Max Fleischer's Superman Blu-ray
"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" Starring Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander from The Adventures of Superman, the Max Fleischer's Superman shorts, 17 total, that came out between 1941 and 1943 have been sold before in various home entertainment formats over the years, from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray, and from there from the hands of many different distributors before entering the public domain. The previous official release was from Warner Bros. a little over 14 years ago in April 2009 on DVD. Over the past decade or so, Warner Bros. and Warner Archive have been releasing DC animated projects in high definition Blu-ray. Some coming out better than others. In conjunction with the Warner Bros. centennial celebration, an official Max Fleischer's Superman releases on May 16, 2023 in Blu-ray and Digital HD with an MSRP of $33.99. It is common knowledge that the original shorts were shot on 35 mm photochemical film, using the Technicolor successive exposure process, back in the early 1940s and the common 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio for theatrical releases was used. Press statements leading up to the release have revealed that Warner Bros. Discovery utilized an advanced remastering process that entailed "a 4K, 16-bit scan of Fleischer's original 35 mm successive exposure negative." Then "staying true to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37-to-1, the highest quality raw image was then scanned and then entered into the recombine process—utilizing special proprietary software to merge the successive exposure Technicolor negatives into a single RGB color image. The end result are pristine animated shorts that have been restored to the animators’ originally intended production quality."
On one hand, the general audience will put this Blu-ray into their players and have no issue. The colors looks amazing – both light and dark. The audio is pristine. Sammy Timberg, Lou Fleischer, and Winston Sharples's scores sound amazing. There's subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. There are necessary warnings for photosensitive audiences like for "The Magnetic Telescope" and there are warnings for what we now deem as racist representation in the tenth, eleventh, and fifteenth shorts. Along with the First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series and The Man, the Myth from past releases, this Blu-ray has a brand new 13 minute featurette "Max Fleischer's Superman: Speeding Toward Tomorrow. In Speeding Toward Tomorrow, contemporary writers, producers, and directors, including Jim Krieg, Jeremy Adams, Matt Peters, and Rick Morales, look back on the revolutionary and unmatched filmmaking behind the creation of the shorts and its legacy on modern DC animation. They discuss topics like multiplanning, the rotoscope, telling a story with little dialogue, painting, Art Deco, using the small amount of comics released at the time along with film noir and pulp influences, using a full orchestra for the score and setting up emotional beats, and how series like Batman: The Animated Series took inspiration from it.
On the other hand, the cinephiles will be terse about this release. To them, this has the appearances of a quick cash grab remaster without much care to detail: the process removed too much grain and detail but in some very specific scenes, the leftover "smudge" from the removed grain is apparent. Or the process failed to really clean some scenes like Superman rescuing Lois from a Japanese firing squad. Another odd choice the latter will notice is the shorts are over-compressed. A Blu-ray (BD-50) has more than enough space for these 17 shorts to have an acceptable data rate of 25 to 30 Megabits per second. The shorts on this Blu-ray are compressed down to 15. As a result, on the very large HDTVs, there will be artifacting throughout. Ironically, the new Speeding Toward Tomorrow featurette contains raw footage where you can observe the fine detail, organic grain, cel dust, and crisp line work. All in all, Warner Archive should have been assigned this remaster. They would have done a much better job.
All 17 classic shorts and special features are on one Blu-ray Disc.
The Mechanical Monsters (10:15)
Billion Dollar Limited (8:36)
The Arctic Giant (8:36)
The Bulleteers (8:04)
The Magnetic Telescope (7:47)
Electric Earthquake (8:44)
Terror on the Midway (8:29)
Eleventh Hour (9:06)
Destruction, Inc. (8:34)
The Mummy Strikes (7:48)
Jungle Drums (9:07)
The Underground World (8:13)
Secret Agent (7:40)
Max Fleischer's Superman: Speeding Toward Tomorrow (13:20)
First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series (12:55)
The Man, the Myth, Superman (13:37)
Max Fleischer's Superman on Blu-ray is a recommended purchase. While the many imperfections of the Blu-ray will not please the audiovisual aficionados, it is now history and for posterity belongs with all those other releases. Just don't throw out those old DVDs just yet. Casual audiences who have never seen Fleischer's Superman and want to learn more about its place in Superman lore and why it comes up so much in the DNA of modern DC animation should without a doubt add this to their collection.