October 29, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SUPERMAN (1978): 2-FILM COLLECTION

Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Maria Schell, Susannah York. Directed by Richard Donner. (1978, 151/188 min).

1978's Superman remains one of the greatest superhero films of all time. While the special effects look a bit archaic today (though groundbreaking back then), aside from Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, it's still far superior to anything currently hailing from the DC Universe. But that's not the reason to pick up this disc.

It's actually a minor miracle the film turned out as good as it did, much less become an iconic classic. Superman was not a happy production. It was in development hell for years, ran way over budget, underwent scores of script changes and was fraught with frequent clashes behind the scenes, most notably between director Richard Donner and the producers, Alexander & Ilya Salkind. Movies like this are usually doomed before they even make it to theaters. And apparently, Donner wasn't crazy about the final cut. However, he got his chance to recut a Special Edition two decades later, which runs eight minutes longer. This version, along with some great bonus features (outlined below), has been available on home video for years, so unless you haven't seen it, the film's inclusion here isn't really enough reason either.

Method acting is difficult when your co-star fills his pants.
What makes this set indispensable is the other disc, which features the 3-hour version that was originally assembled for its television premiere and hasn't been seen since.

Back in the day, blockbuster movies were occasionally expanded in order to be broadcast as four-hour, two-part events. Though a few studios went as far as to shoot new footage so the film could fill the required slot, most had previously deleted scenes reinserted to pad out the running time. The Salkinds themselves supervised Superman's TV cut, restoring a whopping 45 minutes of footage.

Everyone loves Underoos.
This set provides a unique opportunity to compare the two attempts to expand on the original. In doing so, one thing becomes immediately clear: There's a damn good reason Richard Donner is a director & storyteller and the Salkinds decidedly aren't. Their three-hour cut is a fascinating curio, but none of the reinserted footage enhances the film in any way whatsoever. In fact, the entire pacing is adversely affected; it's close to the half-way mark before the Superman himself even shows up in Metropolis (and you thought Batman vs. Superman was pokey). The changes Donner makes to the Special Edition are more subtle...and more effective. Superfans will spot them immediately, but for the most part, the scenes he chooses to restore fit more comfortably within the narrative.

If forced to choose, I think the original 143 minute cut remains the best version of the film. Too bad it isn't included on a third disc, which would make this the ultimate boxed set dedicated to a single film. Still, the extended cut alone is worth the investment. Though only hardcore genre fans likely to watch it more than once, the opportunity to draw comparisons is a great way to waste a weekend.

EXTRA KIBBLES (Special Edition Disc Only)
FEATURETTES: "Taking Flight: The Development of Superman"; "Making Superman: Filming the Legend"; "The Magic Behind the Cape"
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by Richard Donner & Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz

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