Movie Review – “Superman: The Movie”

The director’s cut of this classic is a very low cost DVD. Is it
worth it?

Cast and Crew Info

Christopher Reeve is Clark Kent
and
Superman.
Margot Kidder plays Lois Lane.
Gene
Hackman plays
Lex Luthor.
Marlon Brando plays Jor-El.
Glenn Ford
plays
Jonathan Kent.
Jackie Cooper plays Perry White.
Marc
McClure
plays Jimmy Olsen.
Ned Beatty plays Otis.
Valerie
Perrine
plays Miss Tessmacher.

Richard Donner directed the
film.

Mario Puzo plotted this film and the first sequel. He shares
screenplay credit with David Newman, Leslie Newman, and
Robert Benton.
However, Richard Donner makes it perfectly clear on the DVD
commentary
that he felt screenwriter credit should have gone to “creative
consultant” Tom Mankewiecz, who couldn’t be given screenplay
credit
because he wasn’t a WGA member.

Premise

The planet Krypton is about to be destroyed, so scientist Jor-El
sends
Kal-El, his only son, to Earth as the last survivor of the planet’s
destruction. This son is raised by two of the most wholesome
people
one could hope for, which is lucky for the rest of the world, given
the things that Kal-El can do.

The Director’s Cut DVD

The director’s cut, available on DVD, includes a few scenes that
weren’t in the theatrical release. Among them are some extra
defenses
around Luthor’s lair, and a conversation with Jor-El after his first
public night. (These are not the only changes, but they stand out
the
most to me.)

The DVD also includes commentary by Donner and Mankewiecz
(among loads
of other special features; it’s not a two disk set, but the one disk
present is double sided, so you get the same quantity of
material.)
This commentary is entertaining, informative, and candid; give it
a
listen if you have the chance. It also includes the isolated
musical
score, which is something George Lucas should take note of
before
releasing any more Star Wars DVDs.

High Point

When Clark finishes his education with Jor-El, we see him in the
suit
for the first time, from the far side of the Fortress of Solitude. He
raises his arms in front of him, slowly leans forward, and doesn’t
fall. He flies in a smooth arc toward the audience, veering off
screen right as John William’s score builds to a high. I think this
shot is my favourite shot, not just of this movie, but of every
movie
I’ve ever seen.

Low Point

This is the director’s cut, which means Donner had the chance to
come
back to the project and insert what should have been here while
trimming out what shouldn’t be. Why is the “can you read my
mind?”
sequence still here? We don’t need it there; we can plainly see
what’s going on between these two, and we’ve had more than
enough
footage of the flight for that footage to serve its purpose. That
should have been removed. It’s fine until Superman and Lois are
spiralling downwards in each other’s arms. Instead of dissolving
to
the poetry reading, this should have dissolved to the shot of
Superman
repositioning her into a cradled position (like a groom carrying a
bride across the threshold) just before they descend to Lois’
balcony.

The Scores

This was the first great superhero film, and it’s still the greatest
of them in my opinion. It is an adaptation, though, which limits its
score in the originality category. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects are dated in many respects. The
“running past
the train” sequence looked horrible to me the first time I saw this
movie. (That was on TV in the early 1980s, back when I was in
grade
one. I was less than a year old when this was in theaters, so I
missed out on that experience.) The flight sequences are
sometimes
choppy, although others (such as the High Point) look fantastic.
Others, such as the shots with Superman tearing the door off a
car,
look great because of excellent editing rather than special
effects
sequences. I give the effects 4 out of 6.

The story is very well written. His origin is told
effectively and interestingly, with promises of plotlines for the
first sequel. His education through the galaxies dictated by
Jor-El
is packed with information pertinent to the rest of the picture, and
the conclusion in particular. (If only they’d understood Tom’s
ending; if you listen to the commentary, you’ll find what he
intended
instead of what the effects implied. It makes a lot more sense.)
The
villains don’t seem particularly threatening, but their interactions
are very entertaining. (“Do you know why the number 200 is
such a
vital description to both you and me?”, “Otisburgh!”, “It’s amazing
that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs
moving.”, “I
don’t think he wants me to Mr. Luhtor.”) I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is excellent. Christopher Reeve was
perfect for
the role, while Glenn Ford, Jackie Cooper, Gene Hackman, and
Ned
Beatty do amazing work supporting the film. Margot Kidder is
more
impressive in her screen test than in anything which made it into
the
final product, but that’s not enough to cause serious problems. I
give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response this produces is still
powerful,
particularly for those of us with a weak spot for superheroes. The
High Point, superfeats sequence, and scream of fury still
resonate
with me after many, many viewings. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production is excellent. The early, slower
portions are
marked with a variety of long tracking shots, demonstrating
Clark’s
isolation before learning aout his heritage. As the action picks
up,
it starts to move to more conventional shots with faster editing to
match the feeling of the film. John Williams’ musical score is one
of
the greatest in film history. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, as I said above, it’s my favourite superhero
film to
date. They did a fantastic job from origin through first supervillain
face-off. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Superman: The Director’s Cut receives 36
out of 42.

15 replies on “Movie Review – “Superman: The Movie””

  1. hitch says:

    My low point?
    Luthor. There are so many wonderfully EVIL representations of good ol’ Lex. This man was a bumbling idiot.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: My low point?

      This man was a bumbling idiot.

      He wasn’t a bumbler, though he certainly hired them. I’m willing to overlook “Luthor-as-dandy,” given the many positive aspects of this film, such as the balancing of mythic and tongue-in-cheek views of the mythos.

      The ending still loses me. I’ll have to hear the commentary, just to learn what was intended.

      It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the extra material mentioned has appeared on tv, where Superman often airs as a two-part movie.

      • hitch says:

        Re: My low point?

        This man was a bumbling idiot.

        He wasn’t a bumbler, though he certainly hired them. I’m willing to overlook “Luthor-as-dandy,” given the many positive aspects of this film, such as the balancing of mythic and tongue-in-cheek views of the mythos.

        The ending still loses me. I’ll have to hear the commentary, just to learn what was intended.

        It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the extra material mentioned has appeared on tv, where Superman often airs as a two-part movie.

        Yah…I watched this on TV again recently (the non-two parter) and was VERY disappointed. I wished I hadn’t seen it. I guess bumbler was the wrong word…but I just couldn’t even begin to take him seriously. ESPECIALLY having seen all the truly dangerous Luthors since.

        • HulkStrongestOne says:

          This was the proto-businessman Lex

          This man was a bumbling idiot.

          He wasn’t a bumbler, though he certainly hired them.

          Some of you youngsters (“I was just one when the movie came out.”??!?!!) might not remember, but up until that point, Lex Luthor was a scientific genius. Soon after that, Lex Luthor in the comics was converted into an evil business genius. Gene Hackman’s character was the intermediate step, being a scientific genius while also using his genius for business profiting (or mass murder and market manipulation, as the case may be.)

          It was quite the departure. Comic Lex had a war suit that could fight Superman to a standstill, had created (not just went to) his own planet, etc. However, the businessman Lex of the movie was way cooler, so the comic book Lex soon followed suit.

      • Boglin says:

        Re: My low point?

        This man was a bumbling idiot.

        He wasn’t a bumbler, though he certainly hired them. I’m willing to overlook “Luthor-as-dandy,” given the many positive aspects of this film, such as the balancing of mythic and tongue-in-cheek views of the mythos.

        The ending still loses me. I’ll have to hear the commentary, just to learn what was intended.

        It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the extra material mentioned has appeared on tv, where Superman often airs as a two-part movie.

        To be honest, I haven’t heard the commentary, but just mentioning the connection between the lectures and the ending have given me an idea.

        As I remember, the ending was with Clark flying around the earth and all of the camera footage being run backwards. Well, in the lectures, Jor-El does explain to his son the theory of relativity. It is possible that Clark is flying faster than light, causing him to go back in time. Of course, the actual physics behind it is awful, but then again, the guy flies, so I think we can throw out conventional physics anyway.

        This makes a lot more sense than the standard explanation of “Well, superman can make time run backwards” that I’ve always heard.

        • fiziko says:

          Re: My low point?

          As I remember, the ending was with Clark flying around the earth and
          all of the camera footage being run backwards. Well, in the lectures,
          Jor-El does explain to his son the theory of relativity. It is possible that
          Clark is flying faster than light, causing him to go back in time. Of
          course, the actual physics behind it is awful, but then again, the guy
          flies, so I think we can throw out conventional physics anyway.

          This makes a lot more sense than the standard explanation of “Well,
          superman can make time run backwards” that I’ve always heard.

          That’s it. Most people think the ending was Clark turning time
          backwards, when he was travelling back in time alone. It’s the bit with
          him turning around and going the other way that gives that impression.

          • obiwan says:

            Re: My low point?

            That’s it. Most people think the ending was Clark turning time
            backwards, when he was travelling back in time alone. It’s the bit with
            him turning around and going the other way that gives that impression.

            But he just saves Lois… what about all the other stuff that happens? The train, etc…. he just let all of them die!

            • fiziko says:

              Re: My low point?

              But he just saves Lois… what about all the other stuff that happens?
              The train, etc…. he just let all of them die!

              There would be two of him around at that time, so the original saves
              them as it always did. (Of course, there’s no reason for the first to go
              back in time anymore, so there should be a paradox…)

              • Timeshredder says:

                Re: My low point?

                There would be two of him around at that time, so the original saves them as it always did. (Of course, there’s no reason for the first to go back in time anymore, so there should be a paradox…)

                This is why the Silver Age Superman’s time-travel abilities never made any sense. He’d use’em to go back to some cool past era (or, more often, a very bad version of some cool past era) to have an adventure, but not to, say, five minutes ago to stop virtually any evil deed before it happened.

                • Timeshredder says:

                  Re: My low point?

                  This is why the Silver Age Superman’s time-travel abilities never made any sense. He’d use’em to go back to some cool past era (or, more often, a very bad version of some cool past era) to have an adventure, but not to, say, five minutes ago to stop virtually any evil deed before it happened.

                  -Sheesh! Don’t you have anything better to do???

                  -Unfortunately, yes.

                  • HulkStrongestOne says:

                    Re: My low point?
                    On watching this the first time twenty plus years ago, in the theaters, in the original run, it definitely seemed he was circling the earth, forcing it to rotate backwards, and then by Hollywood Dimwit physics, thus forcing time to run backwards. Hence flying the other way to stop it and make it start spinning the correct way again.

                    A decade later it occured to me he might have been creating a time vortex of reverse time, hence the Earth would of course slow and start spinning backwards.

                    And by extension, him reversing direction was required to reverse the vortex (as opposed to simply stopping, and the vortex collapsing.)

                    It never occured to me to treat his flying as HIM going back in time, and thus the Earth spinning backwards was a representation of the Earth from HIS point of view (very strange, given we were in space in the 3rd person, the faster Superman flew, as he passed lightspeed, to us the Earth should continue to rotate normally, and he would seem to stop and then to go back in time in reverse.)

                    Anyway, I still stand that the movie’s intention was the first, idiotic Hollywood explanation, that his speed physically stopped the Earth from rotating and started it moving in reverse (Gods would the oceans have started sloshing!) and that, by Hollywood physics, would make time run backwards, exactly the same way that grabbing the hands of a clock and pushing them backwards would make time run backwards.

                    Bah, let’s talk of things cooler, like ripping the door off the car! I expecially loved that in the opening recap scenes of Superman II, set to that wonderful music. Well timed, lads! Well timed! Plus Lois wore a mean high heel, the sexiest Lois footwear since Lil’ Red way back in the ’50’s TV series.

        • LC says:

          Re: My low point?

          Of course, the actual physics behind it is awful, but then again, the guy flies, so I think we can throw out conventional physics anyway.

          Actually, flying was one of the things Superman could do that maybe somebody could build a not-agonizingly-incredible case for, given his other powers, particularly huge lung capacity.

          Suppose that his breathing accelerated during flying, to the point that inhalation created a vacuum in front of him. If he’s moving faster than air does, his body would be the first mass to move into that vacuum. As for exhaling, if he does that more slowly, it wouldn’t push too much air into the space that his body is heading towards.

          • Alexius says:

            Re: My low point?

            Of course, the actual physics behind it is awful, but then again, the guy flies, so I think we can throw out conventional physics anyway.

            Actually, flying was one of the things Superman could do that maybe somebody could build a not-agonizingly-incredible case for

            Actually, From What I Was Seeing Someplace Else, Superman Was Originally Just A Heavyworlder. He Had Stronger Leg Muscles And Could ‘Leap Tall Buildings In A Single Bound’, But Not Actually Fly. Eventually, They Kinda Just Changed This, But Even The Earlier (George Reeve) Superman TV Show Always Showed Him Running And Leaping In Order To Gain Flight.

            In Other Words, It Wasn’t So Much The Earth’s Yellow Sun, But Its Lighter Gravity And Atmosphere. Real Sci-Fi Stuff There.

            I’d Google This To Find my Supporting Evidence, But I’m Much Too Lazy At The Moment.

            • Timeshredder says:

              Re: Real Sci-Fi stuff

              How SF it was is a matter of debate, but much of Supes’ history can be found at this page of mine, complete with an early depiction of his parents, back when Kryptonians weren’t even “heavy-worlders,” but merely naturally superhuman.

              • HulkStrongestOne says:

                Re: Real Sci-Fi stuff
                When Superman first came out in ’39, the only Sci Fi there was was basically War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, Metropolis, and a handful of issues of pulp magazines. Don’t come down on the yellow rays and lighter gravity stuff too much.

                Heck, IIRC the first issue even mentioned proportionally large strength of insects. The first Superman was the only Superman that the Hulk (note my ID) might (*might*) have been able to beat in a fight. He leaps, doesn’t fly, and “nothing short of a bomb burst” would penetrate his skin.

                Faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive, ahh, well. Maybe even that one would beat up the Hulk.

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