The 70’s is famous for producing a broad range of excellent films. The Godfather, Jaws, Clockwork Orange, Badlands, Harold & Maude, Wickerman, Taxi Driver, The French Connection, Close Encounters and on and on. It’s a very long list. I firmly believe the Superman The Movie deserves to be placed highly on that list.
Superman as a character is seriously limited, the comic is not usually that good (there’s been exceptions, the early newspaper strips, Alan Moore’s masterful ‘The Man Who Was Tomorrow) and he’s so dated it’s doubtful he’s really worked in any decade since the 50’s. And yet.....
As an icon Superman has very few equals. As an ideal. As something positive, something to believe in. I don’t know why he appeals to me in that way, maybe as an atheist I need a Jesus substitute. Maybe it’s the typical geek dream of being secretly all powerful beneath the meek and mild mannered exterior. Either by design or sheer luck Seigel and Schuster tapped into something powerful and on the rare moments when Superman’s done right it’s just perfect.
When Richard Donner did Superman The Movie it was done right. Yes, has it’s cheesier moments, but the carefully constructed sense of fairy tale about the film, from the opening of it being in a comic, then a theatre and then becoming ‘real’ to it’s flight through a space that has more in common with what’s seen under a microscope than a telescope to a planet that very clearly represents Heaven just before it turns in to Hell. That sense of fairy tale sets it in realm where I never had any trouble swallowing anything that happened. It’s not just that sense of magical fantasy that carries Superman The Movie, it’s the little touches, it’s the performance that probably killed Christopher Reeve’s career. When an actor becomes something as absurd as a Superman and does it as believably as Reeve it becomes impossible to see him as something else. So in a film that sees the destruction of a planet, villains encased in a huge mirror and sent hurtling into space and a (super)man make the Earth spin backwards I vividly remember the moment when Clark Kent suddenly straightens up, takes a breath, stops talking in pinched voice and nearly tells Lois who he is and we actually see how such a flimsy disguise might just work; the moment when Superman gently lays the lifeless body of Lois down on the ground and lets out a little whimpered gasp as her head falls to the side. Those moments, that performance and the grand opera of Superman make it a very memorable movie for me.
And now there’s going to be a new one. Normally remakes and sequels, especially when the originals were doing just fine on their own, fill me with dread. But Superman’s already had his bad sequels and now he’s got Bryan Singer taking care of him. And I’ve just seen the teaser trailer, and I’m seven again and I’m not embarrassed at writing a gushing review about silly movies based on silly comics.