After nearly 20 years without a big-screen Man of Steel, "Superman Returns" had big red boots to fill, which it did with sure-footed grace and dignity thanks to director Bryan Singer's honoring of the past, emphasis on character and meticulous touch. The 2-disc special edition DVD demonstrates this thorough attention to detail, which makes for alternately intriguing, sentimental and tedious viewing.
As the title suggests, the film centers on the return of the prodigal son and carries with it all those issues and themes implied -- yes, even the Christian ones. Because of this, there's an epic feel to the story even though the action takes place in a relatively short period of time and within limited geography.
The main bonus feature is the super-sized behind-the-scenes look, "Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns," which is basically five featurettes that are occasionally broken down further into subcategories. Judicious use of the fast forward would be wise, especially in Part 1, "Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallizing Superman," which spends an inordinate amount of time on the development and pre-production stage of the film.
Instead, skip to the section focusing on casting newcomer Brandon Routh: his screentest, his first Superman haircut and his motion capture and "flying" sessions. Costume designer Louise Mingenbach appears briefly to explain about the use of color in the wardrobe, but there's sadly no talk about the impressive codpiece.
In Part 2, "The Crystal Method: Designing Superman," there's still more pre-production, including giving Kate Bosworth a brunette wig so she can play Lois Lane, Singer arguing and Routh showing of his physique underwater for more "flying" sessions.
Part 3, "An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman," finally gets down to actual cameras rolling -- albeit digital ones -- in Tamworth, Australia where young Clark discovers his powers and when Kal-El returns to the farm. The location changes to Metropolis, where I'd suggest you skip over all the stuff about crowd control. It's interesting for about a minute, but really, we're not supposed to notice them, right?
All the other stuff is similarly padded with way more explanation than necessary (although it's funny to see Singer talking about his red Mike the Mic). The production behind the homage to the Action Comics scene in which Superman lifts the car is worth a look though.
Kevin Spacey obviously embraced playing the part of Superman's nemesis, Lex Luthor, with gusto. In Part 4, "The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman," the actor puts a lot of effort into tricking out his "Lex's Super Buster" (aka golf cart) with anti-Superman sentiments and images. You really don't need more than that, but the section also goes over various Lex scenes from the film.
The final part on this journey, "He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman," concludes with the final scene shot and Routh's thanks to the crew. Thankfully, all this is relatively short, making way for the outtakes that play over the featurette credits. Be sure to stick around for a bonus Marlon Brando outtake.
While the "making of" occasionally became plodding, the DVD producers were wise to create a friendly, image-intensive bonus feature to explain how the filmmakers used old Marlon Brando footage to create new scenes and dialogue for the late legend. "Resurrecting Jor-El" is kind of like a Max Headroom video, complete with a floating head, repetitious phrases and rhythmic music. Short, explanatory text that's not overly techical accompanies the images of Rhythm & Hues' creation.
The disc's deleted scenes aren't particularly important to the film, but I would have liked the two scenes with Martha Kent's new squeeze Ben to have been included just to give background about this guy horning into the late Jonathan Kent's territory.
If you're a fanboy, then by all means, watch the bonus features in their entirety. But casual viewers will get plenty of background from just skimming. Either strategy will work for this film that is a completely satisfying experience on its own.
EXTRAS: deleted scenes; Easter egg: "Wrong!"; theatrical and video game trailers; "Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns": a comprehensive 3-hour documentary including: Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallizing Superman; The Crystal Method: Designing Superman; An Affinity for Beachfront Property: and Shooting Superman; "The Joy of Lex" -- behind the scenes with Kevin Spacey; He's Always Around: Wrapping Superman; "Resurrecting Jor-El" -- how the filmmakers used Marlon Brando footage