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Superman ReturnsSuperman Returns on DVD – with Superman II, The Richard Donner Cut

Bryan Singer, the man who directed the first two X-Men movies, has turned his considerable talents to the granddaddy of all superheroes, Ka-El from Krypton, in this remake/update/homage to the Richard Donner originals of nearly 30 years ago.

“Donner originals?” Didn’t he only direct Superman – The Movie, then get replaced by Richard Lester?  Well, yes, kind of. More about that later.

But Superman Returns revisits the plot from the first two movies, sans General Zod and his super people of hench. And we won’t spoil things by telling you exactly which ones.

Brandon Routh is the unknown chosen to fill the originally-unknown Christopher Reeve’s cape, and he’s a pretty good choice. He seems a bit young, but his delivery is very Reeve-like, and that isn’t a bad thing when you’re making connections and drawing parallels between the original and the new flick on the block.

Two horrible casting decisions were made, however. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor isn’t fit to shine Gene Hackman’s shoes. He’s both lifeless and smaller than life compared with Hackman’s super over the top, scenery-chewing portrayal. And Frank Langella is far too subdued and, well, nice in his portrayal of Daily Planet editor Perry White. Again, Donner made the better casting choice with Jackie Cooper. But what can you do?

The story is as the title suggests. Superman has been gone for five years after having left suddenly and mysteriously – though as it turns out he had a pretty compelling reason to go. And as the world is wont to, it and its inhabitants have moved on. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, who’s more decorative than Margot Kidder but maybe not as good in the role) got herself knocked up a few years back and is now living with her fiancé, Richard, (James Marsden) who obviously fills the void left by both her Super little friend and her also vanished foil and colleague Clark Kent.

Bringing in baby and hubby-compatible was a real risk (and perhaps an unnecessary one), but Singer and his co writers have pulled it off well. The family aspect gives Supe-baby three people to rescue instead of one, as well as giving him (and Clark) competition for what he had undoubtedly assumed would be Lois’ undivided attention.

Luthor is still Luthor, other than Spacey’s limp portrayal. He’s still “heavy” into real estate and his super crime this time is reminiscent of his “no fault” insurance scheme of Donner’s Superman, only this time instead of putting millions of innocent people at risk he’s upping the ante into the billions of innocent souls in peril.

We loved the way Singer’s Superman movie has the same basic look as Donner’s, such as the crystal Kryptonian relics, but updated to take advantage of today’s state of the movie making art. And the homages to Donner’s version appear throughout, including the repetition of some lines exactly – or near enough to make one chuckle – as they appeared earlier.

And of course the special effects are spectacular. We enjoyed particularly the first time Superman rescues Lois. In 1978 it was from a crashing Jet Ranger helicopter, but this time it’s bigger and better: a 777 spinning groundward from great height. It’s great!

The music hearkens back to John Williams majestic score, without merely ripping it off, with the result being someone old and something new – just like the rest of the movie.

So how’s the DVD? We received the two disc special edition, and it is indeed special. The movie itself is featured in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and while we didn’t find the picture quality up to the standards of Singer’s X-movies (which are reference quality), overall it’s very good – and offers a kind of classic feel in its softness that belies its current, digital origin.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. As is typical of Warners, there’s no choice of dts and we’re always disappointed in that. Still, the sound quality is fine, rich and full and with good use of surround and low frequency channels.

Then there’s the second disc of extras, the primary of which is a glorious documentary that goes into great detail of the movie’s creation. This three hour extravaganza “Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns" is worth the price of admission alone (well, other than the movie!).

There’s also a quick bit on how they brought Jor-El back from Marlon Brando’s death, as well as several deleted scenes, many of which are well worth a view.  

Superman Returns, from Warner Home Entertainment
154 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Frank Langella
Produced by Jon Peters, Bryan Singer, Gilbert Adler
Written by Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris, directed by Bryan Singer

Superman IIWarners’ PR people also sent us a copy of Superman II, The Richard Donner Cut, which intrigued us immediately. We love Donner’s Superman (and still think it’s the definitive version even after watching Returns), but the rest of the series doesn’t even come close.

Superman II was the best of the sequels, but it seemed like a mishmash – and it undoubtedly was considering its production. But now, Warners has reassembled the original film as Donner saw it, mostly.

It’s an interesting curiosity and it’s probably better than the Lester version, at least marginally. It’s quite a bit different from the "original sequel", but it’s still played too much for laughs and there are some horrible lapses in its logic that may just have you howling – including one rehash from the first movie (which is explained well in the supplementary materials) that, in fact, means the entire movie never actually happened at all!

Picking up shortly where Superman – The Movie left off, Superman II in either incarnation sees the Man of Steel giving up everything for the woman he loves, just in time for Earth to fall to the super villains first banished to the Phantom Zone at the beginning of the first movie (and again at the beginning of the Donner II).

In the end, we’re glad we saw it, but we’d rather watch the original an extra time than bother with either version of II, III or IV. Our idea of a Superman movie marathon will be Superman followed by Superman Returns, which has enough of II’s influence in it to satisfy us.

The DVD’s pretty good, though. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, the picture is mostly sharp and clean, with good color. Audio is surprisingly good, especially the low frequency effects.

Extras include an introduction by Richard Donner, a commentary by Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, some deleted scenes, and a new feature on the resurrection of the original Superman II.

Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut, from Warner Home Entertainment
116 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Jack O’Halloran, Sarah Douglas, Terence Stamp
Produced by Pierre Spengler
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, directed by Richard Donner

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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