Rated PG. It's probably going to be one of the few live action superhero movies that gets a PG rating. I mean, this is me playing hardball with the MPAA because I think lots of superhero movies should be PG. But if I wanted to be a stickler, an entire planet of people explodes violently. Lois Lane apparently writes about the most horrific topics on the planet and asks people to spell it out for them. Lois Lane apparently is a heavy smoker and is at risk of lung cancer. She also asks Superman to peep her underwear and he totally complies. Also, people die and undie. Miss Teschmacher jumps into a pool in skimpy see-through clothing. But again...PG.
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
Do you know how long I've waited to write something on Superman: The Movie? I have an original Superman: The Movie poster in my basement signed by Margot Kidder and framed. I adored this movie as a kid. I try to watch it every year. This might actually be the largest gap since I last watched it because I haven't written anything on it so far. When I found out that the Warner Archive was going to release the longest cut of the movie yet, I lost it. I had to own yet another copy of this film. Let me save you some money. The movie starts off with a disclaimer that this was a producer's cut and does not reflect the director's choices, which can be seen in the theatrical cut. For me, the huge Superman nerd, yeah, it was worth it. The thing I love most about the original Superman is the interaction between Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty. Apparently, a lot of that stuff was cut out of the theatrical cut and I totally agree with Richard Donner. It completely ruins the pace of the film and often gets a bit too goofy. With that being said, HOLY MOLEY! More Otis? MORE OTIS? Yes and yes.
But most of the new cut is belabored establishing shots. There's a lot of extra "car driving to location" or "Clark walking to North Pole" stuff. Did you not understand that Krypton died a horrific death? Well, now you have safely double the amount of Krypton exploding and people falling to their deaths. The long and short? If you are a die-hard Superman: The Movie fan, then watch it. You might not even have to own it. Honestly, the next time I watch it, I'll probably just watch the Special Edition. The extra padding makes the movie way more boring. There's nothing really iconic added to the story, except for the fact that the movie clarifies that Eve Teschmacher is indeed Lex Luthor's girlfriend. (I never really made that connection. I know that there's a weird relationship going on, but I thought it was henchman or something.) Yeah, I love Superman: The Movie, but I almost love it because of what the movie means to me. I've read up on this one. I know the background of how it was made. (Honestly, Superman: The Movie was almost the Fyre Festival of films due to the Salkinds.) The ending doesn't even belong with this film. I don't know what is common knowledge anymore and what is me just knowing all kinds esoteric hullaballoo, but SPOILER the film's end actually belonged originally to Superman II. They couldn't think of an end to the first Superman movie, so they just reshot the end to Superman II and gave that movie a new ending. I mean, the ending is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Like, it's really bad. I adore this movie and will make references to spinning the Earth backwards on its axis whenever I can. But it's a cop out. I'm about to break down and attack a movie that I absolutely adore because that's my job, so please sympathize with the fact that I'm playing a full-on devil's advocate right now. If you haven't seen Superman: the Movie, shame on you because it is super-duper rad. Yeah, you won't love it because it will seem dated. But I loved it because it was mine and it will forever be mine. I can't even get my kids excited. But I swear, it's great. But I have an idea for an end to this movie way after the fact and after too many viewings that would finally work. Yeah, I can poke a hole through it too. The big problem with the end is that it completely goes against what Superman is told. Heck, the movie even reminds us of this. Jor-El, in the clouds, reminds Kal-El that he must not interfere with human history. I'm not going to go into time travel violations and the fact that there are probably two Supermen running around or that one version of Superman is erased from existence. Nah, but Superman needs to have consequences for breaking one of the few rules that have been given to him. Why not have Jor-El gone? Maybe the Fortress collapses? I don't know. But if Superman is not allowed to go back in time, why not have Lois...I don't know, save herself? Lois is out of gas. She sees the hole opening behind her and she keeps turning the key. What if Lois pulls a Jimmy and just hauls it out of there. She screams, bringing Superman to the rescue. Heck, if you want to have the visual image of her being buried alive, that's possible. Just have her dig herself out. Superman flies to find Lois but finds her car buried. He instantly rages out. He starts tearing apart the ground and finds Lois's mangled car. Lois watches him just causing this insane devastation and is terrified. She's never realized how powerful he actually was. He starts to go back in time and she starts crying. She whispers something along the lines of "Superman, stop" and he can't hear it because he's so distraught. It is when she collapses in tears and her teardrop hits the dusty earth. It is in this moment that he pauses. He listens to her heartbeat and returns to her. He offers him her hand and she initially recoils. But they reconcile when Jimmy arrives, causing tension for the next film. Right? It doesn't break its own rules. Anyway, that's my idea.
There's something so wholesome about the whole film. It really teeters on cornball at times. But I have to continually applaud Richard Donner for the tonal tightrope that he walks all over this movie. The original version of Superman, before it started filming, was an Adam West style Batman version of Superman. Mario Puzo apparently didn't take the project very seriously and the Salkinds just wanted the guy who wrote The Godfather to have his name on the project. I think it was Donner who fought for an appropriate tone. Superman is fun, but he doesn't have to be completely campy. But considering that it really is the first modern superhero movie, it knows exactly what a movie needs to thrive. There are moments where Superman really plays up that he's a big blue boy scout. He literally rescues a cat from a tree for a little girl. But Clark Kent is a real person. That’s really fascinating. There are so many sides to Superman and I find that cool. Okay, let’s back up. The standard thought is that Clark Kent and Superman have two separate personalities. There’s dorky Clark Kent. Dorky Clark Kent is the cover for a god in disguise. He has to be the complete opposite of Superman so that no one questions the glasses disguise. It’s a flimsy disguise, so be a huge dork that no one would even think would be the Man of Tomorrow. Okay, then there is Superman. Superman is an inspiration for us all. Even though he has the power to end all life on civilization in a moment, he chooses to take care of people. People want to be Superman even though that there is no way we could be anything like him. He is inspirational so we can be the best humans possible. But Donner and Reeve get something about the character that even most of the writers of the comics tend to ignore. Clark Kent is also a boy from Smallville who loves his mother. He feels responsible for the death of his father. He has to hide who he is and he is frustrated that he can’t tell the girl he’s had a crush on since childhood that he’s something special. Then there’s Kal-El. Kal-El isn’t what we expect him to be. Grant Morrison always saw something alien with the Kal-El element of Superman. I find Kal-El to be something very different. He is lost. He’s the vulnerable Superman. He can talk to his father, but he has to be reminded that the image of Jor-El is simply a computer simulation. He can only understand his heritage for a moment. Kal-El looks like Superman. (Okay, I’m getting really nerdy now.) But he questions his purpose. Superman can’t do that. Superman has to be confident and corny and inspirational. There’s a scene in the Fortress of Solitude where Kal-El actually reaches out to give his father a hug when he’s forgotten that he’s been long dead. He disputes whether his father’s projection could possibly understand what it means to be the most powerful creature in creation. And all of these characters explode into one character. Characters are meant to be multifaceted, but it is so bizarre to see a character that is multifaceted while keeping the personalities disparate. There’s one moment that all of the characters bleed together and it is such a risky moment. When Superman screams and launches himself into the atmosphere, there is no segmented element to the personality. They all feel the same thing. They strip away the pretext of what Superman as a character is. Instead, Christopher Reeve just emotes and emotes the heck out of that moment. Other performers, it would come across as silly. Honestly, it’s the same emotion that Darth Vader has in the “Padme, no” section of Revenge of the Sith. But look how intense the Superman reaction is versus what Darth Vader has. That is due to Christopher Reeve’s understanding of the character. Think about how weird that must have been for Reeve. He’s standing in a unitard with a cape. He is borderline unknown and he has to play an iconic comic book character when no one else has ever really done that. And he takes it seriously? He says some absolutely insane things, but he says them convincingly. It’s so good. When people tell me that I need to let go of Christopher Reeve as Superman, I can’t. He makes that movie work. Yeah, Donner does a lot of the heavy lifting, but Reeve brings the skill.
What's odd about this film is that it is almost a bunch of different films put together. I know that I'm talking about the television cut that is overly long, but it takes a long time to get to Earth. Krypton looks very '70s, but it is also completely stuffed with pathos. We have this very detailed mythology that is laid out for us. Yeah, we never get to Game of Thrones levels, but it gets pretty darned close at times. The movie starts, with the exception of the comic book framing device and ten minute credit sequence, with the trial of General Zod. We are teased this story of insurrection and an elder council that denies scientific evidence. We find out about a Phantom Zone. I know most of this is because Superman II is being filmed at the same time and they are setting up for a movie down the line. But there's a political world that is in play on Krypton. Jor-El and Lara get their own tale. Really, all the story needs to be is that Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth. Instead, there's a whole world where it explains why parents would send their baby boy to Earth by himself. Yeah, it's the goofiest part of the film, but it somehow seems really dramatic. But then comes the second film, Clark in Smallville, Kansas. Do you know how much I love the Smallville sequence of Superman: the Movie? Honestly, when I die, I hope they play the Smallville Cemetery score when they lower me into the ground. I know that my wife will be disappointed that it can't be somber, but it works so well. There's all this character stuff, mostly surrounding Glenn Ford. I occasionally just post the Jonathan Kent speech on Facebook from time-to-time. (Admittedly, I usually post it when Man of Steel fans start dogging on this film.) But then we have the Daily Planet and Lex Luthor and this comic book comes to life. I love the MCU. I've preached about how great those movies are and how much they have contributed to making genre acceptable and impressive. But Superman made a world that is unashamedly both comic book and reality at the same time. We have jokey moments with Larry Hagman (which is oddly uncomfortable today.) Ned Beatty as Otis is one of my favorite characters ever. Lex Luthor, played masterfully by Gene Hackman (who might be having the most fun of his career in this film) is just straight up a super villain. There's nothing nuanced about him and it's fun because we have these other nuanced moments to make up for it. Yeah, I'll always preach about Clancy Brown or Michael Rosenbaum when it comes to great portrayals of Lex Luthor, but Gene Hackman added so much to my Silver Age understanding of that character. The end is just an adventure. Honestly, the first half is better than the second half, but the second half acts as a release for all of the pressure put on the audience. If the first half takes itself dead seriously, the second half lets us breathe out and just enjoy an adventure. But it doesn't forget that Superman is a character that has feelings. That end, with all of its flaws, reminds us that great storytelling can be entertaining, but shouldn't lose the heart and stakes of the characters.
Yeah, I won't ever be able to sell Superman: the Movie to lots of people. It might be one of those modern classics falling into obscurity. But it is an absolutely wonderful film that hits all of the right notes when it comes to tone and fun. I loved writing about it because it is a special movie to me. There's depth and I can't wait until I can trick my kids into watching it again.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.