Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/9/00
Anniversary Edition - 1941-1943 (1999) - Image
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
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
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.