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All-Star Superman (2011)

by on 2011/05/02


“You’re embarrassing me beyond therapy.”

* *

In my first review for GeekvsGoth.com, I asked, “Why do I keep buying these comic-inspired videos?” Another year along, and I’m still asking the same question.

Because its mainstream reviews were even more positive than those ones for Crisis on Two Earths, I find myself especially disappointed by All-Star Superman. With any luck, its shoddy adaptation will cause future release sales to plummet. Maybe then we’ll get some higher quality efforts.

This piece is based on the acclaimed print series of the same name, by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. It begins with Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) luring Superman (James Denton) dangerously close to the yellow sun which powers his abilities. The resulting overload has two effects. While it makes the Kryptonian ever more powerful, it also gives him a terminal form of cancer.

Given a short time to live, Superman speeds through the direct-to-video (DTV) equivalent of a clip show, a whirlwind tour of shallowed novelties, clumsily handled. He reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks), throws open his Fortress of Solitude for our inspection, and works to keep Luthor held in check, once and for all.

I’m no deep diving Superman fanatic, but I am familiar with most television iterations, as well as all the major films and the DTV releases. Okay, perhaps I am fanatical, and yet All-Star Superman — can we just call it ASS for short? — tested me. It introduces a flurry of obscure characters in rapid succession, including Dr. Quintum, Sampson and Atlas, Bar-El and Lilo, Solaris, and Nasthalthia Luthor.

Just as awkwardly we are introduced to a variety of dei ex machina, including a power serum, a gravity gun, and a sun-eating pet. Sure, geeks tend to enjoy these things, but here’s the rub: they’re also intelligent and/or picky enough to expect a superior (ahem) presentation. The narrative devices are introduced with such blunt force, it’s less than no surprise to find them resolving plot points later.

There was exactly one thing — one! — I honestly enjoyed: Luthor’s reminder that his successes are the result of effort, not the serendipity of alien biochemistry.

That’s it.

Despite having cut numerous subplots from the comics, the tale still moves too fast. This release is DTV; we’re not stacking showtimes in a theatre here. Why not make it as long as needed to do justice to the series? Why constrain it to 77 minutes?

No, that’s not a typo . . . an hour and seventeen minutes. At the lowest price I found, it costs a dollar for every three minutes.

The substandard animation probably answers my questions best. If fans like me are gullible enough to shell out big money for shoddy products — repeatedly, no less — why would the producers do any better?

And make no mistake, this product is indeed substandard. It looks cheap, it moves poorly, and it sounds oddly off. The visual design does as much disservice to Quitely’s original artwork as the script does to Morrison’s story. Characters are downright ugly, with the faces, mouths, and eyes recalling the primitive work of the Sixties’ Archie Show.

Early in watching I thought, “It should have been an anthology, like The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight.” But by the end I realized the only viable solution, given the obvious budgetary constraints, might be to deliver a motion comic. Such an approach could allow for better art, at a lower cost, with an appropriately deliberate pace.

Although I appreciate the source material’s intent, too many of its essentials are lost in translation to this abridgment. Too often the DC Universe animated releases have demonstrated good ideas can’t save poor execution. In the case of All-Star Superman, a surplus of ideas have made that poor execution even worse.

In a tip of the hat to my esteemed co-reviewer, a bit of Browning seems a fitting end to the trouncing: All-Star Superman’s reach exceeds its grasp.

* *

Rated PG for language and violence

77 minutes

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