Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman movie Man of Steel was controversial with the fans in part because it had visuals that were considered too bleak for a Superman movie, borrowing the look of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

The folks at VideoLab wondering what it would look like Snyder hadn’t done this, and kept the bright primary colors of Henry Cavill’s physical Superman costume instead of toning it down in post-production. The results are like restoring a three hundred year old painting, cleaning away centuries of dirty, yellowed varnish to reveal the true vibrance of the original work. It turns out there was a beautiful Zack Snyder movie hiding under that bleak Schindler’s List color scheme.

Be sure to use the controller at the top right of the page to temporarily turn off the radio stream while you watch VideoLab’s presentation. Shown are side by side comparisons between Man of Steel as it was shown in the theaters, and what it could have looked like.

From VideoLab’s production notes:

We’re big fans of both Superman and the film Man of Steel. That’s why this was a fun project. But Superman isn’t just a brand. He’s a worldwide icon that has lasted 77 years. When you make a Superman movie, and not every kid walking out of the theater wishes they were Superman… you’ve done something wrong. We’re simply asking questions.

The results we achieved are obviously a bit oversaturated and contain contrast artifacts. Since our source footage already contained severe color-grading decisions, it was far from optimal and, at best, this is an approximation. If the raw footage had been colored in a more natural and pleasing manner, it would actually look significantly better than what you see here.  Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse and some color exclusion adjustments did most of the heavy lifting in our color correction and re-grade, but each clip required a cocktail of secondary corrections.  We did, in fact, put too much green in the savanna, brought to our attention by eagle-eyed commenters.

The orange-tinted sky in the Metropolis aftermath shots and the purple girders behind Zod were actually there naturally. We believe Man of Steel had a more traditional-looking color grade until later in post-production when they decided to go darker. They should have followed their first instinct.

Looking at how powerful and warm the movie becomes, it’s hard not to agree. We would hope that they’ll take a page from this and make Superman’s scenes in the new Batman v Superman movie more vibrant. Superman, as Videolab’s narrator points out, should fly in blue skies – not gray.

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