Oh boy. One of the corner stones of Cinema, especially now. Well maybe then, there’s arguments that the super hero film craze is dying down, what with Marvels middling reviews and lowering box office… and DC currently in massive issues… yet still releasing a film starring a really creepy…. ANYWAY let’s look at Superman.
“You will believe a man can fly” the slogan the film is sold to us on. This was no easy task in the 70s. The makers of this film had to sell us the impossible, the fantastical. Superman is what people think of when they think of super heroes. He is a being of such immense power, that even heroes whose main ability like the Hulk is strength, their writers would agree Superman would beat him in that contest. But Superman is not just a power fantasy of abilities. He is a Symbol of Optimism, of Hope. A being who with such amazing powers, does not use them for his own sake like honestly, we all probably would, instead fought for the oppressed, against injustice for the working man.
Made by the children of Jewish Immigrants in the 1930s, Superman changed the world. Both in paper and in real life one cannot comprehend how much his creation affected us all in ways we can’t begin to join the dots of. But I would be here writing a whole different article about the creation and history of Superman – this is about the 1978 film.
It’s important to remember this is not the first time Superman hit the screen. There were the animated shorts from Fleischer Studios notable for giving him the power of flight. There are also the Kirk Alyn serials which first brought him to live action. But for many this film is where live action super heroes start, rather appropriate given it’s with Superman that comic book superheroes arguably start.
So does the film succeed? Well, yes but with a bit of a wavy hand. The film captures perfectly the bright optimism and heroic kindness of Clark Kent/Superman something more recent films obsessed with being dark and gritty fail at (glares at Zack Snyder, nothing wrong with the guy, just that’s not Superman) The middle point of the film, showing Superman just saving people captures what the character is so perfectly. There’s no talk of “is this right to do?” or “is this man a menace” no. Superman is here to save people, with a smile. It also pays well that the climax of the film (yes, the turn the Earth backwards is dumb and doesn’t work but it’s comic book stuff let them be) is once again him saving people, not some over the top violent fight against a powerful foe, it’s helping people against disaster. Once the film gets going it so perfectly gets Superman.
But note what I just said “once the film gets going”… you see. the start of the film… is rather… it all could have been cut and the film left better for it. We didn’t need to see the destruction of Krypton, that was all covered later when Clark gets to the Fortress of Solitude. We certainly didn’t need to see General Zod as that bit affects nothing later in this movie. They could have shifted the entire opening act into the second film which was being made at the same time. Perhaps it was to avoid paying Marlon Brando even more money, but yes, the film takes too long to get to Clark. Also, we didn’t need to have Pa Kent die, please stop requiring super heroes to have dead parents. Also, rather problematic that you took a character made by Jewish people, and inserted a bunch of Christian symbolism and subtext which all starts with this film.
Now I could make other points, like how in no way would Lex’s plan net him money. He’s in the USA… pretty sure they would just strip him off that as it all looked sus, and even then, not like they don’t have a history of just taking land. But really that’s not the point. The film GETS Superman. From Christopher Reeve’s portrayal, highlight being the one scene where you see him still as Clark, take off the glasses and just change his posture showing it’s more than just the glasses. To the music by John Williams so capturing the wonder and heroic nature of this impossibly great figure.
Often with studios being obsessed with things being dark and gritty, or trying to be “real” they lose what it means to be that hero. You see the 90s X-Men having drained all the colour out, you look at the horrible starting mess of the DCU. Perhaps its because this was made before Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns became the imagery some of these people became obsessed with but Superman here.. Feels like Superman. The only time in live action I would feel this way (not blaming you Henry Cavil, the studio and guys in charge didn’t let you be Superman, looking forward to what you do with Warhammer).
While you can say it all goes downhill from here with the Superman films, it’s here that also they get the character. Not the parts about his origin, or Krypton – but when he’s out being Superman. That’s Superman. I still prefer animation, and the DCAU Superman is absolutely great to watch and many times the straight to video movies with him are great, when it comes to live action this has yet to be topped.
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