Christopher Reeve (Rear Window)
Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror)
Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers)
Ned Beatty (Rango)
Jackie Cooper (The Champ)
Glenn Ford (The Long Ride Home)
Terence Stamp (Yes Man)
Trevor Howard (Gandhi)
Marc McClure (Back To The Future)
Sarah Douglas (Puppet Master III)
Jack O’Halloran (King Kong 1976)
Valerie Perrine (What Women Want)
Maria Schell (Inside The Third Reich)
Phyllis Thaxter (The Longest Night)
Susannah York (Visitors)
Jeff East (Pumpkinhead)
Kirk Alyn (Superman 1948)
Noel Neill (Adventures of Superman)
Larry Hagman (Dallas)
Diane Sherry Case (Sins of The Father)
Rex Everhart (Friday The 13th)
John Ratzenberger (Cheers)
“You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly!” That was the tag-line for 1978’s blockbuster film Superman. Touting both the innovative special effects and the exciting nature of the film, this was enough to get an unapologetic comic book geek like myself into the theaters to see the movie. At the time I enjoyed the film, mostly. While I was very disappointed in the ending, the rest of the film was a great ride that got me back into the theater for a second look. Of course I hadn’t known about the arduous shooting or the conflicts between the producer and the director, but that only showed up on screen indirectly. It has been over a decade since I saw Superman: The Movie and I was afraid that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I had remembered it. While there are some dated parts, the movie still is a lot of fun.
The movie starts on Krypton, where Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is sentencing three villains led by the traitorous General Zod to an eternity of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. After his task has been completed, the doomed man once again insists that Krypton is going to explode in a matter of days, only to have the council laugh at him once more. Returning home, the scientist puts the finishing touches on the space craft that will save his only son, Kal-El. He finishes just before the planet disintegrates and launches his son towards a distant planet called Earth.
Three years later the craft lands in the field of John (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter). They take the small tot who emerges and raise him as their own instilling a sense of honesty, truthfulness, and morality into the lad. They name him Clark and soon discover that he has “powers above and beyond those of mortal men,” and train him to hide these in order not to attract attention to himself.
Eventually Clark (Christopher Reeve) leaves home and goes to Metropolis. There he gets a job as a newspaper reporter alongside ace reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and photographer Jimmy Olsen. When danger strikes however, Clark sheds his 50’s business suit to reveal the red and blue costume of Superman.
It’s not long before danger does strike. The criminal genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has a plan to make himself incredibly wealthy. He has bought up a lot of desert land just east of the San Andreas fault, land that will be worth millions once the nuclear missiles Lex has reprogrammed detonate on the fault line and cause much of California to sink into the ocean. The only person who can stop this mad man is Superman, but Lex has thought about that too. This is a really fun movie in a lot of ways. Even though the Man of Steel’s origin is known to almost everyone, seeing it play out on film is really enjoyable. Watching a baby Clark hold up a pickup truck when the jack slips is sure to bring a smile to viewer’s faces, likewise the scene where Clark outruns the high school kids in a car who were teasing him. Superman’s first deeds in Metropolis are also highly enjoyable and keep the movie moving along at a good clip.
Christopher Reeve does a fantastic job as Clark Kent/Superman. He has Clark’s nebbish qualities down pat while still being impressive as Superman, a trick that few other actors can pull off. (Even George Reeves was never convincing as Clark in the old Adventures of Superman TV show.) Clark’s ‘just off the farm’ act comes across as being believable and not a parody. The special effects stand up very well, even today. Though the flying sequences lack the “wow” factor they had nearly 30 years ago, they don’t look hokey and dated at all. Superman still looks realistic when flying and the other effects come across as natural too. There are one or two effects that don’t work that well, when Luthor freezes Superman in a block of ice for example, and it’s interesting to note that these were left out of the theatrical cut.
That said there are some aspects of the film that don’t work so well. The goofy sided kick is a bit is dated now, even as it was when the film was made. At one point Lex Luthor even wonders out loud when he surrounds himself with idiots, something the audience had been wondering for a while.
The reprogramming of the nuclear missiles was also something viewers have to take with a grain of salt. The fact that military officers would leave nukes unguarded is rather laughable. The fact that Lex’s idiotic sidekicks could reprogram them is even harder to swallow.
The worst aspect of the film is the ending, and it’s not really the director’s fault. Originally Richard Donner was supposed to direct the first two Superman films, and he managed to shoot much of the sequel while directing this first movie. This was the formula that the producers, the father and son team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, had used with much success on the two Musketeer movies they made in the mid-seventies. For whatever reason, the constant fighting with the director or just getting cold feet, the Salkinds at the last minute decided not to end this first Superman film with a cliffhanger. Originally Superman was supposed have shot one rocket into space which explodes and released the Kryptonian criminals from the beginning of the movie. That would have worked much better than how the film currently ends.