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Review: 'Superman' flies magnificently onto 4K

Posted Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at 4:08 PM Central

by John Couture

There are some days that are better than others when it comes to reviewing movies. This is definitely one of those good days. Ever since Warner Bros. announced that it was releasing Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie on 4K UHD, I was excited to see how the film would translate to the new format.

I will admit though that I did have some trepidation about the film that was originally released in 1978. Would the film hold up after 40 years? Would the technology from the late '70s even justify an upgrade buy of Superman on 4K UHD?

The answers are yes and most definitely.

Of course, I also had one other nagging thought in the back of my head. My five-year-old son adores Superman. Heck, he loves all superheroes, he's five, but he has grown in a world where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always existed. He hasn't had the exposure to the older comic book movies, that were, let's say, a few quality levels below our current reverence for all things comic book.

Would he enjoy this film as much as I did when I first saw it at age five? Or would he simply laugh and say that this was a far inferior Superman? I nervously popped the 4K UHD into the machine and held my breath as John Williams' score filled the speakers.

My son was instantly hooked on the very '70s look and feel of Krypton and their glowing outfits that he said reminded him of Tron. I've got a smart cookie on my hands there - and one with great taste in movies. From my perspective, the film does show its age every now and then, but the spirit of the film shines through and really captures something that the latest Superman films lack.

There is a lot of heart and character on the screen in this version that is most often replaced with CGI and massive action sequences in the newer movies. I know that many people have portrayed the Man of Steel on both the small screen and the silver screen, but to me, there is no better Superman than Christopher Reeve.

He was so good in the role that he came to embody the very essence of Superman and that more than anything probably contributed to his type-casting. It wasn't that he wasn't good enough for other roles, it was just that he was so good as Superman that audiences immediately recognized him as such in every other role he put on the big screen.

While my son's young attention span didn't care for Marlon Brando's weighty chewing of the scenery as Jor-El, he wasn't deterred for long. Once Christopher Reeve showed up, he was on board in a big bad way.

The 4K UHD version includes a Dolby Vision transfer from the original 35 mm print. The original film contained a fair amount of grain and it truly adds to the character of the film and, forty years later, it even adds to the ambiance of a simpler time. So, if you're looking for a digital, flawless print, then you just won't get it from these older films and that's perfectly alright.

What you do get is a fabulously looking film that has never looked better and a slightly wider color gamut that is really noticeable during the opening Krypton scenes. Also, later in the film when Superman is flying with Lois Lane, this magical scene really plays spectacularly on the new transfer.

Perhaps the films biggest improvement is the new Dolby Atmos audio track. John Williams' iconic score booms out of the speakers and provides a depth and richness to the film that we haven't seen since its original theatrical release over 40 years ago. This film not only looks its best, but it absolutely sounds its best as well. You will certainly appreciate this film's dual Academy Award nominations for Best Music and Best Sound with the Dolby Atmo track.

The one aspect of this release that was a bit disappointing is the lack of new special features. It is being hailed as the 40th Anniversary Edition which is a pretty impressive feat. You would think that there would be at least some new material created for this release, but you would be wrong. There are plenty of fun goodies on the included Blu-ray, but they were all previously available on other releases.

Overall, Superman: The Movie remains an iconic comic book that really trailblazed the way for other superhero films and, eventually, the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we know and love today. I would argue that we wouldn't have any Avengers films today had this film not existed. That's quite a fitting review for a film that continues to mesmerize to this day.