Thursday, March 3, 2011

Exfanding Review: All Star Superman (Animated Feature)

I had a little time this past weekend to actually sit down and turn on the TV, so I decided to watch the recently released direct-to-DVD animated film, All Star Superman.

Released by DC Entertainment and written by the late Dwayne McDuffie and produced by Bruce Timm, this film adapts the critically acclaimed and popular Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely take on Superman.

When the film was first announced, there were groans from the corners of fandom, with the majority (of this minority) claiming that Morrison's definitive Superman story could never be made into an 80-minute feature.

There's just too much in that story, they said, too many layers to the plot and to the characters.

It's an argument that, while I can certainly understand, I don't necessarily agree with. Yes, Morrison's story had depth and characterization that developed over the course of 12 issues, and sure, it would be difficult to translate the emotional weight of that story in a cartoon.

But DC has done an amazing job with these films, and between McDuffie and Timm, I never really doubted that All Star Superman would avoid falling victim to the worries expressed above.

And, I think, for the most part I was right.

The film is quite good and the art direction, particularly, is excellent. The character designs are spot-on, and I'm going to say right upfront that this is my favorite visual take on Superman and Lois Lane and their supporting cast is quite some time.
Frank Quitely defined the look of the lumbering, meandering Clark Kent in the comics, and his vision was carried through perfectly on screen. In All Star, the comic series, we really see a difference between Clark and Superman--and I'm not just talking about him wearing a pair of glasses.

Quitely's Kent rounds his shoulders and trips over things and looks like a wide-eyed country bumpkin in a way-too-big city. And that interpretation of the character translates beautifully to the animation style of the film.
From a writing perspective, McDuffie really did have some heavy lifting here, as he needed to figure out what to keep and what to cut from a story that is held in such high regard by so many people.

There are elements that worked phenomenally in the comic--like Superman's trip to Bizarro World, and the eulogy he delivers in issue 6--that were left out of the film, and to good effect.

The events of issue 6 are mentioned in the film, but only briefly, and in one of the best scenes in any of the DC animated films to date.

While there are a couple of good, emotional beats in the film, there's also plenty of action, and the fight scenes are epic and beautiful to look at. A highlight of the film is the prison scene, where Clark Kent and Lex Luthor have to escape a rampaging Parasite.
As the Parasite, who gains strength by sucking energy from people and things, lays waste to prison guards and concrete, Lex and Clark flee the scene. Lex "leads" the way, but it's Clark's well-timed and discrete use of his powers that saves the day.

Somehow, McDuffie, Timm, and company found a way to bring the look and, more impressively, the feel, of All Star Superman to the screen. As a comic, it was the story that made me care about Superman. As a film, it works in much the same way, and really, that's a great accomplishment when trying to adapt such an important work.

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