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Superman movie fans have a new lucky number - 13. The 13th disc in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition - and not available separately or as part of the Christopher Reeve Collection - is a tribute to the original Superman movie franchise from its inception in or around 1974 to its whimpering end in 1987. While the most love, Superman-director-wise, is reserved for Richard Donner, with still photos of him gracing several of the menu screens, disc 13 is mostly a well-deserved love letter to Christopher Reeve.
The highlight of this bonus disc - and a necessary supplement to the rest of the set in my opinion - is the new documentary "You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman". The documentary includes interviews with virtually everyone associated with the first four Superman movies and "Supergirl". The film-makers did such a thorough job that they even credit their failed attempts at interviewing "Superman II" Director of record Richard Lester and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" Nuclear Man Mark Pillow in the film's closing credits.
"You Will Believe" is split into five chapters. The first chapter, "Origin", deals with the conception of the idea to make a Superman movie. Ironically, the first person seen and heard in the documentary is Sam Hamm, who wrote the screenplay to 1989's "Batman". But such turnabout is very fair play - "Superman: The Movie" is credited on the "Batman" franchise bonus discs as an inspiration for the Bat-films. The second chapter, "Vision", addresses pre-production on the first movie and early production issues. The third chapter, "Ascent", continues the story of the first movie's production and its great success on its December 1978 release. The fourth chapter, "Crisis", bravely confronts head-on the problems that arose between Donner and the Producers that resulted in Donner's eventual replacement on "Superman II" by director Lester. As on the two-disc "Superman II Special Edition", Lester's input is sorely missed here. The fifth and final chapter, curiously titled "Redemption", deals with "Superman III", "Supergirl", and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace". I'm not sure exactly who is redeemed by these last three movies in the Superman franchise except perhaps Donner - though a more apt title in that case might have been "Revenge".
"You Will Believe" includes interviews with virtually everyone associated in a meaningful way with the Superman movie franchise. Donner (curiously sporting a "No Fur" pin throughout all of his interviews - is anyone under the age of 80 years still wearing fur?). Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Producers Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler. Composer John Williams. Editor Stuart Baird. Inventor of the technology used to make a man fly, Zoran Perisic. Casting director Lynn Stalmaster. Make-up artist Stuart Freeborn. Reeve's fitness trainer and inhabitant of the Darth Vader costume in 1977's "Star Wars", David Prowse. Lois Lane Margot Kidder. Lara Susannah York. Young Clark Jeff East. Perry White Jackie Cooper. Jimmy Olsen Marc McClure. General Zod Terence Stamp. Brutish Non Jack O'Halloran. The evil Ursa, Sarah Douglas. Lana Lang Annette O'Toole. "Supergirl" director Jeannot Szwarc. "Supergirl" star Helen Slater. "Superman IV" Producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus . "Superman IV" co-writer Mark Rosenthal. And much more.
The documentary includes a lot of amazing behind-the-scenes footage and stills. Perhaps most amazing is the fact that Donner's smoking cigars on-set almost continuously. My favorite piece of footage is of Reeve drinking coffee in the Superman suit as he's obviously preparing to film the scene where he saves the school bus from falling off the Golden Gate Bridge. The most jarring piece of footage? Reeve, dressed as Clark Kent, chewing gum, believe it or not.
Almost everything a fan might have wondered about is addressed in this well-made documentary. East, the actor who played young Clark Kent in Smallville, discusses how he found out on opening day from co-star McClure that Reeve dubbed over his voice. Actress Douglas, the evil Ursa, explains how she toured the world by herself promoting "Superman II" because she was the only actor who could be trusted not to diss the Producers and director Lester. The firing of Donner itself is addressed head-on by everyone from Donner to Kidder to Salkind and Spengler. And, finally, it's admirable how there's no retrofitting history with respect to the downward turn in the franchise's quality between 1983 and 1987.
If the only thing on this bonus disc was "You Will Believe", it'd still be a disc worth believing in. But that's far from the only worthwhile material included on this bonus disc. There's also documentary "The Mythology of Superman" (with narration by actor Stamp) which surprisingly doesn't tread on the footsteps of "You Will Believe" or disc 12's "Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman" documentary. "The Mythology of Superman" doesn't re-tell Superman's chronology but rather fits Superman's history into the bigger picture of classic mythology. Any documentary where Superman is compared to Odysseus, Perseus, Jesus Christ, Moses, Hercules, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Gilgamesh is OK in my book. This documentary also includes interviews with many famous DC Comics creators including DC's President Paul Levitz, Roger Stern, Dan Didio, Denny O'Neal, Mike Carlin, and Marv Wolfman.
The third documentary on this disc is a touching tribute to Christopher Reeve titled "Heart of a Hero: A Tribute to Christopher Reeve". Many of those interviewed for "You Will Believe" appear again here as well as Reeve's "Somewhere in Time" co-star and friend Jane Seymour, "Adventures of Superman" co-star Jack Larson, artist Alex Ross, "Smallville" creators Al Gough and Miles Millar, a teacher of Reeve's from Julliard, and Brooke Ellison, the paraplegic who was the subject of the Reeve-directed "Brooke Ellison Story".
The documentary makes a rather shocking jump from a discussion of Reeve the actor to a discussion of Reeve the post-accident activist. It would have been nice to have included some discussion of Reeve's pre-accident altruism such as his 1987 trip to Chile to show solidarity with 77 Chilean writers and artists whose lives were being threatened by their oppressive government. In fact, this would have proved a point made by several of those interviewed that Reeve was basically the same guy before and after the accident.
The bonus disc also includes some more light-hearted lagniappe. There's 1958's "The Adventures of Superpup" with midgets in animal costumes playing canine versions of the Superman characters. "Superpup" inexplicably goes from color to black and white a few minutes into the experience - sort of a Bizarro-"Wizard of Oz" effect to reflect the mood change.
Then there's the true surprise of the set - three Warner Brothers cartoons with a Superman theme: Super Rabbit (which was always my favorite episode of Bugs Bunny for obvious reasons), Snafuperman (starring Private Snafu - voiced by Mel Blanc - in a military training film made by Warners to support the World War II effort), and Stupor Duck (starring Daffy Duck). These are unexpected in that no one would have judged Warners inadequate if the Ultimate Collector's Edition didn't contain these cartoons and yet here they are. Nice.
Finally there's a trailer for the "Superman" serials collection starring Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn.
The Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition is the only place where this packed-to-the-gills bonus disc can be found. It's unfortunate that the disc isn't also packaged with the Christopher Reeve Collection particularly given the Reeve tribute piece. If, for no other reason than acquiring the three featured documentaries on the lucky disc 13, I highly recommend investing in the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition.