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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition box set

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Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition
1941-2006 (2006) - Warner Bros.

Set Rating: A*
Disc Ratings (Overall - Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+*/A

*Pending Warner's fixed replacement discs

Okay... here's the deal. We've reviewed most of the major films and programs contained in this 14-disc box set elsewhere, so I'm not going to talk about the films again here. If you want to read our previous reviews, here they are: Superman, Superman II, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman Returns, Superman: The Fleischer Animated Adventures and Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman. We haven't reviewed Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but I just can't make myself do so now. And you already know them and love them... or you don't... so nothing I say about them is going to change your mind.

With that out of the way, let's get right down to the nitty-gritty. Warner's 14-disc Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition is SO close to being the home run that fans would love it to be... but as originally shipped to retailers, it has a pair of glaring flaws. [Thankfully, those flaws are already being addressed by WHV - see below] More on that in a bit. First, let me talk about what's good here disc by disc... and rest assured, there's a LOT that's good here.

Discs One through Four represent the new Superman: The Movie - Four-Disc Special Edition. Starting with Disc One, you get the 1978 theatrical edition of Superman: The Movie (the first time this version has been available on DVD), in good looking anamorphic widescreen video quality. We'll come back to the audio. Extras here include a new audio commentary by the film's producers, Pierre Spengler and Ilya Salkind, as well as a series of original trailers and TV spots. Disc Two then includes the same "extended" edition of Superman: The Movie that was released previously on DVD, along with the previous commentary by director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, and the audio-only track featuring John Williams' score in 5.1.

Discs Three contains all of the other extras that were on the previous Superman: The Movie DVD (including the three documentaries, the deleted and extended scenes, the screen tests and the additional music cues), which means you can safely sell your old copy if you wish. Disc Four then adds some interesting new special features, including the vintage The Making of Superman: The Movie TV special and the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men (starring George Reeves). Both are presented in good quality, in the original full frame. The BEST thing by far, however, is that Disc Four includes the first nine of the original Fleischer animated Superman shorts in quality better than you've ever seen them, remastered from the original negatives. In a word, they look amazing. It's really exciting to see them here, just a delight to view them in this kind of quality, and my only regret is that there's no high-definition release of these shorts planned yet (like the high-def Looney Tunes shorts on the Adventures of Robin Hood HD-DVD).

Next up, Disc Five of the set offers you the original theatrical edition of Superman II, with another new audio commentary by Spengler and Salkind, new deleted scenes and the film's theatrical trailer. That's more than the previous Superman II DVD included, so you can safely get rid of that. Disc Six is the new Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, with its new Donner and Mankiewicz commentary, deleted scenes and trailer. What's really fascinating here, is that with both the new and old commentaries, you get both Donner's opinions and Salkind's opinions on both films... and as you might guess, they have VERY different perspectives on both the making of the films and why Donner wasn't involved in finishing the second film. It's a shame that Richard Lester isn't represented here with his own commentary (my guess is that he was asked to participate but declined), but that's the only obvious omission.

Disc Seven adds more all-new bonus material, including another vintage TV special, The Making of Superman II, along with the Superman: 50th Anniversary TV special and a new featurette on the making of the Fleischer animated shorts. THEN, you get the remaining eight remastered Fleischer shorts, completing the collection. That means that, if you have the previous DVD releases of these shorts, you can get rid of them (with one exception - more in a moment). You might be wondering... what about the Private Snafu short, Snafuperman? No worries - it's on Disc 13 of this set. That means the ONLY previous Fleischer DVD you might not want to let go of, is VCI's Superman: The Ultimate Max Fleischer Cartoon Collection, which includes a phone interview with actress Joan Alexander (who voiced Lois on the shorts) - that interview is only thing that doesn't carry over here. Note that Disc Five and Seven are identical to the new Superman II: Two-Disc Special Edition.

Disc Eight SHOULD be the new Superman III: Deluxe Edition, which includes the film in anamorphic widescreen, a new commentary with Spengler and Salkind, the vintage The Making of Superman III TV special, new deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer. That means, in theory, you can ditch your existing Superman III DVD. But we'll come back to this disc in a bit.

Disc Nine is likewise the new Superman IV: The Quest for Peace - Deluxe Edition, which includes a new audio commentary with screenwriter Mark Rosenthal, along with new deleted scenes and the film's trailer. Again, this means you can sell your existing Superman IV DVD.

Discs Ten and Eleven are identical to the new 2-disc Superman Returns: Special Edition, disc for disc, item for item. We've reviewed that previously, so we'll move on, except that we'll say again how good Robert Meyer Burnett's 3-hour Requiem for Krypton documentary is. Don't miss it.

Disc Twelve is the recently released Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman documentary DVD, produced by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns. Again, that means you can ditch that disc if you already have it as well. And don't worry if you also have the Best Buy bonus disc for this title, which included a handful of the Bryan Singer's Video Journal shorts. They're included in this set on Disc Fourteen - not just the ones that were on the bonus DVD, but ALL of the shorts that were online, as well as two new ones that have never been seen before (and are thus exclusive to this 14-disc set)!

Finally, Disc Thirteen is arguably the crown jewel of this box set. It includes all-new bonus martial, including the excellent new You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman documentary. It's feature-length, full frame (acceptable given that so much of the archive footage that appears here is in full frame) and it offers new interviews with just about everyone involved in the making of these films (with the exception of Richard Lester, though he does appear in archive footage and photos), as well as lots of rare footage, outtakes and more. It's another great piece, and you'll find particularly interesting the section in which the Donner/Superman II controversy is addressed head-on. This disc also includes a pair of additional featurettes - one on the mythology of Superman and one profiling actor Christopher Reeve - as well as the aforementioned Snafuperman short, the Super-Rabbit and Stupor Duck Looney Tunes shorts and the never-before-seen 1958 The Adventures of Super Pup TV pilot in its entirety. The set is topped off with a booklet that lists all of the features, a mini reproduction of DC's Superman #7 (originally published in 1987), a mail-in offer for reproductions of all five theatrical film one-sheets, a holographic slipcase cover and a spiffy metallic-embossed tin to hold it all.

That's a helluva great batch of extras and it means that this set replaces nearly every previous DVD you might have of these films and shorts (in quality that's better than ever). So that's the good... and as I said, it's a LOT of good.

14-Disc Superman Ultimate Collector's Tin

Now for the bad. You'll recall my comments about Disc One - the 1978 theatrical cut of Superman: The Movie? Well, unfortunately, Disc One in the set as shipped DOESN'T include the original 1978 audio... even in the stereo version... and it's supposed to according to press releases for the set. The audio you get on both the 5.1 and 2.0 is a cut-down version of the remixed audio done for the 2000 extended edition release. Now, that's a real problem, because as many fans will know, a number of sound effects were added and/or changed in the 2000 remix. Personally, it didn't bother me at the time... until I went back and compared it to the original audio. Then it drove me crazy. Fans HAD been hoping that by including the original 1978 version of the film on DVD in this set, you'd get the best of both worlds... the new mix and the original audio. Such is not the case, and it's apparently due to an authoring error. This problem affects ALL copies of the new Superman: The Movie - Four-Disc Special Edition, including the ones in the stand-alone releases and both box sets.

The other major problem with THIS box set as shipped is a manufacturing issue. Every early copy of this set seems to have the WRONG version of Disc Eight... Superman III. Rather than the new Deluxe Edition that's supposed to be in the set (with a featurette, deleted scenes and the trailer), what you get is the previously released movie-only DVD (with just the trailer). The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection seems to have the right disc, but this more elaborate set got stuck with the wrong one.

[Editor's Note: Warner Home Video has informed us that they're going to be issuing corrected discs for both Disc One of the Superman: The Movie - Four-Disc Special Edition (also Disc One of the Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition 14-disc set and the same disc in The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection) AND Disc Eight of the Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition. Disc One will feature the CORRECT original 2.0 audio track for Superman: The Movie and Disc Eight will feature the new Superman III: Deluxe Edition. ALL of the other discs streeting tomorrow are correct. These mistakes were apparently just honest authoring/replication errors - not deliberate decisions - and Warner is already in the process of rectifying them. NO recall of existing sets is planned at the moment, but the studio has set up an 800 number that you can call and arrange to have the corrected discs sent to you via mail. The official statement from Warner (issued 11/27/06) is as follows:

"Bonus content was omitted from the Superman III Deluxe Edition in the 14-disc Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition. Furthermore, disc one of Superman: The Movie Four Disc Special Edition did not include the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Neither disc is known to be physically defective in any way.

Warner Home Video wants to extend apologies to all of our loyal Superman fans who've waited so patiently for these great collections and has taken immediate steps to correct these errors with the intention of standing behind our product 100%.

Replacement discs can be obtained by calling: 800-553-6937. The exchange program applies only to purchases of the Superman III Deluxe Edition in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition and to disc one of Superman: The Movie Four Disc Special Edition, available as a single title, as well as in The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection and in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition."

One last Editor's Note: We're trying to find out if and when future corrected sets might arrive in stores, and if this replacement program will work for international customers as well.]

Once these two problems are corrected by the studio, the Superman: Ultimate Collector's Edition is more or less everything that Superman fans had hoped for. Don't hesitate to buy the sets/discs as they are, then call the 800 number to get the corrected replacement discs. In the meantime, seeing these Fleischer shorts looking as good as they do here is a damn fine way to pass the time while you're waiting for the fixed discs to be sent to you. Ultimately, I'm pleased to give this box a strong - but qualified - recommendation, pending the shipping of Warner's replacement discs.

Bill Hunt
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