One of the true originators of the big superhero film experience, Superman: The Movie makes it to 4K Ultra HD in the year that it turns 40. But how does it fare on the format? Is it swell and super, or a party pooper?
The story: An origin story of a boy named Kal-El, we witness Superman as a super bub, how he came to Earth and, quite importantly, why. We travel through awkward teenage years in Smallville to the dichotomy of the geeky Clark Kent versus the chilled superhero with his undies on the outside working at big city newspaper The Daily Planet. We also experience the budding relationship between Supes and Lois Lane and, of course, the flick’s big bad in Lex Luthor and his faulty plans. Having not seen Superman: The Movie pretty much since it originally came out, it felt like a real event as we got comfy and the opening credits hit – along with that masterful musical score. Sometimes you actually can go home again, as re-experiencing this pleasingly languidly-paced (by today’s superheroic standards) tale of the Man of Steel was a joy all over again.
“What a super man… ‘Superman’!”
The 4K disc: We’ve found that generally 4K fans fall into either of two categories – those who think that grain adds to the genuine movie experience and believe that Ghostbusters is one of the best releases on the format, and those who want everything to look flawlessly squeaky clean (and hate the Ghostbusters transfer). The latter camp won’t love Superman: The Movie then, as at various points grain is very noticeable (most notably in model shots), but if they do shun this native 4K release due to that they’ll be missing out on seeing Richard Donner’s film looking better than it ever has before. There are a few tiny wobbles in the credits scenes at either end of the film, but at other times the image is truly, well, super! Look at the natural hues of Smallville, and watch how water scenes glisten. Marvel at the near-perfect blacks of space and the effect that the Dolby Vision (or HDR if that’s what you’re equipped with) has on the Council’s shiny white suits. They look appropriately dazzling, while other whites throughout are balanced nicely. This really is a lovely transfer that ranks right up there with the aforementioned original Ghostbusters on 4K Ultra HD.
As for the sound, Superman: The Movie originally had a standard old Dolby Stereo mix, then was later remixed to 5.1 for home releases – but Warner Bros haven’t stopped there. With this release we get a frisky new Dolby Atmos experience that is quite wonderful, and really belies the film’s age. John Williams’ second most famous musical score roars to life majestically, while dialogue and sound effects – and quite a bit of satisfying bass oomph – are all balanced nicely, as are the bits and bobs that whiz overhead. A word of caution when setting the disc up for play though, as Warner Bros continue their inexplicably daft authoring technique of having the disc default to 5.1 rather than Atmos. So, make sure to change it in the ‘Audio’ menu before playing if you want the full-on audio experience. Trust us, you want the full-on audio experience!
On-disc extras 4K-wise amount to just an audio commentary from producer Pierre Spengler and executive producer Ilya Salkind. A ‘making of’ featurette is the highlight of the assorted bonus bits on the included Blu-ray of the movie.
Release date: November 7, 2018
Format: 4K Ultra HD
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman
Want to know what to get next? Check out STACK‘s 4K Ultra HD specifications guide.