An interesting thing happened in 1978 that took the world of Superheroes to a whole new level. For the first time in the history of movie making, filmmakers set out to make an audience believe that the most Iconic superhero of all time could actually exist. With a simple tag line, You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly, Alexander Salkind and Richard Donner enlisted Christopher Reeve to present the first film of its kind, Superman The Movie.
Today’s Key Movie:
The film origin story of the most recognizable DC Comics Superhero of all time. Starring a riveting cast including Christopher Reeve, Margo Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando this is the tale of the ultimate immigrant and hero from the stars.
Why this movie?
The first time I watched this film was at home on television. By the time I was old enough to appreciate it for what it was, ABC aired an extended edition on television sometime in 1982. My dad, who was a pretty big Superman fan himself, tuned in and we sat and watched a film that forever changed my perspective of what a superhero could be. I had, of course, known who Superman was but it was this very film that etched his origin and his very demeanor into my mind. From that point on Christopher Reeve WAS Superman. In comics, in animation, and even in reference, whenever Superman came up, it was Reeve who I saw as the Big Blue Boy Scout.
This incarnation of Superman gave us a sense that greatness could come from anywhere. While he is fully aware of his nature from the beginning, Superman uses the classic Nurture vs Nature to explain that Clark Kent (aka Superman) is the living embodiment of good due to his humble origins on the Kent Farm in Kansas. Knowing that he has a greater potential in life, Clark sets out on a journey of self discovery only to find that he is much more than a special human, he is in fact the last of his people.
While the 1989 Batman will always be my favorite Superhero film, it was this film that made me realize that there was an entire universe to be found in comic books and all I had to do was open one to have more adventures in the DC Universe.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
There is nothing quite like the opening moments of this film once the credits roll with John Williams incredible theme. To this day, this track fills me with a certain feeling of invincibility, of power, of hope. I imagine that the moment you saw the banner for this article those opening notes played in your head. Don’t deny it, I mean, seriously, how could THIS not be in your head right now?
It is rare to find such a perfect cast that personifies the characters that they portray. From Reeve’s Kent/Superman to Kidder’s Lois Lane, there is no doubt as to who they are and why they were cast in their roles. It is amazing how Reeve is able to play two entirely different roles and make you believe in both of them. There are subtitles in his twin roles that give you a deeper view in who he is without betraying,only enhancing, his true character. While we don’t see him in action as the title character until half way through the film, when he finally dons the Blue, Red and Yellow suit, there is no doubt that Reeve is the hero we wanted.
Margot Kidder established a version of Lois Lane that, outside of a close attempt by the animated series and also the live action Lois & Clark, has never been bested on the screen. She portrays one of the first and most powerful female characters in all of the superhero Genre. Much like Reeve, Kidder’s portrayal of this iconic character set a bar that has yet to be knocked down.
Outside of the Joker, there is hardly a more recognized comic book villain that Lex Luthor. While there have been some incredible interpretations of this villain since, it was Gene Hackman’s portrayal that set the groundwork for this characters widespread recognition. While he refused to shave his head for the role (even though the comic version is very much bald), Hackman’s incredible talent really resonates making this version his own interpretation that can be still seen in some versions of the character in media today. Sure, he played more of a master thief with delusions of grandeur than the business savvy Luthor we have come to know, but, in a way, this was a great reference to the diabolical villains of the old Kirk Alyn serials, even with a villainous plan right out of the comics. Not ironically, The First Superman himself, Kirk Alyn, managed to get a nod in the un-credited role as General Sam Lane. Rounding out the characters are Perry White and Jimmy Olson played by veteran Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure respectively, not surprisingly, they are the embodiment of the comic characters they represent. Additionally, I would be remiss to not mention Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine in the roles of Luthor’s henchmen Otis and Miss Teschmacher respectively. They are are terrific and really stand out as fun characters that support Gene Hackman’s diabolical nature as the main villain.
One aspect of this film that is still impressive is the special effects. With such a reliance on CGI these days, it is rare for classic films like this to hold up in the realism department. This one does and incredibly so. To this day, the flying effects alone still look and feel natural in every way. There is no doubt that Superman is indeed flying across the sky saving people and taking Lois for the ride of her life over the city of Metropolis. Not only is the flying spot on but every other power, from x-ray vision to super strength is done fantastically well with only a single exception, super speed. There is a rather embarrassingly silly moment early in the film that really doesn’t age well but I guess you can’t it’s brief and you’ll forget it in no time at all. Otherwise, the effects are perfection.
Bottom line, Superman The Movie manages to do what modern film interpretations of this character has failed to do time and again. It was able to distill 40 years of history into a cohesive and impactful story that not only presented the world with a definitive version of the character but did so in a way that made us want more. Unlike the recent attempts, this Superman embodies the thing that makes the character such an icon that has continued to thrive in comics for 80 years, that simple thing, Hope.
From the beginning, Clark Kent’s entire purpose is one of hope. He is the last hope of the Kryptonians to continue their legacy, he represents the hope of his human parents to be the son they always wanted and, upon becoming Superman, he becomes the very embodiment of hope for mankind. Throughout the film there is a clear and concise theme of hope only causing viewers to leave feeling that they too can make a difference. It is this sense of hope that is lacking in today’s DC comics films and it is something that I hope returns in future incarnations of Superman’s Cinematic journey.
Interestingly, This film also was able to set up a larger universe by introducing Zod and his partners early in the film. They would appear as the villains in the second film with Terrance Stamp returning to his role as General Zod. Sadly, Richard Donner was taken off of the film and the sequel became more of an action comedy losing some of the more serious tone from the first one. This was corrected in the later release of the film in Superman II the Richard Donner cut which I highly recommend.
OK, where do I get this movie?
This is one you can find on disc pretty much everywhere. There is a great blu-ray copy available for less than $10 and of course it is available from pretty much every streaming service.
If your only experience with Superman is the modern films, take some time to watch the definitive film that started the Superhero film genre. It is the perfect version of this hero and one you will not forget.
Be sure to come back Next week, where we discuss Superman II!
Late To The Game 8/1/2019
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