Superman: The Movie 4K UHD

supes.pngWhere does one start regards genuine classics such as this? Re-watching this absolute gem again, I can’t say I really learned anything new. Sure, its aged somewhat, especially in regards its visual effects, but really, that is inevitable after so many years -the film enjoying its 40th anniversary this year- and I’d like to think people watching this film for the first time today might look past the sometimes aged visuals.  The sublime beauty and genius of Superman: The Movie is in the casting of its leads, and the script focusing on character rather than spectacle (no matter how spectacular the film is at times, it is never the focus- a lesson modern blockbusters seldom seem to heed). There is a heart and breathless joy to the whole thing, but the truth is there is a fresh pain and sadness to the experience of watching the film now that neither Christopher Reeve nor Margot Kidder are with us today. Indeed, when watching the film’s opening credits, it almost seems that every other name of cast or crew has since died. When did Superman: The Movie get so old, when did it get so full of ghosts? I hear the music, that glorious, breathless, exciting and playful main theme, and it seems utterly at odds with the sober thoughts rushing through me at seeing all those names of people gone. Superman isn’t an old film, it feels so fresh and alive and exciting even today, and yet..

Of course, it is just such a pleasure to see both Reeve and Kidder, and Brando and Ford and admire the skills of Unsworth and Barry and all the rest. The star that shines brightest, of course, is Reeve- well, he simply will always be Clark Kent/Superman- nobody else is ever really going to come close. That scene after Superman has taken Lois for a flight over the city and returns as bumbling Clark to Lois’ apartment, when, as her back is turned, he takes off his glasses and ‘becomes’ Superman simply from adjusting his posture and his facial expression, so tempted is he to reveal his identity… and then he loses his nerve and puts the glasses back on and ‘becomes’ Clark again… it’s just marvelous.

suptmRegards this new 4K UHD edition, boasting Dolby Vision as well as the usual HDR10, I would just say the film looks wonderful albeit with some cautionary notes. The film was always rather soft-focus from its use of diffusion filters to establish its romantic/classic matinee ‘look’ and this is reflected in the softness of the 4K image. Detail is obviously very good and the colours well balanced. While some have commented on the Kryptonian costumes lacking ‘punch’ I felt they were very impressive, and indeed, the scene of Jor-El being berated by the Kryptonian Council looks breathtaking in its tones and colours, something of a revelation to me- its beautifully photographed by Unsworth.

While it’s easy to and likely correct to say the film has never looked better, I would just add a note that this disc doesn’t do some of the effects, particularly the process-work and some of the miniatures, any favours and it can be very distracting.  A very early scene of the Krypton surface miniature is particularly awash with digital noise and buzzing grain. Much of this depends upon calibration I suppose and an individuals set-up so some may not be as distracted as I was, and I’ll have to revisit some of my settings on the strength of some shots here. Its certainly a curio of this current display technology that everyone’s experience from watching any particular disc can vary widely due to screen quality, calibration, the player settings etc. Its really something of a wild and tortuous playing field and the demands of the 4K high resolution, the WCG and HDR can create all sorts of issues. I remember watching this film in pan and scan on a 4.3 CRT television, so you’ll not hear me complaining, but yes, there are all sorts of things going on that can complicate things now.




9 thoughts on “Superman: The Movie 4K UHD

  1. EditMSM

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the early scenes: they’re all optical shots, which always add even more grain to the image, it’s natural.

    Glad this film has reverted back to its theatrical edit. The Donner cut back in 2000 was interesting but I prefer the movie how it was originally released. Did you ever see the recently re-released godawful extended TV edit? I could get through it.

    40 years next month since Superman opened in London – during three month period we happened to be staying with my grandparents in Earls Court, in the middle of a house move. I vividly remember my grandfather taking me to see it in Fulham Road. And the bubblegum cards in every newsagent, of course.

    1. Haven’t seen that tv edit- I was actually curious about it as some seem to prefer it. Agree with you though regards the original theatrical, preferring that over the Donner cut- thank goodness they saw sense with the UHD release being the original. Sometimes ‘new’ footage always distracts no matter how integral/well-intentioned it might be. I find I seldom watch Star Wars anymore simply because all the CGI/Special edition tinkering distracts from the movie I actually watched/loved, warts and all.

      Funnily enough though, I tried rewatching the 1982 theatrical Blade Runner a few months ago but had to stop it thirty minutes in. It was awful- wires on spinners, lousy voiceover etc so its not always true that the original edit beats all.

      1. Matthew Mckinnon

        I just got to see this new restoration in a cinema: The Prince Charles did a couple of 40th anniversary screenings. It was the most I’ve enjoyed the movie in a long long time, and the beautiful transfer was a big part of it. It’s the best it’s ever, ever looked.

        Last time I watched it in a cinema was a new 35mm print of the director’s cut back in around 2012(?) at the NFT. It did not look good: the soft, diffused look of the photography did not sit well with the rough grain of a 35mm print, whereas this new digital restoration has beautiful stability, deep blacks and gorgeous rich saturated colours.

        I was so involved re-watching this. I’d watched a Blade Runner double bill there the night before and had definitely watched BR too many times – it just flowed over me, I need to give it a few years before revisiting. So I was worried about it being the same with Superman. But no. What a revelation.

      2. I think with Superman in particular, considering its a comic-book movie, it’s so different to the current stuff, the way it looks, the physical effects, the pacing, it’s just so wonderful. I love the sequence of the burglar climbing up the building and Supes just standing there- it’s just a camera positioning trick but it looks so real (in-camera) and simple, nowadays it would be some fancy CGI trickery. That doubletake of the guy inside the building hearing something outside his window. Its great. And of course that Williams score, so unlike scores nowadays (in all the Marvel films, where is the tune you can whistle outside after leaving the cinema?). Films have lost a great deal over the last decade or two. The simple core craft. The characters, the story, the music.

  2. re: the variable quality of 4K discs, Nick Wrigley was writing about this on Twitter the other day, pointing out some shocking flaws on those StudioCanal Carpenter discs. His conclusion seemed to be there hasn’t been enough effort to create standardisation in the format, which means every disc is a crapshoot, and regular Blu-ray is a better bet for consistency. But when the big studios often don’t bother mastering new 1080p discs to go with the 4K disc, you need 4K to get the new scans/restorations. Cost cutting, or a way to artificially inflate the new transfer’s quality?

    1. Matthew Mckinnon

      I read that post, and to be honest it was a bit short-sighted. Every single new format has problems in its first few years, and bugs that need working out. To say ‘let’s not bother with 4K at all, ever, because I’m perfectly happy with 1080p now it’s had 10 years to sort itself out’ is a bit weird and complacent. Nothing would ever improve if everyone felt that way.

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