The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
The idea of being a superhero is something which appeals to people all across the world. They want the chance to start out as an ordinary individual and transform themselves into something special and magical. 1978’s “Superman” is a perfect example of this, especially with its leading man, Christopher Reeve. It’s an iconic role and performance which continues to stand the test of time. It also achieved the rare feat of being both a financial and critical success. When that happens in Hollywood, everyone is pleased as punch. It’s the magic formula Hollywood is always trying to achieve as they want to do quality work which is meaningful to an audience while also making a lot of money.
There are so many things which make “Superman” great. Of course, as mentioned previously, you have the tremendous performance by the late, great Christopher Reeve. However, you also need a really, really effective villain, and it’s hard to find a better Hollywood villain than the legendary Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. He oozes with charisma, personality, and you love to root against him. As far as the supporting cast, it is filled with some of the greatest working actors and actresses in Hollywood history, such as Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Jackie Cooper, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Jack O’Halloran, Maria Schell and Sarah Douglas.
It also doesn’t hurt when you have a director like Richard Donner behind the camera as well. He knows how to pace the film, allow his actors room to breathe, and he is also respectful of the source material. There was also the magnificent score by the iconic John Williams. When you have all of the right pieces in place like Donner did such as the script, the actors and the budget, you have to stay on track and basically not screw it up. He was just the right man for this big budget affair. During its release, it had the highest budget for a film at the time, coming in at $55 million. It’s funny to hear that number now, considering how much budgets have increased in Hollywood since then.
What speaks to me about the first “Superman” film is the idea of having a double life and people not knowing who you really are. During the day you are Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter, but you also have the ability to be Superman. It shows we all have something special inside of us. It is up to us to really find that, harness it, and use it for good. Superman is your all-American, clean cut, good guy. He’s very likable and effortlessly charming. On paper, this idea might sound ludicrous, but because the filmmakers took it seriously and had the right actors and participants involved, they really had lightning in a bottle. Even to this day, the film holds up incredibly well. When you see the special effects, they were really ahead of their time and they helped pave the way for a lot of the effects we see today, only they are now taken up a notch. Most importantly, this film has a big heart and a big soul attached to it. This is why the film is beloved by so many.
With this tremendous release from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, we are also treated to “Superman II” in two different versions. We get the original theatrical cut by Richard Lester and the Richard Donner Cut on 4K. To this day, people still debate which version they like better and which is more worth watching. If you ask me, it’s best to watch both versions. I see things in Donner’s film I like more than in Lester’s and vice versa, but overall, I felt like Lester’s version was a much more polished, easy to follow, and complete film. Donner’s version is flawed with moments of greatness, and it deserves to be seen. Thanks to this set, you can watch both versions, which, as stated previously, I highly encourage you to do as I love a good film discussion. Film is subjective and there is really no right or wrong answer.
In “Superman II,” Mario Puzo is back once along with fellow screenwriters, David and Leslie Newman, again with a really good story, and this is a great thing for the audience. All three really know how to flesh out a story and create unique and interesting characters. It doesn’t hurt when you have actors like Beatty, Kidder and Hackman completely invested in the material. While not as good as the first one, and it’s rare for a sequel to be as good as its predecessor, it’s still a very, very good movie. There is some great humor here, and even in a superhero movie where the stakes are high and we are in a fictional world, some levity is very much appreciated! Sometimes it is nice to have a different vision and a new voice in a franchise while also staying true to what made the first film successful. Richard Lester was not put in an ideal situation, but he made it work, and you have to give him credit for that.
By “Superman III,” it seemed like the magic was starting to disappear, and they totally shifted the focus of the franchise into a campy, goofy and comedic realm which really rubbed audiences the wrong way. I understand they were going for something different, and they brought in Richard Pryor, but the script, the jokes and the material are just really, really bad. There is no denying that Pryor is a funny man with great comedic timing, but his abilities didn’t lend themselves to this film franchise. Overall, “Superman III” was doomed because of behind-the-scenes issues, script issues, and a film in search of the right tone. The filmmakers seemed to have lost the plot all together as well as their love for the character and the franchise. When a franchise has success, many times it is how the filmmakers handle that success which defines how it will carry on and continue. It is clear they didn’t know how to handle success here.
It didn’t get any better with “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It was so poorly made and received that they didn’t make another Superman film until 2006. As is often the case with sequels, they went cheap. Even though Hackman returns and Kidder receives more screen time, this film was dead on arrival. The plot is incoherent, messy, and just plain dumb. It was a cash-grab sequel, and when you are focused on money over quality work, you end up with “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It’s a very frustrating film and incredibly hard to follow. As you can see with the “Superman” franchise, you have the law of diminishing returns.
4K Info: The “Superman” 5-Film Collection 1978-1987 is in a terrific box set with all the films getting their own individual dual 4K case which also includes a Blu-ray version of the them. I was really happy they didn’t stack the discs in the set here, as that is always a pet peeve of mine. I was also very happy they gave each film its day in court with artwork and its own individual dual case. “Superman” was previously released on 4K, but this is the first time the other four films have been released in this format. You also a digital code for all of the films as well.
Video Info: If you already own the first “Superman” 4K, please know they have not added anything new to it here. It’s the same “Superman” 4K that had been released in its standalone edition. That being said, it’s hard not to be stunned and blown away by the beautiful Dolby Vision look of the original film. I had not previously owned the first “Superman” film, so I had no qualms about there not being anything new here. It’s just something to keep in mind for those who already own it on 4K. Overall, this is far and away the best these five films have ever looked on home video. They look sharp, clean and free of grain or mess. They have cleaned these films up very, very nicely. I was very impressed with these transfers. Warner Brothers has really been knocking it out of the park with their releases this year during their 100-year anniversary celebration, and this “Superman” box set is no exception.
Audio Info: We are treated to Dolby Atmos on all five films which is fantastic news! I am a huge fan of Dolby Atmos, and the sound is such a vital part of these films. The audio sounds crystal clear, concise, and it comes in at just the right pitch without being too loud or in-your-face. I’m always happy when I can leave it on one volume setting and still get the same impact throughout. That was the case with all five films. They also all come with subtitles in French, English and Spanish as well.
“Superman: The Movie” Special Features:
Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spangler
The Making of Superman – vintage featurette
Superman and the Mole-Men – vintage featurette
Super-Rabbit – 1943 WB cartoon
Snafuperman – 1944 WB cartoon
Stupor Duck – 1956 WB cartoon
‘Superman II” Special Features:
Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler
The Making of “Superman II” – 1980 TV Special
Superman’s Soufflé – Deleted Scene
Fleischer Studios’ Superman vintage cartoons:
The Mechanical Monster
Billion Dollar Limited
The Arctic Giant
The Magnetic Telescope
Terror on the Midway
“Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” Special Features:
Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz
Introduction by Richard Donner – featurette
Superman II: Restoring the Vision – featurette
Lex and Ms. Teschmacher Head North
Lex and Ms. Teschmacher Head South
The Villains Enter the Fortress
He’s All Yours, Boys
Clarke and Jimmy
Famous Studios vintage cartoons:
The Mummy Strikes
The Underground World
“Superman III” Special Features:
Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler
The Making of “Superman III” – 1983 TV Special
Save My Baby
To the Rescue
Going to See the Boss
Hatching the Plan
Boss Wants This to Go
Hanging Up on Brad
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” Special Features:
Commentary by Mark Rosenthal
Superman 50th Anniversary Special – 1988 TV Special
Nuclear Man’s Prototype
Metropolis After Hours
Flying Sequence (Extended Scene)
Battle in Smallville
Battle in the U.S.S.R.
Nuclear Arms Race
By My Side
Lark and Lacy Say Goodbye
Should You Buy It?
Last time I checked, this set is going for about $90, which is a great price for five films. Granted, you are really paying for “Superman,” “Superman II” and “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut,” so you need to own all of the Christopher Reeve “Superman” films if you are a completist like myself. I’ve heard a lot of people in the film community complain about some of the special features from other releases not being included on this set but they are included in the other Blu-ray releases. This did not bother me as there are still plenty of special features to shift through here. I’m happy they included the Blu-ray discs for all of the films and didn’t just include the 4K’s. The good films in this franchise leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. When films make me feel this way and put a smile on my face, I’m a happy camper. There is also something to enjoy about the total and complete absurdity of the bad films as well. If you have a sense of humor and come in with the right mindset, you can enjoy them on the level of they are aiming at. All the films come with Dolby Atmos tracks, which is a great perk. My one minor nitpick is the fact that not all these films include Dolby Vision except for the first one. However, in 2023, when physical media is hard to come by in stores but very much appreciated by us hardcore film historians and lovers, I don’t want to be too overly critical or negative over the little things. Warner Brothers and other studios are really going all out to preserve important pieces of cinematic history. We shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. This set comes highly recommended, and I enjoyed revisiting these films in 4K. It gave me a whole new appreciation for these films, Christopher Reeve’s performance, and the intense feelings of happiness and joy the first two (three if you are counting the Richard Donner cut) films brought to me. You can’t put a price tag on that. This set comes highly recommended!
* * * ½ out of * * * *
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.