REVIEW: Look, Up In The Sky DVD

Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman
Superman: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition, Disc 12

Radio host Howard Stern proclaims himself the “King of All Media.” But there is one man here on Earth who will never kneel before Stern.

Look Up In The SkyThe nearly 70-year-old media empire of Superman encompasses comic books, newspaper comic strips, a radio drama, novels, animated movie shorts, live-action serialized movies, low-budget movies, a children’s TV series, TV commercials, a Broadway musical, various Saturday morning TV cartoons, a no-budget TV musical, big-budget movies, a romantic comedy TV series, a teen drama TV series, soundtracks, video games, DVDs, web sites, and enough merchandise to turn even George Lucas green with envy.

You will find nearly all of that and more in Look, Up In The Sky, the 2006 documentary from Kevin Burns and Bryan Singer. My fellow Star Wars fans out there will recognize Burns’ trademark style from his excellent Empire Of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy documentary from 2004.

An argument could be made that Look, Up In The Sky is nothing more than a two-hour commercial for Warner Home Video’s various Superman DVDs, not to mention Superman Returns–which was about to hit theaters just as this was originally released. While it certainly is a commercial for Superman products, it manages to be much more than that.

Look, Up In The Sky first premiered on the A&E cable network in June of last year. The DVD appeared just a week later. Though I watched the special back then, I did not purchase the stand-alone DVD since I figured it would be available with a Superman boxed set and that I would, for a change, avoid a double-dip. Fortunately, I was right.

Some of the standouts of the documentary, for me, were not exactly high points in Superman’s legacy and, thus, are rarely seen. I had often heard of the 1975 It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman TV version of the Broadway musical and was always curious as to what it looked like.

After seeing footage in Look, Up In The Sky!, I am no longer curious. That thing looks like it was worse than the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978. It was kind of funny that Lesley Ann Warren, who played Lois in the TV musical, also tried out for the same part in the Salkind/Donner movie released just three years later.

One thing I had never heard of before this documentary, though, was the Adventures of Superpup TV pilot. As a dog lover, I could find the concept funny if properly executed. But to use the exact same sets, costume design, and everything else from the Adventures of Superman series right after George Reeves committed suicide (or, for you conspiracy-minded folks, allegedly committed suicide) was just in bad taste.

At least that is the impression this documentary and various online references give us. Something does not quite add up, though. The Superpup pilot was produced in 1958. Reeves died in 1959. I know there is a conspiracy theory in there somewhere. (It looks like people are wrongly lumping Superpup in with the failed Superboy pilot from 1961.)

While low-points like Superpup and It’s Superman are covered, the documentary of course also covers the great stuff, too. The Christopher Reeve movies are well detailed. Interviews include Richard Donner, Ilya Salkind, and Margot Kidder.

Since I do not watch Smallville, it was even a treat for me to see Reeve’s second-season appearance on that series. The documentary also covers his accident, subsequent battles, and death. It is a much more emotional experience than the tribute feature on the You Will Believe DVD.

I was expecting only a brief mention, but even Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman does not get short-changed in its coverage. Sure, this was probably only to tie in with the season 3 DVD release going out at that time, but if Warner wanting to move product results in a better documentary for me to enjoy, then no complaints here.

Superman Returns gets a fair bit of coverage, most of which was a lot more exciting to see prior to the movie’s release, of course. It is surreal to hear narrator Kevin Spacey refer to himself in the third person when speaking of his role of Lex Luthor. Why not have Singer or someone mention this in an interview segment rather than forcing this bit of awkward narration?

It was a treat to watch this again, over a year since seeing it on television. I have seen and read a lot of the Superman history in bits and pieces over the years, but it is nice to see everything laid out coherently and in such an entertaining fashion. Watching this documentary is one of those great experiences that remind me of why I am such a fan of Superman. Along with Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns, this is the top documentary on the 14-disc Ultimate set.

When it comes to Superman products, Look, Up In The Sky is a well-rounded documentary. I have focused on TV and movies here, but it also covers the comics, radio program, and many other aspects of the legend.

For those who think the comics are the only true source for Superman mythology, the documentary reminds us that it was the radio program that introduced such important elements as Superman flying, the Daily Planet, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and even kryptonite. The point is that all of the various Superman versions influence one another. Still have doubts? Check out the current design of the Fortress of Solitude as seen in Action Comics recently, and then go back and watch Richard Donner’s Superman.

I would still like to see a non-Warner, non-DC produced documentary to reveal more of the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster story, though. Despite the billions of dollars spawned by the Superman empire, his creators and their families reaped little of the benefits.

A minor quibble is that, at least in my set, this disc’s label does not match the style of the other 13 discs. It appears to simply be the standard label from the stand-alone DVD release. I am not overly picky about this sort of thing, though, so I have not docked any points for it. Perhaps they have fixed this for the 2007 re-release of the set.

Bonus features are light. Some would say non-existent. There are front-loaded preview trailers for Firewall, Lady In The Water, and Poseidon.

The gem of the previews, and the only reason I am giving this disc any points for bonus features, is the “Superman Franchise” trailer. I had seen this online before, but it is nice to have a crisp version here. One of my favorite trailers of all time, it seamlessly brings together most of Superman’s various incarnations and ends with the awe-inspiring Superman Returns teaser.

Though the DVD version is supposedly expanded over the TV version, nothing jumped out at me as being “new” and there were no other bonuses. Do not let that keep you away, though. This documentary is a must-see.

Documentary: 9 (out of 10)
Video Quality: 10
Audio Quality: 10
Bonus Features: 3
Overall Experience: 9

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