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Special Edition

review by Eric Dahl

Rated PG-13

Studio: Warner

Running Time: 154 minutes

Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, and Marlon Brando

Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton

Directed by Richard Donner

Retail Price: $24.98

Features: Feature length commentary with director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant (and uncredited writer) Tom Mankiewicz, Isolated Score Audio Track, Three Behind-The-Scenes Documentaries, Two Deleted Scenes, Screen Tests for the Parts of: Superman, Lois Lane, and Ursa, Additional Music Score Cues, Original Teaser Trailer, Original TV Spot

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Chapter Search (44 Chapters)

"You'll believe a man can fly."

So read the tagline on pre-release promotional items for the 1978 movie "Superman".

And boy did we ever believe.

"Superman", the movie, was a success in every sense of the word: it garnered critical acclaim, raked in millions upon millions of dollars in the box-office, and won itself into the hearts of moviegoers across the world: myself included. More than 20 years after it's original release, people are still singing the praises of "Superman", and I don't blame them one bit. With an all-star cast and director, groundbreaking special effects for it's time (which hold up surprisingly well, even in today's CGI soaked world), and a great story originally penned by "Godfather" author Mario Puzo, "Superman" is one hell of a movie.

For all of you who have been living under a rock for the past 50 years or so, "Superman" is the story of Clark Kent, an intergalactic refugee from the planet Krypton, who, after crashing on Earth and growing up in a rural midwestern town (cleverly named "Smallville"), goes to the big metropolis of, well . . . Metropolis, and becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. All of his life, he's known that there was something different about him, and that he has powers that no-one else does, but when he realizes the full potential of what he can do to help others, he takes hold of his future and becomes Superman. By day, a geeky, mild-mannered reporter, and by night a superhero fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, Superman has a full schedule. But when dastardly villain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) hatches a plan to destroy southern California, can Superman stop him? I guess you'll just have to find out for yourself.

Presented in it's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, "Superman" looks better than I've ever seen it before. It literally looks like it was filmed yesterday. The anamorphically enhanced transfer had no visible artifacts that I could see, and looked clean and colorful. The colors were also great looking and not oversaturated at all. The only drawback I noticed was a little softness in just a couple of scenes, but it wasn't even distracting, and you would be having to look extremely hard just to see it. All in all, a great transfer.

This is where I feel that the presentation really shines. Although some purists think that the remixed 5.1 soundtrack on this disc bastardizes the original mix, I disagree completely. The "whooshes" that Superman makes going by, and especially the sound of the opening credits "zooming" right over your head into the rear speakers are, for the lack of a better word, breathtaking. Even though some of these effects were not in the original sound mix, I do not disagree with their inclusion. This movie, with it's new mix, sounds AWESOME. The center channel's dialogue is clear and clean and the 5 channels are used to great effect with great fly-by sounds of Superman and John Williams's score booming beautifully out of every speaker. The .1 LFE channel is also given a great workout with this movie. But, to keep the purists happy, and to show the variations between this and the original mix, I kind of wish that Warner Bros. had included the original mix. But other than that, this sound mix is practically flawless.

This DVD-18 disc (the equivalent of two normal 2-layered DVDs strapped back to back), has the extras on the other side of the disc (with the movie on the other), which means that this set has an extra disc's worth of space devoted to extras. And man, is this thing packed to the gills with extras.

For starters, the commentary with director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz. The commentary is a very good addition to this disc. The two men seem to have been friends for a long time, and, while there isn't as much of a buddy atmosphere as in a Kevin Smith movie's commentary, these guys are just like two old friends, watching a movie they did a long time ago, reminiscing about how much fun it was. Their comments are funny and interesting, and they even point out little flaws in the movie, such as a cameraman reflected in a window of a revolving door. The only little drawback I found in this was that they repeated some of the information that you learn in the documentaries (which I will discuss later on). Altogether, it's a great commentary and worth a listen.

Second, the three documentaries about the making of the movie: "Taking Flight: The Development of Superman", "Making Superman: Filming the Legend", and "The Magic Behind the Cape".

"Taking Flight: The Development of Superman" is about the pre-production of "Superman". It tells about how they ported the story of the "Man of Steel" from the comic book page to the silver screen.

"Making Superman: Filming the Legend" is about the filming of the movie, and how the cast and crew related during the making of the movie.

"The Magic Behind the Cape" is about the special-effects aspect of the production, and shows rare footage of test special effects that didn't make the final cut.

The first two documentaries run about a half-hour each, while the third clocks in at about 23 minutes. All of them are extremely in-depth, and are not the fluff interviews found on most discs today. They all feature interviews with the cast (including Marlon Brando), crew, and director. These are some of the best documentaries about a film that I have ever seen, and I highly recommend them.

Third, the Isolated Music Score:
The isolated music score is an audio track that runs for the entire length of the movie, showcasing only John Williams fantastic score in Dolby Digital 5.0, and is an extra that I believe should be more used on new DVDs, especially ones with scores as good as this one's is.

Fourth, the Deleted Scenes:
The deleted scenes are only a couple of minutes long, and just show a subplot about Lex's pet somethings (we aren't shown, but they rival "Jurassic Park"'s velociraptors at being able to strip meat off of bones in the shortest amount of time possible). One of the scenes is Otis (Ned Beatty) feeding them with the previously mentioned results, and the other is the (almost) demise of Lex's cohort, Ms. Teschmacher. The disappointing aspect of this is that there is an existing 188 minute version of this movie that's shown on network TV. That's practically another half-hour of footage that's not in the movie, and yet we only get three minutes of deleted scenes.

Fifth, the Screen Tests:
The screen tests are divided into three sections: Superman, Lois, and Ursa.

The Superman screen tests are only Christopher Reeve trying out for the part of Superman with another actress trying out for Lois also. Nothing too amazing, but a good extra nonetheless.

The Lois screen tests are the real highlight of this section with everybody from Stockard Channing (Rizzo in "Grease") to Anne Archer (Harrison Ford's wife in "Patriot Games"), to the final pick, Margot Kidder, trying for the part of Lois Lane. You can pretty much tell why most of these actresses didn't make the cut: most of them play Lois to ditzy, or confidently, or whatever. Although I get disputed on this point occasionally, I think Margot Kidder was the perfect choice from all of them. This particular screen test has a commentary available from the casting director, who points out the shortcomings of the actresses auditioning, which is a nice touch.

The Ursa screen tests are for a character, which I'm told, is a lot more prominent in "Superman II", as she makes only about a 5 minute appearance at the beginning of this movie. The tests are quite humorous, as a requirement for the part was the ability to flip a man over your shoulder, which we are shown test footage of.

Fifth, the Teaser Trailer and the TV Spot:
The teaser, at about a minute long, and the TV spot at 30 seconds, are nothing amazing, but are nice to have in their entirety, as they are refrenced to in the documentaries.

Sixth, and finally, the Additional Music Cues:
These are eight music cues, I assume, not used in the final film. They are nice to have, as they are in Dolby Digital 5.0, and the hilarious, yet cool highlight is a lounge lizard/muzak version of the section of the score called "Can You Read My Mind?"

"Superman" is a great film with a great cast with an exceptional score. It's got anything you could practically want in a movie: romance, action, intrigue, you name it. With 8 more minutes added to the running time in this release, and a set of extras to die for, the only question is "Why don't you have this DVD yet?"

(5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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