In 1978, the original poster for “Superman: The Movie” promised that “You will believe a man can fly.” Warner Brothers is hoping that a more special-effects savvy public will see past the smoke, the blue screen and the wires to rediscover the premiere event movie of the late “70s (aside from the one starring Mark Hamill). This week they are releasing the original “Superman” along with its three lackluster sequels on DVD for the first time.
While computers have made us believe all sorts of unlikely things, “Superman,” for the most part, holds up. The transfer is beautiful, taking away the orange “70s gloss that has plagued the home video all these years. John Williams”s epic soundtrack is appropriately rousing and campy, and has been remastered here in Dolby Digital 5.1. For the nostalgic, music alone will make you want to tie a pillowcase around your neck and jump off of your couch all over again. The movie itself is more emotional than it had to be, due in no small part to its great cast, featuring Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty and, in the most expensive cameo ever, Marlon Brando as Jor-El. The mixture of epic and comic book works because director Richard Donner treats “Superman” as if it is a bio-pic, giving real soul to the characters.
Aside from the fine film itself, the DVD is full of extras and goodies for the discriminating fan. The feature link commentary by Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (who also contributed, un-credited, to the script) is entertaining, as the old friends discuss behind-the-scenes details and poke fun at each other. They discuss the technical aspects of the film (the explosion of Krypton was a flaming tennis ball) and interesting anecdotes about Brando”s erratic behavior and Gene Hackman”s refusal to play Lex Luthor bald. The only drawback is that the inside jokes between Mankiewicz and Donner pass without explanation, leaving the viewer in the dark.
Also included are several interesting screen tests, including Christopher Reeve”s own as the Man of Steel, and Stockard Channing trying out for the role of Lois Lane. Outtakes and deleted scenes abound, as well as the original theatrical trailer and teaser, and a TV spot from 1978. The three half-hour documentaries on the making of the film are a nice mixture of current talking head interviews with the cast and crew, and behind-the-scenes footage from the actual filming. Nearly everyone from Kidder and Donner to the casting director participate, as well as a wheelchair-bound Reeve. His boisterous co-workers and the footage of him flying high above Metropolis leaves little doubt that he will walk again.
Event films and special effects extravaganzas seem to be what DVDs were intended to showcase, and Warner Brothers comes through for the fans with a quality disc for one of the biggest movies of all times.