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Max Fleischer's Superman (DVD)
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This 2009 DVD set is nearly identical to the 2006 WB release, only this time as a separate stand-alone collection and the opening prologue to the "Mechanical Monsters" short corrected. For those who own the 2006 WB release, the only other new inclusion is "The Man, The Myth, Superman" featurette, which explores the archetype of superhuman heroes on the page and screen. The "First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series" featurette, which examines the history of the series, was also included as part of the 2006 release. It should be noted that WB's version has some minor edits to the beginning and ending title sequences (elaborated further in other reviews) that will be more apparent to purists than most buyers. Hopefully, this information unravels some of the subterfuge surrounding the different versions of these cartoons. Several decades after first appearing on the screen, the Fleischer Superman cartoons continue to be a benchmark for outstanding animation and are easily worth adding to anyone's video library.
For starters, the project was started by the Max Fleischer studio, a cartoon studio that originated in New York (but later moved to Miami to produce feature films). The studio head was Max Fleischer, and his brother Dave was the lead director. The Fleischers were under contract to produce theatrical cartoons for Paramount Pictures. The Fleischers had success in the 1930's producing cartoons that starred characters like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor, the latter of which was adapted from a newspaper comicstrip started by E.C. Segar. With the growing popularity of the Superman comicstrip, Paramount had interest in making theatrical cartoons based on the series. While cartoons of this era were typically musicals and/or comedies, the Superman comicstrip was action-based. Therefore, these Superman cartoons were the first action-based animated films ever produced. The Fleischer brothers were not interested in producing the Superman cartoons, and when they were approached by Paramount, they quoted a budget so high, they were certain that Paramount would reject it. However, Paramount accepted their proposed budget for the series, and so the Fleischer brothers began work on the Superman cartoons. The first Superman cartoon was produced in 1941 on a budget of $50,000. Just imagine how much money that is if you apply today's inflation rate. The remaining cartoons had a budget of $30,000. Also, the first Superman short, just simply titled "Superman" was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Short Subjects: Cartoons. The last cartoon produced at the Fleischer studio was "Terror on the Midway". Once production continued at Famous Studios, Superman was put in plots that related heavily on American involvement in World War II. Superman fought the Japanese in the shorts "Japoteurs" and "Eleventh Hour", and fought the Germans in "Jungle Drums" and "Secret Agent". The stereotypes in these cartoons, especially the Japanese, may be offensive by today's standards, but during the war years, they boosted the morale of American movie audiences. The last Superman cartoon, "Secret Agent" was released in 1943.
Now, based on my rating, here is what is good about this set. The colors are really bright and are really attractive to the human eye. In terms of picture quality, Warner has done an outstanding job and no one has reached this level of picture quality yet. Also, "Terror on the Midway" is a complete version. Most versions floating around on public domain releases are missing footage at the beginning, and utilize still pictures while the soundtrack plays. Also, the prologue for "The Mechanical Monsters" has been corrected from the previous versions released by Warner Bros. The version of "The Mechanical Monsters" previously released by Warner borrowed its prologue from the first Superman short. What is unique about the prologue for "The Mechanical Monsters" is that it is the only time it is mentioned in the prologue that Superman has x-ray vision.
Now for the bad. The source materials Warner Bros. used on this set are in really rough shape. There are scratches throughout these films. Also, Warner expressed a real lack of quality control as the intros to most of these films have been altered. During the prologue of the first Superman short, there is an audio glitch. The line "Superman fights a never ending battle for truth and justice" is heard as "Superman fights a never ending battle for truth-justice". There are two cartoons that have the wrong prologue placed at the beginning. The cartoons "Eleventh Hour" and "Jungle Drums" borrow their prologue from the first Superman cartoon. Strangely, the audio glitch is not present in the prologue used for "Eleventh Hour" while it is present in the prologue to "Jungle Drums". The rest of the cartoons on this set have their correct prologues, but there are other audio issues. Many of the cartoons on this set have the incorrect Superman theme music playing over the opening credits, most notably on all of the Famous Studios shorts. "Japoteurs" borrows its opening credits music from "Electric Earthquake", you just have to listen as the title of the cartoon appears, you can hear the same sound effects heard over the title screen for "Electric Earthquake". The cartoons "The Magnetic Telescope", "Showdown", "Destruction, Inc", "The Mummy Strikes", "The Underground World" and "Secret Agent" have truncated music playing over the opening credits; basically by cutting the theme music short as the credits end before the entire piece of music accompanying it. As a result, the sound effects originally heard during the title screens for "The Magnetic Telescope" (an electrifying sound) and "Destruction, Inc" (an explosion) are gone. Lastly, only 3 cartoons have their original Paramount end logo, being "Superman", "The Arctic Giant" and "Electric Earthquake". However, there is a cut in the audio at the end of "Superman" as it fades to the Paramount end logo. Also, the other 14 cartoons on this set seem to have the end logo from "Superman" tacked onto them.
Overall, I can't discourage anyone from buying this set, but personally, I am once again disappointed by Warner Bros. lack of quality control. In terms of presenting these films as close to original as possible, I actually prefer The Complete Superman Cartoons - Diamond Anniversary Edition as the only thing they did to alter these films was briefly super impose the original theatrical release date for a few brief seconds at the beginning of each cartoon. If anyone from Warner Home Video may be reading this review, please learn from the people who put together the Diamond Anniversary Edition. There is a lot of cleanup to do, and hopefully if enough people bring these issues to Warner Bros' attention, they will issue replacements.
In fact, Warner's used the same generic musical closing on almost everyone of these cartoons!!!
Why is that wrong, you might be asking? Because, every one of these films had their own, unique musical closing cues at the fade out! Through their tinkering, now the same music over and over. It is obvious and annoying!
And on the image, If they took the time to clean up the frames one at a time like Disney does to their films, then we would have something to cherish. Instead, take a look at the dirt and debris left on MAGNETIC TELESCOPE for example! HORRIBLE!
If you already bought the Superman Collectors Set with all of the movies and these thrown in, you are better off not spending the extra dough.
O.k. Warner's, why not do this set right. Really re-master them and as a bonus, give us SUPER-RABBIT (Which you own!) STUPOR DUCK (Which you own) Popeye with Bluto as Superman in SHE SICK SAILORS (Which you own!) etc. etc.
Heck, contact me and I will give you more Superman parody cartoons that you could ad!
Save your hard earned cash Super-fans.
Warner Bros -- Clean up your act. Present these cartoons complete and unedited. You can do it. Until then I'm hoping people don't reward Warners for releasing butchered prints when they can do it right.
P.S. I had to delete a previous review of this item that I posted a while back before I was aware of the censorship issue.