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The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006


You'll still believe a man can fly!

Rod Lott June 7th, 2011

If only my dad were a fan of superhero movies, his Father's Day gift would be a no-brainer: "The Superman Motion Picture Anthology: 1978-2006."

supermananthology

But since he's only into movies about single-prop airplanes, the gift is mine. After all, I'm a father of three, so happy Dad's Day, me!

In all seriousness, this eight-disc set may be the  Blu-ray set of the year, and that's with the acknowledgment that the contents previously were issued on plain ol' DVD. Like Tabasco sauce, hi-def just makes everything better.

The set would be awesome simply by containing all five of the "Superman" films to date (the sixth, Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" franchise reboot, is in pre-production), but it has so much, much more. But first, about those five films: How do they hold up?

"Superman: The Movie" (1978)
Every American has seen this at least once — at least every "real American," right, Gov. Mrs. Palin? And for good reason: It is awesome — a true classic. You know how every other child of the '70s tears up at the mention of "Star Wars"? "Superman" is my "Star Wars." As soon as that John Williams theme kicks in, the hair on my arms stands at attention.

"Superman II" (1980)
The mostly shot-back-to-back sequel is mostly the equal of its big brother. It was great then; it's great now.

"Superman III" (1983)
I will go to my grave defending the honor of this one, even if it is more Richard Pryor's show than Supes'. Its increased sense of humor is a logical extension of the kind presented in its predecessors. Plus, Annette O'Toole > Margot Kidder. But my allegiance has to stop somewhere, and not even I can defend the Atari game scene.

"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987)
The one in the franchise I failed to catch in theaters ... and I wasn't alone. While it's not "good," it is enjoyable in a pure, comic-book, guilty-pleasure fashion. No matter how much Jon Cryer and Nuclear Man try to destroy it, the fact remains that it's still Reeve doing what he did best: being Krypton's favorite son. God bless him for it.

"Superman Returns" (2006)
With Bryan Singer paying homage to Donner's work, this underperforming, misunderstood, long-delayed update is terrific entertainment. By no means is it perfect; by no means is it inferior to the flick that slaughtered it at the box office that summer: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

And Everything Else
Believe it or not, one could argue that five more feature films are included throughout the set: the expanded edition of “Superman” that used to pop up on TV with all those extra scenes; the radically different “Richard Donner Cut” of “Superman II,” which reflects where he was taking the sequel before he got fired; 1951's non-serial but serial-style "Superman and the Mole-Men," starring George Reeves, that era’s boob-tube Supes; “Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman,” an excellent documentary that covers the hero across all media and up through Singer’s film; and “You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman,” another excellent documentary that focuses on the movies, but stops with “Quest for Peace.”

Those two docs are hardly the only nonfiction pieces you’ll get. "Superman 50th Anniversary" was a 1988 television special hosted by Dana Carvey, then riding high on “Saturday Night Live,” with some painful attempts at humor.

More TV specials abound, one each for the first four films. I used to love catching such programs in prime time, but the Internet and DVD have rendered them unnecessary and extinct. "The Making of Superman III" is worth watching just for the footage of Sargent and Eunice Shriver welcoming the cast and crew to their estate for a party. I can only wonder what was going through Pryor's mind, as he looks entirely uncomfortable.

Speaking of TV, check out — if you can stomach it — the 1958 pilot episode of "Adventures of Superpup." Imagine a live-action “Superman” show for youngsters, but if the humans were wearing dog costumes. And there is a mouse hand puppet for some reason. All the elements combine for a surreal experience that makes you glad this never got green-lit for a series, and that may unsettle your children.

They’ll be better served by the set’s inclusion of all 17 Superman cartoons from Fleischer Studios. Despite their age, they’re still enjoyably arty. If that isn’t enough kid-tainment, three animated spoofs have been dug up from the Warner Bros. vaults: Bugs Bunny in "Super-Rabbit," Private Snafu in "Snafuperman" and Daffy Duck in "Stupor Duck."

And for those of you who have nothing but time, the “Anthology” contains an overly generous selection of deleted scenes, trailers, featurettes and other miscellany. My only complaint is that some of the discs’ initial menus are icon-based, with no labels, so you have to click to find out whether you’ll be taken to scene selections, bonus features, setup options or the film itself.

Other than that, I can’t imagine a more thorough collection and/or celebration of one of cinema’s greatest franchises. Up, up and away! —Rod Lott

 
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