Superman II: Two-Disc Special Edition

Superman II: Two-Disc Special Edition (1980)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurettes, Cartoons, Deleted Scene, Trailer

Following on the heels of 1978's mega-blockbuster "Superman: The Movie, " the 1980 sequel found its way to theaters not without its share of backstage drama. With Richard Donner leaving production after filming much of it concurrently with the first movie, Richard Lester stepped in to finish the job, stirring up quite a bit of pre-release angst. Fears were alleviated when "Superman II" went on to outgross the original and receive worldwide acclaim. Warner Home Video has now prepared a two-disc special edition as the movie flies onto home video once again.

At the beginning of the first "Superman," the leader of Krypton imprisoned a trio of traitors in a Phantom Zone and sent them to drift forever in space. Long after the destruction of Krypton and Superman's descent to Earth, the three criminals are still floating in space when a nuclear explosion disintegrates the Zone and frees them from their prison. Making their way toward Earth, unaware that Kal-El is alive and well, the group decides to seize the planet for their own control. Terence Stamp plays General Zod, the leader of the group who passively exerts his power over the physically inferior humans. Sarah Douglas and Jack O'Halloran are his evil comrades. Unable to withstand their mighty power, the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) is forced to relinquish his power to them.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent and Lois Lane (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder) are sent to uncover a honeymoon scam at Niagara Falls. While there, Lois begins to develop a sneaky suspicion that Clark and Superman just might be the same person, making the startling observation that the two are never together at the same time. Her suspicions are soon confirmed, and Clark is forced to reveal his true identity. Now free to declare his love for her, Clark makes the radical decision to become human in order to be with his lady love. Only after this transformation does he learn of the Krypton renegades who have invaded Earth, but without his super powers he is useless against them.

In spite of the confusion that accompanied the making of the film, "Superman II" maintains the same juxtaposition of light and dark moments that made the original so exciting. In fact, the humor is even stronger here, especially with the return of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), Superman's human nemesis who comes to the aid of the new supervillains. Hackman once again turns in a delightfully wicked performance, piling on the sleaze and providing a welcome contrast to the three new villains, who by contrast are quite dull. Although much of the film was helmed by Richard Donner, it also bears the unmistakable influence of Richard Lester, who had previously honed his comic chops on the groundbreaking British films "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) and "The Knack…and How to Get It" (1965), and the boisterous "The Three Musketeers" (1973). His brand of satire and slapstick is perfectly suited to the film's comic book origins. The more serious plot elements, including the growing romance between Superman and Lois, are still handled with great sensitivity. Whether or not this film surpasses the original is ultimately up to each viewer to decide. In my opinion, the sequel manages to compliment the original without imposing too much on it. It bears its own style, but not so much to ruin the taste of the original.

Warner's transfer is a typically smooth one, presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. Aside from some flickering during the opening recap and a little grain in the special effects shots, there is little to complain about here. Image quality is generally sharp, occasionally showing its age. Black levels are decent, and flesh tones look natural. Colors are sometimes a tad pale, though this appears to be intentional. With no artifacting or edge enhancement, this is a pleasing transfer that showcases the film's scope quite effectively.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix does a nice job of separating the sound layers for an absorbing track. Background noises are prominent in the rear speakers, while the more explosive effects are projected nicely in the center. This is by no means as dynamic as a contemporary soundtrack, and dialogue is sometimes a bit harsh, but this is nonetheless a strong surround mix. English and French stereo tracks are also available, as well as optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

On disc 1 of this set, the movie is accompanied by a few extra goodies, starting with an audio commentary by executive producer Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler. Like their commentary on the first film, this one contains a lot of information about the business aspects of the production, most interestingly the reasons for the change in directors. There's a lot of good stuff to be heard here, so definitely give this a listen.

Also on disc 1 are a trailer and a rather silly deleted scene ("Superman's Soufflé"), concerning Superman's first attempt at cooking.

Two vintage TV specials highlight the second disc, beginning with "The Making of Superman II." This 52-minute documentary offers extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. "Superman 50th Anniversary" is a real curiosity. Produced by Lorne Michaels (of "Saturday Night Live"), the 48-minute featurette is hosted by Dana Carvey and presents a rather tongue-in-cheek look at the Superman legacy, featuring photos and clips from just about every incarnation of the story ever made. Many familiar faces pop up, making this a fun and frequently bizarre diversion.

The new featurette, "First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series," gives us a brief overview of Max Fleischer's beloved cartoon shorts from the 1940s. Clocking in at 13 minutes, this short extra contains insight from animation experts and the late Richard Fleischer.

Lastly, eight Fleischer shorts round out the disc. With the nine included in the "Superman: The Movie" set, this is the complete collection of Fleischer's "Superman" cartoons. The ones included on this DVD are (the unfortunately titled) "Japoteurs," "Showdown," "Eleventh Hour," "Destruction, Inc.," "The Mummy Strikes," "Jungle Drums," "The Underground World," and "Secret Agent." These fantastic animated shorts are a welcome inclusion in this set.

Like few sequels before or since, "Superman II" proved to be as big a crowd-pleaser as the first film and can stand proudly beside it as one of the great entertainments of the blockbuster era. Whatever creative discrepancies occurred behind the camera, none of them infringed upon the narrative flow or unifying tone of the final product. This is first class entertainment with a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure. Warner Home Video's Special Edition packs a punch and should be a no-brainer for anyone with the original bare-bones disc. Well recommended.