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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/9/00

The Complete Superman Collection
Diamond Anniversary Edition - 1941-1943 (1999) - Image

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

The Complete Superman Collection: Diamond Anniversary Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/F

Specs and Features

147 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 1.0 mono), subtitles: None

"Look! Up in the sky, it's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

There is perhaps no comic book superhero more recognizable than Superman. The sight of that red cape flowing as he leaps over a tall building is as much a part of our collective childhood as sandlot baseball games. So it was with great pleasure that I got my hands on a disc full of classic Superman cartoons. These aren't your Saturday morning variety animations. When most of us think of Superman on TV, our earliest memories are of the Superfriends (which debuted in 1973). However, way back in 1941, when Superman was only a few years old, Paramount Pictures contracted Max and Dave Fleischer to do a series of shorts.

The Fleischer brothers, who created Betty Boop and Popeye, produced seventeen short films between late-1941 and mid-1943. The fact that they were made for theatrical release, and the fact that they involved painstaking craftsmanship, made them incredible in quality. Now, all seventeen films have released together on DVD and, considering their age, they look fabulous.

The stories are simplistic, lacking in character development and essentially playing out by the number. And since they came so early in Superman history, they lack most of what we associate with the comic book today. It's also important to note how much World War II propaganda played a role. One episode is even called Japoterurs, and features Japanese saboteurs. With that in mind, you may be less than entertained by the shorts, and it may be better to watch only a few at a time. However, when taken in the context of the time, the stories are solid and the animation is beautiful. The use of shading, in particular, is stunning. In one episode, as Superman is flying, we shoot to a close-up of his face. That one scene is as stunning as any modern animation, and even after all of this time, it has held up wonderfully. It's interesting to note the influence that the style of these original Superman shorts has had on the look of Warner's new Batman and Superman animated serials, or even Warner's Iron Giant.

The video quality on this disc is actually quite good when taken in context. The source materials are well over a half-century-old, and they've held up rather well considering. The source defects are all here, with grain and even the occasional slight rip in the print. That said, this could much worse. I've seen films that are only a decade or two old look atrocious on DVD, yet these shorts, which were first released at the beginning of World War II, look remarkable. Obviously, it isn't A+ material, but it's rock solid video on the whole.

The audio on the disc is also good considering the time that has passed, but it comes off a bit scratchy and high on the treble at times. You also begin to notice, as you watch each episode, how the sound was looped. Whenever Clark Kent quips, "That sounds like a job for Superman," it sounds identical every time. In other words, the mono track is entirely non-dynamic and it begins to become downright repetitive after a while.

There aren't any extras to speak of. Even the menu system, which is in perfect keeping with the Superman character, reflects what little this disc provides aside from the films. You have an option to either play the movies or select a scene. That's it. Now, its hard to expect anything in the way of extras when you consider the age of subject material, but I would have liked to have seen some little fluff pieces about the history of Superman at least, or may material on the Fleischers.

In the end, if you're a fan of comics or a fan of Superman, this is a must-see disc. These were the first cinematic incarnations of the Man of Steel and they represent a quality of animation that is lacking in so much of what is created today. Even after five plus decades, the quality of the art created by the Fleischer brothers is astounding. Without any extras, the disc may come off as a lightweight. In fact, I wouldn't recommend paying the SRP of $29.99. But you should be able to find the disc at a low price, and if you do, grab it up faster than a speeding bullet.

Brad Pilcher
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