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Superman Returns

No special effect can top Bryan Singer getting producer Jon Peters to say he was wrong. This was one of the most hated men in comics fandom, controlling the film rights to Superman and insisting that the character not fly on film, that he not have a cape, that he wear thong underwear and that he fight polar bears and a giant tarantula. Only one of those statements isn't true.

After Singer asked the blessing of Richard Donner to pursue a chance to do a Superman film, however, just about all Peters could insist on was eating crow. He admits this in a featurette on the second disc of the Superman Returns DVD release. (Another mea culpa can also be found on Kevin Burns' comprehensive documentary Look! Up in the Sky!)

By going back to the basics established by Donner's 1978 film, Singer was able to cut through years of development and "modernizing" efforts. The result received mixed audience response, but definitely laid the groundwork for the franchise to have the new life it deserves.

This week, Superman Returns hits home video along with new editions of all of the Christopher Reeve films. Seen in conjunction with the first two films, Singer's effort actually appears stronger. It carries themes started decades ago to their logical fruition, and if theatrical audiences felt a little lost, that should be taken care of with this release.

Warner Brothers devotes a full disc to just Singer's film, with a really crisp transfer. Seeing it again drives home just what an homage to Donner's original it is (and that includes the material of Donner's Superman II). Singer shot it in a softer focus, and his scene compositions echo those of the first movie.

In one of the featurettes, screenwriter Michael Dougherty reiterates Donner's call for verisimilitude, and that clearly influenced Singer and his crew. Though the Metropolis Superman walks in has a look slightly out of time, Singer took pains to remind us that it is, to quote the old phrase, a thriving metropolis.

The review of the film itself can be found here, and again, in a second viewing, it gets stronger. As for the DVD package, it's strong, too, but curiously lacking in some standards.

Instead of doing commentary over the film, Singer provides a lot of video documentation on the second disc. An old hand at providing extras with Rob Meyer Burnett, Singer wisely videotaped his Hawaiian vacation when he, Dougherty and Dan Harris put together their initial pitch. From there, the extras painstakingly carry viewers through the construction of the film, including an interesting look at recreating and perhaps redoing Marlon Brando.

The disc also includes some web information and a cheat code for the Superman Returns videogame. If you get the code from the disc, you can play some of the game in the form of Bizarro. For some of us, that makes it all worthwhile.

Of course, what a lot of fans want to see are deleted scenes, and the selection here is admittedly frustrating. From pre-release stills, it's clear that a sequence of Superman visiting the detritus of Krypton was shot, but the DVD does not include it. Thankfully, there's a little more of James Karen's performance as Martha Kent's boyfriend - okay, there actually is James Karen's peformance. Those sequences are charming and add emotional depth, as Clark is forced to confront the consequences of the world moving on at every level. Kal Penn even gets some dialogue in an outtake.

Only a few of the deleted scenes add anything to the finished film, though one really helps justify Singer's most controversial plot twist.

For fans, the best way to get this disc is actually in the special Ultimate Collector's Edition tin that includes all the films in special edition form, plus the Fleischer/Famous Studios cartoons and Burns' documentary. That retails for $99.95, though it can be found for cheaper. (It's on MY Christmas list…)

If that's too pricy, then by all means pick this up individually. Superman Returns is a worthy relaunch, and though I can't shake the suspicion there's at least one more special edition in its future, this DVD is pretty satisfying.

(Note: We reviewed the regular DVD, but Warner Home Video has also released it on both HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats.)

Superman Returns (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition

Derek McCaw


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