Superman (1978)

Posted: August 15, 2018 in Comics, Movies
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Superman is a timeless classic. The film hit theatres in 1978 and it would go on to influence young writers and directors working today in Hollywood. You know this stupid Marvel VS. DC divide so many fans get caught up in? Sorry to burst your bubble but many of the directors, writers and producers over at Marvel have stated their love for this Superman tale. Once you see this flick it’s no wonder. This is an excellent comic book movie and a great character study that gets SO much right despite taking its time to get going and having little to no action of the likes you’d find crammed into any modern Marvel or DC movie.

Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, The Goonies) directs and puts everything into the film. There’s a ton of heart in this. Two scenes stick out the most for me. There’s not an ounce of action or confrontation in either. The first is when Lois Lane (an excellent Margot Kidder) interviews Superman for the first time. Their exchanges are so honest and playful. The chemistry between the actors is there but so is the great direction and a solid script for them to work from.The other scene takes place shortly after this one and again focuses on Lois and Superman. He takes her flying, just so she can experience it and while in the clouds we hear a poem she’s thought up about this man of her dreams. That right there cements not only the fact she’s fallen for him but their core connection as characters. The great thing about this pair being, as we all know, is Superman already loves Lois and she’d know it if only she could see past his Clark Kent disguise and the film plays with that wonderfully throughout. As the stakes rise in the third act and Lois is put in danger we, thanks to these two seemingly unevenful scenes, care deeply that Superman can get to her in time and save her life.

Superman is so simple from a story perspective. Alien comes to Earth. Is adopted by the Kents. Has to hide his true abilities before finally coming of age and going out into the big city to find his future and fall in love with a girl. There’s no fat on this film. No forced plot points so the studio could, at the time, build a shared universe. None of that crap here. That is why this film works as well as it does. It is focused. No disrespect to Zack Snyder but throw Man of Steel on after this and while you may rightly be entertained for two plus hours I doubt you’ll feel as much when it comes to emotion when you see that take on the character compared to this take. I think i know why that is too. Donner and co., even those at Warner Bros. back in ’78 knew and loved the source and they knew their audience. These days too many of these pictures have too many cooks in the kitchen. This should be an example of how to get these projects done right.

Forty years after release and the special effects are still good. See what I mean when I’m always going on about practical effects over CGI? Sure it’s cool seeing Superman in more modern takes doing crazy flying and other cool shit but who cares if you don’t get invested emotionally? This film nails that balance. The use of miniture sets for grand Superman disaster/rescue sequences may be obvious but have lost none of their impact nor charm. There’s also several impressive actual to scale stunt sequnces in this flick, one involving a aircraft, which still had me on the edge of my seat. You know these days when I’m seeing whole cities being brought down by two dudes fighting I don’t care as much because I know it’s so obviously all just CGI. It doesn’t feel real. Doesn’t matter what it looks like.

Christopher Reeve was/is/will always be my Superman. I was born in ’83 so it goes without saying I grew up with Reeve as Superman and I assumed he would be forever. He’s brilliant as both Superman AND Clark. It’s a performence no actor since has quite been able to pull off as good as Reeve. Kidder is awesome as I mentioned earlier. Then there is Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and he puts in a fun and brilliant performence. You even get Marlon Brando is this film and you know that guy is just a masterclass when it comes to acting.

The score, by John Williams, is the stuff of legend. You could whistle the theme from Superman to a stranger on the otherside of the world today and chances are they’d know where it was from. This film gets so much right. I read Superman, not as much as Batman or the X-Men but I have read my fair share. This film, this film from FORTY years ago, is the closest a movie has gotten to nailing the character in my eyes. When this whole Superman reboot was first tossed around at the close of Nolan’s Bat trilogy I have to wonder why this Donner classic wasn’t used as a jumping off point. This is what the DCU can be and what I hope it one day manages to return to.

 

 

 

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