Thus far, Superman in high definition hasn’t done too badly. We’ve had one cut of Superman II, the extended Superman, and Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns all released. What we’ve been missing are Supermans III and IV, along with the original Superman II cut. Throw in a disc of bonus features, and that’s just what this Superman collection boxset gives you.
The gold, as you might expect, is with the first two films. The stories behind the making of Superman and Superman II, shot to a large extent at the same time, have been well told over the years, and this set does scratch the surface of them. Basically, Richard Donner presided over the first film and much of the second, before being removed by the producers (the Salkinds), and the franchise being handed over to Richard Lester to complete Superman II. Which explains the two different cuts you get of that particular film.
I love the first two films, though, and always preferred the theatrical cut of Superman II over the Donner edition that was more recently released. Watching the original Superman in high definition does work against the film a little at times, as the model work come the last act of the film is coldly exposed. But it doesn’t really matter. This is a glorious looking, ambitious film, and the visuals hold up far better than they do in Superman IV. We’re coming to that shortly.
Superman itself was and is a massively ambitious film, and that still comes across. It’s three stories in one, effectively, and only in the last few minutes, as it rushes to wrap everything up, does it stumble. Superman II, meanwhile, introduces the three best villains of the franchise to date, led by the mighty General Zod. It’s a fitting match for The Man Of Steel, and, combined with his growing feelings towards Lois Lane, it makes for a tremendously satisfying film.
The third film? Well, it’s a mess, but it’s a mess I’ve a little bit of soft spot for. It’s easy to post-mortem from a distance. Why a Superman movie became a Richard Pryor vehicle is a good question, for starters, and the returning Richard Lester plays it too heavily as a comedy. Then you get illogical moments, such as the massive, death-defying Richard Pryor ski jump. And, generally, you get a lot of nonsense.
But then you also get, I’d argue, Reeve’s best performance in the cape. The point where he fights himself works really rather well, and he holds, basically, two performances together with absolute skill and conviction. I also liked the RoboCop audition at the end, and I rarely get to the end of Superman III without having at least enjoyed some of it.
I can’t say the same for Superman IV, though, which feels cheap from the moment the credits fly at abnormal speed across the screen. You don’t need me to jump over this one, really. Nuclear Man, the bizarre British Great Wall Of China, the worst flying sequences of the franchise, and a not-in-great-shape Christopher Reeve are as good as it gets.
Superman Returns, then, took a long time to arrives, and I really quite liked it. Again, there are obvious missteps. The Super child, Kate Bosworth, the abnormal running time, and the lack of big set pieces all hurt the film. But I love the reverence to the old films, and I think Brandon Routh is a good choice. It’s a shame he’s not being invited back for The Man Of Steel. The opening credits still give me goosebumps, too, and I think that Singer’s Superman Returns 2: The Wrath Of Khan may be one of comic book movies’ lost gems.
To rank the films in order of preference, then: Superman II, Superman, Superman Returns, Superman III, the other one.
Tip-top transfers here, even at the expense of the visual conviction of the films. The audio mixes, too, are strong, even on the films that you might argue are less deserving of it.
What I really enjoyed, though, was the attempt to dig into the legacy of the Superman franchise. Even though we’ve seen many of them before, there’s no shortage of feature material here. Every film has a commentary track, for starters, and then the main three each have documentaries alongside them, too.
The main feature material is found on the package’s eighth and final disc, where you get the terrific Look, Up In The Sky documentary, charting the franchise with a critical eye. That’s a crucial facet of work such as this, in that, when being retrospective about a film, it’s imperative to discuss it, warts and all. There’s little doubt that’s what happens here.
You also get further investigations into the science and mythology of Superman, and it’s a fairly definitive collection you get for your money.
I’d suggest, though, pairing the set with the terrific book Superman Vs Hollywood, by Jake Rossen. It’s a fascinating history of Superman’s treatment on the big screen, and has plenty of insights that makes rewatching all of these films even more intriguing.
The Films:Superman:Superman II: Superman III: Superman IV: Superman Returns:
The Complete Superman Collection is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.