An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth, where he grows up to become his adoptive home’s first and greatest superhero.
If this “experiment” is to share with you, the reader, my point of view and passion for film, it’s only right that I start with my favorite and the one that inspired me to do what I want to do.
Superman: The Movie
As long as I can remember I have been a Superman fanatic, having Superman II, III and IV taped on VHS, rewatching them until the tapes were practically spent. But Superman: The Movie always remained mythical to me as a small boy, they never showed it on TV and in the days before Netflix and streaming you either had to rent the movie or wait to see if you were lucky enough to catch it on TV.
And then the day came…
I had seen the preview telling me at what time and in what channel they were going to show it, I prepared my blank VHS tape, patiently waited and finally pressed REC the moment I saw the Warner Bros logo. Right from the opening I knew there was something different about this movie.
The feeling you get when you’re watching a classic movie and know from the start why it’s a classic. Those magical first notes from the soundtrack with the curtains opening, followed by that voiceover and the comic book, panning up to space and having the BIG, GIANT letters rippling through the screen and finally the Superman S exploding with John Williams masterful work soaring behind.
Right in that moment as a young boy of around 7 or 8 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
But I also ran into a small hiccup that day… The channel froze.
I was horrified and so angry. The movie was still missing the whole third act, taunting me with a still Superman in mid-flight and having no idea how he was going to defeat Lex Luthor and save the world.
Yet for months and months I watched that tape, knowing very well every single time that it would freeze and I would be unable to have closure and watch the ending. In fact, whenever I rewatch it now I still remember the exact moment it froze and slightly dreading that it’ll happen again despite me knowing the third act by heart now. I waited and scanned to see if they were going to show it again. They never did.
Perhaps around a year later, one night me and my family were walking back from the local fair and we decided to stop at a Sanborns store. Shortly before we had bought our first DVD player and were allowed to buy only one movie.
Lo and behold, there it was – Superman: The Movie. The first DVD I ever bought. I finally knew how Superman saved the world.
It got scratched some time later due to the heavy use I gave it. I still have that copy in my possession.
Christopher Reeve was the only special effect this movie needed. He honored the tagline “You will believe a man can fly”. He was Superman. The distinct charisma, warmth and gravitas he gave to the role is still quite unmatched by any other actor who has portrayed the man of steel. From beginning to end he brought a radiance to the movie that allowed him to go toe to toe with a giant of acting like Gene Hackman and in some cases outshine him.
There are two small scenes that to me show what perfect casting it was.
The first one is the scene after Lois and Superman have returned from their romantic flight and Superman, as Clark, decides to tell Lois about his true identity.
From the moment he takes off his glasses, the voice, posture, demeanor and presence changes. In that split second you can see the transformation from Clark to Superman.
The second is Superman’s reveal. The camera opens to a wide shot, a red and blue blip far away, when suddenly, he advances towards us until the final moment he swerves and arches right past the camera. That wasn’t planned.
Having been a pilot and knowing full well how to move his body he made that swerve without anybody knowing he was going to do it. He worked the wires, not the other way around.
You believed a man could fly.
Here is the other special effect this movie had. John Williams, composer extraordinaire. We will undoubtedly be examining more of his work here.
If Christopher Reeve was the heart of the movie, then Williams was, undoubtedly, the soul. Even to this day with so many other iterations of Superman, everybody recognizes this music as the defining theme to one of the most celebrated superheroes of all time. From the heroic to the romantic, he soared just as much as the film he scored.
The Supporting Cast
Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Terence Stamp. These names may not mean much these days but at the time, this cast list read like a who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights. It lent the movie real weight to be taken seriously.
It was so important that it’s a strategy that almost every major contemporary superhero and comic book movie has followed since then: Take a relatively unkown actor and surround him by big and important Hollywood names.
Now to be very clear, Superman: The Movie has it’s large share of ridiculous and cheesy moments, yet it never treats its audience like little kids.
Richard Donner’s motto throughout the making of Superman, shows in the film. This was the age of cheap superhero tv shows on TV and Batman fooling around with a utility belt that had shark repellent while running around saving nuns from a comically oversized bomb.
Donner sought to change that and in doing so, changed the course of superhero films to this day.
Since his debut in 1938, many people sought to bring Superman to the big screen. And where many failed because they weren’t willing to take the character seriously, Richard Donner succedeed.
Despite the sometimes comical and ludicrous turns that the movie takes, Superman himself is never treated as a joke, lending the film an air of seriousness that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Directing with a sure and firm hand, but not forgetting to showcase passion, heart, humor and action, he gave the film the biggest possible scope, creating an epic journey for one of the most enduring superheroes of all time.
– You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you? – Lois Lane
– It’s amazing that brain can generate enough power to keep those legs moving. – Lex Luthor
– Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son. – Jor-El
- Leaving Home
- Love Theme from Superman
- Prelude and Main Title March