To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, the Flickering Myth writing team are looking back over Superman’s previous screen adventures; next up is Martin Deer with a review of 1978’s Superman: The Movie…
Although being, undeniably, the most iconic Superhero and one of pop cultures most recognisable figures, Superman’s popularity in the comics has not always been as strong as the Man of Steel himself. In 1940, two years after Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics, he was taken to radio for what ended up lasting 11 years for a total run of 2,068 episodes. That same decade also saw seventeen animated theatrical shorts and a 15 chapter live-action film serial which aired prior to the main feature at cinemas. The 1950s saw George Reeves take up the mantle of the Man of Steel in Superman and the Mole-Men (which was covered yesterday), which led to him starring as the mild mannered reporter for 102 episodes in the TV show, Adventures of Superman. Despite all that, however, the 1970s saw Superman’s popularity in comic books take a turn for the worst, and the beacon of hope’s light was beginning to fade. That was all set to change, when father and son producing team Alexander and Ilya Salkind obtained the rights to the character and, set to work on bringing the ultimate hero to the big screen. The rest as they say, is history.
When it comes to comic book movies, there are comic book movies and there are films based on comic books. Superman: The Movie falls in to the latter category. The film promised you would believe a man could fly and, from the moment Superman utters the now iconic line, ‘Don’t worry Miss, I’ve got you’, you believed! An entire world fell in love with Superman once again at that very moment – one which to this day still puts a smile on my face on each watch – but truth be told, Richard Donner made you believe much sooner than that, as he’s already spent an hour and six minutes drawing you in to a fascinating world. After the dazzling opening credits, the first scene shows us a new world, one largely different from our own, which John Williams score brings a sense of grandeur. We know what we’re about to see is important from the accompanying music, but also from the way Donner draws in around the red Krypton sun and down to the icy planet itself, everything has an epic feel to it; what we’re about to see has gravitas.
Of course then we are introduced to Marlon Brando as Jor-El, casting which to this day has yet to be bettered. I can’t remember who said it, but casting Brando as Superman’s father was compared to casting God in the role: Marlon Brando was acting divinity. It’s 46 minutes before we meet Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent, as Donner shows us Clark’s journey from heartland American farm boy to the hero he will become. Whilst I obviously love Superman: The Movie, why Clark becomes Superman is never truly explored – the sense of responsibility he feels is merely touched upon through pieces of dialogue from both his Kryptonian and Earth fathers. That being said, it is no criticism, as you feel so strongly the compassion that Clark has for people, and this is beautifully conveyed by Christopher Reeve in a number of scenes which are truly great show pieces of his acting ability, and just how brilliant he truly was in this role. Which can of course never be understated. Even watching his screen test for the role, he just WAS Superman – and that goes for in his personal life too, a true inspiration to us all, just like the character.
Over time the plot of the movie can see fairly flamboyant and, let’s be honest, Lex Luthor’s plot is slightly ridiculous. But that’s the beauty of it, a product of its time. Yet while his land scheme is a little out there and nonsensical – he’d surely be arrested? – the film has already been given this very real feel, so it just works. We’ve bought in to everything at that point, and thus we buy in to this. Gene Hackman’s Luthor is such a great part of this movie – yes he’s campy, but he’s also incredible vicious. He’s believable as a twisted and demented villain – a warped mind.
The creative team behind the film talked about how they wanted to make the love story between Superman and Lois work, and that everything around it would work if they got that right. Which they did, to an extent. It’s such an – in the words of Lois herself – “utterly fantastic, love. Their relationship could, on the surface, be taken as purely superficial from Lois’ side, as she’s already smitten long before she has gotten to know him, rather than having fallen in love with his ideals. It is in Superman II, however, where they make the relationship seem quite shallow (see the Diner scene; “I want the man I fell in love with”). Superman, however, falls in love with the person; Lois is unlike anyone Clark has ever met as he stumbles around the Daily Planet and, although her life is being lived at a 100 miles an hour, Lois shows true compassion for Clark – how could he not fall in love with her? Margot Kidder is beautiful in body and soul in this movie and, whilst it may seem I’ve criticised how her feelings for Superman could be taken as quite shallow, I’m not, and Kidder sells it. She sells that rush of infatuation perfectly – am I contradicting myself? Probably. Lois is tough in this movie, she’s absolutely no damsel in distress. Superman may have to swoop in to save her a couple of times, but she’s out there doing her thing, being independent and going after what she wants: the story. Only through that does Superman have to come to the rescue.
Superman: The Movie still to this day stands as one of most important and, greatest, superhero films. It’s a film that captures the majesty and mythical nature of the Man of Steel so elegantly. Without it, we likely wouldn’t have the superhero film boom we have today, nor would Superman be as iconic as he is without it – the S/ and John Williams theme are instantly recognisable. It stands with the elite in the superhero genre, and as one of the truly wonderful films we’ve ever been graced with. If you didn’t believe a man could fly before you saw this, you did after, and you certainly believed in Superman.