Superman (1978)

Let's go to the video shelf.  Time hasn't been entirely kind to the 
movie that I saw so many years ago with my father at the Southtown, 
in Minneapolis.  Though still very majestic in scope-- SUPERMAN 
(1978) is as close to a "comic-book epic" as we're likely to ever 
see-- the now-tame special effects and some rather pokey pacing 
conspire to create an odd anachronism:  a movie that is better-
suited to the over-thirty dreamers who still revere the works of 
Lucas and Spielberg than to the post-MTV/multimedia/gotta-have-it-
now generation.  Next year we'll see a special edition of STAR 
WARS, courtesy of a $5 million restoration effort.  Mr. Lucas is 
adding new effects and replacing others, all in an attempt to make 
the movie as "perfect" as his vision allows.  Imagine what a few 
mil could do to restore SUPERMAN, with its mundane matte effects 
and inconsistent miniature work.  (I recall reading that Visual 
Effects Coordinator Derek Meddings left the movie in midstream.  
Does that explain the dam burst that threatens to destroy a 
neighborhood of three-inch homes?)

However tame the effects now appear, SUPERMAN still has a bigger 
heart than almost any contemporary action/adventure/fantasy film.  
Four writers (including Mario Puzo) and one "creative consultant" 
(Tom Mankiewicz) have cannily included all the important elements 
of the Superman mythos.  Perry White, Jimmy Olson, the Kent family 
farm, the Fortress of Solitude, Kryptonite, Krypton, and even an 
extended appearance by Superman's father, Jor-El, played by Marlon 
Brando.  All here *and* wrapped inside of a reasonably satisfactory 
story.  (As I recall, Brando earned a cool million for his trouble.  
Not bad for a guy who wears a turtleneck in the first scene.)  Some 
of the more-interesting aspects of the story include the extended 
prologue-- can you imagine a '90's blockbuster with almost an hour 
of introductory material?-- and an exploration on the limitations 
of power.  (Clark Kent/Superman must wrestle with losses that even 
his great power cannot prevent.)

SUPERMAN also possesses a remarkably upbeat tone, almost to the 
point of the being corny.  The self-referencing humor helps quite a 
bit, as does then-newcomer Christopher Reeve's honest performance.  
(The Man of Steel's commitment to "the American way," however, now 
sounds a bit dangerous.  Comic-book writer/artist Frank Miller 
would later create an incarnation of Superman who functioned as the 
U.S. government's violent enforcer in his legendary "Dark Knight" 
series.)  Balancing the scales is the villainous Lex Luthor (Gene 
Hackman, perfectly cast), who is on hand to stir up trouble-- 
terrible trouble, actually, which the movie only hints at.  We see 
mayhem, but not a lot of murder.  Perhaps that explains the oddly 
truncated ending.  We don't get to see Superman capture Lex Luthor.  
Instead, he simply lands in the middle of a prison yard with the 
villains in hand.  (The footage of the Man of Steel attacking Lex's 
lair has been shown on some network airings, I hear.)  Just as 
Superman is so very nice, so is SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.  We're never 
allowed to indulge in any abuse of our hero's power, even if it's 
to smite a bad guy at the end of the movie. 

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: June 8, 1996

Home   |   Reviews   |   Views   |   FAQ   |   Links

Please report problems to
Copyright 1997 by Michael J. Legeros   Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros