This latest release of “newly restored” classic Superman cartoons begs the question – “What is going on over at Warner-Discovery?”
The Production: 3.5/5
In the early days of animated movies, the Fleischer Studios were the closest competitor to Waly Disney. Some of their most popular characters were Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Popeye, and, of course, Superman (whom they had licensed from Action Comics, precursor to DC). The first Superman cartoon debuted in 1941, marking the Man of Steel’s first appearance on film, and a total of 17 shorts would be produced, with the later productions becoming more propaganda pieces to build morale during World War II, and many of the films in this collection carry disclaimers regarding their now politically incorrect and offensive content. The animation style in these shorts is breathtaking, often imitated but never duplicated, influencing many animated comic book adaptations over the decades.
3D Rating: NA
Based on Warner’s press release, there were high hopes for this restored Blu-ray release:
“Warner Bros. Discovery’s advanced remastering process began with a 4K, 16-bit scan of Fleischer’s original 35mm successive exposure negative. Staying true to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37-to-1, the highest quality raw image was then scanned and then entered into the recombine process – utilizing special proprietary software to merge the successive exposure Technicolor negatives into a single RGB color image. The end result are pristine animated shorts that have been restored to the animators’ originally intended production quality.”
While it is fair to say that these shorts have never looked better, something definitely went wrong somewhere between the remastering process and encoding these shorts for Blu-ray. Yes, these are free of dirt and scratches, and colors appear to have been corrected and brought back to life. However, nearly all film grain has been scrubbed from these new transfers, also scrubbing away most fine detail from the intricately animated cels. Although encoded with the AVC codec, the average bitrate for these shorts is around 12 Mbps, relatively low when you factor in that the disc has been pressed on a BD50, has a runtime of 146 minutes (not including the special features), and only uses 26 Gb of its available 46 Gb (after formatting). It is the low bitrates that likely contributes to the occasional banding and other compression artifacts.
The good news is that the lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is about as good as an 80-year old analog recording is going to sound. It is virtually free of pops, with minimal hiss and surface noise.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Max Fleischer’s Superman: Speeding Toward Tomorrow (1080p; 13:20): New for this release, Matt Peters, Rick Morales, Jim Krieg and Jeremy Adams discuss the importance of these cartoons and the influence they have had on animation.
First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series (upscaled 1080p; 12:55): A look at the animation design thru interviews with modern-day animators. It is rather obvious this was upscaled from a 480/30i source to 1080/24p, as it is littered with stuttering frames and interlace issues.
The Man, the Myth, Superman (upscaled 1080p; 13:37): An overview of the character of Superman. It is rather obvious this was upscaled from a 480/30i source to 1080/24p, as it is littered with stuttering frames and interlace issues.
I cannot recommend this release due to the low bitrates and lack of native film grain in these “restored” animated shorts. This unfortunately does not live up to Warner’s usual high standards.
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