Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: "Superman: The Movie" and Christopher Reeve Are Still Great

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 148 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Superman: The Movie (1978)
Running time: 143 minutes (2 hours, 23 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
WRITERS: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton; from a story by Mario Puzo (based upon the characters and situations created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster)
PRODUCER: Pierre Spengler
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Unsworth
EDITORS: Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis
COMPOSER: John Williams
Academy Award winner

SUPERHERO/ACTION/DRAMA with elements of comedy and sci-fi

Starring: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Valerie Perrine, Jeff East, Marc McClure, and Susannah York

The subject of this movie review is Superman: The Movie, a 1978 superhero drama and action film from director Richard Donner. This movie is based on the DC Comics character, Superman, created by comic book writer Jerry Siegel and comic book artist Joe Shuster. Superman: The Movie is a very good film, but more important is this film’s influence on the superhero movies that followed it. Superman: The Movie took its subject matter seriously and played it straight, rather than campy, proving that superhero movies could be more than silly comedies looking for cheap laughs.

Superman: The Movie is the first of four films starring the late actor, Christopher Reeve, in the role of Superman and also his civilian identity, Clark Kent. Although he does not receive a screenwriting credit, Tom Mankiewicz wrote Superman: The Movie’s final draft script. The father-son team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind produced this movie along with Pierre Spengler. The movie depicts Superman’s origin, from his birth on a distant planet to his youth in a rural small town, Smallville. The movie also begins to chronicle his adult life as a big city newspaper reporter and as Superman.

Mild-mannered Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) works as a reporter at The Daily Planet, one of the major newspapers in the city of Metropolis (a stand-in for New York City). He has a crush on fellow ace reporter, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), but Lois has a crush on the flying, impossibly strong hero, Superman (Christopher Reeve). Superman, however, is the alter ego of Clark Kent, and Kent also has many other secrets. He’s from another world, the planet Krypton, and before Krypton exploded, his father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sent baby Clark, whose birth name is Kal-El, in a starship on a three-year journey to Earth. Shortly after the star ship carrying Kal-El crashes in a Kansas field, a middle-aged couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford), takes Kal-El as their own and names him Clark Kent.

Not long after Superman reveals himself to the world, he runs up against the nefarious genius, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who has launched a plan to destroy much of western California in a real estate scheme that will make him perhaps the richest man on earth, although it will kill millions of people. Superman has met his match. Not only must he save millions of lives, but he must also save his friends Lois and cub reporter, Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and even Superman might not have enough time to do that.

Nearly 30 years after its first release, many critics and fans still consider director Richard Donner’s (The Omen) Oscar-nominated film, Superman: The Movie, to be the definitive big screen version of DC Comics’ venerable superhero. Christopher Reeve, a then unknown when cast to play Clark Kent/Superman, also remains for many the definitive screen Superman, be it TV or film (I personally prefer George Reeves of the 1950’s “Superman” TV series).

This version of Superman is an example of producer spending a large sums of money on a film and actually getting superior results. A talented director and crew of good writers took a cast that included a few great actors and movie stars, quality character actors, and some up and coming new talent and told an epic story that fills the viewer with the same kind of wonder of which the film itself is made. Everything works: Marlon Brando is a solemn, otherworldly, mystic-like figure that presides over the first half of the film like a grand marshal in an ambitious parade.

Gene Hackman is a smooth, scene-stealing, genius wise guy as Lex Luthor (and though I’m a big fan of Hackman, I’ve always had slight misgivings about Hackman as Luthor). Other cast members also resonate: Jackie Cooper is pitch-perfect tart as Planet boss, Perry White; Margot Kidder as Lois Lane is both tomboyish and girlish with a touch of feminism; and Marc McClure is spot-on as a Jimmy. Simply put, Reeve seems to embody both Clark and Superman. It’s as if he stepped out of a classic Superman comic book, and that’s enough to make it all work.

Superman’s technical aspects were also high quality. The visual effects are actually still good; they stand up to much of the high-priced, over-the-top computer effects done today. Using a harness and cranes to lift Christopher Reeve and give him the illusion of flying was and still is great stuff. As the film’s tagline says, “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly.”

8 of 10

1979 Academy Awards, USA: 1 win: “Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects” (Les Bowie, Colin Chilvers, Denys N. Coop, Roy Field, Derek Meddings, and Zoran Perisic); 3 nominations: “Best Film Editing” (Stuart Baird), “Best Music, Original Score” (John Williams), and “Best Sound” (Gordon K. McCallum, Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, and Roy Charman)

1979 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles” (Christopher Reeve); 4 nominations: “Best Cinematography” (Geoffrey Unsworth), “Best Production Design/Art Direction” (John Barry), “Best Sound” (Chris Greenham, Gordon K. McCallum, Peter Pennell, Mike Hopkins, Pat Foster, Stan Fiferman, John Foster, Roy Charman, Norman Bolland, Brian Marshall, Charles Schmitz, Richard Raguse, and Chris Large), and “Best Supporting Actor” (Gene Hackman)

1979 Golden Globes, USA: 1 nomination: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (John Williams)

Friday, July 14, 2006


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