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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Richard Lester
Cast:
Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine
Writing Credits:
Jerry Siegel (characters), Joe Shuster (characters), Mario Puzo (and story), David Newman, Leslie Newman

Tagline:
The three outlaws from Krypton descend to Earth to confront the Man of Steel in a cosmic battle for world supremacy.

Synopsis:
Once again mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve), hiding his identity as Superman, must fight for law and order. This time around, a triumvirate of nasty villains from the planet Krypton break free of their dimensional prison and hightail it to Earth, where they enjoy the same superpowers as Superman. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) has discovered that Superman and Clark are the same person, so Superman debates whether to give up his abilities to become a normal man and share his life with Lois. Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) takes the helm for this sequel, which is arguably the equal of the original hit film.

Box Office:
Budget
$54 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.100 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$53.472 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Monaural
German Monaural
Italian Monaural
Castilian Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Portuguese Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
German
Italian
Castilian
Spanish
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French
German
Italian
Castilian
Spanish
Portuguese

Runtime: 126 min.

Price: $129.95

Available Only as Part of “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology 1978-2006”

Release Date: 6/7/2011

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Ilya Salkind and Producer Pierre Spengler
• Deleted Scene
• Trailer
• “The Making of Superman II” Vintage Special
• “First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series” Featurette
• Nine 1940s Fleischer Studios Superman Cartoons


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Superman II: The Motion Picture Anthology (1978-2006) [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2011)

After the success of 1978’s Superman, the eventual appearance of a sequel was more than probable - it was nearly inevitable. The film’s producers were so certain that the first movie would do well that they tried to make the sequel simultaneously, and the original flick includes a title notation that proclaims the upcoming release of Superman II.

The production team nearly paid for that chutzpah as the road to 1981’s SII was much rockier than originally anticipated. The simultaneous shooting schedule was shelved midway through the event to make sure that the first movie would be ready for a Christmas 1978 release; much of SII had been filmed but that project went on the back-burner. However, when the shoot for the second flick was ready to resume, director Richard Donner was summarily canned from the sequel and replaced with Richard Lester, best known for the Beatles’ movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help!.

SII finished without any cooperation from original stars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman. Actually, the former’s work had been completed, but he doesn’t appear in the sequel because he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay. As for Hackman, he refused to return for the remaining shoot because of the cheesy manner in which Donner was axed; as such, all of his shots in SII came from the original Donner set.

Thus Superman II is an odd mélange of elements that probably should fall flat on its face. However, the sequel actually offers a very entertaining experience that stands nicely next to the semi-classic original. I’d give the first movie the edge in quality, but both are quite similar in that regard, and any arguments that SII actually tops the first flick will be entertained.

In the sequel, we get to the action much more quickly. After a brief reintroduction to some Kryptonian villains who were banished to the Phantom Zone and a montage of shots from the first film, it’s straight to excitement as terrorists take hostages at the Eiffel Tower and threaten to blow up Paris with a hydrogen bomb. Naturally, this attracts the attention of Superman (Christopher Reeve), especially since his favorite human, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), is in France to cover the potential catastrophe. As usual, Lois’ journalistic ambitions get the best of her and she becomes endangered in an attempt to get closer to the story.

Of course, Supes saves the day; he rescues Lois and then transports the activated bomb into outer space, where it harmlessly explodes. Or maybe not. Those baddies from Superman’s homeworld - ringleader General Zod (Terence Stamp), man-hating Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and moronic beast-man Non (Jack O’Halloran) - are freed from their prison due to the blast’s shockwaves. Soon they realize that they have super powers, and they head to Earth to wreak havoc.

All while this starts to occur, Lois and Clark Kent - Superman’s alter ego - go on an exposé trip to Niagara Falls. While there, Lois develops of the theory that Clark and Supes are the same dude, and she eventually is proven correct. Once this happens, the relationship between the two starts to intensify, with ramifications that negatively affect the safety of the planet.

Parts of SII do indeed resemble the cobbled-together mess that the movie should have been. There’s a tentative balance between comedy and drama, with the former element often becoming more prominent than it should have been. Some parts of SII take the campy path that’s ruined many other film adaptations of comic books. While the movie offers some good humor, too much of it was forced and tedious. Take, for example, one battle scene between the villains and Superman. When one of the baddies uses his superbreath to blow around residents of Metropolis, we have to watch the “comedic” results for far too long. This doesn’t serve the story and it all seems lame and excessive.

Some of the scenes that take place in the western part of the US also suffer, but for different reasons. SII was mainly shot in England, and those sequences really do look like a foreigner’s idea of America. Worst of the bunch is a young boy played by one of the most British-seeming kids in history; he does such a horrible job of acting “country” that I still can’t believe they didn’t edit him out of the movie.

The one apparent attempt at “authenticity” was to use Clifton James as the sheriff of the small town. He played an extremely similar role in two Bond films; his Sheriff Pepper showed up in both Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. Since Guy Hamilton directed both of those movies and also had a brief attachment to the Superman series, James’ presence may be due to that filmmaker’s influence, but his over-the-top southern goofiness doesn’t help SII, and the small town scenes are some of the movie’s weakest.

On the other hand, at least those segments let us see more of the villains, all of whom add immensely to the film. Stamp is a consistently malevolent joy as Zod; he provides just the right mix of superiority and disgust as he romps through his scenes. Douglas makes for a wonderfully sexy and scary baddie of the dominatrix variety, and O’Halloran seems appropriately tough but brainless as Non. All in all, they make for a solid trio, as each complements the other.

I also liked the emphasis on the relationship between Lois and Supes. These aspects gave the sequel an emotional depth that fails to appear in the first movie. Actually, that’s not totally true, as Superman featured a different kind of emotional tone, most of which related to Supes’ frustration at the limitations of his powers. Nonetheless, I thought the nuances of the relationship were better developed in the sequel, and they added a lot of range to the film.

Unfortunately, they also led to a variety of plot flaws. I won’t discuss them in detail, but SII often makes less sense than most fantasy films, and that’s saying something. There are huge gaps that go unexplained, and while I’m usually willing to ignore quite a lot of problems if I like a movie, some of the defects found in SII really grated on me. And that’s even before I get irritated with some of the liberties taken for the Kryptonians’ powers; since when could they shoot beams out of their fingers?

Despite the variety of concerns found during Superman II, I still think it’s a very solid piece of entertainment. Yes, it’s disjointed and erratic, but it also provides some solid action pieces and possesses an emotional resonance unusual for this sort of film. It’s a step below the original film, but it’s a small step.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Superman II appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not a gorgeous presentation, the movie usually looked good.

When I reviewed Superman, I mentioned that it included softness caused by three issues: cinematographic choices, visual effects, and “I have no idea”. The first two continued to affect the definition of Superman II, but happily, the third went missing; no longer did I see shots that were soft for no logical reason.

This meant that softness still occurred at times, but those instances were less frequent and less intrusive since they made sense. Overall clarity was quite positive, as most of the movie offered nice delineation. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I noticed only a little edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent. No distractions from specks, marks or other debris marred the presentation.

Colors appeared good. They came across as reasonably lively and vivid, as I noticed no issues connected to the hues. Black levels were acceptably deep and firm, while shadows appeared clear and smooth. Overall, I found a lot to like about the image. Only the instances of softness made this a “B” picture, and it was a high “B” that bordered on a “B+”, while Superman was a low “B-“ that almost became a “C+”.

I also felt pleased with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Superman II. The soundfield was largely oriented toward the front spectrum, where I heard fairly good atmospheric delineation. The forward area provided a nice range of effects that broadened the action well, and music seemed to show good stereo separation as well. Surround usage seemed good but not tremendously involving; the rears offered general reinforcement of the forward spectrum but didn’t provide a whole lot of unique activity. Nonetheless, they made the entire package appear acceptably broad and contributed nice usage when appropriate.

Audio quality was fine. The movie featured a very high number of looped lines, so dialogue often came across as rather awkward and unnatural. A lot of the speech simply didn’t fit in well with the action. However, the dialogue may have been a bit thin, but it remained consistently intelligible and relatively clear, with only occasional bouts of edginess.

Effects worked better, as they seemed clear and distinctive. They showed good bass when appropriate and only suffered from a smidgen of distortion. Music also displayed nice range and delineation. The mix didn’t excel, but it was well above-average for its age.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those from the original 2001 release? The sound remained similar, though I thought the Blu-ray’s lossless track offered a little more kick. Visuals were better, even though the Blu-ray’s higher resolution exposed the soft shots more clearly. Nonetheless, the Blu-ray tended to be tighter and more vivid, so it offered a definite upgrade.

Expect mostly the same extras from the 2006 DVD, though some changes occur. First comes an audio commentary with executive producer Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler. Both sit separately for this edited track. The piece looks at controversies related to the change in director from Richard Donner to Richard Lester, and it gets into connected issues. We also learn about music, effects, and other technical elements related to the movie.

I really enjoyed the commentary these two did for Superman, so this one comes as something of a disappointment. While we do get a reasonable amount of information, the track just never really takes flight. It starts well with notes about the producers’ side of the controversies, but it becomes defensive before long, and much of the time we just hear defenses of various choices. Some gaps appear that leave the impression remarks have been edited out; during some of the juicier moments, the conversation will stop cold. This is still a useful piece, but it falls short of expectations.

The disc also includes both the film’s trailer and a Deleted Scene. Called “Superman’s Soufflé”, this 40-second clip offers Superman’s first attempt at cooking. It goes for a comedic bent and isn’t anything special.

Next we go to a “vintage special”. The Making of Superman II runs 52 minutes, 15 seconds as it presents movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Salkind, Spengler, producer Alexander Salkind, director Richard Lester, matte artist Ivor Beddoes, special effects supervisor Colin Chilvers, and actors Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Gene Hackman. The show looks at the movie’s story and characters, stunts and fight choreography, performances, the work of the art department and costumes, locations, sets and matte paintings, various visual effects, editing, and other technical topics.

Usually “vintage” shows like this serve to do little more than promote the film at hand. Happily, “Making” proves more useful than that. We get lots of great footage from the shoot, and the information provided fleshes out the production well. I especially like the glimpses of the different sets and models. This is a solid program.

A modern featurette shows up via First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series. The 12-minute, 55-second piece features notes from filmmaker’s son Richard Fleischer, author Leslie Cabarga, cartoon historian Jerry Beck, animator/director Myron Waldman, Superman: The Animated Series director Dan Riba, animator’s son Leonard Grossman, S:TAS writers/producers Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, DC Comics librarian Allen Asherman, and writer Roger Stern. The piece looks at the history of the Fleischer Studios, their various innovations and the tone of their work, their involvement with the Superman series, cast and audio, and reflections on Fleischer’s nine Superman shorts.

“Flight” provides a solid examination of its subject. We learn a lot about the Fleischer Studios and their impact on the Superman series. The show gets a little fluffy and praise-heavy at times, but it offers enough nice details to work.

Finally, we get nine 1940s Fleischer Studios Superman Cartoons that fill a total of 79 minutes, 29 seconds. The following shorts appear: “Superman” (10:28), “The Mechanical Monsters” (11:03), “Billion Dollar Limited” (8:36), “The Arctic Giant” (8:35), “The Bulleteers” (8:02), “The Magnetic Telescope” (7:38), “Electric Earthquake” (8:43), “Volcano” (7:58), and “Terror on the Midway” (8:21).

I worried that these shorts would be relentlessly corny and cheesy. Happily, they actually were pretty entertaining. Yeah, they show their age, and they can seem a bit formulaic, but they offer some good action and thrills. The animation is better than expected, and the stories use Supes well; this isn’t the dull slug of “Mole-Men”. Indeed, these cartoons are practically all action; they don’t spend much time with characters or exposition. That’s fine given their brevity, as I wouldn’t expect much more from them. Animation is a great format for a character like this, as it allows him into many dramatic situations that would’ve been exceedingly impractical to film in a live-action format.

My only real complaint is that none of them feature any of Superman’s notable villains. We get anonymous baddies and monsters instead of folks like Lex Luthor. Nonetheless, the shorts are a lot of fun and worth a look.

Note that the Fleischer shorts are new to Superman II; they originally appeared alongside Superman on the four-DVD 2006 release. The 2006 Superman II DVD included a 1988 TV special that goes missing here, but it’ll turn up elsewhere in the “Superman Motion Picture Anthology” set alongside Superman IV, which is a more logical location chronologically.

Superman II remains a flawed but fun film, one that often balances comedy and action with romance and drama. It can be a tentative mix, but for the most part, it worked well and created an interesting program. The Blu-ray provides generally strong picture along with very nice audio and a good set of supplements. This becomes the best way to see this inconsistent but enjoyable movie.

Note that as of June 2011, you can only purchase this Blu-ray edition of Superman II as part of an eight-disc “The Superman Motion Picture Anthology”. This includes Superman, its three 1980s sequels, 2006’s Superman Returns and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and a disc of bonus materials. I’m sure the films will be available individually at some point, but that date is currently unknown.

To rate this film visit the original review of SUPERMAN II

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main