A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 503 – Superman (1978)

Superman (1978) – July 16th, 2011

Watching this tonight I thought it was both a good thing and a bad thing that we didn’t watch it closer to Superman Returns. On one hand, that movie had some epic fail that disappointed me in a big way. On the other hand, they do seem to be meant to be part of the same general universe, so it would have been interesting to see them back to back. But we didn’t, and tonight I found myself thinking back to watching the newer movie and trying to put them together. Of course, that means taking out the sequel to this one, but that’s okay. I’ve only ever seen it in fractured bits and pieces anyhow.

This movie, on the other hand, I’ve seen several times. While Superman isn’t my favorite superhero, he is definitely an iconic one. And my mother likes Superman (she likes Green Lantern too, as I’ve mentioned, but she never really told me that until just recently) so I grew up with him as a figure I associated with heroes and comic books and capes. I even made a music video based on Superman back in high school (it was for a class) because the iconography associated with Superman and the very concept of him as a superhero are so very easily identifiable. And I think this movie is why it’s so frustrating that the new one just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I wanted it to hit the notes this one hit and it missed them in many places.

Now, this movie isn’t perfect, by any means. Any good nerd will tell you that the whole “reverse the Earth’s rotation” thing is ridiculous. Tonight when we were watching it Andy and I both channeled Morbo and yelled “TIME DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!” I can think of a lot of things reversing the Earth’s orbit would do, but turning back time isn’t one of them. Still, this is a comic book movie about a guy who’s “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” so I guess physics just aren’t important. Still, it bugs me. It gives me two impossible things to believe instead of one. Fortunately, aside from the ending, I very much like the movie.

This is in part an origin story for Superman, though it doesn’t linger on the origin much. We see Superman’s parents on Krypton and get a set-up for another movie with General Zod and his pals being sentenced to imprisonment in the Phantom Zone (which is different than the Death Zone or the Forbidden Zone). Then little baby Supes is tucked into a spiky ball by his parents and sent off to Earth just before Krypton shakes itself into bits, killing everyone on it. So Superman ends up on Earth, raised as a normal human by Jonathan and Martha Kent. They name him Clark and give him the somewhat confusing (to a teenager – and wouldn’t he have been an interesting addition to The Breakfast Club) message that his powers are special and he’s there on Earth to use them, but he shouldn’t use them because that’s showing off. Anyhow, after establishing Clark as a bonafide country boy who’s held back his powers for years, Jonathan dies, prompting Clark to dig up a bit of the ship he landed in and head off to build his Fortress of Solitude where he learns about his origins. And then we’re done with the origin story and it’s off to Metropolis!

Clark wastes no time becoming Superman in his off hours from his reporting job at the Daily Planet. He saves kittens and stops burglars and flirts with fellow-reporter Lois Lane. He’s got a costume and a disguise (a pair of huge glasses, a part on the other side of his head and a slouch) and he’s ready to go! Now, this is a problem I have with Superman in general and it’s a thing I actually liked about the new Green Lantern movie (yes, there was something to like there): Superhero disguises. I give Batman a pass because his mask is a full cowl and because he spends a lot of time cultivating Bruce Wayne’s persona as Not Batman. But any superhero who wears a domino mask and expects not to be identified is just fooling themselves. Superman? He’s not even wearing a mask, and no, those huge glasses don’t count. But the thing here is that Christopher Reeve was really quite good at giving Superman and Clark very different physicalities. It’s hard to hide the musculature he built for Superman’s physique but the slouch and hunch and hesitance do make quite a difference. There’s a wonderful little moment in Lois’ apartment where Clark sees himself in the mirror, takes off the glasses, draws himself up and sets his shoulders back and the change is fantastic. The best part being that the good posture and confidence just feel more natural, like that’s how he’s meant to be. And that is how Superman is supposed to be. Superman isn’t the put-on persona, Clark is. That’s fantastic and Reeve made the character and his act believable for me in that one moment.

The actual plot of this movie isn’t anything incredibly special. It’s a Lex Luthor plot to make gobs of money by buying up “worthless” real estate in the middle of California, then blowing up the San Andreas Fault to create a new coastline, making his property valuable. Gene Hackman plays a good enough Lex, though he never really seems to get his teeth into the plot. He makes a good baddie and I enjoy his underground lair quite a bit. It just seems as though the real meat of the movie isn’t Superman facing off against Lex and his hijacked missiles, it’s Superman and Lois, because there’s a lot more time spent on that. And I’ve got to say, Superman, Clark, Kal-El, dude, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot being all charm as Superman. Anyhow, looking at this movie critically, the plots seem a little out of balance. But for some reason it all hangs together for me. Maybe it’s Reeve. Maybe it’s Margot Kidder as Lois (whom I love in this movie – her reaction expressions are fantastic). I’m not sure. I just know that despite the movie’s flaws I enjoy watching it. It’s fun and it doesn’t make me snarly and it certainly sets up Superman as a fantastic hero with some definite weaknesses and I like that.

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July 16, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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