To celebrate both Superman’s 80th birthday and the film’s 40th anniversary, Warner has released the theatrical cut of Superman: The Movie on 4K UHD Blu-ray in a new and improved transfer.
The Production: 4.5/5
If you were to ask just about any director before the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe took over the world’s box office, they would likely point to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie as the litmus test that any superhero movie would be judged against. Donner’s film, and Christopher Reeve’s performance, set the standard for comic book adaptations for decades since its release in 1978. Audiences had never seen anything quite like it before; not only did it make us believe that a man could fly, it was a special effects spectacle that had a wry sense of humor and wit. Then-unknown Christopher Reeve was perfectly cast as the title character and his alter-ego Clark Kent – yes, he looked the part, but brought a bit of a young Cary Grant to his portrayal of both characters (his early flirtation as Superman with Lois Lane at the beginning of their interview, for example). Margot Kidder brings some spunk to the reporter in distress, Lois Lane. Superman was quite possibly the first movie where I realized just how much a fun an actor can have in playing a role, and that role is Lex Luthor, played in three of the four Reeve films by Gene Hackman, who is definitely having the time of his life doling out great lines like:
Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.
It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving.
You were followed again…in spite of those catlike reflexes.
Doesn’t it give you, like, a shudder of electricity… to be in the same room with me?
Rounding out the cast are the also hilarious and wonderful Ned Beatty as Luthor’s sidekick Oits, Valerie Perrine as Luthor’s voluptuous girlfriend Eve Tessmacher, Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White, Terrence Stamp as General Zod (who plays a more vital role in the sequel), Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter as Clark’s earthly parents, and Marlon Brando (who has reportedly paid $3.7 million plus profit participation for reading his lines off cue cards) as Jor-El. I absolutely loved this movie as a child, and remember my disappointment in having to wait nearly three years for the next chapter, despite the end credits declaring “Next Year – Superman II.”
3D Rating: NA
Superman: The Movie was made at a time when the world was very analog, where visual effects were created through multiple exposures, optical printing, and the utilization of front and rear projection. It was also shot on 35mm film by veteran cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (Cabaret, 2001: A Space Odyssey) with soft filters and smoke. The movie and its first sequel have always appeared rather soft with noticeable film grain. Warner Bros. has gone back to the original camera negatives and scanned them in 4K, and the film is presented on UHD Blu-ray in an HEVC-encoded 2160p transfer in the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, with HDR-10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range. While I was rather impressed with the results, some may not. My wife made a few comments during our home screening, feeling a bit disappointed in how soft and grainy the image appeared to her, claiming it didn’t look much better than DVD, at least until I pulled out the included 2011 Blu-ray and an older DVD transfer, and she began to see some of the more subtle improvements. Like I said, Superman has always appeared a bit soft, even during its original theatrical release 40 years ago. There is some noticeable improvement in fine detail, such as textures in fabrics (the creases in the reflective suits worn on Krytpon, for example). Colors are where this disc truly excels, providing deeper and more vibrant tones, particularly the blues and reds of Superman’s costume. Contrast is slightly improved, with deeper blacks and better refined shadow detail, but due to the film’s reliance on the Zoptic front projection system in most of the flying sequences, blacks can never quite get past dark grey.
The sound mixes have probably been the most controversial aspect of just about every digital media release of Superman. The DVD and Blu-ray releases of the extended cut were criticized for their enhancements of sound effects and the supposed original theatrical stereo mix actually being a stereo fold-down of the new 5.1 mix. The good news is that Warner has included both a new Dolby Atmos track (with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core) and a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track (encoded at 640 kbps) that is reportedly based on the film’s original 70mm six-track mix. Both sound great, with the Atmos mix adding an extra layer of dimensionality, boosted bass, and less-subtle swooshing flying effects (noticeable almost immediately in the opening credits sequence). The Dolby Digital track is a bit more balanced and tame, representative of films from that era. The only bad news here is that, once again, Warner has authored the disc to default to the Dolby Digital track rather than the more robust Atmos. Ugh!
Special Features: 3/5
Although the slipcover includes an “80 Years” Superman sticker and 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the film, Warner has decided to include the rather dated Blu-ray release of the theatrical cut that came with the 2011 Superman Motion Picture Anthology boxed set. The extras on the Blu-ray disc are nice, but sadly still missing are the very comprehensive documentaries (totaling close to 90 minutes) on the making of the film (and all of the troubles and turmoil) hosted by Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) that were included on the original DVD release of the extended cut, deleted scenes, screen tests, the extended cut itself with commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, etc. Rather disappointing for an 80th Birthday/40th Anniversary….
Audio Commentary with Pierre Spengler and Ilya Salkind: This track is available on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs.
The Making of “Superman: The Movie” (480i; 51:50): The 1978 TV special.
Superman and the Mole-Men (480i; 58:05)
Super-Rabbit (480i; 8:12): Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Snafuperman (480i; 4:34): World War II-era propaganda cartoon starring Private Snafu.
Stupor Duck (480i; 6:40): Daffy Duck cartoon.
TV Spot (480i; 0:31): Strangely, this is cropped to fill your 16:9 screen.
Teaser Trailer (480i; 1:14)
Theatrical Trailer (480i; 2:40)
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy on Movies Anywhere. Although my transaction history on Movies Anywhere shows that a 4K UHD copy was redeemed, of the retailers I have accounts with, only FandangoNow has the film in UHD. Vudu, Amazon, and Google Play only offer the film in HD/HDX.
The audio and video presentation of Superman: The Movie are the only real reasons to upgrade here, as fans will still want to hold on to all previous editions in order to have both all of the special features and the extended cut.