preview.) As you start up the disc on either side, you swirl inside a transparent Superman symbol, swooping all around as footage from the film reflects off the sides, finally pulling back to reveal the magnificent "S" in all it's glory, underscored by the opening strains to the famous theme. It's not too often that menus really give you a chill, but the ones for Superman definitely set the mood and get you excited about watching the film. Thankfully they are not overly complicated - this is definitely a less-is-more type of thing, and they are absolutely perfect.

Side one begins with a new screen-specific audio commentary featuring director Richard Donner and "Creative Consultant" Tom Mankiewicz (we'll get to that creative consultant thing in a moment). Die hard fans of the film are going to go nuts during this track, as Donner and Mankiewicz dish the dirt on the film (or films, as they were - Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously by Donner) as well as the stuff that never made it to screen. The rumors were that there was ensuing chaos behind the scenes, and this track would seem to bear that out. With a story by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo, the screenplay was then written by Puzo along with Robert Benton and David and Leslie Newman, all of whom received screen credit. What is revealed in the commentary is that the screenplay was, for the most part, actually written by Mankiewicz, a friend of Donner's brought in to fix what was wrong with the original, much campier treatment. But because of odd Writers Guild of America guidelines, Mankiewicz received no screen credit and was given the title of "Creative Consultant" instead, with his credit immediately following that of the credited writers, much to the disapproval of the WGA (who didn't want his credit on there at all.) It's obvious listening to Mankiewicz that he truly was the force behind the screenplay as he remembers just about every line in or out of the movie. There were also some great ideas that Mankiewicz had for the sequel that never made it to the screen, after Donner was unceremoniously fired as director of Superman II, despite already having shot 70% of the material by the time the original film was released. And even more fun, the pair speak with a loving distaste for each other that is palatable throughout. (At one point during the reinstated "Gauntlet scene," Mankiewicz, after realizing that the scene was ultimately unnecessary and cut from the original film, (jokingly?) ribs Donner."Geez, how many days did you waste shooting all this stuff?") Donner goes into detail about the effects, many that required pioneering new production techniques never before attempted. From the intricacies of doing front projection work for the flying shots to the happy accidents such as the one that gave Superman one of its most unique and innovative costuming achievements, this is one of those tracks that you just don't want to end. I'm actually really impressed with the amount of detail these guys remember so long after the film was made.

Also on side one of the disc is an isolated music track with John Williams Oscar-nominated original score in full Dolby Digital 5.0. However, contrary to original expectations, there is unfortunately no commentary by Williams included. Recorded at a bit rate of only 384kbps (a crime for a music only track - hopefully Warner will see this as a prime candidate for a DVD-Audio release), I found the score to sound great, but not as good as it does during the feature, which contained more active surrounds with better imaging. Just a quick comparison of the opening credits and you'll see what I mean. Also on disc one is Superman: The Legacy, eleven pages of text that discusses the origin of Superman, from his days as a comic book hero through to the planned remake that (hopefully) remains never to be made. Also included are standard cast and crew filmographies for Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner, and an added scenes index for all the changes in this new cut of Superman. There are ten scenes or scene extensions listed, and while I'm not exactly sure why you would want to view just one scene, you can if you want. There's also a single page Awards List of the honors Superman The Movie received when it was released in 1978, though it's actually a bit misleading as the film won one award! Oh well. Finally, the original theatrical trailer is included in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and mono sound. (And check out the new re-release theatrical trailer here)

Moving to side two of this massive set, the main menu is broken down into two categories: "Documentaries" and "Additional Special Features." Within documentaries, there are three newly-created features covering the making of the film. A quick word about the documentaries: all three of them, co-produced by Michael Thau and Jonathan Gaines, really seem like one long documentary split into individual segments. They feature an enormous roster of talent from the film, all providing new interviews, including Donner and Mankiewicz, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, composer John Williams, editor Stuart Baird, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, optical effects supervisor Roy Field and many, many others, as well as archival interview footage of Brando and production designer John Barry. I would recommend that the first two of these docs be viewed in order, at least on your first viewing, as they possess a strong narrative flow and play better back to back.

The first documentary is entitled Taking Flight: The Development of Superman, and is a thirty minute retrospective look at the film, hosted by Marc "Jimmy Olsen" McClure. It focuses on how the oftentimes arduous process of just getting the film made, from signing Brando and Hackman to secure funding, to the search for just the right actor to embody the Man Of Steel. It was interesting to see that Bond veteran Guy Hamilton was originally set to direct, and the documentary presents a few bits of the concept art and footage that Hamilton did for the film. It was vastly different than what it finally ended up being, so praise be to Donner! The second documentary, Making Superman: Filming the Legend, also runs thirty minutes and covers the production of the film once shooting commenced. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage included, and this is where you'll find out the real story behind some of the legendary difficulties making Superman, with the infamous Salkinds seemingly torpedoing their own film. This is also where attention is devoted to both the editing and musical score for Superman: The Movie. I really was hoping, like with the commentary, that this documentary would not end when it did, as it is so entertaining and informative! The third feature is a twenty-minute examination of the film's groundbreaking effects work, called The Magic Behind the Cape. With optical effects supervisor Roy Field, we are taken on a tour of the many different methods needed to make us believe that a man could fly. It's another outstanding piece, although I actually learned something here that I'm sort of disappointed to find out, but I won't spoil it for you. Such is the price you pay when these documentaries are so well done...

Moving over to the additional special features we have some screen tests for Clark Kent aka Superman, Lois Lane and Ursa (the female Kryptonian villain that abused Superman heavily in Superman II), all with introductions from casting director Lynn Stalmaster. For Clark Kent/Superman, we are treated to roughly ten minutes of Christopher Reeve's original test as he played two scripted scenes with Donner's old Omen star Holly Palance ("It's all for you, Kal-El!") It's fairly obvious that Reeve was absolutely right for the role, and legitimately this is one of the few times where an actor and the part he plays are so perfect it had to be fate. For the Lois Lane screen tests, we get another eleven minutes. This time, however, we get to see some of the women who might have been Lois Lane. Trying out for the role were Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren (who's absolutely horrible), "Rizzo" herself Stockard Channing, and finally Margot Kidder. I was actually really impressed with Channing as Lois, although it's truly hard to imagine any one else in the role of Lane after Kidder made it her own. For Lois' screen tests, Stalmaster has recorded commentary to discuss the variables in each actresses performance and where and how they differed from what the director ultimately wanted. Ursa's screen test is the most bizarre, because not only did she have to act and be fairly menacing, she had to be able to effectively flip a stuntman in the audition to prove she could handle the physicality of the role. Ursa's screen tests only run two minutes, and are much less interesting than then either of the lead character's.

Of the mounds and mounds of additional footage that was shot for Superman, Richard Donner has chosen only two additional deleted scenes to be included on the disc. Running about three and a half minutes total, the first scene sets up the second with Luthor forcing to Otis to "feed the babies," some sort of wild animals housed in the lower reaches of an abandoned elevator shaft. The second ties in with that as Superman, after saving the country and stopping the disaster of the bombing, returns to Luthor's lair as Luthor and Otis are dropping Ms. Teschmacher down the shaft to "feed the babies." Superman flies down the shaft and reemerges with Ms. Teschmacher, nabbing Luthor and Otis in the process. Both of the scenes look fairly finished, and are even presented in anamorphic widescreen. Another great inclusion are eight additional music cues cut from John Williams' score, again presented in Dolby Digital 5.0. The additional cues are for the "Main Titles," "Alternate Main Titles," "The Council's Decision," "The Krypton Quake," "More Mugger/ Introducing Otis," "Air Force One," "Chasing Rockets" and a funky pop version of "Can You Read My Mind." (And you really have to hear that one to believe it!)

Finally, rounding out this incredible set we have some promotional material, starting with the film's rather interesting teaser trailer, in anamorphic widescreen and mono sound. The teaser touts the names of Superman's impressive cast while we fly through the clouds. It's interesting to note that the names are presented in the same flying credit sequence that was adopted for the final film. A thirty-second TV spot is also included, also in anamorphic widescreen. Odd, since no TV spot of the time would have ever dared show any sort of black bars!

Parting Thoughts

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's one of the best DVDs I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. While some people might try to dissuade you from buying into this version of Superman, insisting that it's an abomination - new cut, touched up effects, recreated soundtrack - as a huge Superman fan, I am more than thrilled with what Warner has done for this new release. Trust me when I say that the filmmakers and producers have treated the film with the utmost care and respect for the Man Of Steel. I've never seen Superman look so great or sound so inspired. This easily ranks as one of the best overall DVDs I've seen. Ever.

Order the SUPER DVD


- DVD-Video
- Double-Sided, Dual-Layer Disc
- Region 1

Aspect Ratio(s):
- 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital Formats:
- English 5.1 Surround
- Isolated score in 5.0 Surround

- English Closed Captions
- English Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Portuguese Subtitles

Standard Features:
- Interactive Menus
- Scene Access

Additional Features:
- Screen-specific audio commentary with director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz
- "Taking Flight: The Development of Superman" and "Making Superman: Filming the Legend" documentaries
"The Magic Behind The Cape" featurette
- Screen tests with commentary
- 2 Deleted scenes
- Index to newly-added scenes
- "Superman: The Legacy" production notes
- Cast & crew filmographies
- Awards list
- Theatrical and teaser trailers
- TV spots
- Additional music cues

List Price:
- $24.95

Released On:
- May 1, 2001


Playback Monitor:
Runco CPD-750 CRT 16x9 Front Projector with Stewart 100" Snapper Screen

DVD Player:
Pioneer Elite DV-09 via S-Video Outputs

Denon AVR-3300 Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1

JBL HT1F Left, Right and Center, M&K SS150 THX Tripole Right and Left Surrounds and 2 JBL HT1F Subwoofers

Paraound HCA-1000A Subwoofer Amplifier

Monster Cables: Target Wood-Lament component rack

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