Sunday, June 9, 2013

Movie Review: Superman (1978)


Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman in Superman The Movie (1978) review

The movie opens on Krypton, Superman's home planet. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sends General Zod (Terence Stamp) and couple of his cronies Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) to exile in the Phantom Zone. We never know the reasons behind this punishment but Kyrpton is not safe yet. Jor El believes the planet faces imminent destruction and sends his infant son Kal-El away on a spaceship. Destination: Planet Earth.

In Smallville, Jonathan and Martha Kent witness Kal-El's arrival on Earth. Martha persuades Jonathan to keep the youngster and the rest as they say is comic book history. The boy named Clark by his Earth bound parents grows up to be the foremost champion and defender of Earth: Superman.

Jonathan and Martha Kent witness young Kal El's powers in Superman (1978)

We see few more scenes set in Smallville, as Pa Kent instills a strong sense of humility and morality in his adopted son. Soon, Clark learns everything about his background in the newly constructed Fortress of Solitude in the North Pole. Clark finishes his education from the crystals and is off to Metropolis to start his career as a mild mannered reporter at the Daily Planet.

The scenes at the Daily Planet are arguably the best in the movie as Chris Reeve does some superb acting as the bumbling Clark. His interactions with Perry, Lois and Jimmy are spot on and establish Reeve as the definitive Clark Kent.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in Superman (1978)

No superhero movie can be successful without the hero's archenemy. In this instance, it is Lex Luthor, the self-described greatest criminal mastermind of his time, played with a wink and smile by the talented Gene Hackman. This version of Lex is not as serious as his comic book counterpart and he even has couple of hilarious sidekicks to boot - Otis (Ned Beatty) and Eve Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine).

Lex has hatched a plan to sink California and make money through the resulting real estate scam. Lex decides to kill Supes and summons him through a message sent on a specific frequency audible only to Supes and animals.

Supes overcomes Lex's devious plans (with some help from Eve) and saves the day.


Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Superman and Lois Lane in Superman (1978)

Chris Reeve's soulful and studied performance captures the essence of the Man of Steel.

Rest of the cast gives good performances too. Margot Kidder may not be the beautiful Lois as drawn in the comics, but she is every bit the feisty reporter as her character is intended to be. Jackie Cooper and Mark McClure are good as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively. Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter deserve special mention as Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Gene Hackman makes an entertaining Lex. His Lex is the perfect comic counterpart to the more serious one played by Michael Rosenbaum in the TV series, Smallville.

Marlon Brando and Susannah York as Jor-El and Lara-El in Superman (1978)

The only exception is Marlon Brando, who was paid an extravagant sum for a very limited screen time. It is reported that his contract did not even require him to memorize the lines. Astute viewers will notice a considerable amount of apathy in Brando's performance.

This is the
 movie that inspired Chris Nolan. He has stated that Superman had an excellent casting even for its minor supporting roles and he used the same model for The Dark Knight Trilogy. 

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Mario Puzo's excellent script has clever nods to the Man of Steel's arsenal of powers and his "Big Blue Boy Scout" status. The movie has an epic scope, covering Krypton and Supes' early childhood. I also like the explanation of the "S" symbol as being unique to Jor-El family.

John Williams, music composer of Superman (1978)

John Williams' score is as celebrated as any he went on to compose in his illustrious career. The main theme is one of the most recognized ones and is synonymous with Superman.

Credit is also due to Richard Donner for his amazing job as the director. The movie provides the right mix of humor, action and romance, making it one of the best superhero movies.

Richard Donner, director of Superman (1978)
 
Like Supes himself, this is the first superhero based movie to attain massive success, both critically and commercially.

In a nutshell: An epic movie with an iconic soundtrack and a classic performance befitting the greatest superhero ever, Superman.
 

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Image Source: Warner Bros Pictures, DC Comics, Wikipedia, Wikia

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8 comments:

  1. There's no doubt in my mind that Superman: The Movie is the gold standard to which all comic book-based films are measured against.

    I love that Hackman balanced Luthor's comic megalomania w/a real danger. I also love Ned Beatty's Otis.

    As for Reeve, to quote Carly Simon, "Nobody Does It Better." To many (myself included), even after his untimely death, he will always be THE Superman, and in a way, his post-accident life showed he was indeed a super-man.

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  2. One thing that amuses me about this movie is that when Supes screames in anguish you can see fillings in his back teeth - you'd think Superman's teeth would be too strong to decay. All the same a brilliant film.

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    1. LOL. I did not notice that.

      Nice catch, Gary.

      B2B.

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  3. A true benchmark of a film, Hackman is fun but I think they leaned a bit too comical in retrospect.

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    1. Thanks Daniel.

      I still find Hackman's performance enjoyable nonetheless.

      B2B.

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  4. Something that I have always found funny about the movie is that when Superman goes back in time to save Lois, what happens to all the people he saved the first time? I assume they all die. Nevertheless, this is a fun film. Luthor's henchmen (Odis I think) was the worst part of the film for me. At first he was slight humorous, but became annoying, however the scenes with Lois and Superman/Clark are my favorite part of the film.

    -James

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