The Packages

Both cuts feature commentaries, by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler for the Lester Cut, Donner and Tom Mankiewicz for the Donner Cut.  Ultimately I’d say there’s more interesting things on the Donner Cut, because after all, there’s more dirt to be found there, and dirt is how this whole dual cut thing came about in the first place.  The Lester Cut on Disc 1 has the Superman soufflé scene that I remember from the TV version, and a theatrical trailer.  The Donner Cut is only one disc, and it has an intro by Donner, and the featurette, Superman II: Restoring the Vision, which details how the Donner Cut finally saw the light of day.  It’s interesting, but a bit short at only around 13 minutes.  I’m sure there’s more stuff there that wasn’t gone into.  Donner has about eight minutes of deleted scenes also. 

Lester Disc 2 has the 50-minute TV special: The Making of Superman II, which is yet another great featurette, using tons of archive footage, not always of the best quality though.  There’s also the 48-minute Superman 50th Anniversary from 1988.  A lot of fresh faces in this TV special, including Dana Carvey and Jeanne Tripplehorn.  First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series runs around 12 minutes and details the making of the seminal Max Flesicher cartoon series of shorts about Superman.  Eight 1940s Famous Studio Superman animated shorts round out the special features.  Some good stuff on this disc.

Superman III (Deluxe Edition)

The Pitch

“Okay, we’ve covered that whole Superman / Lois Lane / Clark Kent scenario, so why don’t we do that whole Superman / Lana Lang / Gus Gorman thing now?  And uh, throw in a souped-up Macintosh for some flavor…”

The Humans

Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O’Toole, Robert Vaughn, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, and um, that Kidder chick.

The Nutshell

Having defeated Lex Luthor and his California redevelopment plan, and the three Kryptonian Supercriminals, this time around, Superman’s nemesis is a megalomaniacal corporate bigwig named Ross Webster (Vaughn), who just happens to have working for him Gus Gorman (Pryor), a jive talkin’ homey who just happens to be a computer genius.  With Gorman’s talents, Webster uses computers to cause chaos, including programming a weather satellite to cause an incredible storm to wipe out the coffee crop in Colombia simply because they wouldn’t do business with him.  Eventually, Gorman and Webster create a supercomputer that they plan to use to take over the world. 

While Superman is dealing with Webster’s machinations, Clark Kent returns to Smallville to attend his high school reunion and manages to kindle a relationship with Lana Lang (O’Toole), the girl whom he had a crush on in high school.  But eventually, he’s affected by Webster’s plot of cooking up a batch of the first ever tar kryptonite, which serves to turn Superman evil, spurring him to create his own wave of mischief across the globe, such as snuffing out the Olympic torch, and straightening out the leaning tower of Pisa.  After a pivotal fight between the evil Superman and Clark Kent, who was split off from him as a result of the kryptonite, Superman confronts Webster and must outsmart his supercomputer before it can take over the world.

The Lowdown

Okay, let’s get the fact that Superman III is nowhere near the level of the first two films out of the way up front.  This was Superman Meets Jo Jo Dancer essentially and that was not the way to go.  I get that, I understand that, I’m aware of that.  However, I’ve seen bile slung all over this film and I don’t think all of it is justified.  There are definitely some things in Superman III to like and if you think about it, it’s probably the film of the four that most explores the Clark Kent / Superman dichotomy, not the least of which is through the great Kent / Supes fight in the junkyard.  Plus, I don’t think that going with another villain besides Luthor was a bad move, they just chose a hollow carbon copy and the film was overwhelmed by its own cuteness to be sure.  And what were they going to do to further the Superman / Lois relationship that they didn’t do in the first two films?  Going back to Lana Lang wasn’t a bad way to go either (although Lana’s son annoyed the hell out of me).

This was the first film without Donner’s fingerprints on it and was directed in its entirety by Richard Lester, the man who took over Superman II after Donner was fired by the Salkinds.  I think that III is a perfect example of the main problem that the Superman mythos has faced since its inception: how do you come up with a suitable nemesis for a man who is impossibly powerful and only has one weakness, a weakness which is in extremely short supply here on earth?  I may catch more than a bit of flack for this, but if you think about it, having the villain create a supercomputer goes back to the Fleischer cartoons: the mad scientist and his atomic computer or electronic brain or super robots.  I see the part of III where the computer is attacking Supes with its twin electrical generators and it takes me right back to the Fleischer cartoons more than any other point in any of the other films.  The musical cue there also reminds me of them. 

One other small thing that I noted about this movie is that if you look at Reeve’s build here, this is probably the best shape that he ever appeared in in any of the four films.  And as for Pryor, well, when I was a kid I found him funny.  But he brought Stir Crazy to III and that just didn’t mix very well, admittedly.  They had to turn a hard R comedian into a PG comedian and that’ll just never fly, no pun intended.  Richard Pryor was a wild, foul-mouthed genius of an entertainer and they had to dumb him down for this movie and that’s just wrong on every level.  Superman III had a lot of flaws, but it’s not Superman: The Antichrist to be sure…that honor is reserved for Superman IV….

The Package

There’s another new commentary by Salkind and Spengler, as well as the really good feature: The Making of Superman III.  There’s plenty of good behind-the-scenes stuff here and candid moments of Reeve, Pryor and the gang as they’re making the film.  There’s also 20 minutes of deleted scenes, but a lot of these are rip offs because they include so much of the footage that was actually in the movie, so in the end, a lot of times it feels like you’re watching much of the movie you just watched.  They need to trim the deleted scenes to a minimum.  There’s also the theatrical trailer.

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (Deluxe Edition)

The Pitch

“So how can we just completely fudge over this franchise and nail the coffin shut on it for nearly two decades?”

The Humans

Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, San Wanamaker…and the man named Pillow.

The Nutshell

In Christopher Reeve’s final outing in the role, Superman decides to solve our nuclear arms race by getting rid of all of our nukes.  Meanwhile, Lex Luthor escapes prison and creates Nuclear Man, a nuclear-powered supervillain grown from a strand of Superman’s hair.  Complete with retractable nuclear fingernails and Gene Hackman’s voice, Nuclear Man proves to be Superman’s most dangerous enemy yet.

The Lowdown

Okay, I can defend III to a point.  With IV, you simply have to throw your hands up, sit back and just  let the suck wash over you.  There are so many things bad about this movie that I almost don’t know where to start.  I suppose when you think about he concept of the film itself, it actually isn’t all that bad.  The arms race between the Superpowers was a big hot button issue at the moment and it seemed one that was beyond anyone’s ability to control.  So who do we turn to?  The big guy.  Cool.  Plus, you have Lex Luthor busting out of prison and looking for revenge.  Why not, three of the five Superman films so far have been about that very thing.  This time his plan includes making a super-powered villain based on Superman’s DNA itself.  Also fine.  And what, Christopher Reeve himself gave some input to the story nad was instrumental in getting it made?  Bonus, let’s get ‘er done.  So where does it go wrong?  Everywhere.

First of all let’s get the performances out of the way.  Even though Reeve was as solid as usual, he couldn’t quite recapture the magic from the first two films and several people that came back for this film look so tired of doing these roles that they all practically had “this is a paycheck and nothing more” stamped on there foreheads.  Hell, Gene Hackman hammed his way through this outing so much he could have been served up as Christmas dinner.  And for newcomer Mark Pillow, it’d be easy to say that he was pathetic, but what do you want from the guy?  He gets dubbed over by Hackman, which means even more work that I’m sure he was thrilled to do and when he isn’t dubbed over for Hackman, he’s dubbed over by canned lion roars or spends the rest of the movie snarling.  How’re you supposed to get over hurdles like that? 

Secondly, the director is Sidney J. Furie.  This is the man that directed Lady Sings the Blues for Chrissakes.  He got an Oscar-nominated performance out of a first time actress, yet here, he seems so disconnected from the goings on of this that he tries to rely on previous moments of magic from the previous films – namely the seminal flying duet between Superman and Lois from the first film – and fails…spectacularly.  And the pacing of this movie is all off in that they tried to cram two or three movies worth of catastrophes that Nuclear Man starts and Superman has to fix into just a few minutes, culminating in a global romp of destruction with the emotional resonance of…well not much at all. 

Next, the special effects for this movie were beyond laughable.  The fact that the budget was cut ridiculously is mostly to blame.  They used the same wire harness / back screen projection they used in all the films, but they just looked, well, bad.  I think the flying sequences in the live action Shazam! TV show from the ‘70s were better, and those were horrible. The special effects were the Star Trek V-quality two years before Star Trek V even came out.  Lastly, there have been major gripes about giving Superman powers that he never had, such as the teleporting in II or the infamous “magic kiss” in the same movie.  Here, they take it several steps further.  In no incarnation of Superman I’ve ever seen, read or know of does he have bricklaying vision, which he inimitably puts to use in repairing the damage done by Nuclear Man on the Great Wall.  There’s pathetic, and then there’s pathetic, and this my friends is the latter by far. 

One last gripe is that Superman is supposed to be timeless, and even though the ‘70s is indelibly stamped on the original movie, IV is even more dated by the ‘80s: the clothes, the arms race issue, the gym aerobics scene.  It stinks of Duran Duran, Rubik’s Cube and leotards, and as far ads I know, only the leotards were present.  And lest we not forget, Jon Cryer embodies the ‘80s in Lenny – and not in a good way…at all.  But if there’s one semi-decent, and I mean that warily, thing about IV, it’s that the fight between Superman and Nuclear Man on the moon ain’t half bad.   But then Superman has to push the moon out of orbit to beat him and that one good thing is pretty much torched.  After that, Superman goes bye bye for a long time…and rightfully so.

The Package

IV has a commentary by co-writer Mark Rosenthal, who is pretty forthcoming about the problems that this film had, particularly with budget and the freefall that producer Cannon Films was headed for even before pre-production began.  It’s a theme that he stays with throughout the run of the film.

There’s also nearly thirty minutes of deleted scenes, which were in terrible shape by the way.  Obviously no one cared to make sure that the negatives were kept in good condition.  Normally that would be a shame, but considering the footage that was left on the floor, in this case not so much.  One of the things that I never knew was that there was a Nuclear Man prototype before the Pillow Nuclear Man.  And this thing is such an embarrassment that I can’t believe they even bothered to shoot more than a couple of takes before they realized they were making one of the biggest mistakes in the entire series.  But there’s even a little fight between Nuke 1 and Supes that is also embarrassing.  There’s also an extended flying sequence between Superman and Lois that’s even worse than the final cut.  One of the contributing factors to this movie being such a complete abortion is that nearly 45 minutes were cut from the final product, which partially explains Nuclear Man’s infatuation with Lacey Warfield, because the first Nuclear Man was also infatuated with her.  It’s a whole thing that doesn’t really need to be gone into.  Beyond that, there are also trailers.

Superman Returns (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Nick has covered this two-disc set in depth and I’m not one to think I could outdo the boss when it comes to a review.  And since this review is eating up all the memory on my computer, I humbly defer to his take on the disc here.  However, I will quickly add my two cents in that I was heartily anticipating this film when it came out.  After ten+ years of development hell and false starts, I was chomping at the bit at its release.  Overall I’m probably a little bit easier on the film than Nick and the others were (the theatrical Tag Team Review here), but I do agree that Superman Returns needed to knock you on your ass considering the burden that was placed upon the film long before it ever truly got going and ultimately it didn’t.  That’s not to say that I don’t dig the hell out of what Singer tried to do and succeeded in doing in certain regards.  It’s rare when a filmmaker will give respect to those who came before him in a franchise, and Singer’s homage to the first two films, especially in regards to bringing back Brando and not feeling the need to completely redo Williams’ genius in the music department are admirable. 

I do like the master plan that Luthor came up with involving the crystals, but in the end it’s a basic retread of the first film: Luthor trying a land scheme and using kryptonite.  It’s another example that without the green rock, even a villain like Luthor has jack in terms of presenting Superman with a challenge.  If the next film is to succeed, kryptonite can’t be in a single frame of film to be sure.  I recommend bringing in Darkseid, but that’s just me.  Regardless, Nick is also correct in that there are a ton of great extras to complement the film.  Special mention does need to go to the performance that Brandon Routh brought to Superman Returns.  There was a scene or two where I was thinking that he was Christopher reeve’s lovechild.  The resemblance and the performance were uncanny at times.  I do eagerly await to see him back in the uniform under Singer’s direction.  But Superman Returns wasn’t quite the movie that it needed to be.

Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman

This entire disc is one big special feature, the collaboration between Singer and documentary maker Ken Burns that chronicles the entire history of Superman.  Look Up in the Sky! goes from Superman’s humble beginnings as a comic strip character dreamed up by two teenage kids, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in Cleveland, Ohio in the late thirties thru his incarnation as a comic book superhero for DC Comics, to the 1950s George Reeves TV show, The Adventures of Superman, to the Reeve theatrical incarnations, Smallville and finally Superman Returns.  This is an excellent piece and shows how Superman has been woven into the very fabric of American culture throughout the decades through his many reinventions.  It features interviews from people associated with every facet of Superman, from Noel Neill and Jack Larson, to Richard Donner, and Singer himself.  Narrated by Kevin Spacey, Look is a very thorough account of the history of the Man of Steel and very well paced and structured.  Not only does it account the productions of the various productions of the films and TV shows, but also rare fringe elements such as The Adventures of Super Pup, a pilot that never saw the light of day.  You may not ever find a more complete account of the Superman mythos in one place than this.

You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman

This is another detailed account of Superman, this time focusing on the production of the four Reeve theatrical films exclusively.  It features plenty of archival footage and numerous interviews from the production staff, crew, and actors, including Terence Stamp, Jack O’Halloran, Kidder, Donner, Marc McClure, and many others.  It’s told in five chapters and is as complete in the detailing of the production of the four films as Look is to the overall Superman phenomenon.  Another excellent doco.

There’s also another featurette, The Mythology of Superman that runs around 20 minutes and focuses on Superman’s place in the pantheon of other mythological figures such as the Greek Gods.  The Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve is yet another featurette around 18 minutes that gives Christopher Reeve his due in spades, not only for his place in the Superman universe, but also his crusade for spinal chord research after his accident and ultimately through to his untimely passing.  Among the more touching accounts are from Margot Kidder, Annette O’Toole, Jane Symour and Donner. 

Rounding out the features on this disc are The Adventures of Super Pup pilot from 1958.  This was a re-imagining of Superman as a dog (actually dwarf in a dog suit) and other characters as various animals.  Friends, you have to be a hardcore – and I mean a hardcore – Superman fan to get through that.  There’s also three Warner Bros. cartoons, featuring Bugs and Daffy in parodies of Superman (Super Rabbit and Stuporduck), and and earlier black and white cartoon called Snafuperman. 

Bryan Singer’s Journals (Extended Edition)

These are a collection of 29 video blogs of Bryan and his crew from the various sets of Superman Returns from up to a year before the film was actually released.  These are fun and informative, including his trip to the 2005 San Diego Comic Con.

Wrap Up

As I’ve been going on ridiculously little sleep the last week or so, I need to share a personal anecdote or two about this whole review.  First off, some of the fondest memories I have of going to see the Christopher Reeve Superman moves are that my mother, who passed on a few years ago, took me to see every one of them.  In fact, we got to Superman II about ten minutes in and stayed for the next showing so we could see the opening, and ended up watching the entire thing again.  When I think about those movies and those times, those trips with my mother are what I think about most. 

And on a more recent note, if you’re considering shipping this Ultimate Collectors set to anyone, I’d advise to use caution.  Mine arrived looking like this:

Some of the discs were damaged, which is why I couldn’t watch certain things.  Luckily I already had most of them from when I bought the various movies in 2000 and more recently.  And here I thought Superman was supposed to be invulnerable…

12 out of 10