Do Better, WB or Why I’m Disappointed in the Superman 1978-1987 5-Film Collection Box Set

Back in October, 2022 the amazing Caped Wonder Jim posted a couple of interesting tweets. The first in response to a @SupermanIV account post about releasing the original Sidney Furie director’s cut of The Quest for Peace”. This account leads the social media push for getting this directors cut and rarely posts about anything else. The second starting to get us hyped for something that included the four original Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve.

It could be assumed from these tweets one right after the other that we should expect an announcement of some kind of reissue including this director’s cut.

Soon afterwards Caped Wonder tweeted that we’d be getting 4K versions Superman II, III, and IV including the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. He linked out to The Digital Bits with the report, but no real details. At this point there is speculation that these will include Dolby Vision HDR.

Jim at Caped Wonder has contacts at Warner Home Video. He worked with them on extras for previous box sets. It’s safe to assume he had some insider information that he was teasing out to fans. He confirms it as such on November 2nd on Caped Wonder

I’ve been aware for quite some time that Warner Bros.’ MPI (Motion Picture Imaging) department has been working on Superman II (theatrical and Donner Cut), Superman III, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace remasters in 4K Ultra HD, likely to hit the market in April 2023. Superman II will include both the original theatrical version and the Richard Donner Cut.

Interestingly no mention of the extended or Furie Cut” of Superman IV. This is the first disappointment. It’s not a major one, Superman IV wasn’t a huge success for Warners. If we ever get an extended cut I’d be surprised if it was a polished 4K edition. It’s more likely to be similar to the Warner Archive Superman Extended Cut. But still, the tease from Jim puts this in the disappointment category.

December 14th Warner Brothers released their centennial celebration press release. This is the first mention we get about the Superman 5-film collection”. So now we know box set. But of what? Caped Wonder confirms in response to someone’s question that it will be five movies I-IV and the Donner Cut.

Off the bat we weren’t expecting Superman Returns since that wasn’t part of the initial rumor anyway. I’d still put this in the disappointment category. The Donner Cut is more of an alternative version than a separate film altogether. Like the Furie Cut this is minor. Superman Returns doesn’t exist in 4K. It was shot digitally unlike the Reeve films and at best exists in 2K. A UHD version would be an upgrade from the Blu-Ray, but it wouldn’t be 4K.

On December 24th on the Caped Wonder podcast Jim breaks the big news. Superman the Movie 4K from 2018 is being completely redone.” This is the most exciting part of the box set so far. The version we got in 2018 has major issues; some fans even prefer the Blu-Ray version. If we are going to be forced to buy this movie again a new version would dull that pain.

Fast forward to February 13, 2023. A user posts a low-res image of the purported box set onto a Blu-Ray forum.

4K UHD Box set of Superman 5-film collection 1978-1987 with Superman standing in the fortress of solitude

This image doesn’t light anyone’s fire, but it’s the movies that are important. This starts the real news though. This also enforces what we’ve heard about Superman Returns. The picture starts to come together fast.

Six Days later Zavvi posts their Steelbook version of the box set. With no official announcement from Warners this is the biggest drop of news so far. Despite it being UK only it bodes well for folks in the US. Annoyingly, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and light on technical details. A big problem that stands out for me: Theatrical Cut - On Disc Special Features: Introduction by Director Richard Donner, Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz”. These are obviously for the Donner cut, not the theatrical cut and are repeated in the next section. When Superman Homepage picked up the news they didn’t bother to correct this error. All of the extras are ported over exactly from the last Blu-Ray box set. The assumption is these aren’t on the UHD discs and neither the Fleischer cartoons nor Superman and the Mole Men are getting remastered. Safe to say the Blu-Ray discs will be identical to what we already have. Another small disappointment, but the focus here is really on the films in 4K.

4K UHD boxset of steelbooks. Showing all four Superman films original posters, plus the Superman 78 comic booklet and the cover for Action Comics 1

The box looks excellent though. Rather than any weird photoshop jobs we are treated to original theatrical movie posters as the art on high quality cases. It even comes with a comic. We’ve had some ups and downs in this saga but this is a win (as long as it’s available in the US).

Two days later the US news starts to come in.Amazon lists the Steelbook version as their exclusive. Perfect, available in the US in a great format. It’s later offered on the DC Shop so not exactly Amazon exclusive, but all other retailers get a more standard box with plastic cases.

Over the next few days it pops up on other retailers without the steelbooks and more art starts to circulate. Namely this picture of the back:

Back Cover of the Superman 4K box set. Text reads A SUPER COLLECTION OF THE ORIGINAL GROUNDBREAKING FILMS NOW IN 4K ULTRA HD” WITH HDR! Superman 5-Film Collection: 1978-1987 includes Superman: The Movie (978), Superman Il (1980), Superman Il: The Richard Donner Cut(2006), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), plus hours of special features, including making-of featurettes, filmmaker commentaries, additional scenes, theatrical trailers, TV spots and more. At the bottom it reads Superman: The Movie Only Dolby VISION

Notice something on the bottom right corner? Superman: The Movie Only Dolby Vision. This is my first major disappointment. In most living room movie watching scenarios the difference between 1080p and 4K isn’t significant. But the difference between Standard Dynamic Range and High Dynamic Range is. Without Dolby Vision the assumption is the sequels will only have HDR10 which is a downgrade. It is starting to feel like this expensive boxset is becoming less worth the money. Curiously later images of the box set omit this text (side note: these photoshop jobs are ugly).

4K UHD Box set of Superman 5-film collection 1978-1987 with Superman standing in the fortress of solitude. Both the front and the back of the box are shown. This version doesn’t mention Dolby Vision

Inexplicably we still wait until March 1st before Warners gives us a press release. Like the initial Zavvi listing the press release has no technical details and is rife with mistakes. Like the all caps SYNOPSIS right after the synopsis of Superman The Movie. Or the weird bullet indentation errors (these could be a Superman Homepage and Caped Wonder error since they are corrected elsewhere). The press release does confirm that these are the previously released Blu-Ray extras like assumed and fixes the Donner and Mankiewicz extras on the theatrical II. We get an official date of April 18th (also assumed).

Later that day though we get the bad news from The Digital Bits. Not only was that first box shot correct and we are only getting HDR10 for the sequels, but now we are no longer getting a new video master for the original. They try to make up for it by saying the original now includes the theatrical audio mix but we had that on the previous 4K disc just in lossy quality.

WBHE has replied with the following answers to the questions we posed for clarification: 1) Superman: The Movie 4K utilizes the same video master as the 2018 UHD but now includes the original theatrial audio mix (Comment: We believe this is in DTS-HD MA format now, where as the 2018 4K offered it in lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital. �BH). 2) Superman: The Movie includes Dolby Vision HDR while the sequels include only HDR10. All have Dolby Atmos. 3) No single-film 4K SKUs are currently planned in the US.]

This is hugely disappointing. We are left without a definitive home video version of this iconic film since the 4K is the only place you can get the theatrical audio, but is marred by a strangely dark transfer making it in many ways inferior to the Blu-Ray release from more than a decade ago. Want the sequels in 4K? You’ll need to rebuy an essentially identical version of the original to get them. Add to that it feels like they cut corners for cost purposes on the HDR. The earlier disappointments can be overlooked, but these are harder to ignore. Especially coming days after preorders go live.

But wait, that’s not all. Today Warners decides to give us another little kick while we are down. Remember those Fleischer cartoons that got included with the old Blu-Rays in the set? Bummer that they aren’t remastered. Especially because they’ve been released many many times over the years. Want them remastered? Cool because they are coming soon to Blu-Ray. Yup, this nice fancy boxset with steel cases will already have out of date versions of the original cartoons one month later. At least it looks like this Blu-Ray has a new featurette: Max Fleischer’s Superman: Speeding Toward Tomorrow”. More than we can say for this box set supposedly celebrating 100 years of Warner Brothers and 85 years of Superman. I wonder if it will look as good as some of the AI 4K upscales floating around the internet.

As you can tell, I love these movies and the cartoons. Thousands of other people feel the same way. It feels insulting to fans to get these half-assed versions. I get that preparing these new editions is a big expense for Warner Discovery, but giving us versions that are let downs isn’t a great way to make back that investment. Cutting corners isn’t going to make this a must purchase for Superman fans. It just becomes another version in a long line of versions that we’ve paid for. I can forgive the missing extended versions and Superman Returns (who needs that Luthor anyway). I’m fine with recycled special features, the movies are old. But to cut corners on the actual films is a slap in the face. Do better, WB.

March 3, 2023 WB

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Follow up on the new Superman home video releases This week the Superman 1978-1987 5-Film Collection Box Set ships in the US. Its release was delayed here in the United States but not the rest of