There are few characters as iconic and resistant to cultural change than Shuster and Siegel’s Man of Steel. At once instantly redolent of the 1930s comic book boom, the power and appeal of Superman is seemingly timeless and in this new Blu-ray Anthology you get to see the latest cinematic incarnations of arguably DC Comic’s greatest character.
The Anthology contains the 1978 original starring Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, its 2000 Extended Edition (which gives us a little more Krypton for our money), the two versions of Superman 2 (the original and Richard Donner’s restored cut), the much maligned Superman 3, the woeful Superman 4 and Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns. There’s barely anything new here except the shiny high-definition for some of the films and while the quality is uneven, with Donner’s restored cut understandable suffering the most, this is still the best the series has ever looked and there is an engaging story hidden in the background, or the extras. A conflicting account of vision and inspiration and a cinematic legacy of icons and egos, telling a cautionary tale of movie making on a grand scale.
Appearing for the first time on Blu-ray the complete Superman films of Christopher Reeve range in quality from among the finest comic book movies to the worst. The story of how this dramatic drop in quality occurred is hinted at throughout the comprehensive extras as is the epic egoclash which resulted in original director Richard Donner’s exit from the second film and Richard Lester stepping in to lighten the tone and take the series onto Richard Pryor, a cyberwoman and critical ruin.
Of course Dicks Donner and Lester are only part of the fall of Superman with the figure of the Salkind producing dynasty looming large over the entire enterprise. From the early discussions of reforming the Godfather team and the casting of Christopher Reeve to the firing of Donner and the misguided attempt to bring Superman up to date with the third and fourth films it is all laid bare here and is an enthralling story.
Each disc has its own collection of background footage and accompanying documentary which follows together to make up this extraordinary story of one icon, four films and a seething quagmire of self-importance. It was intriguing to hear that Sarah Douglas (whose cold character of Ursa is rumoured to play a big part in the forthcoming Zack Snyder film) was the only actor sent to promote Superman 2 across the world as she remained neutral while her cast members rallied against the sacking of Donner, and all the extras are able to remain at a critical distance to the films and the property, making them essential viewing.
There is also a disc solely comprised of extras and the two documentaries, one on the history of Superman as a character in a social and cultural context and the other on the cinematic development of the Man of Steel, are very entertaining, with some excellent archive footage. Not least the screen tests for the 1978 film including one which blew my mind and had my pining for the ability for fly around the world and turn back time if only to change the decision of choosing Margot Kidder over the magnificence of Stockard Channing. I never warmed to Kidder’s Lois Lane and can’t help but wonder what spark Channing would have thrown into the mix – but that’s why I enjoyed this collection so much.
Assorted Superman curios pepper the discs and it will take many hours to go through them all. The quality varies of course but if you’ve bought a set with Superman 4 then it is likely to be completion as opposed to an unwavering desire for top notch entertainment that governed your purchase – and if you’ve waited to purchase the Superman films on disc then this set is your reward. It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive set, particularly one which walks the fine line between cold, critical distance and loving devotion to the character and his fans. With Zack Snyder’s Superman film due out next year and with the summer skies clouded with the many headed hydra of dozens of comic book movies it’s a good time to look back and see the difficult beginnings of the modern comic book blockbuster.