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Superman Unbound

Warner Bros. (2013), Warner Home Video (May 7, 2013), 1 BD + 1 DVD, 75 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98

Storyboard:

Superman has to deal with an alien Cyborg who wants to destroy Earth. At the same time, he is dealing with trouble from the two women in his life. His cousin Supergirl is trying to adjust to life on her new world, and his girlfriend Lois is demanding more from their relationship.

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The Sweatbox Review:

The DC Universe animated films now enter, for better or for the worse (we’ll see how the next movie turns out), the Geoff Johns era. Johns is a DC Comics writer who has had vast influence on the stories found in DC comic books over the past several years. Many fans have loved his extended runs on titles such as JSA, Flash and Green Lantern. This is largely because of his knack for successfully reviving characters while reconciling dated story ideas with modern sensibilities in an effort to preserve continuity while making modern comics relevant to our current era.

Johns is also a DC Executive, whose job it is to talk to Hollywood about adapting DC properties. Now, it’s true that we are about to “coincidentally” get back-to-back animated movies based on Johns stories, but I’m not complaining. The fact his, I really enjoyed his run on Action Comics, including the Brainiac story on which Superman Unbound is based. The only thing I didn’t like was how the comic story ended, but fortunately the movie creators didn’t feel bound to finish the film the same way. Other than the ending, the movie follows the comic relatively closely (aside from un-marrying Clark and Lois), while adding a layer or two.

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Though not intended as a sequel to the animated Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, which introduced Supergirl, Superman Unbound nevertheless picks up the thread of Supergirl adjusting to life on Earth. She’s really a co-star in this story, and her own reactions to events drive much of the movie’s emotions. Initially, we see Superman trying to help his cousin adjust to life on Earth the only way he knows how, by trying to set her up with a life on the Kent farm. Meanwhile (as they say in the comics), Superman must also deal with a girlfriend (Lois Lane, of course), who is tired of Supes being overly protective, not to mention his unwillingness to allow anyone to know that they’re even dating. It’s the old “I don’t want my enemies to strike at you to get to me” excuse, but he won’t even let others see Lois dating ordinary ol’ Clark Kent. Basically, Supes makes for a pretty lousy boyfriend.

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So yes, this is basically a soap opera… except this soap opera also has a major bonus: a terrifying alien cyborg, who not only has an entire shrunken Kryptonian city in his possession, he is also known to have murdered countless worlds and is targeting Earth next. Now THAT’S a job for Superman! You see, Brainiac stole the Kryptonian city of Kandor decades ago, and Supergirl herself had barely escaped from the city in time (remember, Supergirl’s rocket was delayed in its trip to Earth, while she was in suspended animation, so that she arrived years later than her once-baby cousin). Once Brainiac’s probes reach Earth, it’s only a matter of time until he comes to attack Superman and Supergirl’s adopted planet.

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After getting the low-down from cousin Kara, Superman decides to head into deep space to free Kandor and defeat Brainiac. Unfortunately, Supes doesn’t realize what he’s really up against, and he nearly botches the rescue. He has also inadvertently ensured that Brainiac comes to earth sooner rather than later, leading to an epic confrontation. In the midst of it all, Superman must help Supergirl cope with her feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as what to do about his own romantic relationship. A pivotal (and well done) scene in the movie shows a parallel between Superman’s attitude towards the females in his life, and Brainiac’s efforts to control everything around him. Ultimately, Brainiac’s nature will be his undoing, and it’s up to Superman to realize that he can’t always serve his loved ones best by being overly stifling. Suffice to say that the big guy more than makes up for his shortcomings by the end of the story, in an ending that blew the comic’s dénouement out of the water in terms of satisfaction.

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This is one of the better-balanced of the DC animated movies to date, offering lots of action while at the same time giving Superman and his supporting characters meaningful emotional arcs. Full props to writer Bob Goodman and producer/director James Tucker for giving fans a story they can not only enjoy, but also react to on an emotional level. It’s not entirely new ground, really, but at least the movie does more than deliver interminable fight scenes. This is a strong entry in the DC Animated canon.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

It’s always nice to see an Audio Commentary appear on these releases, as it’s far from standard. Here, producer/director James Tucker is joined by writer Bob Goodman and DC executive Mike Carlin. Tucker in particular has many insightful things to say about adapting the comic and making the movie worthwhile, and Goodman’s efforts to craft a good story are obvious. It would have been stronger, though, if Carlin’s sometimes inane comments could have been dropped.

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Two related featurettes give some comic-based background and shed light on the creative process of the movie. They both have input from comic vets Marv Wolfman, Mike Carlin, and Dan Didio, plus screenwriter Bob Goodman and others. Kandor: History Of The Bottle City (16:54) looks at the origins of that classic Silver Age staple, though the history is far from complete. I always wonder: If you’re going to do a retrospective of a comic book character or concept, why not go all the way? Of course, the more pertinent comments concern the movie, and that part is satisfactory. Similarly, Brainiac: Technology And Terror (24:42) covers the basics of the comic creation, while skimping on certain details. However, it’s nice to have comments from Wolfman, who revolutionized the character in the early 1980s, as well as further thoughts offered by Geoff Johns.

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Four television episodes come From The DC Comics Vault, all from Superman: The Animated Series. The included episodes are the first part only of its pilot Last Son Of Krypton (introducing that series’ concept of Brainiac), New Kids On The Block (more Brainiac, this time also with teenage Clark Kent meeting the Legion Of Superheroes), and both parts of Little Girl Lost (which brought Supergirl onto the show).

In a further effort to interest you in buying the graphic novel collection of the original comic, there is a Digital Comic Excerpt From Superman: Brainiac. I don’t find that these excerpts work all that well on a television, or provide very much story, but it does it’s job, I suppose.

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As far as Trailers go, we have Man Of Steel and Lego Batman The Movie, which show before the main menu; and from the menu we can also see a spot for The Hobbit. This same section also offers ads for the DCU Application, more DC cartoons, the Before Watchman comics, and the Injustice video game. Much more interesting is the Sneak Peek At Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (10:39), the next DC animated movie. As usual, we see only some storyboards, interviews, and voice recording, but I have to admit it looks exciting. (I’ll try to disassociate the movie in my mind from the comic, which itself led to a whole other controversial topic concerning DC Comics.)

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Note that the included DVD has only the items from the Trailers section.

Case Study:

The Blu-ray and DVD each occupy one side of an eco-keepcase, and an insert is present that presents you with your Ultraviolet code. The embossed slipcover is quite nice, but I can’t help but feel that Supergirl should have been on the front cover too; but, of course, “girl superheroes don’t sell.” Those marketers are sure afraid of turning off all those teenage boys who would be scared of seeing a pretty girl in a miniskirt.

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Ink And Paint:

The 16:9 image is darn close to perfection. Oh, there was perhaps some minor banding if I really looked for it, but I recommend simply enjoying the show. This transfer captures well all the color, motion, and sheer spectacle in the story. Note that the screen captures are mostly taken from the DVD. The Blu-ray images are sharper.

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Scratch Tracks:

Well, nice to see that Warner is sticking with lossless soundtracks for the DC Universe animated movies; but too bad I couldn’t tell if my rear speakers were working during this film. For all the impact of the action scenes, the sound design remained curiously front-based; this was somewhat disappointing, considering the scenes they had to work with. Occasionally, some sound would peep out of my rear speakers, but overall they were woefully under-utilized. That’s my only gripe, though, as the rest of the aural experience was top-notch. Dialog was very well balanced with music and sound effects, and all the action was nicely accentuated by what was happening aurally.

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Aside from the English track, there are also Dolby Digital tracks in French and both Castilian and Latino Spanish. Subtitles are also available in all four languages.

The DVD in this set actually adds more options, including Portuguese and Thai audio tracks (but only one of the Spanish tracks); and additional subtitles for Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, and Thai.

Final Cut:

I found this to be a successful adaptation of what was a pretty good comic. In fact, it may even improve on it by offering more of a Clark and Lois story, on top of a co-starring role for Supergirl in an impressive slugfest with a powerful foe. The PG-13 rating comes from the obvious violence, but also an unnecessary rude gesture being shown coming from Lois, which will nonetheless get a few laughs I’m sure. Aside from a satisfying story, the disc also includes very good video, decent audio, and some worthwhile bonus material. If you are a Superman fan or just like to pick up the better DC animated movies, this one can be considered a winner.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD


 

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