I’ve always been ambivalent towards Superman. Though a longtime fan of superheroes, I didn’t collect any of his comics unless he was paired with other heroes; however, as a kid, I enjoyed the old Filmation cartoons and Superman II. Admittedly, I may not have read the right books, but I’ve never felt a connection with the character. While I know all heroes will eventually triumph, the outcome of Superman’s battles never seem in doubt. Plus, Clark Kent lacks the angst and struggle of every day life that characters like Peter Parker or the X-Men experience, which make them more accessible.
The DC Universe Animated Original Movie All-Star Superman is based on the award-winning, 12-issue comic book series of the same name written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely. Morrison offers an enjoyable, refreshing perspective on the Superman mythos. Unfortunately, this adaptation is uneven at times because of the decisions made about what to include as the story was pared down to 76 minutes.
The movie opens with Dr. Leo Quintum (Alexis Denisof) and his team on a manned flight to the sun. Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) sabotages the mission, knowing Superman (James Denton) will save the day, but his real motive is causing Superman to overexpose himself to solar radiation. Superman discovers the radiation has not only augmented and altered his powers, but the internal damage is slowly killing him.
Knowing his time is short, Superman brings Lois (Christina Hendricks) to the Fortress of Solitude and gives her a chance to experience his life for 24 hours. The sequence is touching as they share this closeness for the first time, but it’s undercut by the goofiness of two time travelers, Samson (John DiMaggio) and Atlas (Steven Blum), who want to vie for Lois’ affections regardless of her disinterest. There is also a set-up to show off how smart Superman is by having him answer a riddle, but it was too easy.
As Clark Kent, Superman visits Luthor in prison for an interview, and in a great use of a character the Parasite feeds off the energy in his over-radiated body. It’s a good action sequence, but with all his screaming about the sun and power, it’s hard to believe someone as smart as Luthor didn’t pick up on it. Also odd is the fact that the prison guards in a facility that houses supervillains are only given batons and guns.
Another sequence that didn’t work is Superman returning to Earth after an extended absence while relocating the miniaturized city of Kandor on another planet to find two Krytonians, Bar-El (Arnold Vosloo) and Lilo (Finola Hughes), have taken over the planet and they aren’t as benevolent as he is. They were too easily dispatched and quickly see the errors of their ways.
The movie rightly ends as it begins with a battle between Superman and Luthor, and the story ends with me more appreciative of the character. Real doubt is created about whether Superman will be triumphant and rather than superpowers it’s brains and sacrifice are what save the day. Although the movie has a couple of missteps, including an odd epilogue that presents a creepy continuation of this universe, it has me very curious to read the source material.
All-Star Superman’s is given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer. The colors are bright and vivid hues that pop off the screen. Lines look sharp and well defined. Regrettably, many of the same flaws that plague other DCAOM titles surface. Banding can be seen around light sources and in backgrounds, and artifacting crops up on occasion. They are so egregious they ruin the viewing experience but they are noticeable.
The audio is presented as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that leans heavy on the front channels as opposed to the more immersive experience one might expect. With that said, the action scenes make the best use of the LFE and surround speakers though their can be hear some minor room acoustics. Amidst the action, the mix of sound elements is balanced well as the dialogue always remains clear and understandable.
Warner Brothers has released the set as a two-disc set with one being a DVD/Digital Copy combo disc and the other being the movie and extras on a Blu-ray disc. Producer Bruce Timm and writer Grant Morrison, both fans of each other’s work, have a conversation about the source and adaptation during the commentary track. “Superman Now” (HD, 34 min) finds Morrison talking about his approach to the All-Star Superman series and the ideas he was dealing with. DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan Didio joins him. During “The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison” (HD, 10 min), the author shows sketches and notes of his preliminary work on the book series. A virtual comic of All-Star Superman is accessible as a slideshow. I am not sure how much it covers, but I expect it’s just the first issue. Unfortunately, the dialogue in the word balloons is so small it’s difficult to read, making it pointless. Two Sneak Peaks (HD, 12 min) of other DCAOM projects are included. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is DC’s next animated original movie, timed for the release of the live action film, and Superman/Batman Apocalypse was the previous release. The collection of “Bruce Timm’s Picks” (SD, 40 min) present “Blast from the Past,” Parts 1 & 2 from Superman: The Animated Series. These episodes opened season two and mirrors one of the feature’s storylines as Superman battles with Kryptonian criminals. While a good set of extras, I was mildly disappointed there wasn’t a new DC Showcase, a series of shorts accompanying DCAOMs starring B- and C-level DC Comics characters.
All-Star Superman shows Superman in a different light and makes him a richer character and what the movie gets right makes up for its flaws.