The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection—Warner Brothers

Super Hero
Christopher Reeve flies again.

Perhaps never before in the history of home video has a studio crafted months of releases upon a single theme, as Warner has in 2006, “the year Superman returns.” No doubt tying into that new feature film, all manner of Super movies and TV shows have been issued on DVD, some for the first time—new seasons of Smallville, the classic Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, Superboy, The Animated Series, and even the cartoon adventures of the Dog of Steel, Krypto. But we can never give enough credit to Christopher Reeve and his dual role as the impossibly awkward Clark Kent and a gentlemanly savior in a red cape. Reeve’s electric screen presence was born of classical acting training, an understanding of how to fly under his own power—from his experience as a glider pilot—and a willingness to bulk up his lean frame under the tutelage of Darth Vader himself, trainer David Prowse. The later of Reeve’s four franchise films were not an ideal stage for his inspired thespian stylings, but his characterization was a high-water mark for the timeless hero, as celebrated in Warner’s new boxed set, The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection.

The cornerstone of the collection is a new Superman: The Movie Four-Disc Special Edition that combines content from the 2001 DVD-18, now spread across two platters, with some significant additions. The theatrical cut of the film is here for the first time, remastered to flaunt much of the same vibrant reds and blues as the 2001 extended cut, a look familiar to anyone who has seen recent showings on HBO and elsewhere. This version includes the original 1978 sound mix, and the four discs are rounded out with nine Fleischer Studios cartoons in glorious Technicolor, the outstanding “Making of Superman: The Movie” as seen on ABC in 1980, and the unexpected, George Reeves–starring Superman and the Mole-Men.

Much recent buzz has centered upon the first sequel, now out in two very different forms. A Two-Disc Special Edition surrounds the theatrical cut of Superman II with bonus features, from its own TV making-of to the final eight Famous Studios cartoons, to a rather silly 50th anniversary special, to an audio commentary from producer Pierre Spengler and executive producer Ilya Salkind. Salkind in particular, while not a master orator, provides a fascinating alternative outlook on the multi-year saga, and it’s worth listening to across the first film (theatrical), II, and III. The video appears unchanged from the old single-disc release, but there’s now a 5.1 audio option, taken from the original six-track, with plenty of surround-channel involvement and none of the flagrant flash and boom common to today’s movies and DVDs. A true event, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut presents a new creation from the Superman director who missed his chance to complete his vision—until now. This shorter, tighter, more serious tale was finished for video from the best available bits and pieces. The look of the 2.35:1 anamorphic image is wildly uneven, and the audio has a more modern, not always appropriate edge. Marlon Brando is back in full force as super-dad Jor-El, as part of a “dream edition” the fans have been demanding for decades. (For more, check out our Donner interview in HT Talks To on page 38.)

The disappointing Superman III and the outright painful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace are also included in new Deluxe Editions. The anamorphic video and Dolby 2.0 are the same as ever, but III benefits from the aforementioned commentary, while IV takes on a whole new perspective thanks to the blunt musings of frank screenwriter Mark Rosenthal. It’s a must-listen for anyone who’s curious about the dark side of Hollywood. Eleven pan-and-scan deleted and alternate scenes (20 minutes’ worth) and another making-of adorn III, and the half-hour-plus of anamorphic deleted/extended scenes from IV are insightful—but also quite awful. There’s no behind-the-scenes footage here, perhaps because no one cared anymore.

Beyond the eight-disc Reeve set, Warner is also offering the Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition, with everything above plus the two-disc Superman Returns and three additional discs of extras (yes, 14 platters total), with fun custom packaging and tchotchkes inside a metal box. And, for the high-def crowd, HD DVD and Blu-ray versions of Superman Returns, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and the extended cut of Superman: The Movie are in stores day and date with the DVDs. There’s something for everyone, in commemoration of a character with universal appeal.