All-Star Superman DVD Review
February 21, 2011

All-Star Superman is inspired by the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely story/homage to the character’s history and adapted by Dwayne McDuffie. A mission into the sun causes Superman to be given a death sentence by scientist Dr. Leo Quintum. The hero’s cells are “oversaturated with power” from solar radiation. When Superman finds out he’s dying, he decides to stop lying to Lois. He takes her to his arctic fortress, full of marvelous wonders, where they finally have an honest conversation, before he gives her powers temporarily as a birthday present. Then Clark Kent and Lex Luthor have a showdown during a prison break, and Superman sets out to complete his bucket list and face off with a couple of evil Kryptonians.

All-Star Superman (Blu-ray) cover
All-Star Superman (Blu-ray)
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The opening sequence sets up the Luthor/Superman rivalry quickly and with plenty of action, plus trademarked Grant Morrison-style big ideas. Then Luthor mostly disappears for the next 20 minutes, demonstrating the biggest problem with the movie: its pacing. Because of the too-short 76-minute length, events move very quickly. Although some of Morrison’s ideas fall apart if you think about them — Superman saves the space mission by “extending his bio-electric field”, which basically works like magic — there’s so many of them that there’s always something new to see. It’s strongly inspired by the old-school Superman, the one who would gather bizarrely singing flowers from another planet just to impress Lois or make little suns to feed a baby Sun-Eater kept in his zoo. Ultimately, the movie is more like an animated overview of a Superman Encyclopedia than an actual story. It should have been a series, not a movie, since the result here is choppy and too episodic.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about this new animated movie is that people’s favorite scenes or incidents from the comic miniseries (collected in two volumes) were omitted. At such short length, that’s to be expected, that they couldn’t include twelve issues’ worth of story. I can’t comment on specifics, since I don’t recall the details of the comic, although I’m looking forward to re-reading it. (My copy of the Absolute Edition is still on order, since the first one I got was misprinted.) But I can sympathize — they seem to have left out the more emotional scenes in favor of fights and action sequences, which is an unfortunate contrast to the maturity of the comic.

All-Star Superman (DVD) cover
All-Star Superman (DVD Special Edition)
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Superman is competently played by James Denton, and Luthor in glorious exaggeration by Anthony LaPaglia. I was stunned to note that Quintum is well-voiced by Alexis Denisof. (Wesley! I wouldn’t have guessed.) I was happy to see Nasthalthia Luthor (Linda Cardellini) again, the most ridiculously-named comic villainness ever. My favorite voice, though, was Perry White: Ed Asner back as a gruff editor (yay!). In most cases, I heard the characters first, which I appreciated, not the name talent. The biggest flaw was Lois, played by Christina Hendricks, who sounded too little-girlish to me, with not enough kick-ass-ish-ness, and not deep enough.

While the story is relatively faithful to Morrison’s text, the art isn’t particularly Quitely-esque. It’s more generic than that in style — there are moments that make it look as though they’re trying to be more faithful to the look, but not quite succeeding at it, although the images we see resemble the comic’s layouts. My guess is they had so many things to draw — alligator men, the Parasite, space artifacts, just to name a few — that they had to simplify the distinctive look. Still, it was neat to see all these concepts executed in movement. It’s almost perfect for the modern attention span — pause it between segments, and there’s no impact to taking a break, or if one sequence doesn’t interest you, wait a few minutes and there’ll be another one.

Extras are as follows:

* “Superman Now”, a half-hour featurette in which Grant Morrison and Dan DiDio talk in great detail about making the All-Star Superman comic, illustrated with art samples from the series and voice-over narration reading the comic to us. I gave up after five minutes; DiDio was much too self-congratulatory for me, and while Morrison’s points were interesting, I didn’t need that much depth.

* Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series: “Blast From the Past”, parts 1 & 2, which feature Kryptonian villains.

* A Green Lantern: Emerald Knights sneak peek, almost 12 minutes geared at getting the viewer excited for the next animated movie, using old comic clip art and very early sketches. Oh, look, it’s Dan DiDio again (who for some reason kept reminding me of Vincent Price as Egghead), explaining the Green Lantern Corps to us, along with other producers and directors, who compare the setup to the Mafia and front-line battlefield soldiers. In the movie, Arisia is the new kid, hearing stories of the Corps from the older guys in an anthology-type structure. I’m most excited because I think Nathan Fillion is great casting for Hal Jordan.

* Blu-ray only: An audio commentary by Bruce Timm and Grant Morrison; “The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea”, which is 10 minutes more of Grant Morrison, this time talking about how he makes development sketches to foster ideas and his visual inspirations; and a “virtual comic book”, scans of issue #1 shown in two-page spreads that are too small to read.

The Blu-ray also comes with a second disc that contains a digital copy (iTunes or Windows Media) and a DVD version of the movie only. The idea of including a short cartoon with another DC character seems to have been abandoned, which is a shame. Those were some of my favorite things about the DC animated series of movies.

Overall, I didn’t mind watching this, but it mostly made me want to read the comic again. That’s the recommended format, if you aren’t already familiar with it. (The studio provided a review copy.)

20 Responses  
Grant writes:  

Enjoyed the review.

“the art isn’t particularly Quitely-esque. It’s more generic than that in style”

I agree. As you said, they capture the panel layout, but not the style of the art. I think the only recent DC toon that had animation that I could easily identify as trying to capture a certain look was Superman/Shazam, which looked quite a bit like Ordways art from his “Power Of Shazam” GN.

How would you rate this next to something like Superman/Batman:Apocolypse or Wonder Woman?

Johanna writes:  

I liked Apocalypse (the Supergirl story) more, because the material was less ambitious and better suited for the time frame it had. Wonder Woman I didn’t care much for, so I’d pick All-Star Superman over it.

Jer writes:  

Ultimately, the movie is more like an animated overview of a Superman Encyclopedia than an actual story.

This is disappointing to hear. I was figuring that they would pare the story down to maybe the first 2.5-3 and last 2 issues of the comic and focus on the Superman dying/saying goodbye to Lois/final confrontation with Luthor. It’s a fairly simple story arc, but a potentially powerful one and one that Morrison did very well I think (and also one I’d like to see live-action film directors take seriously). It sounds like they tried to cram even more into the movie instead.

There was enough story in that 12 issue series to make a trilogy of movies (the whole flashback to Pa Kent’s death issue could probably be fleshed out into an entire movie all by itself) – trying to cram even most of it into a single movie is setting yourself up for failure, I’d think.

Greg Manuel writes:  

“It should have been a series, not a movie”

Too right…all told I think I could spot four issues that were omitted from the feature when I watched it:

1) Superman discovering Black Kryptonite
2) Bizarro World emerging from the Underverse
3) Superman escaping from Bizarro World with Zibarro’s help
4) Superman placing Kandor on Mars with Quintum’s help, saving the suicidal teenager and curing cancer with the aid of the Kandorian super-doctors.

It also kind of defeats the purpose of Leo Quintum’s presence as a character in the story, in that there’s no implication that he could possibly be a future version of Lex Luthor. I imagine that would’ve been a difficult thing to place into the subtext of this adaptation but I think it would’ve been worth attempting.

Greg Manuel writes:  

P.S. – forgot about the issue where Superman goes back in time and sees his past self and (unknowingly) his FUTURE self, while seeing his father one last time. So that’s five issues omitted…

Johanna writes:  

Jer, I don’t think Pa Kent gets mentioned in the movie at all. (If it was there, it was so brief I missed it.)

Greg, weird you should mention Bizarro — Morrison talks about that in the special features, but it’s not in the movie. And yes, I found myself wondering why Quintum was included, other than to deliver the bad news.

On the bright side, hearing people talking about what was left out is making me more eager to read the comics again.

Greg Manuel writes:  

Pa gets a brief mention in that Superman leaves a flower at Pa’s grave, and has a brief exchange with Ma Kent, where she asks if he is sick, and Superman sidesteps the question.

But yeah, watching the movie and then re-reading the comics makes me wish all the more that each issue got its due in the form of a 12 minute short. Missed opportunities…

James Schee writes:  

I guess I’m a dissenting voice here, as I just finished watching it and loved it. To me it took most of the best parts of the comic series and brought them to life. Of course I guess I’m probably in a minority too that I thought there were parts of the comic series that were superflous, like the whole Bizarro thing that seemed too apart from the rest of the series. (and of course my dislike of anything Bizarro related adds in to that) So cutting that works for me a great deal.

I can’t wait to put the Blu Ray in my player tomorrow, and see it in beautiful colors and see the extras.

Thom writes:  

I liked it overall…but there were core things missing and at least one line that is just not Superman, period.

I remember when certain comics fans griped about Morrison in the same company of Millar, Ennis and Ellis…believing he hated Superheroes…but I don’t think you could ever believe that true if you read All Star Superman. Morrison is one of the few modern writers to really see the esence of what sets Superman apart. And Dwayne McDuffie worked valiantly to make a twelve issue mini-series fit in one hour and fifteen minutes. But it just doesn’t come close to the emotional impact. They also left out the Jimmy Centric issue.

I think the art was vaguely Quitely-esque. However, it lacked the roughness that is such an effective part of Frank’s work. They smoothed the lines, making everything more angular… so the Quitely aspects are harder to see.

Sigma7 writes:  

Seventy-six minutes is simply miserly for a project of the length and depth of All-Star Superman — five issues were totally excised, but there’s a lot of material in the other eight issues that didn’t survive, either: Regan (as stated above and probably the most glaring omission), Earth Q, Kandor, Smallville, “this is how much I trust you, Leo” — and yet we still get the Kryptonians-being-smug issue adapted for the screen. The Kryptonians serve very little purpose — on one hand a power that rivals his own, perhaps, and a counterpoint to the morality of Kal’s non-interference in human affairs — but when they’re written out, we’re glad. Nothing with emotional resonance, certainly nothing on par with Clark’s hair igniting as he rushes back to his father’s side….

And, as Thom alluded, since when has Superman ever been out of mercy (that has to be the line)? And why the new ending? That’s…not even slightly romantic, Leo.

I wanted to react the way Charlie Jane did at io9, but I’m firmly, sadly in agreement with your assessment, Johanna. This was a seriously missed opportunity, and one that mostly derives from the decision to cram 320 pages of Morrison/Quitely content into 76 minutes.

Ed Asner and (would you believe Delaware-born) Alexis Denisof were also my favorite voice actors, but the prison sequence gave both LaPaglia and Morrison’s dialogue a real chance to shine, and I’m so very glad at least that bit made it in, otherwise the entire exercise of watching the film would’ve been a loss for me.

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