Warner Archive Review: ‘Superman: The Movie’ The Extended Cut

There are few movies that hold a special place in my heart like Superman: The Movie. Sure, I love Star Wars, but Superman: The Movie remains the ultimate comic book film for me. There have been plenty since then, but they all adhere to the formula set forth by Richard Donner’s 1978 classic. So it was very exciting when Warner Archive Collection announced it would be releasing yet another cut of Superman: The Movie, I jumped for joy. Unfortunately, there isn’t much reason to.

This month, WAC released “The Extended Cut,” a three-hour monster cut money-hungry cheapskates Ilya and Alexander Salkind put together without Donner’s consent. It was made for international television distribution. They actually put together two different cuts – a 182-minute version seen on ABC over two nights in February 1982 and a 188-minute version for international TV. This Blu-ray includes the 188-minute version in the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio the film was shot in, even though it was obviously not seen that way on square TVs in the 1980s.

Although the 188-minute version continued to be played on TV into the 1990s, this is the first home video release of it. Instead, Donner was allowed to make a 151-minute “Special Edition” cut for the 2000 DVD release. This version subsequently appeared in the Superman movie box set and other home video editions. The Blu-ray disc for the “Special Edition” Warner has released repeatedly is included as a second disc in this package. The “Special Edition” includes eight minutes of the 45 minutes the Salkinds put in the TV version.

The remaining 37 minutes of extra footage make Superman: The Movie a surprising slog to get through. The pacing is off, some of the added flying sequences are clearly not finished and there’s surprisingly graphic depiction of Kryptonians dying. Some shots appear to be extended for no other reason than to pad the films running time. Those extra seconds of the Kents driving away from baby Kal-El’s ship and Jimmy Olsen taking pictures of the dam really add up in the end. But they don’t add enough to this perfect movie to make a drastic change. If anything, the three-hour cut is more like a lesson in the importance of having a good editor.

The Blu-Ray

Superman: The Movie “The Extended Cut” looks fantastic, which is surprising for something Warner Bros. didn’t even think could be released in high definition. The added scenes do look a little damaged (there’s one particular shot of Jimmy Olsen later in the film that’s in poor shape), but on the whole they are seamlessly integrated into the fully restored scenes we’re familiar with.

Although there’s no extras on the disc with “The Extended Cut,” the second disc is a direct copy of the “Special Edition” disc you’ve seen before. That means it includes all the previously-released extras. These are:

  • Commentary by Richard Donner & Tom Mankiewicz
  • Taking Flight: The Development of Superman (documentary)
  • Making Superman: Filming the Legend (documentary)
  • The Magic Behind the Cape (documentary)
  • Screen Tests
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Additional Scenes
  • Additional Music Cues
  • Music-Only Track

As exciting as this release is, it’s hard to recommend it to the average Superman fan who already has a copy of Superman: The Movie. The theatrical cut and the “Special Edition” are all anyone really needs. The three-hour “extended cut” was just a cash-grab created by the Salkinds. Die-hards will eat this up though, especially since it looks so good.

Thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy to review! You can buy this set at WBShop.com.

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