- Title: Superman the Movie (aka Superman)
- Director: Richard Donner
- Date: 1978
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Genre: Action, Fantasy, SF
- Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Glenn Ford
- Format: Widescreen, Color
- DVD Format: Blu-Ray, NTSC
“There’s one thing I do know, son, and that is – you are here for a reason.” – Jonathon Kent
“Easy, miss, I’ve got you.” – Superman
“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane
Richard Donner’s original Superman film opens on Krypton, with Jor-El implementing the decision of the Council to banish three criminals to the Phantom Zone – a sort of limbo that looks like a glass trapezoid. The scenes on Krypton are grand and impressive and include lots of dramatic close-ups. However, if you haven’t seen Superman before the entire sequence would be very confusing – and we never see the villains again (yes, I know, wait for Superman II). However, it isn’t long before Jor-El is up before the council himself. Jor-El has discovered that Krypton’s red sun is expanding and will soon cause Krypton to explode. No one wants to believe this really bad news, and the council threatens Jor-El – if he speaks out about his findings, or if he and his wife attempt to leave Krypton, Jor-El will also be sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Jor-El agrees to stay silent. However, he and his wife place their infant son in a rocket ship, with all the knowledge of not only Krypton but the galaxy at large and send him to Earth.
The infant, Kal-El, crash lands on Earth, and he’s raised by John and Martha Kent. When Clark Kent, as he is now called, turns 18, his father dies from a heart attack, and Clark finds a glowing green crystal rod in the Kent barn – which creates for him his fortress of solitude in the Arctic. There, Clark is instructed by the hologram of his father. He emerges seventeen years later and moves to Metropolis to take a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Clark meets Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White.
Before long, Clark is also Superman – rescuing people, catching criminals, and just being Superman. From rescuing Lois Lane from a helicopter that’s crashed on the side of the Daily Planet to rescuing cats from trees and everything in between – he’s Superman.
But he’s also Clark – so when Perry demands more information on this new hero in their midst, he slips Lois a note – from “a friend” – the precise way he’d introduced himself to her when he rescued her from the helicopter. Superman arrives on Lois’s patio, and after a brief interview, he takes her flying, even breaking the cloud layer. The flying sequence is soft, romantic, and alternates between close-ups of the actors’ faces and long and medium shots. It’s a very romantic scene.
But as in any film – there needs to be conflict, and the conflict comes in the form of Lex Luthor – who, with the help of his really stupid henchman, Otis, and his not much brighter Girl Friday, Eve Teschmacher – has a true super-villain plan, worthy of a Bond villain. He’s used his corporation to buy up all the “worthless” desert land just East of California and plans to steal two missiles to drop essentially a large explosion on the San Andreas fault which will set off enough earthquakes to drop California into the Ocean. Lex also figures out – in quite a leap of logic – that because Superman is from Krypton a meteorite of Kryptonite will kill him.
Lex sends Superman a message at an ultra-high frequency and gets him to a rendezvous where he manipulates him into opening a lead box containing a kryptonite rock on a chain. Lex puts the chain around Superman’s neck and drops him in a swimming pool. However, before “disposing” of Superman Lex remarks that he has two missiles, not just one – the larger one is being sent to California, and the smaller one to Hackensack, NJ. Ms. Teschmacher remarks – “But my mother lives in Hackensack!”
Teschmacher jumps into the pool to rescue Superman and gets him to agree to stop the missile heading for New Jersey first. Superman promises this – but it will have dire consequences. He stops the first missile, then hears the second hit California. Superman dives into the Earth’s crust to stop the Earthquakes, then tries to mitigate as much of the damage as possible. Yet he isn’t fast enough to stop Lois from being buried alive when her car falls into a sinkhole. Superman gets very angry and upset and flies around the Earth backward, turning back time so he can rescue Lois.
Overall, Superman is a very feel-good movie. It doesn’t have the angst or paranoid atmosphere of Man of Steel. Reeve’s mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, is very “mild-mannered” – causing him and Lois to be attacked by a mugger (Lois rescues them both; though Clark catches a bullet aimed at himself). Clark is so “nice” it’s almost unbelievable. But he’s also someone that young people could really look up to. Lois, well, poor Lois – in this film, she seems solely there to be rescued – continuously. I remember really liking Lois Lane when I saw this movie when it came out but now – oh dear. She’s a reporter, an to be award-winning reporter, yet she can’t spell? The constant Lois asking everyone how to spell various words, or having her spelling corrected by her boss, was just… painful. And I really wanted to buy the girl a dictionary. Having said that though – the scene of Superman taking Lois flying is soft, and romantic, and wonderfully done.
The entire film looked gorgeous – just gorgeous. It was so nice to watch something done on film, rather than digital, and with models and in-camera effects (and some optics) because that was all they had. At no point does any of it look cheap – or like obvious model shots. But that helicopter that crashes – is solid. As is the plane Superman rescues in one scene.
Lex’s scheme, well – it’s a supervillain scheme all right. Dr. Evil would be impressed. And Lex seems to figure out that Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite pretty easily and with no evidence (seriously – Why would knowing Superman is from Krypton make you think, immediately, with no evidence, that he’s vulnerable to Kryptonite?) Meanwhile, his Girl Friday/girlfriend/whatever is annoying. But the worse bit about the easily-manipulated girlfriend is the scene where she actually rescues Superman – wearing a white dress. The instant she hits the pool water, it becomes transparent. Nice.
The style of Superman has an unusual retro look. The opening bit has a kid watching a serial in a movie theater – setting the story in 1938, but the film looks more like the 1950s – 1960s, though Lois’s clothes are slightly more modern. I honestly couldn’t tell you what era it was supposed to be.
Still, overall, this is a classic super-hero film and one that all other Superman films are often judged by.
Recommendation: See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Superman II