All Star Superman
Directed By: Sam Liu
Voice Cast: James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony LaPaglia, Matthew Gray Gubler, Linda Cardellini, Alexis Denisof, Arnold Vosloo, Edward Asner, Frances Conroy
| Studio: Warner |
Film Length: 75 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: February 22, 2010
The Film ****All Star Superman is an animated adaptation of the popular DC Comics twelve issue limited series from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. As it opens, Superman (Denton) intervenes to rescue the crew of a scientific mission to the Sun that has been sabotaged by Lex Luthor (La Paglia). The resulting extreme exposure to the Sun's rays supercharges his already formidable strength and intellect with the unfortunate side effect being a cancer-like terminal illness. Facing his own mortality, Superman spends the next several months setting things in order as both Superman and his human alter-ego, Clark Kent. Meanwhile Lex Luthor, gleeful that he has finally succeeded in killing his arch enemy awaits his own execution in prison in an unusually calm manner.
All Star Superman takes a novel approach to the Superman character compared to any of the other recent animated DC Universe films or television shows. While most animated adaptations have based their characterization of Superman and his key supporting cast on some variation of the 1980s John Byrne version of the Man of Steel, All-Star Superman looks further back to incorporate elements of the Superman character from the 1940s and 1950s. Elements dismissed as too corny or limiting in most modern Superman incarnations are embraced wholeheartedly in this story. This Superman keeps a menagerie of alien beasts and the Bottle city of Kandor in his Fortress of Solitude, can fly through outer space without a protective suit, can break up baby stars into smaller pieces with a hammer, and occasionally discovers new powers. As in the comic series from Morrison and Quitely, all of these elements are updated subtly to give them the feel of classic mythology with a modern setting.
Screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie (who sadly passed away the day before this film was released on home video) is very faithful in his adaptation of the comic series, almost to a fault. The leaps in time and across subplots that made sense in a twelve part series result in occasionally jarring leaps in narrative in the film. A sequence involving two Kryptonians who arrive on Earth while Superman is away in space on an errand seems to come from nowhere and is over almost as soon as it starts. These fits and starts in the narrative are jarring at first viewing, but after seeing how everything fits together at the end, one can appreciate their thematic purpose even if their presentation and the massive amounts of spoken exposition needed to set them up still seem awkward.
Fans familiar with more modern animated Superman incarnations will also find that the voice cast takes some getting used to. James Denton plays Superman as the ultimate irony-free Boy Scout with general success, but there are more than a few lines that seem to land with a thud, sometimes simply because of the way they are delivered, but frequently because they are either corny or filled to the brim with the aforementioned excessive exposition. Christina Hendricks makes a good Lois Lane, but she is playing a younger and less shrewd and cynical take on the character than viewers may expect. Anthony LaPaglia manages an appropriately villainous Lex Luthor, but I do not think anyone will ever top the work turned in by Clancy Brown in the part in various late 1990s and 2000s animated Superman stories.
In the end, All Star Superman captures enough of what made the source comics special to place itself in the top-tier of DC Animated Universe DTVs. It cleverly simplifies but captures the essence of the comics' appealing graphic style and incorporates the most interesting story and thematic concepts. Unfortunately, it falls short of perfection due to its inability to create satisfyingly cinematic transitions between the various episodes it adapts from the comics and some atypically awkward shortcomings in voice performance and/or direction.
The Video ****The video comes courtesy of an AVC encoded 1080p presentation that fills the entire 16:9 frame. Video artifacts are negligible and the digitally sourced image is inherently free of any film grain or flaws. Stylistically, there is frequently a hazy filtering applied to the image to create an illusion of diffuse lighting which I found overused to the point of being unpleasant to look at. I docked the presentation a star for this cinematographic choice, but based strictly on representing the filmmakers' intent, it is near perfect.
The Audio ***½Audio comes courtesy of a DTS HD-MA lossless 5.1 track. The underlying mix is fairly conservative, rarely making significant use of the surrounds or LFE. By way of illustration, there is a scene in the film where the moon is literally broken that only gets a mild boost from the LFE. Fidelity is excellent, which serves the outstanding orchestral score particularly well. Alternate language dubs are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
The Extras ****When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos in AVC-encoded 1080p high definition video unless otherwise indicated below:
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One Theatrical Trailer (2:26)
- Superman/Batman - Apocalypse DTV Trailer (4:3 letterboxed SD video – 1:22)
- DC Universe Online Video Game Trailer (1:46)
Proper extras are accessible from the disc main menu under the "Special Features" heading. They are presented in AVC encoded 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated.
Superman Now (33:48) is a behind the scenes look at the making of the "All-Star Superman" comic series from which this direct to video feature was adapted. It consists of comic art, animation clips, and talking head interview comments from writer Grant Morrison and DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio. Topics discussed include the origins of the DC "All-Star" books, how Morrison came to the project, the genesis of the idea for the series, Didio's impressions of Morrison's early story pitch, the solar/mythological themes of the story, the structure of the story, the blending of elements from vintage Superman comic into a modern story, themes of time and loss, the conception of Luthor for this series, and the visual style of artist Frank Quitely. Segments are broken up by interstitial quites from various issues of the comic series read aloud (and off camera) by Ryan Dillon. This is an unusually in-depth featurette which occasionally can feel a bit static due to the limited number of participants, but should please fans of the comic series or those looking to know more about it.
The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison (9:36) is a brief featurette in which Morrison gives the viewer a tour of his early story sketches and notes for many of the ideas that were used fro the comic series. It is an interesting look in the creative process and illustrates ideas that were abandoned, refined, or otherwise re-worked. Some of the stronger images from these sketches not only made it into the comics, but were ultimately appropriate for the animated adaptation as well.
Commentary from Bruce Timm and Grant Morrison is a feature-length audio commentary featuring Executive Producer Timm and comic writer Morrison who were recorded together. The track is conversational, and both participants do a good job of drawing out information from each other about both the original comic series and the animated adaptation. Gaps are infrequent and brief, and both participants are eloquent and enthusiastic. Some of the information provided by Morrison overlaps with that presented in the two featurettes described above, but there are plenty of new topics covered as well. This is also the only feature on the disc where the process of adapting the comics and producing the animated feature is discussed, so it is worth a listen for fans of the film.
Green Lantern : Emerald Knights Sneak Peek (11:40) is an extended preview for the forthcoming DC Animated Universe DTV feature. It blends concept art, storyboards, comic art, and (unusual for these previews) even some finished animation to illustrate the concept behind the title which focuses on a cross-section of popular characters from the Green Lantern comic books. The origin stories of several members of the "Green Lantern Corps" will be given via flashback episodes held together by a typically universe-threatening framing story. On camera interview comments are offered by Writer/Co-Producer Alan Burnett, Animation Directors Jao Olivaceous & Lauren Montgomery, Voice Director Andrea Romano, Timm, Actor Nathan Fillion (Hal Jordan), and Actor Henry Rollins (Kilowog).
Virtual Comic: All Star Superman - presents the first issue of the comic series as a series of still frames. They are presented in high definition, but viewers seeking to read along would be best advised to use a large screen projection set-up, to watch via a computer with a BD drive, or to sit atypically close to their television screens if they want to read the dialog balloons.
Superman/Batman Apocalypse Sneak Peek (12:12) is an extended preview for the previously released DC Animated Universe DTV feature which melded a Supergirl origin story, elements of Jack Kirby's "New Gods" comics, and a Superman/Batman team-up story. It is similar in content to the Green Lantern : Emerald Knights preview, except that is does not include any finished animation. On-camera comments are provided by writer Jeph Loeb, DC Comics SVP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Timm, Montgomery, Romano, actor Kevin Conroy (Batman), Actor Tim Daly (Superman), Actor Andre Braugher (Apocalypse) and Actress Summer Glau (Supergirl).
Bruce Timm's Picks consists of two episodes chosen by Timm from the first season of the mid 1990s "Superman: The Animated Series". The episodes are titled Blast from the Past Part 1 (19:53) and Blast from the Past Part 2 (21:26). Together they make up a two-part story in which Superman must contend with two surviving Kryptonians who arrive on Earth with less noble intentions towards humanity than himself. The episodes were no-doubt chosen because they mirror one of the sub-plots from All-Star Superman, but they are entertaining in their own right. They are presented in 4:3 standard definition video and have all of the same shortcomings as the previous SD DVD release of the episodes including jaggies and aliasing galore.
SD DVD & Digital Copy - As is the case with many recent Warner BDs of DTV features, a separate disc is included with an SD DVD of the film and a digital copy. The DVD presentation is bare bones with the film in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video, English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and available English SDH, French, or Spanish subtitles.
The digital copy is on-disc, and is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media formats. It is unlocked through the use of a one-time password provided on a paper insert to the disc case.
PackagingThe disc is enclosed in a standard Blu-ray case with die-cut holes to reduce plastic use and an extra hub on the inner left side allowing it to accommodate the SD DVD/digital copy disc as well as the BD of the film. The only insert is the sheet with the code to unlock the iTunes or Windows Media digital copy. The hard case is enclosed in a cardboard slipcover which reproduces the same artwork but with foil enhancements and additional text touting the SD DVD and Digital Copy.
All Star Superman adapts the excellent comic series of the same name into one of the better DC Animated Universe Direct to Video features, but it falls short of perfection due to its inability to create satisfyingly cinematic transitions between the various episodes it adapts from the comics and some shortcomings in voice performance and/or direction. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with very good video and a lossless rendering of its only modestly ambitious 5.1 surround mix. It is accompanied by a significant number of interesting special features providing background on both the film and the comic series from which it was adapted. A second disc in the package includes an SD DVD and digital copy version of the film.