With the recent cluster of comic book movies, going back to revisit Superman is a unique experience. Heavily flawed yet saved with all around superb performances and effects, the ’78 version of this DC comic star is a solid offering.
The notable piece to this film adaptation is Christopher Reeve. He is, for many people, the only Superman the movies have ever produced. His style and charisma carry much of the film. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, although given limited screen time in total, still puts on a great show.
The extended cut featured here on this disc beefs up an already lengthy movie further. It’s a half hour until the young Superman reaches Earth, an hour until he’s an adult, and another 20 minutes until any action is provided. The origin story tends to drag, with redundant information and an extensive flight to Earth from the destroyed Krypton.
Aside from the sluggish pacing, Superman is a visual treat. While many will scoff at the rear projection in comparison with modern effects, the sheer amount of them is an impressive feat. Extensive miniature work is stunning, and the finale is loaded with some incredible sights.
Superman also has a superb comic book feel. It’s not outrageous enough to be campy, yet it’s not grim and dark like some modern adaptations. The constant danger Lois Lane finds herself in works to advance the story and create proper tension. The dialogue follows the same path, with a level of seriousness to it that makes the proceedings plausible. That is, until the ridiculous ending that is nothing more than an illogical cop out.
While it may not have the modern day aesthetics of Superman Returns, there’s still enough of a draw to this original super hero classic to keep it relevant to today’s viewer. It’s fun when it finally gets started, and the third act delivers on all of the build-up. This is a classic that’s aging and flawed but still immensely enjoyable.
Superman has a dreamlike tone to it, making it difficult to judge in terms of this transfer. It’s overly soft and hazy, though this is intentional. Details are mostly washed out like the color, and the faded black levels barely deliver any dimension. Grain is intact, and the print is flawless. There’s definite improvement over the DVD edition, though at times it’s tough to see it.
This is a rather controversial 5.1 mix, as the newly added sound effects have irritated some fans. Certain sounds or small pieces of dialogue were snipped to create the updated presentation, with the studio citing unusable original elements as the reason.
In terms of how it performs, it’s a fine update. Bass is meaty and powerful. Surround use is constant, and the destruction of Krypton is impressive for its subtlety, original audio or not. The soundtrack fills the sound field regularly to great effect. The newly added effects don’t sound out of place, or any different for that reason. Without prior knowledge, there’s no way to know anything is amiss.
A commentary by Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz begins the extras. Two documentaries are actually one, split into two half hour segments. Taking Flight and Making Superman are superb pieces on the stressful shoot which was done alongside filming of the sequel. A selection of screen tests runs for close to 10 minutes before trailers round out the extras.