Its 7:41 pm
Superhero movies are without a doubt the biggest “thing” going at the theater and to some extent,on television as well. Marvel is the king of the box office while DC owns the smaller screens of TV. But it wasn’t always so easy for live action superhero shows and movies. Cartoons were so much cheaper and easier to put on the air.
But Hollywood has always TRIED to master the art of superhero movies and as long as the heroes were of the “street” level,they did okay.
Many folks don’t know that as far back as the 1930s and 40s,Batman,Superman,The Shadow and Captain Marvel were featured in huge 15 part serials that played in my theaters across the country. While these were serials were straight shooters,the tech needed to make Captain Marvel and Superman soar into the skies just wasn’t there.
The Superman series of the 1950s showed improvement but once again had to depend on the actors to give the series any real credibility but when the scripts were aimed solely at kids,the series was so grounded and it wasn’t until 1966 until another attempt was made in establishing a superhero show on network TV.
Batman was a big hit when it started on ABC with Bat-mania sweeping the country as kids ( and men,when Catwoman was the villainess) raced home to catch the two part cliffhanger episodes that aired each week.
But just like the old Superman series,playing superheroes for camp got tiresome quickly and Batman was gone in three short years,sadly it also took with it a spin-off of “The Green Hornet” was played it straight and was a much more mature show aimed for adults. “The Green Hornet” could looked be looked at as the first serious modern age superhero show. But low budgets and the end of “Batman” sealed its fate after only 26 episodes.
Once again superheroes went back onto only the printed age until the mid-1970s when CBS launched “Shazam!” on its Saturday morning kids line-up. The show,while a hit,was plagued with production issues as it used three different actors as “Shazam!” struggled to stay on the air. The stories,while simple,covered a lot of hot button topics during the day and while it featured humor,wasn’t made as a “campy” show like Batman 66 was.
In 1977,the landscaped changed forever as Hollywood seemed once and for determined to bring the comic books to the screen once and for all. While “Superman” started production in 1977,CBS was throwing its hat into the ring with the launch of the live action “The Amazing Spider-Man” TV show. The show was very popular with kids and while a ratings hit,CBS mismanaged the series into the ground and it only lasted 13 episodes and was gone by early 1978…..its a shame because when “Superman: The Movie” came out during Christmas of 1978,it changed everything forever.
“Superman:The Movie” is one of my five favorite films of all time. I saw it at the theater at least 6 times during its run. The tag line of “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly” came out a YEAR before the movie did. It was an amazing experience as a 14 year old watching a comic book hero actually look like he was flying.
When I got the chance to talk about Superman,thanks to our own “superhero” at Warner Brother Archive,I knew I had to do it. While I have many superhero films in my library,the one film I didn’t have? Yep,this one. I can’t tell you why that is only that I have it know and re-watching both the Extended Cut and the Richard Donner’s Director Cut was a real hoot.
Has Superman aged well in it 40 years? Tech wise,no,not really but that is always to be expected and for what it was back in 1978,there are some scenes that are amazing even to this day.
This was the first time I have ever watched the Extended Cut which added (or padded) on 40 minutes for its TV premiere. The enabled to network to split the film in half and make more ad revenue. The 40 minutes include a much longer Krypton scene that featured Marlon Brando as Jor-El,Superman’s father. It also featured a bit of a longer interaction with General Zod. While at first glance,it seemed extremely ambitious to be basically setting a sequel before the first film even came out but when you listen to Donner’s commentary,you’ll learn that he was in fact filming the first two films side by side!!
We see Clark Kent being raised by Ma and Pa Kent and learn another startling fact,actor Jeff East who played Clark as a teen,had his voice dubbed by Christopher Reeve. The interaction between Clark and his mother is extended and its done very sweetly,Clark’s establishment of the Fortress of Solitude longer and more detailed.
Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) is established much earlier and for those who think the first Superman is campy based on Ned Beatty’s turn as Otis or the last scene where Superman drops Lex and Otis off at jail….you couldn’t be more wrong. While,there are a lot of laughs because of the banter between Lex,Otis and Eve Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine),the fact that Lex is monster shines quite brightly,in killing a policeman in terrible fashion,killing two people in getting his Kryptonite and his plan to kill millions just to get land. Hackman is a very good Luther in the first film and in my opinion,the 2nd best portrayal of the character in live action films and series,Michael Rosenbaum of “Smallville” is the perfect Lex Luthor to date.
The weakest part of “Superman” is when Clark Kent arrives at the Daily Planet,I do think the overly clumsy and mild mannered bumbling fool schtick doesn’t work. There is no way a editor like Perry White would ever hire someone like Kent as a reporter. One would think after spending 12 years in the Fortress,Clark would have gotten a far better handle on human interaction then the persona he chose. In fact,this is addressed just a few scene later.
Not to say Christopher Reeve was bad,he wasn’t….he made a excellent Superman but he was let down in the script’s portrayal of Clark. Note the way George Reeves played Clark,while he wasn’t gung ho,his Clark Kent still had a quiet confidence aura around him. Now I will share this,I hated Margot Kidder as Lois Lane,always have. She just grated on my nerves and re-watching this only confirmed my feelings. In watching the audition clips that were included in this,the role of Lois was down to Kidder and Stockard Channing of all people. Personally I thought Holly Palance would have made a great Lois as well but the producers went with Kidder.
When Superman debuts when rescuing Lois from a helicopter crash,one thing you notice is how effortless and smooth he looks. I say this in comparison to the somewhat sequel “Superman Returns” where Superman looks like a complete rookie.
But here,he is sharp and polished which tells the viewer that the 12 years between teen Clark vanishing into the Fortress and then coming to Metropolis,he had practiced and explored his abilities. And why it made zero sense for his adult Clark Kent to look so feeble. The first night is pretty terrific as Superman battles petty crooks,rescues Air Force One and a kitty stuck in a tree. The flying sequences,while not very good in today’s world,work very well in this film,especially the rescue of Air Force One. It’s a great way for Supes to make his world debut.
The final act of the film is clearly the best part as well……Superman trying to stop two missiles from killing millions. What is evident during this sequence is that Jor-El has led Superman into believing his powers have finite levels,that he can only go far with his powers. The slow dawning of this is shown as Superman slowly gets stronger and he knows he is more then what he has been led to think. Watch the first missile chase,Superman at first struggles to gain on it and is fact tricked by its guidance avoidance system,he then flies after it again but catches up a bit more easily. But then when he grabs the rocket to redirect it towards space,the effort he puts into it is shown on his face. But so is excitement as he sees the San Andrea missile hit,he flies straight down into the fault line where he seals the crack,requiring a WHOLE new level of strength then merely directing the first rocket.
The very best scene in the film comes as Superman realizes he was too late to save someone he cares and the rage and pain he feels is still one of the most singularly powerful moments in any film of any genre. This was the first time when a moment in a movie moved me (and others) to tears and 40 years later,it still does because I truly understand what Superman is feeling as a human being. He is not a superhero,he is a man who has lost the woman he was falling in love with and he feels completely helpless.
The scene where Superman changes the timeline has been debated over and over as was it within Superman’s ability to do this and the answer is yes,Superman’s power set allowed him to do many things back in the 60s and 70s before DC Comics slowly started reducing his powers in the comics. But at the time of the film,he could alter time. But in the movie,he didn’t KNOW he could until he grew so angry he simply cut loose.
There is one small plot hole that I have to point out,after Superman rescues Lois and Jimmy Olson and flies off,Lois points that Clark and Superman are never seen together. The fact is that Clark never went to California with Lois and Jimmy. Perry White tells Clark that he sent them to investigate that land deal before starting to lecture Kent on how to become a better reporter before Lex Luthor contacts him. So Lois commenting on this made no sense at all….that scene needed a little editing….
Listening to the commentary by Donner which was recorded in 2000,he explains just how many aspects of Superman were done for the FIRST time. The one thing he kept mentioning that was the most important was having Superman fly,he said without that,the movie would have failed. But thanks to a superb crew and a 24 year old Christopher Reeve willing to be wired for hours on end,the modern day superhero movies that we know and love (okay,maybe no “Batman V Superman) took flight once and for all. The Superman franchise crashed after “Superman II” but the trail has been blazed for future films….
As for CBS,the network that axed “The Amazing Spider-Man”? It decided to get back INTO the superhero game by putting out “The Incredible Hulk”.
You can buy the 2 Film Collection of “Superman: The Movie” simply by going to the website of Warner Brothers Archive. The extended cut runs 3 hours and the Donner cut for 2 and a half hours. Features include audition reels and the mentioned commentary.
This is a must have for any serious film buff as well as any comic book/superhero movie buff as well. But what do you think? Is “Superman” still a vital and important film or has time caught up to it and aged it? Who played the best Lois Lane? We want to know your thoughts so drop a comment below!!