Plot: What’s it about?
We know him as the man of steel. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, etc., etc…In 1978, Richard Donner brought to life a very popular super hero. A super hero that has been around almost since comic books were invented. Superman. First started in Action Comics, Superman was one of the first super heores. Many TV shows and cartoons were devoted to this man of steel as was Batman and some of the other early super heores. While movies adapted from comic books are becoming more and more common, they are still hit and miss both critically and theatrically. Movies like Batman, Superman: The Movie and X-Men have become bona fide hits at the theater and have a rather large audience. This will, naturally, lead to more adaptions (as evidenced by the upcoming Spiderman) of comic books into life on film. But, lest we forget, the first big budget movie about a super hero was this movie about a certain individual from the planet Krypton. Sit back, relax and enjoy Superman. It’s never looked or sounded better…
Though there have been four Superman movies, the first is usually the best. We are introduced to the characters, even though they only exist in the first section of the movie. Planet Krypton is doomed, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is the father of Superman (aka Clark Kent and played by Christopher Reeve) and knows that his planet will not last another month. He sends him on his way to the planet of Earth, knowing that we have the capacity for good and that his son can and will do good things on this planet. Following Clark from his childhood to his teenage years, we see that he has many powers, most notably super strength. It’s only until after his father dies that Clark begins his voyage to his “palace up north” that he can start to understand what his purpose on this strange planet is. Superman: The Movie is mysterious and it somehow takes twelve years for him to learn and develop his powers. However, he does finally emerge as Clark Kent the “mild-mannered reporter” for the Daily Planet. Ahh…yes, the sight of New York–er, Metropolis, in the late 1970’s. Kent is as goody two shoes as they come, but he still lands a job and stumbles into Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who is also a reporter at the same paper. The movie bases the assumption that you know all of this before hand and it’s a marvel to see it on the screen. Now…what is every super hero without an arch villain? Nothing. That’s where Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) comes in. Luthor is destined to take over the world. He lives on Park Avenue, though it’s two hundred feet below the actual street. His bumbling assistant, Otis (Ned Beatty) constantly at his side.
But what is every movie without a plot. Superman does have a plot and we’re not just supposed to sit there and gawk at Christopher Reeve’s abs for two hours…right? Lex Luthor has been buying all sorts of land to the East of the San Andreas Fault. The land is worthless, as it’s pure desert, and he is paying a premium for it. The question is–why? Luthor’s plan is simple, take control of two nuclear missles (this movie was made during the Cold War) and detonate one along the San Andreas Fault. Thereby making his land the “new” West Coast and killing millions of innocent people. Superman is out to stop him, of course, but Luthor has found Superman’s one weakness…Kryptonite. The very stuff that came from Superman’s home planet is his one fault. He tells the truth, fights for justice and the American way and all that stuff, but can’t compete to a bit of meteorite that landed on the Earth some years ago. I suppose that telling any more of the plot would be to give it away, but odds are that everyone has already seen this movie. Being the first of four, we can assume that Superman doesn’t meet his demise at the end, but let’s just say that Gene Hackman (like Jack Nicholson in Batman) steals the show as the villain. Superman is hoakey and corny to say the least, but it’s fun and if you really look at it, it’s before it’s time. Just think…in ten years Donner would direct Lethal Weapon!
Video: How does it look?
A lot of time and effort went into making Superman look the way it does. Being one of the laserdiscs that I owned, I can say that Superman has never looked better. the 2.35:1 image is enhanced for widescreen TV’s and though parts of it leave a little to be desired, for the most part, it looks very good. Images that take place in space, keep in mind that this is “pre” CGI days, look a bit dated as do scenes with stock photography (you didn’t think that Superman could really fly, did you), but some scenes look just as good as the day they were shot. Black levels look a bit iffy. Most scenes have that sharp, “blacker than black” look, but a few don’t and it’s very noticeable. Color saturation is fine, as we can see most every detail of Marlon Brando’s wrinkles and the edges of Superman’s red cape look great. Edge enhancement is not much of a problem either, as the scenes look sharp. All in all, considering what it took to get this movie to DVD, the images look great and I can’t think of how they could possibly improve upon what is presented here.
Audio: How does it sound?
Like so many other titles, Superman: The Movie has been remastered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The sound is amplified, of course, like that of The Excorcist, but for the most part it sounds great. Little effects, some that sound “dried” like that of most movies of the 70’s, are taken care of. Put it this way, when is the last time that you heard the credits use the surround effects? The isolated score of John Williams music sounds just as good as the regular soundtrack, if not better. Dialogue is clear and free of any distortion (no matter how much you want to edit out Margot Kidder’s voice, you can’t) and sounds good. As mentioned before, surround effects are used very often and it adds a depth to the movie that I would have thought not possible. Excellent sound for a movie of this age.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The “best of the best” of the series, Superman: The Movie features the most wide in range of extra material. A feature noted earlier, the isolated score in 5.1 sound is a nice touch, especially considering how good it sounds. A director’s commentary featuring Richard Donner is also another added feature, seeing as how much information he has to share about the film. There are also three behind the scenes documentaries (though Warner calls them “documentaries” I would call them featurettes) that are very inforamtive as well as some deleted scenes. A word about these…considering that the movie is the extended “Director’s Cut” of the picture, you would figure that these would be left in, but they were not. I see where they made sense and would have loved to have them a part of the final movie, but no such luck here. At least they made the DVD. There are some screen tests to whet your appetite, but I was overall disappointed; and some outtakes are present as well. Rounding out the features are some trailers presented in anamorphic widescreen and some cast bios, but only Reeve’s, Hackman’s and Brando’s names are highlighted. If you’re into DVD-ROM, then there are links to storyboards, some chat room access and sampler trailers are present as well. All in all, it’s a great DVD for a truly classic movie. We get a great picture and sound as well as the director’s cut of a movie we all like. Why will you not buy this movie?