Superman II

Superman II (1980)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Cast/’filmmaker Profiles

1981’s ’Superman II, ’ continuing the adventures begun in Richard Donner’s 1978 epic, makes its DVD debut with considerably less fanfare than its newly restored predecessor. While Warner Home Video clearly directed its efforts in repairing the original, some energy could and should have been spent on cleaning up this film as well.

To its credit, ’Superman II’ juggles enough plot for three movies. The Kryptonian criminals, banished to the Phantom Zone at the beginning of ’I,’ escape their eternal prison and invade Earth. The romantic triangle between Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane heats up when Lois suspects that Clark and the last son of Krypton may be the same person. Not to mention that Superman must now wrestle with his feelings for Lois and his responsibilities to humanity. Add the return of Lex Luthor, recently sprung from his ’life plus 25’ sentence and suddenly turning back time seems like child’s play.

Building on Donner’s already-shot footage and Tom Mankiewicz’s existing script, helmer Richard Lester mixes edgy humor with gee-whiz thrills but doesn’t always the stew right, as Donner did the first time. Yes, the action and characters start right after the opening credits (pale compared to the original), but gone is the pop-culture poetry that made ’Superman: The Movie’ an instant classic. ’Superman II’ maybe darker and funnier, but by no means is it ’better.’

The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks good, but nowhere near the image quality of the restored first film. Colors are stable, sometimes occasionally brilliant, but never with eye-popping intensity. Grain and dirt are visible in several shots, mainly due to the cumbersome special effects processes used. Fleshtones are natural-looking. Black levels are solid but the contrast is a little high, washing out finer details in the picture. Despite the general soft-focus of the photography, pixelation occurs only a few times. Compared to the 1996 lasedisc remaster, the DVD looks much sharper and clearer.

The audio is a real disappointment. The disc contains a standard matrix surround track. For those still carrying a torch for laserdisc, here’s fresh fodder for your argument: the laserdisc’s PCM track blows the DVD’s Dolby Digital surround away. Rear channel activity decodes similarly, with a fair degree of ambience and intermittent front- to- back pans. At least the laserdisc had some low-end oomph. On DVD, the explosions barely registered on my subwoofer. Even Ken Thorne’s scrawny re-orchestrations of John Williams’ music sounded more full bodied on the PCM track. A theatrical trailer is the disc’s sole extra.

With much of Donner’s and Mankiewicz’s vision surviving in ’Superman II,’ it’s worth purchasing just as a bookend to the first film. Just make sure you get the first one as well.