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Another Blast From The Past: My Thoughts On...SUPERMAN RETURNS (Warner/Legendary/DC)

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Old 12-24-2008, 05:17 PM   #1  
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Default Another Blast From The Past: My Thoughts On...SUPERMAN RETURNS (Warner/Legendary/DC)

I'm revisiting this title only because it was on my list of DVDs to be replaced by Blu-rays (something I have been very skeptical on doing because of being burned by sub-par titles like Christmas Vacation and Independence Day) and someone got this list over to the Hebrew Hammer or Santa, as it ended up as one of a bunch of Blu titles I received this holiday season. This was my first experience with Superman Returns in HD, and I had my reservations going into it because of all the negative reviews I was reading by fellow reviewer friends, online takes and the negativity surrounding even its HD DVD release. I had it on my replacement list simply because the DVD looked absolutely atrocious -- especially for a big budget title like this from a major studio like the WB. However, after watching the Blu-ray version and hearing all about the subpar HD DVD edition, I can honestly say this has something to do with the way Superman Returns was filmed -- as the same ugly problems that plagued the DVD edition popped up in almost the same places on Blu. The film just looks crummy.

You know what I always argued after seeing Superman Returns in theaters? I felt that of course Christopher Reeve's passing allowed a slot -- and some big red boots -- to be filled by a new actor brave enough to don the red cape, but yet even though this was a franchise reboot, why couldn't Bryan Singer bring back Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder and others to reprise their roles? The picture is supposed to be set after the events of Superman II, in or around, so while Reeve needed to be replaced, it would have made sense that Kidder and Hackman's Lois Lane and Lex Luthor characters would have gotten naturally older as well. Of course, being a fresh take and reboot, the idea is to give new identity to the characters, but I couldn't help -- and still can't -- think how cool it would have been to bring at least those two original actors back. My lady noted that they could have even used Courtney Cox as an older Lois Lane for this film, as she makes more sense visually as an older Margot Kidder kind of stand-in and I kind of agreed; the problem that has always annoyed me about this reboot has been the fact that Kate Bosworth looks younger here, years later in the series' chronology, than Margot Kidder ever did in any of the original films. Go figure that one out.

Of course, with the stunning overnight success Legendary Pictures and DC Comics Studios, with Warner Brothers, had with Batman Begins and in response to all the projects Marvel Studios was cranking out with 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Sony and others, it was time for the conglomerate to respond with their own rocket. They reinvented the Caped Crusader, now it was time to bring the Man of Steel back to life on the big screen. In my personal opinion -- and I KNOW this is wildly debatable -- Chris Reeve was the only one who could play the Kent/Superman role for the motion picture versions. The decision to cast Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel for this reboot was not a bad one -- he fits the costume, the physique, the dorky demeanor of Clark Kent when he's working at the Daily Planet...and he does indeed feel like a fresh, new reborn Superman for today's times. I just think Reeve's performances are in a class of their own.

All the other pieces fit nicely, while at the same time, they bother me for some odd reason -- Kevin Spacey works as Lex Luthor on a surface level, but I didn't really "feel" him as the supervillain from the comics...his acting and antics are very heavy-handed in this, and while you can see him having fun with the character, I don't think it quite matched the animated "behavior" of the comic Luthor. He played it a bit too hammy for my tastes. Kitty, played by the delicious Parker Posey, didn't really make any difference to me, but I didn't care for Frank Langella as Perry White. The Jimmy Olson character also didn't do it for me, but I suppose it was the best choice for a modern day geeky photographer who wears a bowtie every day and hangs onto Clark like a tail. The largest issue I had, as I said, was the casting of Lois -- Bosworth just did not fit here at all. I understand they're doing a reboot here, but the chronology just doesn't make sense when you look at it -- the events of Superman Returns are supposed to continue where part II left off just about (with the assumption that III and IV never took place -- thank G-d), and if that's the case, Lois would be somewhat older by now...Bosworth looks YOUNGER than Margot Kidder from the years prior. Ridiculous.

Bryan Singer went right for the throat with this reboot, assuming fans know the story behind Kal-El and Clark Kent, the destruction of Krypton, Clark's arrival on Earth and his upbringing by the farmer couple. His introduction sequence includes a short telling onscreen that brings the series up to date; apparently, Superman heard there may have been findings of pieces of his home world after it exploded and he left Earth to see if it was true. In the meantime, Metropolis and the Earth moved on without him, growing more modern and becoming more self-reliant without a flying hero. This film was supposed to pick up after he returns to Earth, and it was a nice attempt to logically make up for the years that have passed since the sequels of II, III and IV. What was also effective was the way the opening title sequence played perfectly identical to the other films in the franchise, the cast and crew names blasting towards the screen while visuals of Krypton exploding and Jor-El himself narrating a few lines about Kal-El becoming a father after he became a son...

What Singer and crew have done so well is made the feel and look of Metropolis in Superman Returns very real and fitting -- there is a classic, retro, comic-like feel to the visuals of the city and even the clothing worn by the characters. The costuming perfectly mixed the retro look of classic Metropolis fashion with modern day clothing -- it was a perfect middle ground. And that's seen all throughout the film. While I personally thought The Dark Knight was a bit too real in its presentation of Gotham (not enough "comic exaggeration" to it), the production design was perfect here. We are introduced right away to the new Lex Luthor, played by Spacey, as he swindles some old widow out of a will and takes her for everything she's got. Clark then returns to Earth in a space craft very much like the one he landed in from Superman: The Movie, after looking for remnants of his home world that may have been found. Mr. Kent has passed, but his Earth mother is still living on the Smallville farm. Clark, watching the news on television, painfully discovers that the world has grown beyond him -- wars, politics, economics. He heads back to Metropolis, where his reporter job at the Daily Planet is waiting for him -- and where he discovers Lois Lane has become a mother and has also moved on without Superman.

I had an issue with the whole "Superman's son" thing too -- I think it was unnecessary and I hope they're not planning on introducing Superboy in the next follow up installment, whenever that is. At any rate, we get a look at Supey's new modernized suit (when did he have a chance to update it, and where?) with the film's first big action set piece: Lois is covering the launch of a new shuttle craft and is onboard the wickedly fast ship miles above the Earth when something goes terribly wrong and Superman flies in to save the day -- and the lives of all aboard the shuttle in a jaw-dropping action sequence really kicking this film into gear. What is instantly noticeable and thought-provoking are the differences between the technologies of the old Superman films and this one when watching him on the screen for the first time in this reboot -- where Reeve was pretty much cast upon a backdrop for the flying sequences in the old films, Routh is transformed into a hyper-fast Superman, appearing as a quick blur in the sky...made possible with live action mixed with the magic of CGI. A modern day, super-fast Superman has arrived! He never looked better for the current time.

With the world in absolute pandemonium that the Man of Steel is back, Clark attempts to get back into Lois' panties but she's now "engaged" to the Daily Planet's Assistant Editor, a relative of Perry White's, and while you're made to think the kid they have is from him, it's actually Clark's from the affair they had in Superman II on that giant silver pillow bed...remember that? It was an unnecessary subplot. Lois is getting a Pulitzer for writing the article "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" and she tries to explain to him -- during a "Can You Read My Mind" flying sequence in homage to the older films -- how the world has moved on without him. He then spends his days on Earth fighting crime, thwarting bank robberies and then finding out that Luthor is now out of jail (after Superman failed to show up for a court hearing) and has stolen a crystal from the Fortress of Solitude in order to create a new land mass that will destroy all of the U.S. for his own selfish purposes; the whole Lex Luthor plot was a bit corny and unrealistic in this film and hopefully the follow-up will correct this with a better script.

Worse yet, Luthor has stolen a certain mineral from a Metropolis museum which allows him to create the necessary elements of Kryptonite; again, this was a bit corny and far-fetched and should have been explained and explored better. He creates his new land mass off the coast of Metropolis and injects the Kryptonite elements into the creation -- when Superman discovers the plot and arrives on the mass, the Kryptonite robs him of his powers and Luthor and his henchmen beat him senseless. I suppose, for the most part, this was modern and effective in its approach of a new Luthor and his attack on the Man of Steel. Being stabbed with a Kryptonite encrusted crystal, Supes falls into the ocean, seemingly killed by Luthor once and for all. Inbetween is a very cool and effective sequence in which Luthor's new mass creates an earthquake that rocks Metropolis, and we get to see this new Superman's abilities in full force -- he sweeps in, saving falling people, blowing out exploding sewers with his super cool breath and using his laser eyes to destroy falling debris.

But Lois and fiancé come to the rescue in the fiancé’s sea plane, removing the crystal from Supey's side and thus helping him recover -- he heads out of the Earth's atmosphere to fully regenerate his powers with the Earth's sun, but the destruction of Luthor's land mass again exposes him to the Kryptonite as he catapults it into outer space. Falling through the atmosphere and crashing into the ground, Superman is rushed to the hospital where human medical treatments don't work on him -- he is assumed pretty much dead. What's most important here though is that Lex and Kitty are still alive and well -- and deserted on an island somewhere off the coast. It will be interesting to see where Singer -- if he's the next director -- or whomever takes the captain's seat goes with the next film in the reboot project...if there is one.

VIDEO ANALYSIS:
RESOLUTION: 1080p
ASPECT RATIO: 16X9 2.4:1 (2.40:1)

As I mentioned, this was my first experience with Superman Returns in high definition -- I will now have to sell my DVD edition as this was a replacement in the form of a holiday gift, but whatever you have heard about the shortcomings of this title are true: The film on Blu-ray looks just as soft and uninviting as it did on standard definition. I can't speak for the HD DVD edition, but I have heard and have read that the disc looked pretty bad in that format too. The film just looks terrible, probably based on the way it was filmed. While the 1080p encode makes everything look a bit cleaner and slightly sharper than the DVD, it still looks flat and soft across much of the run. The opening Lex Luthor sequence still retains the noise in the background which plagued the DVD version, and the same flat, dull look of the standard definition presentation remains on the Blu-ray. There's like a smoky, hazy, "smoothed over" look to this film and it didn't really improve with the high def treatment; colors are almost non-existent amidst the morbid, arid sepia tone set by the production team.

The problem areas, as I pointed out, from the DVD are intact here...the most pronounced one has to be the sequence in which Kevin Spacey is stealing the meteorite element from the museum...there's a horrendous amount of grain and noise in the dark part of this sequence, and while more excessive on the DVD, it's still there on the BD version -- this was a source element issue, and maybe included for effect, but it is jarring and annoying when watching it. There is still macroblocking and ringing when Supes is falling under the ocean water when Spacey stabs him with the Kryptonite. While some of the sequences appear sharp, focused, stable and high definition-like, improving on the look of the DVD, most of this disc just doesn't look all that different from the standard release version, and for that, I cannot recommend it as a double-dip for those of you considering replacing your DVD version.

A disappointing Blu-ray release from Warner.

AUDIO ANALYSIS:
ENGLISH DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1; FRENCH, SPANISH DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1; SUBTITLES IN ENGLISH, FRENCH AND SPANISH

To add insult to injury, Warner slapped on the Dolby Digital mix from the DVD edition of Superman Returns -- not even giving it a new high resolution treatment with TrueHD. I heard rumors of a new version of this title coming out with TrueHD audio, or possibly an uncompressed PCM mix, but I never saw it hit shelves. But this is a head scratcher -- why would Warner release such a hot title in high def without a high resolution audio track? The saving grace here is that the lossy Dolby mix is running at a higher bitrate than that on the DVD -- and the results are noticeable. From the very beginning, the destruction of Krypton sequence sends the planet's debris shooting into the surround channels with more force and more detail. Dialogue sounds a bit crisper, and the track, overall, sounds wider and just better. The Dolby 5.1 mix on the DVD was no slouch at all, but the bitrate expansion on the Blu-ray really brings it up a notch.

All the standout moments from the DVD's audio track are here -- the cascading airplane sequence when Supes first makes his appearance complete with jarring surround effects and wooshing pans; the Kryptonite cannon blast towards the end; the creation of Lex's new island...the Dolby track on the Blu-ray really impressed.

But I still don't get why Warner didn't re-encode this with TrueHD audio at least, with the option for Dolby Digital in the menu, as they do with almost all of their BD titles.

In the end, I feel Superman Returns isn't worth re-buying on Blu unless you absolutely must have it as a diehard fan of the format or the series; to my eyes, it offered very little visual improvement over the DVD because of the way it was filmed and the audio, while an improvement, isn't so mind-blowingly better that you must run out and get this. I'm sure others would disagree, but I cannot give a "recommended" seal of approval on this one, friends.

Thanks, as always, for reading and letting me share my thoughts on this kinda back-catalog title!

Last edited by Peter Marlowe; 12-24-2008 at 05:29 PM..
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Old 12-25-2008, 12:14 AM   #2  
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This reboot needs rebooted.

It didn't work for me on any level.

A chore to sit through.
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Old 12-25-2008, 01:23 AM   #3  
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Sold my HD DVD of it, didn't like anything about it.

Warning to other readers: The review above contains a ton of plot spoilers.
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Old 12-25-2008, 01:57 AM   #4  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nikopol View Post
Sold my HD DVD of it, didn't like anything about it.

Warning to other readers: The review above contains a ton of plot spoilers.
Spoiler:
It's actually a synopsis of the whole movie.
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Old 12-25-2008, 11:59 AM   #5  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kamspy View Post
This reboot needs rebooted.

It didn't work for me on any level.

A chore to sit through.
+1 This movie sucked hairy, sweaty, donkey nuts big time. Spacey and Bosworth were utterly unconvincing. Lacked substance with little or no plot. You'd think after 20+ years, they come up with something better. This one is on par with Quest For Peace with better CG. My HD DVD copy was played once, no more.
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Old 12-25-2008, 08:02 PM   #6  
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Originally Posted by Recherché View Post
+1 This movie sucked hairy, sweaty, donkey nuts big time. Spacey and Bosworth were utterly unconvincing. Lacked substance with little or no plot. You'd think after 20+ years, they come up with something better. This one is on par with Quest For Peace with better CG. My HD DVD copy was played once, no more.
+2 Woeful.

It was particularly disappointing considering the colossal amount of potential material to work with.
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Old 12-25-2008, 09:03 PM   #7  
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i have it on HD DVD last year when Best buy had a b3g2 free.i watched the 1st 2 original movies on HD DVD,those were great,but haven't really wanted to see this one.i know i won't double dip for this superman.
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Old 12-26-2008, 03:10 PM   #8  
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Wow -- a TON of negative commentary on Superman Returns; didn't know so many people didn't like it -- I thought it was a good attempt at rebooting/re-energizing the franchise to make up for III and IV and to fill in where Reeve left off...

I agreed that Spacey wasn't that "great" as Lex -- okay but not great -- but other than that, what was it that you fellas thought was so awful about it?

From all accounts, the DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray all look universally awful -- the film was shot on high definition camera systems and it caused that soft, washed-out look.
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Old 12-26-2008, 05:04 PM   #9  
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In no specific order....

  • Pacing
  • Art Direction
  • Writing
  • Casting
  • Set Design
  • Acting?
  • Photography Direction

all come to mind.

IIRC the audio was decent
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Old 12-29-2008, 11:11 AM   #10  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kamspy View Post
Spoiler:
It's actually a synopsis of the whole movie.
It's good to see they're still working...

The spoiler tags that is...

Spoiler:
yup. still working.


––––

As far as the movie goes... It's good popcorn fun at the movies. Not so much at home.
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Old 12-29-2008, 04:42 PM   #11  
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I still see the good ol' boys of this forum -- Kam and Awol that is -- are still hard at work criticizing the reviews of everyone who puts an effort in for a very in-depth title overview that gets churned out.

It's laughable how there's enough energy to hijack a thread of someone else's yet there isn't enough to "read" what has been called total synopsis of the film, when it's actually a full-length, honest to goodness official review from soup to nuts on the title.

I'm sure everyone has seen this already, which makes the commentary even more unnecessary.
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Old 12-29-2008, 05:46 PM   #12  
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You can't assume everyone has seen this already. That said, didn't you say you weren't going to use the spoiler feature and instead put a warning on your title or preface the review in bold that it contains plot spoilers?

I personally skip to the PQ/AQ part of your reviews as that is all I am interested in. Don't take offense as I do that with most BD reviews I read around the web. Oh yeah, thanks for the review.
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Old 12-29-2008, 06:42 PM   #13  
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You can't assume everyone has seen this already. That said, didn't you say you weren't going to use the spoiler feature and instead put a warning on your title or preface the review in bold that it contains plot spoilers?
I think it's safe to assume this has been seen by most red blooded human beings populating planet Earth; at any rate, this is the first of the more recent reviews that I have done which leaves off the plot spoiler warnings in the beginning, in bold faced type. I did that because, as I said, I assumed most of the modern world has seen this since its release.

The plot spoiler hide feature I am looking into, but 90 percent of my review would be blocked then, and I don't want to supply just audio and video specification analysis.

Quote:
I personally skip to the PQ/AQ part of your reviews as that is all I am interested in. Don't take offense as I do that with most BD reviews I read around the web. Oh yeah, thanks for the review.
You're welcome, Goss.

Indeed, I do that too when I'm just trying to see if others found the same things about the audio and video as I did when surfing for other online reviews, so that's okay if you do that.

Thanks for reading at least the specs portion; to get this back on track, the video wasn't great, as has been hinted and reported on.

Not worth a double dip on BD if you ask me.
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Old 12-30-2008, 10:57 AM   #14  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Marlowe View Post
I still see the good ol' boys of this forum -- Kam and Awol that is -- are still hard at work criticizing the reviews of everyone who puts an effort in for a very in-depth title overview that gets churned out.

It's laughable how there's enough energy to hijack a thread of someone else's yet there isn't enough to "read" what has been called total synopsis of the film, when it's actually a full-length, honest to goodness official review from soup to nuts on the title.

I'm sure everyone has seen this already, which makes the commentary even more unnecessary.
Point Number 1 – You don't get it.

I'm not criticizing your review. I'm stating a fact. You've been asked MANY times not to reveal the plot points of a movie you're reviewing. By a Mod, no less. And yet you STILL do it (See Point Number 1). You even stated that you were going to start at least putting, in bold, that there would be plot spoilers. You didn't on this one or other recent commentaries you've posted. I actually have seen this movie, so the plot points aren't really that big a deal to me on this one, but as a manner of principle, no, not everyone may have seen this yet so the plot should not be revealed. Some people have other things to do besides watch movies, and as such may not have seen everything that you have yet.

And I'm not hijacking your thread. I posted my own opinion of the movie which is perfectly acceptable. Sorry if you don't like that fact. I'm not going to address anything you've actually said in your commentary, because you don't know how to accept criticism. You've proven that more than enough times. Seems to me like you should possibly refer back to Point Number 1 again.

Also, people are free to comment on anything they please. Whether or not they have seen the film. It's a PUBLIC forum. If you don't want people to comment on your threads, don't start them.
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Old 12-30-2008, 11:01 AM   #15  
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Quote:
Indeed, I do that too when I'm just trying to see if others found the same things about the audio and video as I did when surfing for other online reviews, so that's okay if you do that.
But then he won't really "appreciate" all the hard work you put into it. Isn't this what you chastised people for another thread?
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