EXTENDED VERSION – 1978/2000
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
May Contain Spoilers!
It’s been 35 years to the day that Superman: The Movie was premiered in the U.S. and it was released here in the U.K. four days later.
Mario Puzo had already established himself as a Hollywood big-shot in screen-writing terms with his adaptation of his own novel, The Godfather in 1972, so when the Salkinds commissioned him to pen the script for their epic production of Superman in 1976, it just seems to be little bazaar to me. But the results are not on the screen, as his 550-odd page screenplay was deemed to be rubbish and too camp by director Richard Donner resulting in the re-write being there for all to see. The mammoth screenplay which was broken up into two movies, which were filmed back to back, with the first released in December 1978.
This is the iconic version of Superman, produced almost 40 years after his comic book inception, the origin story feels as definitive as any and has been the most consistent of most superheroes of screen. What’s striking about this movie is that it’s a prime example of a film which is both playing to the masses and is constructed with real thematic integrity, hosting a real story and meeting the expectations of the audience.
But what about John Williams’ iconic score? It is simply brilliant and the most timeless element of the whole project. Christopher Reeve was a great casting choice, literally embodying the role like no other had at this point and thanks to state of the art special effects of the day, we are convinced that a man can fly, as per the tagline. The movie is littered with references to the comics, but does so in a way which only serves to solidify the characters standing.
We see him outrun a speeding train, be faster than a speeding bullet and catch up with a nuclear missile. But the film is an epic of many parts. The first is Marlon Brando’s show, well, at least for the first 20 minutes as Jor-El sends his son off into deep space to save him from death on the doomed planet Krypton. The savour metaphors are pronounced but well handled, with the Kryprtonions all dressed in dazzling bright write costumes, etherial in tone.
Then, we spend some time in Smallville with Clark’s adopted father Glen Ford before we finally land in Metropolis and Superman makes his first appearance, saving the life of Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Soon we meet Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) who has a diabolical but surprisingly plausible scheme. His plan to turn his acres of Californian desert into a prime beach front real estate by nuking the San Andreas fault and sending Western California crashing into the sea, is genius and fun to boot!
But Gene Hackman is in danger of stealing the show at times but he is pitched comically, constantly bickering with his underling, Ned Beatty and even though he is evil, many of his acts appear off-screen, such as the murder of two guards in the museum in which he steals the kryptonite. The film remains fun whilst dealing with major issues such as the evil villainy of Luthor, the destruction of Krypton and the role of a savour in the modern world.
Overall, the pacing is slow to start with and by today’s standards, it’s hard for a younger audience to get caught up in it but at least by the end, with the earthquake and the whole final act, it pays off. Still not so sure about turning back time but anyway…
But in the end, this is an epic take, with a real story, serving as a definitive take on the characters and you can’t have this without sacrificing some of the action beats. But when they do appear, the action is really quite good, even by today’s standards.
This year, Superman is 75-years-old and on the 14th December, this film with be 35, the same age as me. I believe that in the annuals of Superhero movies, this must be one of the best and certainly serves as the go to film on the Man Of Steel. But I thought that about Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) was released. But even if Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel (2013) pulls off a reinvention of the franchise as many of us hope, Superman: The Movie is irreplaceable, as was Batman (1989) as the classic take on the iconic character.