Faster than a speeding bullet, able to save humanity by turning back time, it’s the Superman: 5-Film Collection on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Warner Brothers. All four original films with Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut make their way to UHD with overall impressive results besting their old 1080p counterparts with new HDR transfers and Atmos mixes to match (with one notable issue for Superman IV). To be fully complete, all alternate cuts of Superman: The Movie should have been included too. Overall - Recommended
For my own thoughts, I quite literally grew up on the Christopher Reeve Superman films. He was and remains my hero. Of all the celebrities to have passed over the years, his was the one where my day stopped and I truly mourned. While there have been fine actors to step into the suit over the years on film and television, Reeve defined the character for decades and made us believe that not only a man could fly but he could save the world. This first film from Richard Donner set the high bar for all comic book movies to follow at a time when it wasn’t the major genre burning up the box office that it is today. This production was a risk, and it paid off beautifully. 5/5
At this point, the making of Superman II may actually be a more interesting movie than Superman II itself. With over 75% of the film in the can, Richard Donner was unceremoniously fired from the film and replaced with his partner Richard Lester. Lester would “finish” the film while adding new sequences to appease the demands of producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. The film trades Donner’s epic scale of the first film for more action with cartoonish slapstick humor. But I don’t hate this film or discount it completely. It was a favorite as a kid and I still have a big warm soft fuzzy spot in my heart for it even if it still feels rather juvenile in places. It's not always a deep thoughtful piece, but it's got a lot of entertainment value flying around for it. 4/5
Like so many dutiful fans, I was always eager to see what Richard Donner’s version of Superman II could have been if he’d been allowed to finish it. After a bunch of legal finagling, an extensive search for the lost footage, and some quick pickup shots with stand-in actors and some new fancy digital effects to complete certain sequences, we have a rough idea. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is only a taste of what could have been. While Michael Thau clearly put in a lot of work on this cut to bring it to life, it’s far from a perfect edit and needed a much larger budget on the scale of Zack Snyder’s Justice League or Paramount’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition to fully come to life.
It’s long been a problem of major franchises, especially superhero films where the new villain or incoming major star steals the light away from the hero. Batman suffered that with Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito as Catwoman and Penguin respectively, Jim Carrey’s Riddler, and his own nipples. While Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando were arguably bigger stars than Christopher Reeve - and even got first billing - their presence didn’t overshadow Superman: The Movie. Superman was the star. However, for Superman III it’s Richard Pryor who turns into the last son of Krypton’s biggest villain - by stealing the entire film.
A lot has been said about one of the biggest cinematic superhero blunders, but Batman and Robin has a challenger for one of the worst ever that isn't called "Steel" - Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Made at the height of Cannon Group’s production scheme of stealing budgets from one film to make another, Superman IV is notoriously cheap looking, rushed for a shortened cut, and just all around not good. The effects were either recycled from other films or were done so cheaply that you’d swear they just threw an action figure in front of the camera. Butchered down to a scant 90 minutes, this film leaves out entire plot beats leading to more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, and for some reason, we never got the longer international version which apparently includes two big action sequences. On top of that, the cast looks broken and disheartened with Reeve and Kidder simply going through the motions while Hackman hams it up for another easy paycheck.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Superman: The Five Film Collection gathers Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman III, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace into a single 10-Disc box set. Each film scores a new 4K disc with the same 1080p discs from 2011. The Superman: The Movie set is a newly authored disc that offers the same transfer and Atmos mix, but strangely omits the 5.1 audio being the only difference. Each film has its own sturdy two-disc case, and each film has its own UPC code, so these should be offered in singles sometime down the line if you don’t want to buy them all. If you can't wait and don't care about not getting a digital copy, you can order single-title editions from the U.K. right now. The cases are all bundled together in a paper slipcase. A slick SteelBook set is also available. Each 4K disc loads to a static image main menu with the iconic John Williams Superman fanfare playing in the background. A digital copy slip is included, a single code redeems all films in the set and is Movies Anywhere compatible so it should port to all connected digital streaming services like Vudu and iTunes.
As previously mentioned, this is exactly the same transfer as the 2018 disc. There was some internet butt scuttle that Superman: The Movie would yet again get a new 4K scan and restoration, but I never saw anything confirmed or denied from Warner Bros. If a new scan/restoration happened, it’s not here leading me to doubt that it ever did happen or that if it did, it didn't yield any improvement. Bit for bit this is the same Dolby Vision/HDR10 transfer - which I’m perfectly okay with. This film always had a soft diffused, dreamy look thanks to Geoffrey Unsworth’s signature cinematography (Reginald H. Morris who shot A Christmas Story and Murder By Decree in a similar fashion was also in the camera department under Unsworth). While it’s naturally soft-appearing, there are still impressive details to soak in and enjoy. I thought this was a beautiful transfer five years ago and I still think so today.
Superman II avoids a kryptonite bath for its first release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a mostly very good 2160p HDR10 transfer. I say “mostly” because there are a few niggling issues to contend with that I will detail momentarily. For starters, I’ll say I’m overall pleased with the transfer. While the film retains a lot of the soft diffused appearance of Unsworth’s original photography the film was actually finished by Robert Paynter due to Unsworth suffering a fatal heart attack when the production was in shutdown. You can see the differences in these newer scenes as there’s a little less “dreamy” diffusion employed between the Niagra Falls rescue scene and late when Lois jumps into the river. Overall details are sharp and clear with a healthy grain structure - most of the time. There are stretches where it’s pretty obvious that some form of noise reduction has been employed, the close-ups of Clark after Lois uncovers his identity, a lot of the footage inside the Fortress of Solitude while they enjoy dinner, and a few scenes in Perry’s office are notable moments. These are sporadic brief pieces, but they’re easy to spot. Thankfully they don’t last too long and overall the image looks better than the old Blu-ray in many respects, but not picture-perfect. Folks complaining of too much grain for scenes in Superman: The Movie should look to this as reason enough to leave things alone.
Well, if there’s a dog of this Superman: 5-Film Collection it’d be Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Apparently, this cut was finished for 35mm film distribution in 2006, but I have no idea if that was a new negative or if they had a digital intermediate, I haven’t been able to find clear information on that end. Ultimately though, with a variety of film elements from the original shooting negative to test footage for casting to new shots using stand-ins to over 200 new visual effects, this film’s appearance is all over the map and never consistent. Some shots have a pleasing cinematic appearance with fine grain structure, some shots like the test footage scenes have little to no grain and look rather waxy, and then the newer digital effects just look like a silly cartoon. It is what it is, and in this form, it’s not great and looks cheap. That’s why I previously mentioned the re-edit of Justice League or Star Trek: The Motion Picture as an example of why this cut needed and arguably still needs a much bigger production budget to appropriately finish it and make the combination of footage flow more smoothly. It was distracting on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s even more so in 2160p HDR. I also noticed that it looks like some shots were either reframed or even squished, the final Superman flyby before the credits is a notable example where it just looks off compared to the old Blu-ray.
Superman III drops the pond for a damned impressive and often beautiful 2160p HDR10 debut. The film is cleaner looking than ever with sharper crystal-clear details and a healthy cinematic grain structure. Even for the complicated optical effects shots, there’s still a notable amount of clean and clear detail to appreciate every spit curl, the bustling streets of Metropolis, and the quaint dressings of Smallville. Hell, even the gaggy-slapstick opening credits look amazing compared to the old Blu-ray offering a genuine night-and-day difference in overall quality.
Evidently, there must have been a different HDR grading team on Superman III than Superman II because colors, contrast, and black levels are damn near perfect. Flesh tones are human without looking hot or too orange. Superman’s suit is the appropriate shade of blue, with his red cape, yellow belt, and accents on the family crest all matching the first film. Skin tones are also healthy and human looking without looking quite so orange-ish as seen in Superman II. Black levels are appreciable with nice shadow delineation for a great sense of image depth and dimension. That soft diffused quality of the first two films is present but not as strongly employed so there are a few blooms but nothing out of the ordinary that didn’t always exist. This transfer also pulls back that slightly muddy-yellow color timing of the old Blu-ray so whites are genuinely crisp as they should appear.
Arguably the cheapest and possibly the worst Superman film (depending on who you ask), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace recharges in the sun for an excellent 4K HDR10 transfer. Details are terrific letting you fully appreciate Lenny’s 80s clothing, Nuclear Man’s glittery costume, and the flipped footage of Superman’s spit curl as he saves the world with his Insta-repair Laser Vision. Basically, when there aren’t any visual effects in play, the film can look immaculate with clean crisp lines and details with a natural cinematic grain structure without any feeling of smoothing or edge enhancement. When those cheap optical effects come in, it’s almost comically bad in higher resolution - but this is a Cannon film so that’s actually kind of the charm of watching it in the first place.
Fans of multi-channel object-based audio will be happy to hear the same excellent Dolby Atmos track has flown in for this release as well. It’s a hell of a mix and it still holds up today as one of the best deep catalog Atmos tracks. Also included is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 theatrical mix, which is the same as previously issued. It’s good, it gets the job done. The real shame of this particular disc is that the Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was sourced from the original 6-track 70mm has not been ported over or updated to a full lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 - and that therein may be the rub to keep many fans away from this edition. I really liked the Atmos, but in the last few years, I’ve found myself going back to that 5.1 track again and again. Since nothing else about this disc is new or different, I can’t figure why and I’ve heard no explanation to the effect why Warner decided to reauthor this disc when they simply could have repackaged the existing copies with the sequels. If you don’t want or need that 5.1 in your life and love Atmos, I guess you’re all set, but for a number of fans this exclusion may be a deal breaker or at the very least inspire them to swap discs and cases when they get their hands on this set.
On the sound front, Superman II enjoys a lovely Atmos audio mix that’s richly engaging and full of immersive object-based sound effects. This is the most action-packed film of the franchise so it really isn’t a surprise that this mix works so well. From Superman rescuing Lois in Paris to Zod destroying the White House to the big Kryptonian throwdown in Metropolis, the soundscape is dynamic giving a rich feeling for atmosphere and imaging while Ken Thorne’s score - while not as powerful as Williams’ efforts - sounds beautiful.
Stretches of the mix sit in the front/center channels with dips into the sides and rears - Luthor and Ottis in prison, The Daily Planet offices - have a more subdued surround presence but the channels are still active. With any flying or aerial sequence the height channels offer some appropriate “WOOSHING” effects that can move down and dip into the sides, front, and center channels, and then back into the heights. Again that siege on Metropolis is the big highlight in that arena. Throughout the track, Dialog is clean and clear without issue. I did notice some slight warble in the score during the opening montage when Superman rescues the train, but that was the only oddity I noticed.
The only audio option for this release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is an anemic Atmos track. The previous DTS 5.1 track wasn’t much to write home about and this Atmos track does little if anything to improve upon it. Frankly, it’s hard to notice it's even in Atmos at all as much of the mix still sticks to the front/center and side channels with heights and rears only rarely employed and when they are, it still has that herky-jerky quality as the 5.1. While I didn’t love Thorne’s reworking of Williams’ score it at least fit the scenes. Williams' score is beautiful but it’s not timed for this film so key motifs are just kinda shoved in there, that obnoxious triple “da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da” when Superman rescues the kid at Niagra Falls is still there making the music sound like a skipping record. Action sequences like the Kryptonian fight pick up a little extra oomph but again it's not that exciting of an improvement. It's alright and gets the job done, but they could have left with the DTS 5.1 mix and been fine.
On top of an excellent 4K transfer, Superman III flies in with a terrific Atmos mix. Right from the jump this is an actively engaging sound mix with Ken Thorne’s score, the chaotic street sound effects, and the drips of dialog working in perfect harmony. When we get to Pryor at his new job and the rapid clicky-clacks of keyboards, there’s activity throughout the front, sides, and into the rears. For your average “talky” scene heights work mostly to enhance a spatial atmosphere, so again Pryor’s workstation can sound tight and confined while the Smallville gymnasium and reunion dance can sound big and open. Likewise for key action sequences like Superman carrying the frozen pond over the chemical plant or later when he’s fighting himself in the junkyard, the balance between audio elements and where they’re presented in the soundscape is pretty damned impressive. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 theatrical audio from the 2011 disc is also available as a listening option.
As with the other films, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace flies onto 4K with a new Atmos mix, that would otherwise sound great if they didn’t bork Alexander Courage’s score. Most of the audio elements are in great form with clean clear dialog and actively engaging sound effects to give a great sense of surround immersion. The action sequences between Superman and Nuclear Man fighting in space or when Nuclear Man crashes through all the floors to find Lacy Warfield, there’s some nice height channel activity. Some measure of care and attention was paid for this remix to Atmos. Except for the score. Listing to the original DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that has been carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray, something happened in transition. I’ve read a few odd theories about what could have happened but nothing makes sense why it sounds like a middle school band concert.
All of the previously available bonus features have been carried over for this set. Nothing new was authored for this release. Each 4K disc thankfully has the audio commentary so you’re not stuck with just the 1080p disc in that regard. Since all of this is archival material, studied fans should already be well aware of a lot of the content, but for newcomers, the audio commentaries are very interesting listens, especially the contrasting commentaries for the different editions of Superman II and then Mark Rosenthal's Superman IV commentary is a hoot as he's completely unvarnished with his opinions of what Cannon did to the final product. The Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz commentary for Superman: II: The Richard Donner Cut is excellent and it makes the omission of including the Superman: The Movie Special Edition all the more frustrating since they did do a great commentary for that disc as well. At least it's out there and you can get it, but still, it's a bit of a pisser that it's not included with this set since damn near everything else is.
Thanks to a few astute readers, I'd forgotten to mention this set also doesn't include the dedicated bonus features disc from the 2011 Anthology set, so you're also missing out on another few hours of solid extras there too. As such we knocked back the star score for this portion.
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Gathering all of Christopher Reeve’s iconic appearances as the last son of Krypton, the Superman: 5-Film Collection makes for a solid and respectable flight onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray - if maybe not as complete as fans would have hoped. While not 100% picture-perfect, each of the transfers leaves the film looking better than we last saw them on the 2011 Blu-ray discs. The HDR grade for Superman II might be a little hot and some DNR may hit the score, but it’s still solid. The Atmos tracks for each film are great stuff except for Superman IV where the score just sounds thin - something Warner Bros absolutely needs to look into for a possible disc replacement. And while there are the nitpicks of the lack of the Dolby Digital 5.1 for Superman: The Movie, each film still carries its legacy DTS-HD MA 2.0 theatrical mix (except for The Richard Donner Cut which never had one).
For all of the positives to say, this box set still feels incomplete without the Special Edition and Extended Edition versions of Superman: The Movie included, so you’ll still have to pick that up if you haven’t already. It also would have been quite something to see the TV version of Superman II and a fully uncut version of Superman IV arrive on disc - at the very least the slightly longer video version would have been nice. Maybe Warner Archive can pick up the slack there. As a whole, this is a fine box set release. Perhaps not everything everyone could have hoped for, but if you’re aiming to grab all of the films on 4K in one shot, it’s the best way to go. However, if you already have the 2018 Superman: The Movie 4K disc and only want a couple of the sequels, keep that disc and either import the single-title releases from the U.K. or wait for their inevitable release here stateside.
At the end of the day Recommended.