Superman: The Movie (Four Disc Special Edition) Review
“You’ll believe a man can fly.” Just look at that tagline for a moment, feel the wonder that it evokes. It’s primal, hearkening back to the earliest days of man, when we watched the birds flying in the sky and wondered how. Throughout time, drama has used flying as a metaphor for freedom, for a life unfettered by the mundane miseries of everyday existence - soaring up to the sky literally meant opening up a world of endless possibilities. It signified power, and awe, control over the elements, a feeling that there was something greater than what we know, that we don’t have to be trapped on this lump of rock but that, in the words of the song, “one day I’ll fly away, leave all this to yesterday.” Authors from the mystical people who first told tales of the gods in their rocky caves through to modern day wordsmiths have used it in their characters; it’s a universally understood concept, one that needs no explanation to even a child seeing Peter Pan fly through the nursery window for the first time. It evokes magic, and back in 1978 magic was beginning to re-enter cinema. After a 1970s burdened with the consequences of Vietnam and a Cold War that showed no signs of thawing, filmmakers were beginning to look back to an earlier, simpler times. George Lucas had just released Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg was prepping Raiders. It was a time almost ready-made for the Man of Steel to return. In those days, when special effects were still primitive and CGI a concept as outlandish as a man who could leap buildings with a single bound, the idea of seeing a man who could fly, on the big screen, for real and not obviously a fake, was an irresistible draw. It was time, after lengthy self-flagellation, for heroes to make a return, and you can’t get a bigger hero than Superman himself.
The film audiences ended up seeing is indeed a very magical film, worthy of that great tagline, but it could have been so very different. Warners had held the rights to Superman - and the rest of the DC stable - for a number of years but it was only when the father and son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind became interested that the film got off the ground (no pun intended). Although there wasn’t much enthusiasm for the project from the higher brass at the studio (who made the Salkinds sign a negative pickup deal) the pair were sufficiently convinced the movie could be a success that they decided to go for broke and make two films at once. (This was the first time in movie history that this had happened intentionally and stemmed from the fact a previous Salkind production, The Three Musketeers (1972), had so much material left on the cutting room floor that they made a whole other film out of it, The Four Musketeers, in 1974). Understandably, given the scale of what they were about to attempt, there ended up being a lengthy pre-production process on the films, with nearly all the Salkinds' first choices having to pull out. Guy Hamilton was slated to direct the film, Nick Nolte to star and Mario “The Godfather” Puzo to write it but all had to leave for different reasons; Hamilton, a tax exile, couldn’t shoot in England, Puzo wrote two drafts and then had other commitments and Nolte, frustrated by the delays, departed as well. Indeed, it was only when Richard Donner, who had just had a massive hit with The Omen (1976), was brought in to replace Hamilton that things got moving properly. One of the first things the director did was essentially throw out the current version of the script, which after Puzo's departure had already had another few goings-over by David and Leslie Newman (who ended up co-writing both number two and three) and Robert Benton, and called in Tom Mankiewicz who took the thing apart and started again. It’s thanks to these two gentlemen that we ended up with the masterpiece we have.
Donner and Mankiewicz reclaimed Superman from the campy legacy of the Adam West Batman series (a show which had cemented for many people their opinion of comic books and had even had somewhat of an effect on the books themselves) and created a mythology worthy of the same gravitas with which Greek and Roman legends are treated. He realised that the story of Kal-El is the modern version of such stories, as intrinsically valuable to our age as the stories of Zeus and Jupiter were to their societies, a legend with profound morals to teach. Much has been made of Superman’s connection to the Messiah but in truth man has always had stories of supermen with powers far beyond our own, employing them as both explanations for all that is wrong with the world and also as a comfort, a strong arm that wraps itself around us and makes sure we are always protected. Superman - and the many who followed him - and just the latest reimagining of those, characters who reflect the current fears and concerns of our world and assure us that there will always be someone out there to help us, and do the right thing. Cynics scathe the stories just because they can’t see beyond the blue tights and visible underpants, not realising their worth; the true power of Donner’s film is that not only did he show that worthiness, but he did it in such a way that ensured very few people were at all bothered by Superman’s oh-so-tight costume.
The mythic grandeur he gives to the film is a truly worthy successor to Homer and Virgil. It has similar, profound implications: we see Heaven literally destroyed in the form of the white Krypton, the gods all destroyed bar one who has been spared to save us. The Messiah connection is there but it’s an imperfect analogy. True, the youths of both Kal-El and the biblical Christ are similar - both their Earthly parents have to hide them away from those who would destroy them, both see their fathers die when young, and both have a moment of revelation from their father, Christ in the river Jordan, Kal-El in the Fortress of Solitude - but their modus operandi end up being entirely different. Both are pacifists - at one point Kal-El, as Clark, tells Perry he’s never really understood the need for violence - but whereas Christ in the Gospels is infallible, Kal-El isn't, not in the least. He feels vanity, the thrill of hero-worship following the frenzy of publicity surrounding his debut as Superman, he is naïve, he makes mistakes, and most importantly he feels desire, so much so that he goes against his father’s express orders and directly affects the planet’s destiny at the film’s end, resurrecting Lois after her death in California (even when he does “die,” in Superman II, he does so not for the good of humanity but for his own passions). He is modelled far more on the impetuous inhabitants of Mount Olympus than the biblical, one of the better Greek gods no question, but still given to whims and fancies.
Indeed, the first two films are specifically structured to follow his voyage of discovery as he struggles to understand how he should act and what his duties directly are. Just like anyone else, he is looking for his place in the world. In number two he commits the cardinal sin of selfishness and the whole world nearly perishes as a result; in this first one he is coming to terms with the incredible burden that has been placed on his shoulders. During his teaching, Jor-El tells his son that he can’t help everyone all the time, and that even if he could he shouldn’t; mankind must not come to see him as a failsafe on which to rely totally for in that way lies subservience and loss of responsibility (which is extremely anti-Messianic). Nevertheless Kal-El can’t help but feel that he should be able to do so: watch the scene in which, slowly dying in Lex’s lair, he pleads with Miss Teschmacher to help him “save all the people” (a wonderfully played moment of absolute desperation by Reeve). His fury when he fails to save a single life - a life, moreover, that is worth more to him than any other - is intense, his outbreak of emotion so complete that he is literally able to stop the world spinning. In number two he will eventually rebel, and will be punished; here in part one we see him taking on the mantle of the hero. At the beginning he is euphoric about his powers and his ability to help people; by the end he is coming to understand what a heavy duty it is.
As he learns about his mission, he also learns about his life. Jor-El spends twelve years teaching him about the finer points of what it means to being human (it would appear they spend an entire year on the nuances of “the human heart”) but as with all schoolroom teaching it is meaningless until he gets out into the real world and begins to actually experience it for himself. When, as Clark Kent, he is overwhelmed by the fast pace on first entering the Daily Planet and encountering the hard-boiled cynicism of Lois, he isn’t just playacting the fool: he is actually amazed at what he is seeing and hearing. (“Why would anyone want to make a fool of someone they’ve just met?” he asks Lois at one point, to her astonishment). He is the moral centre entering the den of iniquity that is the big city, but he doesn’t know how to cope with it yet; hence the Clark persona. On one level he feels he has to play the fool to divert all suspicion, but on another he really is that gawky kid. All his life in Smallville he’s had to hold back (see how he doesn’t even get to go the record shop with his school contemporaries), and that corner of American Hicksville is hardly the most challenging environment to grow up in. Metropolis is a whole other kettle of fish - and that’s one of the reasons he finds it so hard in number two to adjust when he doesn’t have his powers any more. Everything is new, and he is instantly smitten by Lois: watch the scene after he sits down at his desk for the first time, when he just stares across the room at her. It’s love at first sight, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it, just as he is uncertain how to deal with much of the nuances of everyday living. It’s only when there’s danger afoot, like when he and Lois are mugged, that he is truly in charge. No wonder he loves it when he gets to throw off his shackles and become Superman; for not only is it the first time in his entire life that he can finally be who he really is in front of other people, but he also knows what to do, and what is right.
Creating this three-dimensional character out of what is arguably one of the lesser-nuanced comicbook heroes is one of the triumphs of the film, and is almost entirely down to writer Tom Mankiewicz. Criminally Mankiewicz is credited not as writer on the picture but as “Creative Consultant;” the WGA had a rule that a maximum of four people could be credited for a screenplay and that four had already been reached with Puzo, the Newmans and Benton. Together with Donner, he turned what would have been no doubt an enjoyable but ultimately lightweight movie into something far deeper, far more profound. The film is loaded with symbolism, from the early scenes of Krypton and Kal-El’s essential “birth” from the womb of his ship on Earth onwards. Kal-El is alone in the universe, his people dead “for many thousands of years” (although watch out for something I guess is a blooper: at one point in the film Lex suggests authoritatively that Krypton actually blew up in 1948) and so his one piece of home is the Fortress of Solitude. At the end of the second film (at least in the Donner version) that Fortress is all but destroyed, his last tie to his homeworld cut off. He is literally alone, and trying to find some solace is much of what the two films are about for the character, a far richer study than we could have hoped for had Donner and Mankiewicz not been on board.
To embody the Man of Steel, there was one of those casting searches that passed into legend. These days the media thrives on such quests, with newspapers full of stories about producers looking for a Harry Potter or James Bond or whatever, but few if any of the modern day equivalents are half as hard to cast as the perfect Superman. Lots of big name stars at the time were considered, including such inappropriate actors as Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson and Arnold Schwarzneggar (gagh, one goes weak just thinking about it) but in the end, as so often is the case, the right man was found by happenstance. Reeve was originally brought in to feed lines to actresses auditioning for Lois, and it was only when Donner’s wife suggested that he might be good in the role himself that the director realised his potential. It was, indeed, a very happy suggestion for, put simply, Reeve is perfect. He is Kal-El, Clark Kent and Superman, in a way no one else has ever been or probably ever will be. A perfect synergy of character and actor, he embodies the role, becomes it, and lives through it. Although his physical features mirror the look of Superman in the comics (although he had to buff up considerably after he was cast) it’s his soul that is important. He gives the character a goodness that is impossible to fake as well as a twinkle that manages to be heartwarming rather than wry. On paper, he’s given some pretty difficult lines to pull off convincingly - you try saying “I’m here to protect truth, justice and the American way” without your companions blowing a raspberry at you - but he carries them off with such perfect sincerity that any cynicism is instantly dissolved and you, too, want to do all that’s right and decent. (For audiences then, it was also easier to believe an actor they'd never seen before was flying than someone like Nick Nolte). Despite being relatively inexperienced, he’s also marvellous as Clark Kent, with beautiful comic timing. Supes plays Kent as an out-and-out wet and in the wrong hands his bumbling antics could have been tiresome but with Reeve you just want to reach out and hug him; it’s easy to believe that even that arch cynic Lois would find herself melting towards him from the moment they meet. “Are there any more like you at home?” she asks, and even later she begins to feel protective about him, warning him that modern people don’t usually use words like “swell” any more - of course, he’s utterly immune to that criticism. (Amusingly, Clark's earnestness was somewhat reflected in Reeve's approach to the role; he asked both Kidder and Hackman what their motivation was in different scenes, the latter giving the rather unhelpful reply "You mean, besides the million dollars?")
Another thing that helps is that he and Kidder have real chemistry. Lois is in many ways just as hard a role to cast as Clark, a slightly odd mixture of ball-busting journalist and helpless victim, and I don’t think the character has ever been completely successfully cast in any screen incarnation. Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill in the Reeves series were respectively too hard-nosed and too nice, while one could not buy Teri Hatcher as helpless victim, and Erica Durance is too pretty-pretty, but Kidder is the one that comes closest to achieving that mixture of toughness and vulnerability. My one problem with her performance is the way she plays her infatuation with Superman; she goes gooey-eyed at the mere mention of him, which is theoretically how she should, but there’s just something a bit tiresome about it. It certainly fits with Clark’s naivety, and makes his wooing of her a lot less complicated, but at the same time her almost total reliance on him is a bit much. Something this film has in common with the Singer film (albeit to a much lesser extent) is the way Clark plays with Lois - see how he turns up at his apartment as Clark seconds after flying off as Superman, just to see how she reacted to him, which would be creepy if it wasn’t so childishly innocent (as opposed to the Singer film, where it is just creepy) but this is reciprocated in the way Lois (in the same way that Miss Teschmacher does) idealises Superman, and before even knowing him decides he’s the perfect man. This is a fault of the character (but not the writing - this infatuation is entirely intentional, as anything more complex, like a realistic progression of romantic feelings, would be far too difficult for Kal-El to deal with at this juncture) but Kidder’s playing doesn’t help. (On the same theme, the most unconvincing line in the sequel is after Clark gets beaten up and Lois says to him “I don’t want a bodyguard, I want the man I fell in love with” to which Clark, with great perception, replies “I know Lois, I just wish he was here.”)
Perhaps the greatest credit one can give to Reeve and Kidder is the fact that, in a film exceptionally loaded with heavyweight talent, they more than hold their own. One of the ways the Salkinds were able to convince Warner to go ahead with the picture was the promise they would cast Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in key roles. Brando’s role is brief but vital (and would have been even more so had Donner stayed on to finish number two) and he gives a thespian gravitas to an opening sequence that might otherwise have scuppered the film before it even started. No doubt the record-breaking fee helped as well. (That said, casting Trevor Howard as one of the other Kryptonians is a waste). Meanwhile, Hackman’s Luthor is pleasingly nuts. This is the only film in which he gets to be truly evil in a sadistic way (the two sequels see him playing the chancer and the generic mad scientist respectively). The way he toys with Superman when he traps him, and the way he relishes rubbing in just how many people are going to die, make one believe he is truly a homicidal maniac, and ensure that the earlier scenes of him goofing round and being grandiloquent in front of his two minions do not make him an unworthy adversary for the Man of Steel. Because of this those earlier scenes, which otherwise could have cheapened the epic nature the film had had up to that point, are a joy, the point in the film where the writers allow themselves some slack and cut loose. Amusing without being over the top, they have some great lines which Hackman and his accomplices Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine relish saying. “It’s amazing that brain can generate another power to keep those legs moving,” Lex says at one point about Otis. One thing people often ask is why does Lex surround himself by such incompetents as Otis, and the answer is that Lex, this incarnation at least, is not the criminal genius that he makes out to be. He is, in fact, a con artist with a huge ego. His scheme is brilliant only in its Bond-villain-like way, and the execution of it is rather less so; why on earth does he give the job of reprogramming the missiles to Otis and, later, Miss Teschmacher? Obviously to ensure he doesn’t get caught; he is, in essence a bully, urging other people on to his dirty work. Whether he’s a genius is a matter of conjecture; how he got all his money is never explained, so one could assume it’s stolen (there are certainly detectives out for his blood) and the fact he works out the properties of Kryptonite show a degree of intelligence but a lot of what he does in the film is plain stupid, while it certainly says a lot that the only accomplices he can find are Otis and Miss Teschmacher. Both Beatty and Perrine play their parts well - I still crack up every time I hear John Williams’s bumbling theme for Otis, while in truth the brilliance of the character of Miss Teschmacher is entirely down to the fact she’s called Miss Teschmacher (or, as Lex addresses her, “MISS TESCHMACHER!”) What a great name.
Lex’s base of operations is one of the many sumptuous sets designed by John Barry for the film. From the packed offices of the Daily Planet through to the otherworldliness of the planet Krypton (and its earthly reflection in the Fortress of Solitude) the look he gives to the film is second to none; Lois’s apartment has a suitably romantic look to it, perfectly in keeping with the scenes set there, while even relatively minor settings, such as the innards of the dam, look suitably impressive. Sadly Barry didn’t work on many pictures; he died of meningitis shortly after his work on Superman (and, of course, the Donner bits of its sequel) but together with Star Wars he left a cinematic legacy the envy of many others - what a tragedy the world was denied his talents so soon into his career. Regretfully, the model work of the brilliant Derek Meddings is beginning to show its age: one is no longer held in awe as the camera pans over Krypton at the film’s beginning while the moment the water doesn’t flood over the village during the climax is one of the rare moments when its artificiality brings me out of the picture. Meddings was a genius who cut his teeth on Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows of the Sixties but this film doesn’t hold his best work; for that, see the various Bond pictures he was involved in.
And then there’s Donner. Donner, who is very rarely considered the equal of his contemporaries such as Spielberg or Lucas, shows he is every bit as good here, as he does for me time and again in picture after picture. Even ignoring all the other work he did here, this is simply a beautiful film to watch. From the moment the camera zooms in through the depths of space onto the planet Krypton on we get a sumptuous looking film that manages to fully capture the wonder and awe of the mythology he is laying before us, with particular note going to the sequence in which Jor-El teaches his son in the Fortress, which is breathtaking. He’s helped along by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who provides some sumptuous visuals (complete with his trademark haze), delineating clearly between the three acts: Krypton is shot in a very pure but sparse atmosphere, which contrasts with the homeliness of the scenes in Smallville, which is full of vibrance and life - we don’t see it, but it’s easy to imagine there’s a fire burning in old Ma Kent’s hearth, and corn on the cob cooking on the stove. With Unsworth, Donner captures a utopian vision of small town Americana in a very short space of time, one which, with its innate goodness, is easy to believe Clark grew up in. The sudden cut between these early images of youthful idylls, ending with the Fortress of Solitude, another bastion of good, and the griminess of downtown Metropolis is jarring and unpleasant, in much the same way it must be for Clark. Up to that point the film has had a slow, almost elegiac pace, taking its time even when Clark is racing that train, but all that changes in an instant as Clark enters the relentless pace of the Daily Planet, complete with people barking orders nineteen to a dozen and everyone rushing everywhere. We’re suddenly thrust into the real world for the first time, and for a few moments are as confused as Clark undoubtedly is. (Kent, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…)
But that doesn’t stop Donner from finding beauty in even the murkiest corners. The flight with Lois might seem corny but is also moving, a seductive moment when we leave the real world behind (literally) as Superman takes her above the clouds into his world. It’s the Peter Pan moment (Lois even says as much) as we see the boy who has to grow up showing his Wendy the world the way he wishes it could always be, a world which he is only very slowly leaving. Even today it’s a sequence which effects- wise holds up very well - indeed, the tagline still largely works, aside from the inevitable rear projection shots. There are no wires visible (as far as I can see, anyway) and every time we are allowed to see Superman taking off is a magical moment, for audiences as well as onlookers. The first time he comes to the rescue, crucially, is brilliant, a truly heroic moment underlined by that simply perfect exchange "Don't worry miss, I've got you" "You've got me... who's got you?" (That said, Donner's not afraid to get gritty when it counts; the scene in which Lois dies is genuinely uncomfortable). The magic is bolstered by John Williams’s score. Williams was at his creative peak during this period, seemingly unable to churn out anything other than iconic, magisterial pieces of music, and his Superman theme is no exception. Singer knew that, to have the best possible start to his version, he needed that music because it still raises hairs on the back of one’s neck. Both stirring and magical, it’s a work with depth and grace that goes from underscoring the tragic dignity of Krypton’s last hours through to the exuberant thrill of Superman saving the day and on to the romance between him and Lois.
Finally, it succeeds (it was Warner's biggest hit for years) because it’s a film that is deeply in love with the Superman legacy, made plain from the opening moments as the child reads from the very first Superman comic. As well as the cameos by the original Superman and Lois, Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, as Lois’s parents, there’s the moment Clark eyes up a phone booth as a prospective changing room before dismissing it. The film has fun with the past; watch the in-jokes in the first Daily Planet scene (“Don’t call me sugar!” “He might seem like a mild-mannered reporter to you…”) and spot the references to the old “Faster than a speeding bullet…” intro. But, more than that, it made the world of Metropolis a three-dimensional one, both literally and figuratively. It made people who would never normally go near a comic book realise that these really were the myths of the twentieth century, and that they had something of value beyond cheap disposable fiction for the kids. It’s a concept that is nowadays familiar to the point of banality, but in those days it was revolutionary: this was an era where the more profound printed comics were to be found only deep underground where the novice would never bother to dig, and the lead titles were, if not stupid, then at least not as great as they could be. Donner gave comic books back their dignity, and reinvented them for a modern age. Without Superman there would have been no Batman movie and in turn there would have been no X-Men film and so on. Nowadays audiences are no longer astonished when they see a man fly (more’s the pity) but it’s a testament to the power of this film that here, still, after all these years, it still evokes a feeling of awe. In the end, it’s not just the man who flies, it’s everyone who watches him as well.
The original theatrical version and the 2001 director’s cut are presented on this four disc set. This is the first time the Theatrical cut has been available on DVD and makes a nice inclusion (although it’s not perfect: see the Audio), however it would also have been nice to have seen the three-hour “Salkind cut” which was regularly televised in the Eighties and Nineties, just for the sake of completeness. The two versions of the film take up a disc each, and the majority of the extras are to be found on the last two discs. DVD Times only received review copies of the two movie discs, but as many of the extras are the same as on the 2001 release they have been reviewed as well.
The film itself, and all the extras we saw besides the trailers, are subtitled. This set is available on its own, as part of The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection and in The Ultimate Superman Collection.
A mixed bag here. The Theatrical Cut on these discs comes from the same transfer as the 2001 release of the Director’s Cut (which resulted in the audio mix-up: see below) and so is identical to that earlier one in terms of quality, which is pretty good overall: there’s a fair bit of grain but the transfer handles Unsworth’s style of “hazy” shooting well. There are a few encoding artefacts popping up, a few blocky moments, but overall it’s perfectly acceptable and the colours are nice and vivid.
The new Director’s Cut transfer isn’t so good however. The colours are far more muted and detail is lost, resulting in a more blurry look for even mid-distance objects. Here are a couple of comparison shots to illustrate the problems:
As you are no doubt aware by now, there’s been a bit of a goof with the issue of this set. The soundtrack for the Theatrical Cut is not the original soundtrack from 1978 but is instead an edited version of the 2001 remix. This is obviously disappointing - purists tell you many of the original sound effects are far superior. However, help is at hand: Warner have issued a press release for the UK discs which can be read here. If you don’t mind - and, as Warner are having to repeatedly underline, the discs aren’t actually defective - the mix on both versions of the film will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 2001 release. It’s more bombastic than the original, with more effects thrown in and lots of extras whooshing about as Superman saves the day. I’m actually one of a minority that doesn’t mind this version, but it definitely will be nice to hear the original again.
The first commentary comes on the Theatrical Cut and features Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler recorded separately and edited together. Spengler doesn’t have a great deal of interesting things to say - as he says at the beginning, he was more in charge of administration and organisation of the shoot rather than the creative processes - leaving Salkind to carry the lion’s share of the track. He is fascinating to listen to but not always for the reasons he thinks; he rambles away, disappearing down verbal cul-de-sacs and getting stuck there, and has a touch of the Alan Partridges about him. It’s never less than entertaining, however, and he also has plenty of information to impart - he’s particularly good on the preproduction of the film, dropping such nuggets as the fact William Goldman was briefly involved, as well as on on-set anecdotes.
The second commentary, on the Director’s Cut, is a genially chatty track between Donner and Mankiewicz. Evidently still good pals, they trade jokes and reminiscence easily and show their great affection and joy at their film (even going so far as to quote their favourite lines as they come up), throwing in the odd remark about those others who would mar what they did in later films. Enjoyable without being gripping, this is more informative than it sounds at times, but is more like a relaxed chat on a comfy sofa rather than a straight-backed lecture on the making of the film.
Taking Flight: The Development of Superman (30:15)
“We weren’t going to screw around with apple pie.” Aside from an interlude which discusses Christopher Reeve’s life since being paralysed, which feels like it’s wandered in from another documentary altogether, this is an excellent look at the preproduction phase of the film. With contributions from most of the stars who were still around in 2001 when it was made this covers everything from the Salkinds’ first acquiring the rights through to the rush to get ready to shoot for the dates Brando and Hackman had been booked for. Top notch.
Making Superman: Filming the Legend (30:41)
Part two of the above, covering the actual production, this is equally as good aside from one qualm: the Salkinds get no chance to present their side of the story. It’s entirely likely that they did not act as well as they might have done during the Superman II saga (a fact Ilya’s new commentaries on these discs oddly seems to inadvertently confirm) but it feels slightly uncomfortable to have a bunch of people involved talking about the situation without a response. That aside, this is brilliant and, together with Taking Flight presents the definitive (if slightly condensed) story of the making of the film from the people involved.
The Magic Behind the Cape (22:48)
Roy Field, the supervisor of optical effects on the film, talks through many of the different effects techniques used in the film. In an era before the digital revolution, the team had to be ultra-creative, coming up with a plethora of new systems to ensure that the film lived up to its famous tagline. This featurette is chock full of original test shots (watch out for the catapulted Superman), illustrations of the effects being put together and the final product, and makes one appreciate just how innovative the film was on the purely technical level. Yet another first class documentary.
Introduced by Lynn Stalmaster, who was casting director on the film, these tests show the tryouts for Reeve and various actresses for Lois and Ursa. All are fascinating: with Reeve, it shows that in those early days he already had Clark down pat but his Superman was still a little gauche (and thin!) We get to see several different actresses trying for Lois (all playing against Reeve) including Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren (who is rather hyper) and Kidder’s main rival for the role Stockard Channing. Channing plays Lois in a far more butch manner than Kidder, and it’s easy to see why the latter was chosen, as she combines the harder edge as she confronts Clark over his identity with a girlish glee when she’s proved right: “Gotcha!” With Ursa, I’ve never been a big fan of Sarah Douglas but, judging from the others on show here, it seems they picked the best of a bad bunch (although, to be fair, it’s very difficult to look good while saying the line “I want men to destroy.”). Stalmaster also provides optional commentary over the Lois segment, explaining why Kidder was cast.
Two scenes sensibly cut from the final version which constitute a subplot of sorts. The first reveals that Lex keeps some sort of wild cat in his lair, one which is fed with complete animal carcasses lowered through a trapdoor. The second shows Lex punishing MISS TESCHMACHER! for freeing Superman by lowering her into the trapdoor… only for Supes to arrive in the nick of time to save her. Given she breaks Lex out of jail in the next, it’s just as well these ended up on the cutting room floor.
Music Only Track
Included for the Director’s Cut. Normally I’m not especially bothered about this kind of extra but Williams’s music is so sumptuous it’s a welcome addition here.
Eight additional music cues, each fairly lengthy pieces of music in their own right. Some seem all but identical to the version used (the opening titles music, for example) others are significantly different.
Trailers and TV Spot
The excellent (and famous) teaser, main theatrical trailer and one TV spot are included here, as well as the trailer for a new videogame Justice League Heroes which appears on all the new Superman movies DVDs.
The Making of Superman the Movie
A vintage TV special. Unavailable for review.
Superman and the Mole Men
This was the 1951 film which begat the George Reeves series, and sees Reeves donning the cape for the first time, alongside Phyllis Coates’s debut as Lois Lane. For those who haven’t seen it, this black and white piece of Superman history makes for a nice addition; however, be warned, it is deeply dull and, despite its relatively short running time, a chore to sit through, with only the sight of Reeves and Coates fitting into their roles instantly making it worth bearing.
The Fleischer Studio Cartoons
The Fleischer cartoons are, next to this film, still the best Superman has ever been on the screen. Made in 1941 and 42, they are still as fresh and vibrant today as they were back then. Historically, they were also responsible for one crucial addition to the Superman legacy: before they were made, Superman couldn’t fly, and if you watch the first of these you’ll note he’s just jumping around rather than swooping through the air, literally leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Later on the makers asked if they could make him fly, to which the answer was yes, and from that moment on Superman never looked back. Included on this disc are the first nine (the cartoons the two Fleischers themselves worked on before leaving the company) and are a constant joy. They have also been remastered “from superior vault elements” and while the disc wasn’t available, they are promised to look better than ever.
A splendid collection of extras do full justice to the film, with the only disappointments being the mess-up over the audio and the slightly disappointing transfer for the director's cut. Otherwise, good stuff and a definitive purchase.