SUPERMAN RETURNS - Blu-ray review

...this is easily one of the best looking Blu-Ray titles yet released.


The Superman trilogy, as it is currently "intended" to be has arrived on the new Blu-Ray format and provides a great high definition treat for fans of the long running series. Of course, by stating that a trilogy has arrived on Blu-Ray should instantly suggest that the entire Superman saga is not available on the format. However, the original "Superman: The Movie," "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut" and the latest film, "Superman Returns" have found release simultaneously on both Blu-Ray and the competing HD-DVD. The elder DVD format has seen the releases as well and a fourteen disc box set chronically not only these three films, but three movies that have been ignored by the events of "Superman Returns" - the woeful films "Superman III," "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" and "Supergirl." Having three films of the lucrative Superman franchise arriving on the new format is worth some fanfare to the legions of fans of the series and having the best three films being representative of the series is certainly a plus.

The Superman series was on hiatus for twenty years. The third and fourth films of the series were horrendous. The Richard Lester directed third film was a complete disaster and the fourth film was perhaps even worse. For a long time, Warner Bros. tried to resuscitate the series. Names such as Tim Burton, Kevin Smith and Nicolas Cage were all attached to the project at one point or another. It seemed like the film would never get of the ground and the Man of Steel would never again soar across the great silver screen. After many script revisions and rewrites, numerous directors and cast changes, "Superman Returns" finally arrived in 2006 and though it has been said to have been an underperforming picture, a domestic take of over $200 million dollars still shows there is life left in the franchise and newcomer Brandon Routh may be able to take over where Christopher Reeve left off.

The latest film is said to take place five years after the events of "Superman II." "Superman III" and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" are completely ignored in the lineage and I'm sure everybody is keen on forgetting "Supergirl." There are continuity issues and even more so after the Richard Donner cut of "Superman II" has been released. So, if you generally accept "Superman Returns" as the new "Superman III" and ignore areas where the film does not correctly follow the events of the first films and also accept the younger cast of this new film, then you can look at "Superman Returns" as a sequel instead of being a complete reboot of sorts for the series.

"Superman Returns" finds Superman returning from a visit to the dead planet of Krypton, where he was searching for answers to his past. In the meantime, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on in life. She has bore a child with Richard White (James Marsden) and written an article about how the world no longer needs Superman. Superman returns to Earth and finds that Lois has moved on, but Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has not. He is still hellbent on trying to secure a large tract of valuable land and has a new devious plot to do so that will cause massive damage around the world, but make him the world's wealthiest landowner. Luthor has another plan to cripple Superman and make his lesser of a nemesis. Lois is a changed woman, but Luthor still wants to be the greatest slumlord in the Universe.

For me, the film succeeds and it does not succeed. It eerily has some of the same problems of the original film. The running time of 154 minutes plays for too long. The film spends a lot of time re-introducing the characters and the new actors that portray them. When Superman and Lex Luthor ultimately clash, it feels less than what would be expected and the finale feels underwhelming. When the film does succeed, it does so nicely. There are some incredible effects and very nice moments to be found in the film. It is not a great film, but it could have been. It is always hardest to start a new series and where "Superman Returns" is not as great as "Batman Returns," it is a nice restart to the series.

Director Bryan Singer pays a wonderful tribute to Christopher Reeve and the original film, "Superman: The Movie." It seems he scoured the planet looking for the closest thing to Reeve he could find and he found that with Brandon Routh, who is not quite Christopher Reeve, but is a great reminder of the actor. Routh has certainly studied Reeve and his performances and nicely mimics many of the mannerisms of the actor. The little curl in his haircut and the way he pushes his glasses are visual reminders of the man who donned the tights before him. If anything, "Superman Returns" is a nice thank you to Reeve and will serve as a reminder to many of the man who found great misfortune and an ugly turn of fate in his life; a man who once flew among the clouds, but died completely paralyzed.

It took a lot of tinkering, but I was finally able to get the dual layer Blu-Ray title to play in my Samsung BD-P1000 player. It does not seem to like the BD50 discs without being powered down once or twice. Fortunately, the headache was worth it as "Superman Returns" looks very good on Blu-Ray. The 2.4:1 transfer is stunning in its 1080p mastered high definition presentation. Shot using high definition cameras, "Superman Returns" is a noticeable improvement in visuals over its older predecessors. Technology has certainly changed and simply comparing the look of "Superman: The Movie" with "Superman Returns" shows how strong today's digital creations look in the world of High Definition.

Colors and details are outstanding. Superman's confrontation of Lex Luthor on the crystal island is incredibly detailed. Facial details are crisp and clear. Colors narly jump out of the screen at times. There is nary a flaw or fault in the picture. Film grain and faults in the source materials are completely absent and this is as pristine as you can get. Digital flaws are absent as well. No pixilation or posterization. Now, the picture quality did not blow me away like "King Kong" did on HD-DVD, but this is easily one of the best looking Blu-Ray titles yet released. There were a couple scenes that had a bit of a haze to them. Not many, but enough that keeps this from being true reference material. The picture came across darker than necessary a couple of times as well. I was definitely impressed with the transfer.

"Superman Returns" is the marquee title in the Blu-Ray trilogy. Sadly, the Dolby TrueHD track that was delivered with the HD-DVD release is absent on the Blu-Ray disc and only the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is provided. Don't get me wrong, this is still a great sounding mix, but I would have loved to have heard what the TrueHD would have sounded like, or even an Uncompressed PCM soundtrack. A Quebec-dubbed French 5.1 mix and Spanish 5.1 mix are also included. I may be selfish, but I would have rather seen those two tracks dropped in favor of a higher resolution mix. Regardless, though the HD-DVD finds the top-notch soundtrack, Blu-Ray fans should not feel too slighted because this track still sounds pretty spiffy.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel surround mix utilizes all of its channels. Throughout the film, the rear surrounds come to life with some great sound effects and ambient effects. The .1 LFE channel thumps heartedly and generates impressive levels of bass. Stereo imaging across the front three channels is very good. Dialogue is crisp and full intelligible. John Ottman's score pays enough homage to John Williams and sounds great throughout the film. The soundtrack gets quite aggressive at times and nicely mixes effects, dialogue and orchestral score without any ill effects. Without a standard definition DVD or the HD-DVD release for comparison, I cannot tell you how it rates to the standard definition sound mix or the more capable Dolby TrueHD of HD-DVD, but it is a pleasing experience on Blu-Ray.

"Superman Returns" contains the following bonus materials:

* Making Superman Returns: From Script to Screen
* Designing Superman: From Art and Costume Design to Set Construction
* The Joy of Lex: Behind the Scenes with Kevin Spacey
* How Filmmakers Recreated Jor-El, Superman's Father, Played by Marlon Brando
* Over 10 Additional Scenes in 1080p High Definition

The above bullet list comes from the rear packaging of the Blu-Ray case. It states "Nearly 3 Hours of Exclusive, In-Depth Documentaries." They are not kidding. This dual layer Blu-Ray disc contains an hour and a half long film and three hours of bonus materials. However, popping up the Blu-Ray menu results in a complete different representation of these materials. The documentary is one long, three-hour long feature that is broken down into five parts. Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns is five chapters that is further relegated to seven parts. It is incredibly informative and a movie in of itself. The parts can be chosen separately, or played as one long documentary. This documentary is about as good as it gets for making of documentaries. Eleven Deleted Scenes and an Outtake may also be selected individually or as a whole. These scenes run for about fifteen minutes and are presented in full high def. Some of these scenes are very good, but considering the film already ran for two and a half hours, it didn't need to be any longer. Finally, a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer and the EA game trailer are tossed in. The documentary is incredible and these are very good deleted scenes.

Closing Thoughts:
Superman fans rejoice. The hero of Metropolis has arrived on Blu-Ray in his blue tights and red cape. The original two films starring the late, great Christopher Reeve in his iconic performance are joined by the latest film to deliver a solid trilogy of three films entrenched in difficulties of getting produced and embroiled in conflicts between filmmakers and studios. "Superman: The Movie" proved a difficult task for Richard Donner and helped pave the way for his departure during the making of "Superman II." Both the original film and his long awaited cut of the second film are now available on Blu-Ray. "Superman Returns" almost never happened. There were so many plot twists to getting this film produced. Yet, it is here and now on Blu-Ray. The three films may not be the best films ever made and seem slow and tedious at times, but captivating at other times. The true reason to watch the first two movies is for Christopher Reeve. This third film, "Superman Returns" plays out like a long homage to the fallen super hero. The three Blu-Ray releases are solid. However, "Superman Returns," aided by its far younger age, is the most impressive of the three titles and displays very good sound and picture and includes a nice array of supplements.


Film Value