Hey now, you're an All Star
Get your game on, go play!
Hey now, you're a Rock Star
Get the show on, get paid!
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting staaars...
Break the mow-ooh-old.
-- Smash Mouth
The "All-Star" brand by DC Comics launched in 2005, and like their "Elseworlds" imprint, isn't considered to be a part of the official continuity. Basically, it was DC's short-lived response to Marvel's successful "Ultimate" line of books, where classic superheroes are given a modern overhaul and a fresh start within an alternate reality -- virtually eliminating the past seventy-plus years of complex baggage. The first of only two "All-Star" projects was Frank Miller/Jim Lee's "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder," and the other has widely been hailed as the quintessential Superman story, "All-Star Superman." Warner's 10th direct-to-video DCU animated movie is based on this profound and poignant two-time Eisner award-winning series written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely.
When the first manned space mission to the sun goes terribly wrong, Superman (voiced by James Denton of ABC's 'Desperate Housewives') arrives just in time to save the ship and its crew from disaster. But unknown to the Earth's mightiest hero, the accident was part of a master scheme concocted by his megalomaniacal arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia, 'Without a Trace'), to get rid of the Man of Steel once and for all. Bombarded by a lethal dose of solar radiation, Superman finds himself ironically done in by the very source that grants him his powers. Now with only a few short weeks left to live, Kal-El sets out to complete his "bucket list" -- sharing his most personal secrets with the woman he loves, Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks, 'Mad Men'), and putting an end to Luthor's obsessive plans for world domination in one final showdown.
Warner has delivered some solid DC Comics animated efforts over the past few years, but adapting extensive comic book epics to the small screen hasn't worked out so well. 'Superman: Doomsday' tried do too much with the infamous "The Death of Superman" storyline resulting in an overindulgent mess, while 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' watered down Jeff Loeb/Ed McGuinness's popular six-issue arc so much that it was pretty well all style with very little substance. Weighing in at a dozen issues (about 320 pages), 'All-Star Superman' could easily have been just another doomed undertaking, but producer Bruce Timm and his crew seem to all be on the same page, addressing the most critical aspect these films have been lacking -- balance. Director Sam Liu ('Hulk vs.' and 'Planet Hulk') once again stages some of his trademark action sequences that excite and entertain, but now he tones them down so they flow with the story rather than overrun it. The screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie ('Justice League,' 'Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths') heavily condenses its source material, eliminating certain characters like Krypto (Superman's best friend) and major arcs such as an entire chapter devoted to Bizarro World, but concentrates its focus on developing the three main players which works in the movies favor. Even the animators appear to be trying their best to do Quitely's artwork justice, retaining much of the imagery and mythical elements that added depth to the original story.
As 'All-Star Superman' isn't considered to be part of the official DCU canon, voice director Andrea Romano went with a fresh cast of voice talent for this project and a lot of thought seems to have gone into her choices. Filling the role that often goes to fan-favorite Tim Daly (or not-so-fan favorite George Newbern) is Denton, whose portrayal is convincingly laced with the honor and integrity we expect from the Man of Steel, and the sincerity in his voice allows us to easily make emotional connections as he deals with his dire prognosis. Hardwicke is also effective as Lois, who conveys the reporter's gung-ho gusto and smarminess perfectly. Rounding out the rest of the Daily Planet's workforce are cameos by Ed Asner as the gruff-throated publisher Perry White, and Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Reid on 'Criminal Minds') settling in as a geeky young Jimmy Olson. It's LaPaglia, however, who truly impresses the most. Clancy Brown has owned Lex Luthor with an iron fist for so long that it's hard to imagine anyone else taking over, but LaPaglia fully embodies the pompous evil genius -- totally hijacking every one of his scenes.
To be honest, the only area 'All-Star Superman' really hits a slightly bumpy patch is with its pacing. There's an episodic structure to the film, and though this isn't necessarily bad per se (especially since the original graphic novel unfolds in similar fashion), I thought the potential was there to make the movie a bit tighter. The inclusion of demigods Atlas (Steve Blum) and Samson (John Di Maggio) trying to get into Lois' pants may be a faithful addition storywise, but here it just felt out of place, like one too many subplots to me. The exclusion of this sequence could have meant more time spent on another side-plot featuring a pair of rogue Kryptonian survivors who actually fit the overall theme of the story better, or perhaps fleshing out Superman further as he comes to terms with his grim fate.
The bottom line is that even with its few minor flaws, 'All-Star Superman' is a triumphant success and may even give 'Batman: Under the Red Hood' a run for the money as Warner Premiere's strongest animated feature yet. The story is engaging, the voice casting is rock solid, and we get to see a vulnerable side to Superman that is not only powerful and emotionally gripping, but also tries its hardest to leave the character's usual off-putting pretentiousness far behind.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents 'All-Star Superman' on a single layer BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. My copy included a foil-embossed slipcover with raised lettering as well, and it's the one of the nicest ones I've seen so far. There are also a few different retailer exclusives of the Blu-ray available on the market. Amazon is offering a version with a limited edition Litho Cel, Best Buy's exclusive edition includes a Superman action figure, and over At Future Shop Canada is yet another unique package with an additional disc containing bonus animated episodes. The disc has forced previews for 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1,' 'Superman/Batman: Apocalypse,' and 'DC Universe Online.' The U.S. version of the Blu-ray is also reported to be region-free and therefore should play properly in all players (including the PlayStation 3).
Warner has provided 'All-Star Superman' with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1) encode. The transfer is a fairly strong one, although a few small issues still crop up and the blame likely falls on its single-layered confinement.
The first thing worth mentioning is that the color palette is very bold and beautiful in this presentation. While the primaries in Superman's costume naturally command the most attention, the movie is filled with splashes of vibrancy that deliver an attractive experience. Black levels are deep and rich as well, and at the other end whites are clean and bright. Details are a bit lacking here especially within the backgrounds compared to some of the past movies, but it should be noted that the simplicity of the animation is an intentional creative choice to stay true to Frank Quitely's minimalistic artwork. Delineation and definition are also generally nice, with only a few moments in busier scenes where images can be slightly blurred and edges have mild stair-stepping.
Aliasing can be a bit of a nuisance, showing up around certain characters once in awhile and periodically creeping into the backgrounds. The picture isn't free of banding, either, and one of the more noticeable occurrences is along the walls and doorways of the Fortress of Solitude. The bright side is the banding and aliasing anomalies aren't hugely distracting annoyances this time, at least not to my eyes anyway. That being said, more disc space may have been enough to lessen the blow further and make this otherwise solid transfer into an exceptional one.
The default soundtrack accompanying 'All-Star Superman' is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, and it's a thoroughly engaging audio presentation.
Sometimes the vocals in animated features can sound phony like they've merely been tacked on from the recording studio, but not so here. The clean and intelligible dialogue is immersed smoothly and becomes one with the soundscape. The rest of the speakers are also actively engaged, especially during the intense action sequences. Parasite's rampage through the penitentiary has some terrific panning effects, most notably when walls come crumbling down and guards and inmates run for cover. A super-powered Lex Luthor giving Superman a beating is another fine example where the surroundings get demolished from all directions. The LFE has a decent presence as well, mainly as explosions and other destructive forces remodel the landscape. The construction trade has no shortage of work in Metropolis, that's for sure.
The Blu-ray also offers Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese, as well as optional English SDH, German SDH, Portuguese, Spanish subtitles.
The Blu-ray includes every bonus item found on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. Sadly, it seems Warner Bros. Animation is no longer interested in continuing the awesome DC Showcase series of animated shorts beginning with this release. What a shame.
Don't be put off by the cheesy title and PG rating, 'All-Star Superman' is a fantastic adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's acclaimed 12-issue comic series. It's an epic tale of love, life, and loss, and one that humanizes the last son of Krypton in a bold and refreshing new way. This Blu-ray offers solid video and audio, plus an interesting arrangement of supplements, though it's somewhat disappointing that there isn't a DC Showcase short this time around. Even so, much like 'Batman: Under the Red Hood' the good significantly outweighs the bad here, making 'All-Star Superman' an easy recommendation.