Sunday, June 2, 2013

SUPERMAN: The Retrospective - Part I: SUPERMAN (1978)

Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty
Rated: PG

They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be.  They only lack the light to show the way.

With a quote like that, you just kind of know the greatness and legend that comes with Superman.  A movie that kept the big, epic movie fantasy precedent of going to the theater alive after Star Wars the year prior.  Superman is a movie with some historic production troubles that are a fascinating point of research for any film fan and can be almost as entertaining as the film itself.  I'm not here to give you a detailed rundown of it all, but I highly recommend taking the time to watch a documentary or read about it.

For all intents and purposes, Superman was produced by a couple of guys who had no clue what they were doing when it came to making a movie.  When acquiring the rights, they just went with whatever was popular or prestigious at the time, no matter if it was right for the film or not.  Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather to write Superman?  Also hot off The Godfather, Marlon Brando was plucked.  Then The French Connection's Gene Hackman.  Cheap director?  Let's get that guy who did the recently popular The Omen.  Who will play Superman?  How about Robert Redford or Al Pacino?!?!?!  It just sounds bad when its on paper.  But most turned down or didn't want the role of the last son of Krypton. 
Instead we're given the debut of unknown Christopher Reeve.  This actually feels like the genesis of making a successful comic book superhero movie that is still going on today.  Take a relatively unknown or unproven actor, put him in the iconic role and surround him with award winners and big name vets.  Here you surround him with such people fitting that criteria; Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford and up and coming actress Margot Kidder.  Now, look at superhero movies like Batman (1989), Batman Begins, Captain America and Thor and tell me this isn't the model they're using?

Superman is just a big, breathtaking and "aw inducing" film, especially in the time it was released.  The effects were state of the art.  They told you "You will believe a man can fly" and certainly, they held up to their word.  I never saw the film in theaters (born in '82), but I can confidently say that theatrically, this was akin to seeing Star Wars, Jurassic Park or more recently Avatar (in IMAX 3D) in a cinema for the first time.  Just fully immersing yourself into a world that is beyond imagination, feeling genuine, real and a form of escapism in its finest form. 
The film itself just goes for epic proportions right of the bat.  Conceived as one giant film, then two parts filmed back to back, production and money ended up making completing the 1st film the priority and worrying about finishing the 2nd after the first was released.  Superman definitely feels incredibly ambitious.  The first act itself is an hour.  We get a full on origin or Kal-El, starting with the destruction of Krypton to the fields of Smallville, ending at the Fortress of Solitude.  Oddly enough, its so engaging, it never drags at all.  The final hour-hour and half (depends on the cut you're watching) then introduces of to the world we already know of.  One thing I really enjoy, is Superman isn't only there to introduce himself and then fight against a big bad, we get to see him stopping petty and daily crimes.  This allows him to prove himself as a public figure and build up his boy scout repertoire.

Christopher Reeve gives the ultimate performance, playing Clark Kent and Kal-El as two entirely separate people.  Its amazing how he pulls this off.  His speech, his stature, his mannerisms, it unbelievable.  Its not just a guy in tights and a cape, its a full on performance.  This may be taken for granted nowadays, but he really is fantastic in this role.  Its a big reason as to why its his image we think of when it comes to Superman, even moreso than a drawing.  Hackman's Luthor is far more fun than i think he was on paper.  He's not the traditional Lex Luthor from my memories (normally a wealthy business man, not undergournd), but it works.  He's just as diabolical.  His scheme brings very much the comic book element to light.  He's having a lot of fun and it really elevates the cast.  While Margot Kidder doesn't have any posters hanging up on any boys walls, she is just fine in her role.  Kidder's Lane brings absolute credibility to her as a the no-holds bar star reporter.  She's good and it works quite well.  The only issue taken is, what would Superman see in this girl?  I could see what she would see in him, but the other guess we take our preconceived comic book notions in with us on that one.

Superman isn't a flawless picture.  And its not without controversy.  It contains an absolutely terrible monologue poem from Lois Lane during her first flight with Superman ("Can you read my mind?").  You all know this one.  Its a beautiful scene of them flying through the clouds over the city ("Who's got you?"), wonderfully scored and then absolutely destroyed by this thought.  Can you believe they actually planned for Kidder to SING THIS TO HIM!!!???  I didn't think there was any way to make it worse.  And then, there's the ending, in which Superman flies around the Earth backwards to transport himself back in time (no, he's not spinning the Earth around as many misconceive) to save Lois Lane.  This has pissed people off for years and many can't stand this cheat.  Richard Donner has excellently said something along the lines that if you're this into the movie and have been loving it to this point, who cares?  And, I can kinda agree here.  It doesn't ruin the film at all and its what the film feels it has to do to finish, and with all the good will int he first 2 hours, I'll give them that they earned it. Its not a strong finish by any means, but its fine.

Superman wow'd audiences then and I believe still will today.  Prior to the film, it was just a kid's thing.  Comic books, TV shows, movie serials, toys.  Superman brought everything to a whole new level.  It set the ground for making it ok to produce big budget comic book films.  It paved the way for everything.  Its the grandaddy of all of them.  And I didn't even mention how awesome the opening credits and that score is!  Its one of the best comic book movies of all time and once you see it, you'll never forget it and hopefully want to revisit it again....

...and my feelings and thoughts on Superman end right there.

Now, I pose a question for my younger viewers that may have seen Superman.  How do you really feel about this movie on your own.  Not just respecting it and saying it was good because all us old fogies have been stroking it for years.  This is a long movie.  It takes its dear sweet time.  It doesn't go "pow pow pow".  We spend an hour on the origin story and don't see Superman take flight for an hour.  Its villain's scheme its a bit slapsticky and some things aren't fully explained (where'd you get the Kryptonite, Lex?).  Do you think Superman is overrated int today's day and age?  While I enjoy this movie and will celebrate it, I have a hard time seeing today's audiences and the modern generation falling in love with this film.  While the effects aren't bad and most hold up, its not state of the art anymore (not even close), the film is a patient 70s film that takes its time, and then has that controversial ending.  Does it still work?  That's not a question I can answer, and I'd truly like to know.  Please leave your thoughts below!  Thanks!


Scott Mendelson joke:  Post Superman II, General Zod opens a store selling fresh bread.  Every day his employees are instructed "KNEED BEFORE ZOD!  KNEEEEEED!"

No comments:

Post a Comment