New on Blu-ray: The Superman Motion Picture Anthology

Now this is what I call a super release! Ahem. I’m talking about “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology”, a whopping 8-disk Blu-ray set featuring over 80 hours of special features. Just to put that in perspective, you’d need to sit down for three straight days just to see all the special features jam packed into this thing. I recommend moderation. The set contains every single “Superman” movie ever made, from Richard Donner’s original “Superman” in 1978 to the more recent Man of Steel outing, Bryan Singer’s underrated “Superman Returns” in 2006, a film that I still think is a hell of a lot better than most people give it credit for. Re-discover the Big Blue Boyscout in perfect Blu-ray conditions with the Anthology, which is now available from Warner Home Video.

Superman, the cultural icon and quintessential superhero, is back in a big way. Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology will release on Blu-ray June 7! For the first time, fans will be able to own one super-entertaining Blu-ray collection with all four original theatrical Superman films starring Christopher Reeve (available for the first time in high def), Superman Returns, and the two alternate versions of Superman I and Superman II.

The 8-disc Blu-ray set comes in a nice case (see pics at the very bottom) that features a pull-out lid with Superman’s “S” emblazon on the front. The Blu-ray transfers are outstanding, and this is most obvious in the earlier movies, in particular the first two in the series. With quality this good, how could you NOT believe a man could fly?

Superman (1978)

The one that started it all, and still remains the best “Superman” movie in many people’s eyes. Director Richard Donner scored a home run for comic book fans everywhere when he launched Christopher Reeve into the air and made you believe that a man could fly. (Okay, okay, that’s the last time I’m going to use that tagline.) A perfect balance of Origin Story, superhero action, romance, and most importantly, escapist entertainment. The film just looked like something that couldn’t, and shouldn’t, exist in our real world.

Reeve plays Clark Kent, mild-mannered Kansas boy made good in the big city of Metropolis, with Margot Kidder as his love interest Lois Lane. You don’t get any spunkier or more intrepid than Kidder’s Lane, even when she’s chain-smoking up a storm. (That husky voice doesn’t hurt.) A nasty habit, that, and one that definitely wouldn’t have made it into the movie had “Superman” been made today. Gene Hackman as bad guy Lex Luthor is rock solid, even when he’s camping it up. Marlon Brando, despite all the legendary stories about how he phoned it in, nevertheless classes up the joint just by showing up.

Although it does feature a pretty ridiculous ending (no, Superman, reversing the rotation of the Earth wouldn’t actually turn back time, sheesh), the emotions are still there, so maybe we can overlook that one major flaw in the film that, let’s face it, even the comic books wouldn’t have gotten wrong. I mean, seriously? Spinning the Earth the other direction? Really? I wonder which one of the film’s four credited writers came up with that bright idea. If you can stop nitpicking that, though, “Superman” is a pretty flawless superhero movie.

“Superman” comes in two Blu-ray discs, one holding the original theatrical release, and a second disc featuring an extended version that comes with bonus optional audio commentary by director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Must-see features include three separate documentaries on the making of the film, including screen tests and the 1951 movie “Superman and the Mole-Man” starring George Reeves, which is available on the first disc.

“Superman II” (1980)

Okay, so it can get pretty goofy at times. Plus, Superman reveals his identity to Lois Lane, they become a couple, he voluntarily gives up his powers to live as a “normal man”, and later, there are all those shenanigans inside the Fortress of Solitude, including that cellophane “S” that still gives me the willies when I think about it. If you thought Superman spinning around the Earth to turn back time was ludicrous, try explaining to the kids how Superman suddenly develops memory-erasing powers administered through, yes, a kiss.

Legend has “Superman II” originally envisioned as the second part of a two-part movie that would begin with Donner’s “Superman” and conclude in a 1980 sequel. Along the way, the two films became two separate movies, with Richard Lester directing the sequel. “Superman II” also comes in two discs, the first featuring Richard Lester’s original theatrical release, while the second Blu-ray disc features Donner’s cut, released in 2006. In comparison to Lester’s version, Donner’s “Superman II” is a stronger beast, with fewer silly moments, and the three Kryptonian villains (led by a menacing Terence Stamp) played mostly straight. Donner and Mankiewicz also do another optional commentary on their version.

While having Superman give up his powers to be with Lois Lane is absurd, “Superman II” does feature a lot more “super” action than the original. The bulk of the comic book set pieces are supplied by Superman’s fellow Kryptonians, who have come to Earth with bad deeds on their minds. It’s up to Superman to “re-acquire” his powers, shed his mortal coil, and fight back. And fight back he does, ending the film with a somber, though new resolve by our hero (silly memory-erasing kiss notwithstanding).

“Superman III” (1983)

Besides ripping its “evil Superman” storyline from the comics, “Superman III” is also notable for co-starring Annette O’Toole, who plays Lana Lang, Superman’s Smallville sweetheart in the movie. O’Toole would return to the Superman fictional universe on the TV show “Smallville”, which chronicled the growing pains of a young Superman. In the show, O’Toole played Martha Kent, Superman’s adopted human mother. How’s that for coming full circle? From love interest to adopted mother. Kinda weird, if you think about it, so don’t.

That tidbit about O’Toole aside, “Superman III” marks a noticeable decline for the Man of Steel, not least of which because it co-stars comedian Richard Pryor as a computer genius who apparently falls into the talent by accident. Or something. Robert Vaughn steps in for Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, playing another evil businessman/tycoon who seeks profits over innocent deaths, and only Superman, of course, can stop him. I like Vaughn, but let’s face it, he’s no Hackman. I also never really could figure out if Richard Pryor is really, really good in the movie, or just horribly miscast. Of course, the bumbling computer genius and the evil industrialist aren’t the only problems on Supe’s plate — he’s been exposed to some Kryptonite that has turned our hero bad. If nothing else, this does give Christopher Reeve the opportunity to actually play a bad Superman, and leads to a great scene in a junkyard where Superman battles, literally, himself.

As if Warner realized how little most people thought of “Superman III”, the Blu-ray disc is pretty bare. There is an optional audio commentary with the producers, TV spots, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and the usual assortment of additional scenes and trailers.

“Superman 4: The Quest for Peace” (1987)

…in which Superman becomes a hippie.

In his fourth outing as the Man of Steel, it was very obvious that Christopher Reeve was flexing his muscles behind-the-scenes, and managed to do a movie that hit all the right political buttons. If, that is, you’re an impractical hippie who thinks that you can rid the world’s ills by whipping a bunch of nukes into the sun using a giant net. This, of course, has a negative outcome — enter, Nuclear Man! Sigh.

For some reason, the producers talked Gene Hackman into returning as Lex Luthor, but this time they’ve taken away his bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty) and given him a younger bumbling sidekick, Lex’s nephew Lenny, played by Jon Cryer. Talk about a downgrade! (Sorry, Jon Cryer, nothing personal.) Of course, maybe Hackman was offered plenty of money for his services, which may be one reason why the budget for “Superman 4” was lacking, resulting in the franchise’s worst installment, not just in terms of story, but also in special effects. Watching “Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”, you almost forget that this was a major Hollywood studio film.

Just how bad was “Quest for Peace”? So bad that it took the Big Blue boy scout 20 years before Warner Bros. would allow him back on the big screen. What a stinker. Still, it’s good for some unintentional laughs. The moon fight between Superman and Nuclear Man should have you on the floor howling with laughter.

Special features on the Blu-ray disc are brisk, though you do get optional audio commentary with co-writer Mark Rosenthal and a TV feature celebrating the Man of Steel’s 50th anniversary. One of these days I’ll pop the film back in and listen to Rosenthal’s commentary, but honestly, I don’t think I can stomach another viewing of “Quest for Peace” so soon. Maybe in a few more years…

“Superman Returns” (2006)

What happens if “Superman II”, “Superman III”, and “Superman IV” never happened? That seems to be the premise Bryan Singer was going for with “Superman Returns”, a film that would like us to believe there has been no other Superman movie since Richard Donner’s 1978 original. I’ll be honest with you, this was perfectly fine with me, and although I liked “Superman II” for its big helping of comic book action, there were serious parts of the movie I was more than happy to pretend never existed.

Brandon Routh steps into the red boots of Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, with Kate Bosworth taking over Lois Lane from Margot Kidder. Kevin Spacey, proving that he can camp it up with the best of them, assumes the mantle of Superman’s archnemesis Lex Luthor. And while the plot is pedestrian (really, Lex? More land schemes?), I really like what Singer tried to do with the movie, which is, what if Superman actually existed in our world? He would be looked upon as something of a God, a put-upon savior to all, and Brandon Routh perfectly captures that. It’s definitely a more mature Superman, and I “got” what Singer was going for. Unfortunately, the story was not up to snuff, and failing to give Superman an appropriate villain meant no real major action set pieces. When a giant rock is Superman’s biggest test of strength, you know you haven’t really accounted for a proper villain.

If you steered clear of “Superman Returns” (and many of you apparently did) when it was first released five years ago, I would recommend giving it a shot. And even if you’ve seen it and didn’t care for it, I believe it’s worth revisiting, and certainly the two-disc set that contains “Returns” makes it worthwhile. The first disc contains an obscene amount of special features, including Singer’s video journals on the movie and a great featurette called “Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns” that traces the film from script to the big screen. If, you know, you’re into that sort of thing, which I am. Disc 2 is stuffed with enough special features, documentaries, and featurettes that if you pop it in, you might never leave the couch.

All in all, “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology” is a must for any Superman fan. The transfer to Blu-ray is exceptional, and the films have never looked better. Yes, even the awful “Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”. If you must see it, you mind as well see it at its miserable best.

Buy “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology” on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video now.