The Warner Archive October 3, 2017 Blu-ray release of the 1978 epic "Superman the Movie: Extended Cut" follows the Archive tradition of treating fanboys right. This release comes on the heels of the Archive "one-to-watch" and a second to "one-to-keep-in-mint-condition" worthy (Unreal TV reviewed) Blu-ray release of "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm."
The good folks at Archive also include the "Superman" special edition that the back cover describes as the "definitive vision" of the film of director Richard Donner. The following review is of the extended cut.
It should be undisputed that "Superman" (and its sequels) is the Genesis of the big-budget superhero franchises that are going strong nearly 40 years later. The extended cut is an augmented-for-TV version that adds 40 minutes to this film that includes an origin story, a coming-of-age-tale, AND a heroic effort to save the world.
"Superman" opens with an almost certainly added cold opening about central newspaper The Daily Planet and then goes into the classic opening credits with the equally timeless John Williams score; it is interesting to note that both Donner and Williams learn their craft working on "unreal" classic '60s television series.
The credits lead into the scene on Superman/Kal-El/Clark Kent home world/future space debris Krypton in which General Zod and two other lawbreakers get trapped in a mirror and hurled into space; one can only hope that Archive gives the further adventures of this trio the same treatment that "Superman" receives in this release.
The clarity and depth of the opening credits and the theater-quality sound of the Williams score provide the first sense that this Blu-ray looks spectacular on a 4K Ultra HD set; the literally glowing white uniforms of Kal-El dad/Kryptonian leader Jor-el (Marlon Brando) almost being blinding confirms that Archive knows its stuff.
Taking out the trash allows the leaders of Krypton to focus on the rejected assertion of malcontent Jor-El that Krypton literally is coming apart at the seams. This leads to that scampy scientist keeping his word that HE will not leave Krypton but putting infant Kal-El in a small space ship for a three-year journey to the primitive planet Earth. Like any good dad, Jor-El provides his son plenty of educational material for this extended journey.
This brother from another planet is very fortunate to crash land in a Kansas corn field just as childless couple Martha and Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford) drive by. Soon learning that this lad is the boy with something extra does not deter this American Gothic couple from bringing him home and raising him.
This leads to the teen years of Clark, who becomes a rebel with fulfilling his destiny as a cause. A scene in which he outruns a train is doubly awesome because it illustrates his power of being "faster than a speeding locomotive" and because Donner shooting one segment in which the train is headed for the camera is an homage to the birth of cinema in which a similar angle causes early audiences to scramble out of fear of the train crashing through the screen into the theater.
The real fun begins when our hero (Christopher Reeve) begins working at the Planet with hardened career gal Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). An early scene in which Kent must play the coward and cover up grabbing a bullet during a mugging highlights the comic abilities of Reeve.
Reeve further shows great humor in an early montage in which Superman handily apprehends petty criminals; it additionally is nice that Donner allows the action to speak for itself, rather than bury it under a '70s rock anthem. This is akin to purists who do not add laugh tracks to sitcoms.
This portion of the film also establishes villain Lex Luthor (an awesomely cartoonish Academy Award winner Gene Hackman) as a gleefully sadistic foe. The threat that Superman poses regarding a scheme of Luthor to literally alter the American landscape prompts the latter to lure the former into his lair.
This encounter triggers the events that lead to the legendary climatic scenes that even casual fanboys know by heart. A praiseworthy aspect of all this is that it is more clever and thrilling than the standard battle royale between hero and henchmen of a villain leading to the final showdown between the two protagonists.
The cleverness in "Superman" extends even further to includes foreshadowing that goes beyond Jor-El repeatedly warning Kel-Al to not interfere with human history. Suffice it to say that Superman prevents Luthor from anteing in.
Every aspect of "Superman" discussed above reflects the underlying awesome feature of it; the film stays true to the spirit of the Superman comics and serials that inspire it. Reeve and the behind-the-scenes folks show that telling a good superhero yarn does not require that the sex and the violence exceed family-friendly levels.
The bigger picture (pun intended) is that the three-hour extended cut flies by and leaves you wanting more.
The super-sized collection of bonus features include audio commentary by Donner, several documentaries of the film history of Superman, screen tests, and deleted scenes.
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