[img]http://www.waystowatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/man_of_steel_target_exclusive-300x300.jpg[/img]Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Warner Bros./Legendary/DC Comics/Syncopy
Disc/Transfer Information: Region A; 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 (Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1); 50GB Blu-ray Disc
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (Tested in 5.1 Configuration)
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring Cast: Henry Cavill, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Michael Shannon
In the interest of saving time, I will provide my thoughts on the film itself from my theatrical overview of it below, then return to the thread to add my sentiments about the audio and picture quality of the Blu-ray after viewing it tomorrow night; I'll also have some postviewing sentiments towards the end.
Additional Note: There are a plethora of versions of Man of Steel being released tomorrow including a two-disc Special Edition DVD and as such, the "right" one to get is going to be the cause of some fanatic-driven controversey -- for me, I think, as of right now, I'll be picking up Target's exclusive digibook package of the title as seen in the image above, though the WalMart exclusive steelbook looks real nice (the price for that is outrageous though -- I think WalMart wants like 27 bucks or so for it). If the type of release I end up reviewing changes, I will indicate it when I update the thread...as far as I know, all versions will contain the same 2.40:1 1080p encode transfer and 7.1 Master Audio track...
Here were my thoughts after returning from the theater, just for kickoff discussion sake:
Just got back from seeing, in the first showing of its opening night, the long-awaited re-reboot of DC’s most beloved character in their arsenal, and I have some mixed feelings about it, my friends, that I’d like to share here with you. First, let’s begin with talking about the critical negativity bestowed upon Man of Steel’s predecessor, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns – I don’t understand why this film was so defecated on by critics and fans upon its launch and subsequent re-runnings on home video. It was designed to be a “continuation” story of sorts, with Singer feeling – rightfully so – that he didn’t need to go into the entire “birther”/origin story, instead concentrating on a plot that revolved around Kal El hearing that scientists had found remnants of Krypton and his search for parts of his home world, thus “abandoning” Earth for awhile only to return and be our protector once again. While horribly mis-cast in many areas – Lois Lane primarily – the film was far from a disaster, rather a bit long-in-the-tooth in terms of villain choice by the way of the tiring Lex Luthor angle (Kevin Spacey). I thought it was wise for Singer to go with a “continuation” plot rather than a reboot of sorts, even though the film was attempting to re-introduce a new generation to the characters made so lovable and believable by the Christopher Reeve films that came before it (to this day, no one will play the role like the late great Reeve); of course, in the midst of this was Warner Bros.’ interest in resurrecting a franchise nameplate in the wake of the comic film adaptation craze and once Christopher Nolan had a hit on his hands with Batman Begins, there seemed to be no stopping Warner, Syncopy, Legendary Pictures and DC Comics’ live action division. What I would have done, personally, though if I were directing Superman Returns was to attempt to actually offer the roles of the classic characters in the story – Lois, Lex and Perry White – to the actors that portrayed them in the classic Superman films…that is, I would have tried to get Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman and even Jackie Cooper to reprise their roles because this was, after all, a “continuation” story and the only one not around to reprise a role would have been Reeve. I mean, we did get a cameo by the great Marlon Brando as Jor El – even “speaking” to Spacey’s Luthor as a holographic image in the iconic Fortress of Solitude – so why not get the other main stars to reappear? It would have made logical sense in that they all simply would have gotten naturally older, and Singer could have somehow woven their characters into the current time period – specialized makeup could have also made them appear a bit younger than they are in real life. It seemed to me, at least, that Kate Bosworth playing Lois in Returns didn’t make any chronological sense; Bosworth is younger than Margot Kidder ever was even during 1978’s Superman and yet it was supposed to be years after the events of Superman II…this didn’t make any sense to me. Though, it was wise for the filmmakers behind Superman Returns to completely ignore the events and timeline of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, two of the most laughable motion pictures ever put to celluloid.
And so I never understood why Returns was considered such a disappointment by many; sure, it didn’t have the charm that the Reeve films had, but it did follow the “flying intro credits” formula like the classics before it, making it instantly recognizable as a Superman film, and Brandon Routh looked good in the revamped, modernized costume – further, the effects weren’t cheesy or offputting (especially compared to the old films and the limitations of the technology of the time), Spacey portrayed a pretty creepy and sinister Luthor and there was a nice, “retro” throwback feel to the color timing, suggesting a bygone period from perhaps the Reeve films’ days, especially in the shots including the Daily Planet. Still, the film didn’t really see all that much Supes “hand-to-hand” combat action, the plot centering more around our hero attempting to squelch the damage Luthor had done to Metropolis by way of the “new continent” he had created offshore (one of the film’s shortcomings).
Man of Steel, as directed by Zach “300 and Dawn of the Dead” Snyder, is a completely radical departure from Singer’s Superman Returns – here, I can happily report, fans that have been waiting for rabid, nail-biting fight sequences that seemed as though they jumped off the pages of the comic will be more than pleased. Finally, we get to see the main character in serious, tail-kickin’ fight action never before seen in any Superman feature film, and we finally get an adversary that’s both life-threatening and menacing in Michael Shannon’s General Zod. There are problems, unfortunately, but that doesn’t stop Man of Steel from easily making up for the disaster this summer that was Iron Man 3; let me preface my detailed analysis of this motion picture first by saying much of the film was horribly mis-cast and illogically endowed with way too heavy a dollop of science fiction and Star Trek-esque overtones. This was something I complained about in the recent reboot of the Spider-Man franchise – Marc Webb, in my opinion, mis-cast that film from beginning to end, starting with the horrible choices of Sally Field and Martin Sheen playing Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Then, there was the problem with Andrew Garfield in the main lead as Parker – what?! We have a skateboarding, mop-headed, geeky freak who can’t even put a sentence together just to satisfy and cater to a demographic of idiotic teenage girls who see this stuff as attractive? Really? Tobey Maguire, in my opinion, was far superior in this role – right down to the facial gestures that looked like they came right off the pages of Stan Lee’s legendary book. Alas, this problem trickles down to Snyder’s Man of Steel in that it’s not Henry Cavill in the lead as Clark/Kal El that’s the issue but rather the supporting players – Michael Shannon as General Zod was an absolutely awful choice, especially when you compare his performance to Terence Stamp’s in Superman II, while Russell Crowe as Jor El wasn’t really fitting, either…then, there’s…wait for it…Laurence Fishburne as Perry White? Are they serious? Horrific choice. Honestly. While no one will play the role like Jackie Cooper, at least Frank Langella was acceptable in Superman Returns. Also mis-cast is Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Kal El’s Earth parents; in my opinion, it seems filmmakers of these “reboots” simply choose Hollywood chart topper names to get some marquee value without taking into consideration if these people will actually work or make sense in the roles. Yet, in some sense of retrospect, my wife explained it to me like this: Perhaps it’s their way of re-introducing these characters to a new generation that expects folks of the age of the characters like Aunt May and Uncle Ben and Clark Kent’s parents to not really look as “old” as the people that came before them did at this same time/age frame. In this context, the casting kind of makes more sense.
Now, as most of you already know, the essence behind Man of Steel was a complete re-telling of the birth story, so we get Snyder’s take on the origin mythos here – but I had a big problem with this, as the entire opening sequences on Krypton itself are of a much, much darker nature, taking on heavy science fiction overtones that are in complete contradiction with the original Superman films. I understand Snyder had already helmed incredibly kinetic projects like 300 – and you can definitely feel that influence here – and that Christopher Nolan brought his brooding, dark vision to the story via producing duties, but something felt totally off and “different” from the very beginning of Man of Steel. Gone is Krypton’s “hot white” essence and Jor El’s “glowing white” costuming when Brando played the role; here, Krypton is a dark, alien place run by beings that are more equipped to be fighting in gladiator-style events with their armored costumes than escaping a doomed planet. Crowe’s performance as Jor El is okay, but I just didn’t buy him as Kal’s father, especially when you keep seeing Brando in your head in the role. What confused me most of all was Snyder’s source material for the story he weaves here – which Superman comics portray Krypton as such a “synthetic” and “organic” place with so many robotics and alien-esque beings flying about and within?
Still, much to fans’ delight, we get a dabble into Superman II territory by Snyder in the way of re-introducing the great General Zod character to a new generation of theater goers – instead of yet again Kal El meeting notorious criminal mastermind Lex Luthor once he gets to Earth, we have him meeting and coming into conflict with the legendary Zod, whose presence is what made Superman II such a memorable comic adaptation. It seems what Snyder and team have done here is to borrow elements from Richard Donner’s Superman II while weaving a more modern story, but in so doing, a way-too-thick science fiction overtone gets lathered on, leaving behind the simplicity of the original goofy story. It seems Zod (played by a horrifically-cast Michael Shannon) is the military commanding force upon Krypton and has led a revolt with his constituents in the midst of the planet breaking apart and preparing for its doom. Zod claims his revolt is merely in the best interests of Krypton and will lead to his resurrection of the Kryptonians, but Jor El (Crowe) knows him too well and instead instills his newborn son with all the powers of the planet within the child’s cellular structure. After an effective and exciting hand-to-hand combat sequence between Jor El and Zod where Zod pretty much gets his backside handed to him, the Kryptonian council sends Zod and his followers to a vessel that will forever be trapped inside the Phantom Zone – a concept explored in Donner’s film but radically altered in this version – as a punishment for their attempted overthrow. That appears to be the last action the council ever takes, as the planet Krypton explodes (not before Zod manages to stab and kill Jor El) and Kal El is thrust into space towards Earth and Zod and his people are thrown into the atmosphere as well, somewhere within this “Phantom Zone” that’s never really fleshed out.
A big problem I had during these Krypton sequences early on was the costuming – while of course ridiculous and cheesy, the costumes in Superman II with the huge black boots and shiny black outfits somehow “worked;” in Snyder’s film, these have been replaced by gladiator-esque body armor and oversized shoulder pads that looked equally as ridiculous. Where Krypton was once run by what appeared to be a technologically superior and advanced race has been replaced by a colder, darker more antiquated-appearing variant even though the technology on display here was quite…well…advanced. Where the original Superman of the 70s explored the entire Kal El crashing into Smallville angle, being taken in by his Earth parents, Man of Steel kind of goes back and forth with these elements, suggesting the crash landing by Kal into the Kansas farm but then quickly fast-forwarding to him being grown up and working on a fishing ship. What? Again, I have to ask – which run of the comics ever suggested Clark worked on a fishing boat, or worked as a waiter in a seaside bar as Snyder’s film suggests? In between these scenes, we get flashbacks to Clark growing up on the farm, being raised by Costner and Lane’s characters, while he discovers for himself his developing powers and abilities. One thing I do applaud Snyder for is introducing a sequence that explains how he first “gets” his red and blue suit – in a sequence that makes a nod to the “talking hologram” scenes of previous films in which Clark can communicate with visions of his father, Jor El (Crowe) explains to Kal El who he is and what he should do as Earth’s protector inside some kind of holographic “craft” that appears when Kal El utilizes the legendary S-shaped “key” that accompanied him to Earth in his pod. All of this is a radical departure from what you have seen in previous takes on this material, and I can’t figure out yet if I liked it or not – but what made this sequence so great was that Jor El shows Kal his red and blue suit with the iconic “S” on it, which Kal will use to become Earth’s greatest superhero, of course. Gone are the days of Clark Kent running into a phone booth or putting colored pantyhose on beneath his suit, I suppose; now we know how he actually acquired the costume.
The whole way Lois Lane gets introduced to the story was a bit hokey – and we even get a mention of Lana Lang, remember her from Superman III? – in that she somehow stumbles upon a story about some kind of alien contraption that was discovered in the ice from a long-bygone era, which leads her to investigate this alien stranger that has been living in different towns, cities and states (Clark Kent)…eventually, she catches up to Clark and discovers who he really is (an element that took nearly two full motion pictures to get to in the previous classic films) amidst news that Zod and his legion have come to Earth, demanding Kal El be turned over to him. This is where things get hairy, offputting and…well...just different as compared to material we already know; first, Zod knew Jor El sent his son to Earth with the last remaining essence of Krypton before he was banished to the Phantom Zone, and for this, he seeks revenge – what Zod’s ultimate plan revolves around is “re-inventing” Earth’s atmosphere so he can “re-create” Krypton on actual Earth. But as Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor explained to us in Superman Returns, simultaneous existence of certain bodies, essences and matter can’t occur…can it? And so, Zod plans to re-create Krypton right there on Earth, by, essentially, “paving over” the planet. What’s not shown is what is suggested in Donner’s Superman II – that from the blast of Krypton’s explosion, Zod and his people were blown free from the Phantom Zone, eventually making their way to Earth where they come to not only wreak havoc but find the son of their jailor.
The way in which Snyder handled the Zod-coming-to-Earth thing was cool – television broadcasts, cell phone transmissions and satellites are all jammed, the words “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” splashed across them, indicating, indeed, that a race of aliens have arrived. Next, we hear Shannon’s voice explaining who he is and why he has come to Earth – and that the people of the planet have to hand Kal El over to him. Still, as cool as this element was, the whole “Zod and his people” aspect wasn’t; instead of a free-flying trio of space villains as seen in Donner’s take, Zod and his “legion “ – a squad of Krypton goons highly advanced and with developing powers possibly even superior to Superman’s – arrive on Earth wearing space suit-like contraptions that make them look more like the things that attack the planet in Battleship than anything resembling a Superman adversary. I didn’t like this take on the material, at all, and again I question Snyder’s source for inspiration – was this really how Zod and his followers traveled? With “breathing shields” to “protect” them from Earth’s atmosphere? What about Donner’s version, which suggested they could fly around as easily as Superman, no breathing apparatus needed? There is a moment in the film that suggests Diane Lane’s character tells Clark of when he was young and she noticed his “difficulty breathing,” possibly explaining the “developing a body that can live on Earth” aspect with regard to Superman and Zod, but honestly it was lost on me.
At this point, we see Henry Cavill flying about in the souped-up new cape and outfit – which looks much like Spider-Man’s in The Amazing Spider-Man in terms of dynamic detailing and cellular structure – and we get Snyder’s take on how he gets the name Superman when Lois Lane is talking to him in a military isolation room after he’s surrendered to authorities for being of alien nature. Lois asks him what the “S” on the chest stands for, and he tells her it’s not an “S” at all, rather a symbol that refers to a concept on his home world. She begins to give it another reference, letting him know that on Earth it is indeed an “S” and it will become his legendary new name – just before they’re interrupted. Eventually – and before Kal El can learn what evil Zod is really planning – he submits to Zod and his people, ready to be taken back for any crimes he has been accused of committing prior to coming to Earth. However, once aboard Zod’s ship that escaped the Phantom Zone, he quickly learns of the dark side of this Kryptonian adversary when he’s chained up and restrained, along with Lois.
In between are some hints and glances at other iconic Superman-esque elements such as the Daily Planet building, run by an awfully-cast Laurence Fishburne, the death of Clark’s Earth father (Costner) at the hands of not a heart attack as suggested by previous films but a tornado in the middle of a Kansas highway, conversations between a quasi-holographic Jor El and his son and more, but the heart of Snyder’s Man of Steel is what fans have been waiting what seems like ions for – incredibly choreographed, expertly CGI-coated fight sequences that rival any comic adaptation out there. Cavill’s portrayal of an angry, rage-driven Kal El who wants revenge on Zod for the death of his father as he clenches his fists and butts heads with the worst from Krypton was super-exciting and kinetic, setting up the downright nail-biting flying fight scenes that totally wiped the floor with anything Iron Man 3 could have conjured up; first, Superman comes to blows on Earth will Zod’s female henchwoman (played by Sarah Douglas in Superman II in which her name was “Ursa” but which is totally changed in this one) in absolutely exciting, visceral fight sequences, moving on to meet a giant, “Destroyer-from-Thor"-like being also loyal to Zod. As these adversaries beat the ever-loving-super-snot out of each other, the military attempts to converge on Zod and his people to try and stop them from going through with their plan for our planet. The whole military angle was something Snyder also borrowed heavily from Donner’s Superman II, though of course here the technology is far more advanced and enjoyable to look at. As these fight sequences came to a close, I was a bit disappointed that there was no hand-to-hand action between Zod and Superman being that Snyder seemed to be setting this up, and that’s what the whole essence behind Donner’s material was kind of built on…but I was rewarded for waiting in the final frame of the film.
Zod, now fully “adapted” to Earth’s atmosphere and no longer needing his breathing shield, strips to reveal his Krypton-esque black body suit before engaging Kal El in a downright electrifying fight sequence, taking both super beings all over Metropolis as they punch, fling, whirl, throw and pummel each other in ways Donner’s film could never explore – and THAT’S what I, as a fan, was waiting for in this re-imagining of the material. This last fight sequence between Zod and Superman is well worth waiting for, and is right up there with some of the very best comic adaptation battle scenes between hero and villain; further, it represents the first time in this franchise that we get to see a serious, non-comedic take on Superman’s battles with enemies from his home world…an element sorely missing from any other installment. I am glad Snyder decided not to explore the whole tired Lex Luthor thing again, though I know he’s going to have to appear at some point because he was an essential element in the books. Snyder also ends the film on a note that gives a nod to all the classic takes on this material and opens the door for the inevitable sequel – though no villain is hinted at: Clark Kent is now working for the Daily Planet and has donned his glasses, shirt and tie…though I have to say, Cavill doesn’t look at all fitting in this aspect of the role as compared to either Reeve or Routh.
The biggest problem with Man of Steel as I see it was the casting of Michael Shannon in such as vital role as General Zod – this guy had no menacing quality to him when taken alone…sure, once his threats heat up and he gains super strength to fight Kal El he becomes a formidable foe, but his performance in this role was just downright odd and lacked all the charm that Terence Stamp had when he played him. Shannon is wooden, almost amateurish in his portrayal of Zod, going through the notions as if he’s reading it off a cue card. This could have been easily re-cast using a plethora of other actor choices. Likewise for the choice of using Russell Crowe as Jor El; I don’t see this guy as anything other than General Maximus from Gladiator, plain and simple, and in the footsteps of the great Marlon Brando, he didn’t work here. There was also the problem of the way in which Krypton is depicted in Snyder’s vision here; what’s the more accurate rendition as according to the books…the way in which the planet looks in its “hyper bright” variant as seen in the original film(s) or this darker, brooding, alien-esque take? And was Zod in the books ever wearing spiked shoulder pads and body armor as seen here? On the plus side, we get a solid performance from Cavill in the lead role, eventually utilizing his red “laser eyes” as seen in previous incarnations in fights with Zod – as well as Zod using them too, which was a nice nod to Superman II – in addition to the character’s growing, evolving rage as he fights each one of his adversaries, flying faster and faster and with more force as this anger grows. This was handled expertly by Snyder, in my opinion.
As I stated, you could totally feel Snyder’s 300-esque syrup coating this production – from the way in which alien “creatures” fly around his version of Krypton with large flapping wings to the outrageously kinetic action sequences that grab you by the throat and don’t let go. What I didn’t care for – but what I understand it was done for – was the lack of the traditional, classic opening sequence to every Superman film with the “flying credits” and the iconic score. Instead, Snyder opened the film with the brooding fate of Krypton and Kal El’s birth with a credits-less intro; of course, this was supposed to be a much darker, different take on the material as ever seen before – a la Nolan’s Batman trilogy – but to leave out this essential element made it seem like it wasn’t even a Superman project. The fight scenes, though, especially towards the end, is everything you’ve been waiting for if you’re a fan of the previous work – what Snyder has done here is take the essence of what made Superman II, perhaps an even better film than the original arguably, such a great comic adaptation and turned it up to 11. I won’t give away Superman’s eventual control of Zod or how he stops him during that brutal final battle, but it was pretty satisfying; suffice to say, I think you’ll be pleased.
There were many things that bothered me about Man of Steel – one of which I forgot to mention was the lack of a Fortress of Solitude element -- but at the same time, I think this makes up for the summer’s comic film bomb that was Iron Man 3 and it seems like Warner and DC may finally be on the right track for a forthcoming Justice League project if they can ever get Wonder Woman or a Green Lantern sequel off the ground. I think Snyder took way too many liberties in terms of altering the genetics of the Superman mythos in the name of satisfying a modern day audience, as the film takes on way too deep of a dark science fiction/Alien tone at times. Still, this will be a buy when it arrives on Blu…
If you have seen this – or when you do – tell me if you concur or disagree with my findings regarding Man of Steel!
[img] http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQUvS1PbYwdQO9fXw5tgL6USLyoDw6pO7ANXOai53sJnQ2LbA0-HTTwe8ApGQ[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
Whew. Like the audio track Warner gave Man of Steel on Blu, the 2.40:1 widescreen transfer was a complex visual treatment to analyze. For the most part, it comes off like a modern, just-released big blockbuster title, which is to say it’s loaded with clean, popping elements…but there are times mixed in there during the film’s long run time that exhibit visuals that seem to collapse into soft, somewhat waxy results. There was also a very fine layer of film grain inherent and present in the encode, running subtly in the background of many sequences – but it wasn’t annoying or distracting; I’m merely pointing it out because I haven’t seen a Blu-ray in a somewhat long time that exhibited a noticeable grain structure.
The opening sequence on the re-imagined Krypton exploded with detail and clean overtones, especially close ups of Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe) face and facial hair; this sequence is bathed in a mix of cool blue hue overtones and olive/gold sweeps to give the illusion of life on this alien planet and to highlight the vital elements such as the Kryptonian Council and the Kryptonians’ battle wardrobes. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives in the scene with his henchmen and henchwoman, the detail remains solid, firm and downright stunning in certain shots when the camera zooms in on his rage-driven face. The sweeping vistas of Krypton as Jor-El flies about the planet to reach the “conception chamber” of sorts while the planet begins to break up and into chaos with Zod’s warriors fighting the native peoples was rendered with remarkable quality and jaw-dropping-esque effect, as we witness Superman’s father flying this way and that to avoid being struck by weaponry blasts or explosive fires (though I still don’t care for this darker, medevil-esque take on the material as envisioned by Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan).
When the action shifts to Earth, the results on Warner’s 1080p Blu-ray encode for Man of Steel become a bit less stable and cohesive, instead rendering each different scene with somewhat different results – some sequences involving Clark growing up in Smallville on the farm had a bit of an digital softness to them (most likely due to the camera techniques and technology used by Snyder to shoot this) while others jumped off the screen with ripe, startling detail. Once Henry Cavill puts on the red and blue suit though, as given to him by Jor-El as a holographic memory, the big action setpieces explode into high-def eye candy goodness, especially the way in which the details of the suit itself are rendered. On close up shots, nearly every hole, thread, crevice, nook and catacomb of that complex new outfit the Man of Steel wears was on vivid display, even if its colors were purposely muted – especially in the reds – as compared to the pantyhose-and-massive-logo getup Christopher Reeve wore in the original franchise. Compared to Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, the outfit doesn’t look that much drastically different from the one Brandon Routh wore, but it’s definitely a unique take on the suit. Still, the 1080p Blu-ray encode put the elements of this intricate piece of critical wardrobe on my screen in startling clarity.
I noted that complicated shots, such as when Kal-El is surrendering himself to Zod and his people in the middle of that desert with the U.S. military standing by and dust kicks up everywhere, collapsed into a DVD-like softness; but these moments were few and far between. Once Zod and his people arrive in Smallville and duke it out with the military and Superman, the Kryptonian villians’ battle armor comes through loud and clear visually, offering a graphic addition to the over-the-top visuals on display during this key fight scene. Watching the film again at home last night, I was struck by the overwhelmingly sheer speed at which these superbeings fight each other (of course; they’re of extreme alien origin), and this made for some jarring moments as the human eye struggles to take everything in and follow the CGI transpiring at a lightning pace on screen.
Close-ups of supporting characters such as Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White; still a HORRIBLE casting choice) came across with raw realism on the transfer, sometimes bathed in a light coating of film grain but otherwise exhibiting incredible facial detail. For the most part, Man of Steel has been given that cold, steely, real-world look to it and to its visuals, as we follow Clark Kent from a fishing boat to a coastal bar and grill and eventually to the warmer, sun-kissed plains of Kansas and finally Metropolis, and the transfer envelops this posture and presents it in all its emotional glory – the rough-and-rugged hues of the earlier sequences are eaten up by the warmer sun-lit scenes once Clark’s in Kansas and there’s a nice shift of color balance in that way. Still, I could not help, as I watched this last night and took notes, that Man of Steel was something of a massive mixed bag in the Blu-ray video department; it’s surely not poor in any way but there are some moments that had me questioning if I was still watching high-definition. Now, of course, this could all be – and probably is – due to the filming techniques and parameters as requested by Snyder and producer Chris Nolan (don’t forget – Nolan is the man responsible for bringing a more “real world feel” to the Batman world and injected his three films in that series with a stark darkness not even seen in Tim Burton’s original). But I just needed to point it out for the sake of the review here.
[img] http://t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQaebAmM5-WIq9XUMje-QhCynKEExeybj8sfYz7kLuzpCq4tj_b0gCWYoREQA[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Here’s the dilemma, before I even get into the audio analysis: For the longest time (and you veteran ‘Shacksters know this) I have been “complaining” about the fact that when I run 7.1-mastered audio tracks on Blu-rays through my 5.1 setup, I have been experiencing somewhat “disappointing” results. In theory, one shouldn’t really be “losing” anything running 7.1 tracks in 5.1, instead perhaps giving up some sheer back directional information that would instead be collapsed into the standard surround channels…however, it never fails that each and every time I play back a disc that contains a 7.1 mix on my system, the resulting experience has me using terms such as “low mastering volume,” “uninspiring surround envelopment” and “lacking dynamic punch” to describe it; it happened on Thor, Captain America, The Avengers and, in a small way, now on Man of Steel. Let’s put this into perspective for a moment: When I view 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks that have been well-mastered to accompany their blockbuster status titles, such as The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and some others I can’t think of right now, the experience is totally different – the tracks come through loud, aggressively and with an overwhelming sense of sheer heft and weight (especially in the case of The Dark Knight Rises’ 5.1 Master Audio mix).
The best way I could put this is that the Master Audio soundtrack here was a complex one to examine: I could tell from the moment Man of Steel began, with its opening Warner/DC Comics/Syncopy title intros, that the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track wasn’t going to floor me. Coming through with a rather unassuming, low characteristic, the track didn’t really heat up on my system at all throughout the whole opening Krypton destruction sequence. As the soldiers fired their blue laser rifles this way and that and things exploded all over the place, the mix didn’t really rock my room all that much; there were solid directionality elements in the surround channels and such, with aggressive use of channel panning, but I wasn’t truly WOWED if you know what I mean.
As the film moved on, however, I sensed a distinct improvement in dynamic punch and overall heft gain – the fight sequences between our main character and the rogue warriors from his home planet exploded with effects in all channels, throwing cues and information this way and that, sometimes so much that it became a nearly sonic mess in certain scenes. I took note that some surround effects were riddled with so much sonic information in key action pieces that the result bordered on distortion from my surround channels – this happened a few times throughout. Bass was present in wallops during certain times but the track didn’t drop into ridiculous subterranean LFE tones as I experienced on other Blu-ray titles; the track did rattle my walls more than once, indeed, but it wasn’t what I’d call reference LFE material. For example – the night before last I threw in MGM/Sony’s Blu-ray release of Skyfall and the sequence in which Javier Bodem’s character blows the subway train in London as Bond (Daniel Craig) is chasing him through the catacombs is accompanied by a RIDICULOUS ongoing wallop of deep LFE that, when I first played the disc at high volume, shook my room to pieces and dug so low it caused by sub to bottom out (this was a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track). This didn’t happen on Man of Steel anywhere.
Still, if it seems like I’m being a bit hard on Warner’s efforts in the audio with Man of Steel, I’m really not – for the most part, this was a rousing, exciting, enveloping mix once the film passes some time (I’m still a little disappointed with that opening Krypton sequence; I’ll have to rewatch it to perhaps gain some appreciation for the sonics used there) and the surround activity gets downright chaotic in certain scenes. Perhaps when I eventually set up a 7.1 arrangement (if I ever do), I can revisit these titles and maybe “get” what I have been “missing” as there must be a plethora of added directional information that finds its way into the back surrounds in key moments on these tracks.
I noted some brief moments of vocal and dialogue strain – sometimes even collapsing into mild distortion – on the track as well which was a bit disheartening; this occurred during a sequence in which Perry White (Fishburne) is attempting to save one of his employees with Michael Kelly’s character who has become trapped under debris after Zod’s attack of Metropolis. As Fishburne’s character screams and yells in the midst of the chaos unfolding around them, his voice appeared strained and unclear, presented via the Master Audio track as mild distortion. There were one or two other times this occurred as well; the fact of the matter is, the mix – as much as I thought the exact opposite from the opening frame – may have actually been mastered at a TOO-hot level, rendering some sequences “overcooked” (it sure seemed that way with some moments of surround activity, for sure).
Believe it or not, I actually didn’t think Man of Steel’s audio track on the Region A Blu-ray release was as effective or enjoyable as Warner’s last major DC Entertainment production of a comic adaptation, The Dark Knight Rises – the audio on that disc carried a sheer weight and force that I can’t really describe and which appeared to be missing here. Whether that’s the result of the 5.1/7.1 debacle we’ve been discussing or not is up for speculation and seemingly endless debate; I just thought this could have been a tiny bit better in terms of audio. One thing that struck me that was particularly effective was the rousing, engaging score by Hans Zimmer – while Danny Elfman normally does these comic adaptation film soundtracks, Zimmer’s moving music accompanying Clark’s flying moments or the fight scenes made each moment that much more exciting, and the score transferred well on this track into the main front channels and into the surrounds at times.
For the most part, Man of Steel was every bit as moving and nail-biting as I remember it in the theater, though I was reminded that it is a long origin story re-imagining film. The things I recalled theatrically are still bothering me, though – this is NOT the Superman story, mythos or world that you may remember from the days of Chris Reeve, Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman. You can totally feel Snyder’s 300-esque influence on the visuals as well as Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight-like overtones on display here, and because I grew up on a steady diet of the old Richard Lester/Richard Donner mythos about this character, much of what’s being seen here is striking and odd. I still don’t care for the re-imagining of Krypton and the way it’s presented as a hybrid of the Star Trek universe and Aliens; I still feel Crowe wasn’t right as Jor-El, especially compared to Marlon Brando who to me will be the ONLY father of Kal. I am still upset and frustrated with the choice of Michael Shannon as Zod – again, especially when compared with Terence Stamp who played the coldhearted villain with a cool calmness in Superman II yet to be matched. The whole re-imagining of the Superman lore, now introducing spacesuits, Gladiator-like warrior garb and flying dragons, still doesn’t rub me the right way, at all, but I gained some new insight of this vision when I watched some of the special features after the film. Snyder and Nolan indeed went back and found some comic material that dealt with Krypton as this warrior-like place where its leaders looked and acted like we saw in Man of Steel, though I have to watch more of the extra materials on the second disc to really get a feel for the style here.
I’m still glad they didn’t decide to explore Lex Luthor again, as this angle is tired already (though it’s going to have to come at some point because he was a major player in the books) and the choice to re-introduce Zod and his army to a modern audience was an awesome decision for fans of Superman II like me. In this way, some franchise reboots like in The Amazing Spider-Man, while disappointing to those over 12 because of their tendency to cater to an asinine immature modern audience, have been refreshing to fans of these comics as they get to see some villains that hadn’t been explored such as The Lizard (in the case of Spidey). Here, in Man of Steel, a lesser-known villain as compared to Luthor from the Superman books (Zod), is given a modern treatment that allows the filmmakers to do things with the fight scenes that were simply technologically impossible in the 1980s. The fight scenes in the film still wowed me as I watched it last night, as to me it's the element that saves this film from being just “somewhat mediocre;” watching Supes and Zod battle it out is something to really take in, especially because Richard Lester/Richard Donner couldn’t accomplish the dramatics of the fight in their Superman II. I just wish Terence Stamp could have played Zod here again…
Like the aforementioned Amazing Spider-Man, there were a ton of casting mistakes here – Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were awful choices for Martha and John Kent (though Snyder talks about why they wanted “younger” people in these roles this time around on the extra material) and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White was downright wrong and awful as well. I understand “racial liberties” were taken with Daredevil when the late Michael Clarke Duncan was cast as Kingpin (in the comics, Kingpin isn’t really depicted as being African-American) and in that instance, it just worked, probably due to Duncan’s sheer size. But in NONE of the comic runs is Perry White ever African-American and I don’t think Fishburne, as seasoned of an actor as he is, worked in this instance. In retrospect, Frank Langella was far better in the role in Superman Returns (though NONE of them are Jackie Cooper) – of course, that brings us to Lois Lane. Amy Adams from The Wedding Date? Really? That’s who they came up with? Again, in retrospect, even Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns was more effective, but this begs the question: If Superman Returns was supposed to be a continuation of the story since the Reeve days, why was Lois YOUNGER in that than Margot Kidder ever was in the original franchise? Ridiculous. I didn’t care for Adams here, plain and simple, but we’re going to have to see where they’re gonna take the whole Daily Planet angle in the next one.
Some notes on the Target Exclusive Digibook package: The version I picked up, and which was reviewed here, was rather awesome if I may say so – but confusingly, they give a title such as this the royal packaging treatment while a long-awaited blockbuster like Avengers got a ho-hum, standard-issue slipcase for its Blu-ray debut. Man of Steel was a good comic adaptation film, but to be given nicer packaging than Avengers got? Come on.
The cover of this edition comes with a holographic image that switches between Zod and Superman, which is cool, and the included “book” – which makes this package REALLY thick (I had to remove TWO Blu-rays on my shelf in order to fit it) – is unlike previous digibook packages in that it’s really a pictorial of conceptual art and corresponding real clips from the film.
Come on, everyone – let’s talk Man of Steel on Blu-ray!