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The Art Of Superman Returns
Daniel Wallace
Titan hardcover £24.99

review by Christopher Geary

He's back! Yes, the most famous comic-book hero of them all returns to the cinema in Bryan Singer's film. It's an impressive production with knowingly iconic elements drawing upon various sources, including the original Action Comics debut (in June 1938), the 1950s' television series, Adventures Of Superman (which starred George Reeves, 1914-59), and the quartet of 1978-83 movies starring Christopher Reeve (1952 - 2004). Setting aside the variable TV shows Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman (1993-7) and Smallville (2001-6), the four Reeve vehicles - especially the narrative pair of Superman The Movie (available on DVD in a superior director's cut format) and Superman II - mark the very pinnacle of Hollywood's ongoing Superman mythology, despite ranging in quality from inspired to naff.

So, here we are with another summer blockbuster, supported by the usual batch of print media goodies, including this volume of behind-the-scenes material, offering repro pages from Superman comics, design sketches, concept paintings, details of the film's miniature effects, storyboard sequences, props and set photos (most notably of scenes not appearing in the finished movie), special effects visuals and publicity stills. Architectural lines for the bustling Metropolis have "a cosmopolitan, art deco" style ensuring the urban scenery evokes a similarly remarkable timelessness matching the Norman Rockwell influenced rural retreat - albeit showing signs of decay after five years of neglect, of the Kent family's homestead farmhouse. From the intentionally obscene affluence of the sprawling Vanderworth beachfront estate and the decadent interiors of yacht Gertrude, to the near-future sci-fi visions of a space shuttle variant (piggy-backed on a Boeing 777) and cutting-edge real world projects like the F-35 jet fighters used as chase planes, the illustrators and sculptors, photographers, computer techies and a team of art directors working under production designer Guy Dyas have created a wealth of peerless minutiae bringing the essentially postmodern world of this movie to life.

Genuinely fantastic and mysterious, yet portrayed with a gritty realism encouraging our happily willing suspension of disbelief, the crystalline technology of Kryptonian science follows closely all the coloured spikes, glassy prisms and blocky ice-towers of the doomed planet Krypton and construction of Kal-El's artic Fortress of Solitude, as defined by John Barry (in the crowning glory of a ten-year career, which included A Clockwork Orange, Phase IV, and Star Wars, before his untimely death in 1979) for Richard Donner's classic movie. Re-design of such imagery was apparently never an option (likewise, the unforgettable Superman theme composed by John Williams, which enlivens the John Ottman score of Superman Returns no end!).

Although the vast cityscape of Metropolis fails to emerge as a separate 'character' in this film, in the same manner than Gotham is presented as a memorable widescreen environment in the recent Batman Begins, perusal of the pencilled artworks, digital renderings and photo composites of skyscrapers and galleried here, there can be no denying the imposing quality and the attention to detail that went into fashioning a fresh view of Metropolis (particularly for the Daily Planet building) eminently suited for 21st century audiences, and I'm pretty sure these big city backdrops will be better appreciated on repeat viewings (and certainly when the DVD is released). Obviously, Metropolis "borrows its density and structure" from Manhattan, but here we find the appeal of the creators' imagination spreading across a much larger thematic canvas is abundantly evident in many other scenes, and throughout the two-and-a-half-hours of Superman Returns, as the filmmakers endeavour to meritoriously condense nearly seven decades of Superman tales into a studiously ambitious (just take a look at the painstaking development of the superhero's familiar costume), globe-spanning and - necessarily - world-saving epic.

Perhaps the most unusual, amusing and enlightening sequence in this film concerns the magnificent eccentricity of a gigantic model railway - built in the basement of the Vanderworth mansion. If directing a movie using a major studio's fulsome assets with mammoth budgetary expenditure available, could be seen as playing with the world's biggest train set, then, for self-confessed Superman fanboy and comics' geek Bryan Singer (like Kal-El, an adopted orphan), the boyhood dream-come-true of Superman Returns pays off doubly here. Maybe, though, the problem with this aspect of Singer's movie will forever be that nobody will remember the potentially revealing decision of visual creativity behind the train-set metaphor, and only the unfortunate destruction of that ultimate (so far!) handmade toy diorama will linger in the hearts and minds of all neo-Krypton's future sons and heirs.

Also available...
Superman Returns: The Complete Shooting Script (Titan paperback �9.99 / $14.95) by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, which includes deleted scenes (content of which suggests we can expect something worthwhile in the eventual DVD extras), over 60 pages of selected storyboards, plus and exclusive interviews by David Hughes with both screenwriters and the director.
The Art of Superman Returns

Superman Returns: The Complete Shooting Script

Read our review of
Superman Returns -
comicbook adaptation



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