Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Does the world really need 14 Superman discs?

In the latest chapter of the ongoing trend of releasing big DVD sets to promote new movies, Warner Bros. will apparently sell a Superman box set to end all box sets, weighing in at a mammoth 14 discs. Overkill? Probably. Most of the hype surrounding this set will focus on the 'Richard Donner Cut' of Superman II, and you can read about what might be in that version in this exhaustive article about the upcoming set. Here's the long and mostly short of it: the main reason Superman: The Movie took nearly two years to complete is that the plan was for Donner to shoot the movie and its sequel simultaneously. Finally, after Donner had shot about 75 percent of the sequel, producers told him to wrap it up and they would finish shooting on the sequel after Superman had raked in the dough.

That all seemed fine and dandy, but Donner ended up parting ways with the franchise after shooting the original Superman, so Richard Lester was brought in to finish up the sequel, and also Superman III. Lester was best known as the director of most of The Beatles' movies and also two different Three Musketeers films (he would direct a third, The Return of the Musketeers, in 1989, starring who else but C. Thomas Howell as Raul). Doesn't this sound like the guy you want at the helm of a major special effects franchise?

Anyway, even though Donner had shot a lot of footage for the sequel, most of it was junked, including all the scenes involving Marlon Brando as Superman's father Jor-El. This new version will hopefully include those scenes, as well as an infamous scene previously only seen in the television cut. I am one of the few people to attempt to watch Superman II on television and still have fond memories of this disturbing scene, here's a synopsis:

After the three baddies escape from the Phantom Zone, you would expect them to terrorize the world, but their first stop is a small town in Texas. After humiliating the local law enforcement, a young boy jumps on a horse and rides away for help. The female baddy, Ursa, grabs a siren off a police car, hurls it some 400 yards and kills the boy, setting up this exchange between Ursa and the boy's mother:

'But he was just a boy!'
'Who will never become a man'


Well back to the lecture at hand, this is a completely needless attempt by Warner to convince the public that the Superman series was actually memorable. Even with Donner's new footage, the sequel will still only be an average movie. If you don't believe me, here's an example of the consistently horrid dialogue:

After the three baddys kill some astronauts on the moon . . . one astronaut said 'It's a girl,' leading to this awesome exchange at mission control:
SCIENTIST1: What's a 'curl'?
SCIENTIST2: Isn't that what the old Canaveral guys used to call a comet with an East-West trajectory?
SCIENTIST1: How should I know? I was back in high school in those days.


Superman III is literally one of the worst movies you will ever see. Not only does it NOT star Gene Hackman, but we finally get to see what happens when Superman faces off against an equally supercomputer designed by Richard Pryor. 'Superman III' is at least entertaining in how bad it is. When Pryor and gang try and kill the Man of Steel with kryptonite laced with tobacco, he is turned into Bad Superman, who wastes no time in getting drunk (leading to an epic scene on him in a bar where he starts breaking things by flicking peanuts, much to the dismay of onlookers) and straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We also get a scene of Pryor skiing down the side of a building (we told you he's CRAZY!).

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a minor upgrade, if only because we get Lex Luthor back and a new villain (Nuclear Man -- what else?). Sidney J. Furie was a natural choice for director, I mean he had just overseen Iron Eagle. Among many questionable scenes in this movie is the one where Superman unveils his previously unused 'brick action' power. After Nuclear Man destroys the Great Wall of China, Superman stares intently at the ruins and magically rebuilds it in a few seconds. Did Jor-El tell him about the 'brick action' power during his trip to Earth? ('This is another little thing you can do, if a brick house or church is knocked down and you don't have time to rebuild it on your own . . . ')

So enough about the movies, what exactly are they going to find to fill 14 discs? One rumor is that Warner will include the unimaginable horror that is Supergirl. Okay, but that's still only five movies. Assuming Warner can dig up enough trash extras to warrant two discs for each movie, we're still four short. Another question is how much will this very bad boy cost? A comparable set, the Alien Quadrilogy retails for $80 for only eigh discs. It's possible that the Superman set could get into the $150 range.

Finally, it appears that this mammoth set will be bested by the upcoming Planet of the Apes: Ultimate DVD Collection set. Also coming in at 14 discs, this completely unwanted set will contain all five movies, the entire television series, the entire animated series and a new two-disc set of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes.

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