It’s another bird! It’s another plane! It’s the second 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Superman: The Movie! Reissued with the Superman: 5-Film Collection, Warner Bros. uses the same impressive Dolby Vision/HDR10 4K transfer, the same solid Atmos mix but weirdly ditches the 5.1 Dolby Digital sourced from the 6-track 70mm presentation. If you still need Superman: The Movie in the collection this is a fine disc, but if you only want one film, stick with the 2018 disc. Overall, still Highly Recommended
Seeing as how a lot of this disc is nearly bit for bit identical to Warner Bros' already excellent 2018 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, I’m not going to dwell too much on this area since our own M. Enois Duarte already did such a stellar job reviewing this film. 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. Unfortunately following sequels would gradually erode that effort, but between Donner’s direction, the epic Puzo (and Mankiewicz who did a lot of uncredited work) story, Reeve and his fellow castmates Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder, there’s never been a finer cinematic Superman to fly across the screen.
Here's what E. Had to say in his 2018 Superman: The Movie 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review:
For most of the 20th Century, Superman has played a distinctive role in American history, symbolizing the ideals the nation has so valiantly stood for. Since his inception during the 1930s Depression era, the super being from the planet Krypton — technically making him an immigrant to the country, which is one of many aspects academics love discussing — has become a deeply rooted cultural icon. Even his outfit is reminiscent of the U.S. flag. He serves as a reminder of what humans are capable of when working together toward a common goal. And he pops into our collective consciousness when he's needed most, when the country and the world seem bleakly insecure and anxiously uncertain due to catastrophic events which affect all.
Towards the end of the tumultuous 1970s, especially after the President embarrassingly resigned from office and a disastrous conflict in Vietnam finally came to a close, The Man of Steel was called upon to basically lift the spirits of the American people. Or at least, he was in a strange cultural episteme of unconscious desire which of course was not openly expressed by the public. I won't go any deeper with this idea, so I'll just write that from a historical standpoint, it's curious to see a sudden interest in the Superman mythos (and superheroes in general) at the end of some very troubling times in the U.S. As if coming from an unspoken need to remember the country's core values remain strongly intact in spite of a widespread, distressing unease.
And so it is that in this climate The Last Son of Krypton made his big-screen debut in Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie, a high-concept blockbuster which displayed some of the best and most advanced special effects of the time. Working from a script that famously began with Mario Puzo's 550-page beast intended for a two-part film series, the film doesn't shy away from delivering snide, cynical remarks on the political atmosphere. There was a genuine distrust of government and policymakers, which characters openly express. So much so that we're even given a scene of Superman's motto ("Truth, Justice and the American Way") being almost frowned upon as some kind of hokey jingoism.
Rather than address the possibility that viewers might be expressing similar sentiments, Donner fills the screen with grand spectacles of herculean heroism, placing more emphasis on Superman as preternatural Christ-like savior. The classic helicopter sequence is a prime example of this — a thrilling eye-opener made believable by the remarkable performance of Christopher Reeve. (John Williams's memorable score also had a great deal to do with it.) He not only dons the glasses and fedora hat, but he actually portrays a wholly different and convincing person as Clark Kent. And it's a marvelous display of talent when he maintains strong chemistry with Margot Kidder's Lois Lane in either disguise.
Superman's long-time arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) also joins the cast, but he's been transformed from the traditional mad scientist to a white-collar criminal, which really only adds to the idea of distrust against suits. Although he remains a super-genius, the character is also a comical swindler with a penchant for real estate and talking his way out of trouble. What's truly interesting of the plot is Luthor challenging Superman not with power or high-tech weaponry, but as symbolic of corrupt corporate greed to which life is an expendable commodity for the greatest profit return. Predictably, the Kryptonian wins in the end, but with good performances and Donner's strong direction, Superman: The Movie offers a fun and imaginative ride to that conclusion.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Warner Bros. will make you believe you can buy Superman: The Movie again on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. As part of the Superman 5-Film Collection, this two-disc set is housed in a standard sturdy two-disc case along with its cinematic siblings. All five cases are bundled together in a paper slipcase. A digital copy is included, but it redeems only for all five films, not just one film. The 4K is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the Region Free BD-50 being the same Theatrical Cut disc released with The Superman Motion Picture Anthology release from 2011. Neither the Extended Cut or the Special Edition is included in this set. The artwork for both discs is virtually identical including the UPC code, the only difference is the tech specs at the bottom in the very fine neigh-impossible-to-read text.
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.
Here’s what E. had to say in his review:
The classic superhero movie saves Ultra HD from disaster, powered by a splendid and highly dynamic HEVC H.265 encode, making it, hands down, the best the film has ever looked on any home video format. Reportedly sourced from a brand-new 4K remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, the 2160p transfer immediately shows dramatic improvements in the clean, well-defined lines of the unique, arctic architecture on Krypton while practically every minute feature of the buildings and bustling streets of Metropolis are distinct. Individual hairs, the fine stitching of clothing and every object decorating the background is highly-detailed and razor-sharp, even beneath the heavily-stylized and deliberately hazy cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth. Granted, the elements show their age in a few areas, revealing some blurriness and slightly less than satisfying resolution, most notably during the many dated optical effects, which are understandable and forgivable. But overall, awash with a thin layer of natural grain that's fairly prominent in some sequences, definition and clarity are superb for this 40-year-old classic.
Overlooking that and sticking to what really matters about the UHD format, the 4K video foils another evil mastermind's capitalist plans with marvelous, pitch-perfect contrast, making the entire film seem new and refreshed as if watching it for the first time in cinemas. Whites are significantly brighter with a more intense, luminous pop than the Blu-ray, which is quite apparent in the noticeably tighter, narrower glow of light from various light fixtures and city neon lights. But an even more remarkable improvement is the resplendent specular highlights, supplying the edge of metallic objects and cars with a photorealistic glisten, as well as a shiny sparkle and shimmer along the top of the water while also revealing the fine detailing within the most intensely brilliant spots, like lightbulbs. Likewise, black levels are fuller and inkier, from the clothes and the glossy paint job of cars to various objects throughout the offices of the Daily Planet. Richer, silkier shadows come with excellent delineation within the darkest, murkiest corner, providing the 2.40:1 image with appreciable dimensionality and a gorgeous cinematic quality.
Being a movie based on a famous comic book hero, Unsworth's diffusion filtered photography was shot with a great deal of color and optimism. And this Dolby Vision HDR presentation remains faithfully the filmmakers' creative intentions, furnishing nearly every scene with strikingly flamboyant and energetic primaries. Superman's iconic costume most notably stands out as the reds of his cape, boots, and underpants pop a candy rose shade and the rest is a spirited, animated admiral cobalt. The green of leaves and grass are a shamrock tint while kryptonite oozes a neon emerald glow. The palette also displays a bit more variety in the secondary hues, such as the vibrant pinks smoothly blending into a plum purple and indigo blues across the evening skies. Meanwhile, the yellows in the sun, taxi cabs and in Superman's costume shine an animated buttery lemon color. In fact, with much of the cinematography favoring various earth tones, the movie shows an amazing selection of browns, ambers, and oranges, perfectly capturing the clothing styles of the era. With beautiful, lifelike facial complexions and flesh tones throughout, the movie is simply stunning and gorgeous on 4K Ultra HD. (Video Rating: 94/100)
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.
Here’s what E. had to say about the Atmos track back in 2018:
It's not a bird!
It's not a plane!
It's a sensational, out of this world Dolby Atmos soundtrack that fixes some of the issues of its DTS-HD MA counterpart. Reportedly, the sound design is a brand-new remix from the same remastered OCN as the video, restoring and refurbishing the original sound elements that were switched for new effects on the Blu-ray release. Right from the start, John Williams' iconic score fills the entire soundstage and subtly bleeds into the top heights, generating a beautifully engaging half-dome wall of sound that's consistent. With the added breathing room, the mid-range is stunningly sharp and highly-detailed with room-penetrating clarity during the loudest, most dramatic action sequences and outstanding separation in Williams' orchestration. Without being too overpowering or distracting, the low-end is surprisingly generous with appreciable oomph and a couple room-energizing moments. Meanwhile, vocals are precise and very well-prioritized from beginning to end.
The biggest surprise, however, comes from engineers doing a fantastic job in extending the various sound effects into the surrounds without feeling forced or artificial. Going back to the opening title sequence, the swooshing of text coming in and out of the screen fluidly travels across the ceiling channels or into the surrounds, setting up expectations that are more than satisfied. From the debris of crumbling buildings, either on Krypton or in Metropolis, to voices echoing all around, like Marlon Brando's inside the Fortress of Solitude or Gene Hackman, the overheads are often employed more effectively and convincingly than even the best Disney/Marvel collaboration can churn out. Occasionally, Superman flawlessly pans above the listening area without drawing attention to itself. Meanwhile, the sides and rears are continuously used for various atmospherics, and combined with the overheads, this high-rez track creates a highly-satisfying hemispheric soundfield that's pure reference quality. (Audio Rating: 96/100)
Like the transfer and the Atmos mix, all of the bonus features are the same for this release, right down to the same audio commentary featured on the 4K disc - which is nice. At least they didn’t skimp there and sucker you into having to watch the Blu-ray just to hear the commentary. It’s a solid track, but I wish the Donner and Mankiewicz commentary from the Special Edition could have been conformed for this theatrical cut as I thought they were the more interesting pairing than Spengler and Salkind. After that, everything that you enjoyed on the old Blu-ray is carried over because, well, it’s the same damn disc as before. Which is okay because there’s some great stuff in here. The Making-Of doc is essential viewing if you’ve never looked at it. Again, reference E's review for more information about the bonus features.
4K UHD Disc
Perhaps I’m a bit nostalgic or perhaps as a longtime collector growing up we only had a few decent comic book films to cherish for so many long years, but in my humble opinion, Superman: The Movie is still the best there’s been in the genre. With Puzo’s (and Tom Mankiewicz's) story, Donner’s respectful direction, John Williams' perfect score, and Reeve’s character-defining performance, this film remains the genre-defining benchmark for any and all DCU or MCU films to come since. And frankly, none are as good as this. There are close competitors, but this is a fully realized comic book film brought to life with pitch-perfect character drama, comedy, romance, and plenty of action. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray (again) as part of the Superman: 5-Film Collection, this disc enjoys the same excellent transfer and Atmos audio mix and bonus features but weirdly omits the Dolby Digital 5.1 track - which may or may not matter to some folks. If that 5.1 track isn’t an issue, grab this set, if it is, hold onto or hunt down that 2018 disc. Otherwise, consider this one Highly Recommended.