Vault: 'Superman: The Movie' (1978) Dir. Richard Donner
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
The first major big-screen adaptation of DC's Man of Steel took the superhero genre to new, exciting highs (literally)...
The planet Krypton is about to be destroyed by its own sun. Scientist Jor-El (Brando) opts to save his only son, Kal-El, and sends him to Earth, knowing he will be physically more advanced than humans but he will survive.
Crashing near Smallville, Kansas, Kal is found and raised by the Kents, Martha (Thaxter) and Jonathan (Ford), and named Clark. He grows up to be a loving, caring son driven to be a figure for good in the world.
Years later, a grown man and now residing in the city of Metropolis, Clark (Reeve) works as a journalist for the Daily Planet alongside fellow writer Lois Lane (Kidder) but, when the world needs help, he uses his Kryptonian powers to be the hero the need called ‘Superman’, and must do so to battle the nefarious Lex Luthor (Hackman) when he reveals his plan to kill millions to shape the world in his own twisted way…
The film that made the world believe a man could fly.
Very much of its time, with dated special effects at times, but the passion that has gone into creating such a fantastical, heroic and uplifting film has transcended the genre for decades and still stands strong today. From matte paintings, rigging, green screen, miniatures, forced camera perspective… this is the original guide to making blockbuster films without clicking on the keyboard and using a mouse to create CGI worlds and heroes. You see Christopher Reeve fly. You see expansive sci-fi sets come to life with intricate costumes and props. You see practical effects, models, miniatures and creative design. You see the danger, the suffering and the threats as real as they can be. It’s a film with huge heart, and comes across as one.
To think that the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Burt Reynolds were in the running for the Man of Steel baffles beyond belief.
When you see Christopher Reeve in the role of Superman / Clark Kent. It’s nothing but joyous seeing his 6ft 4 frame bumble and stammer along as Clark, wary of his glasses sliding down his nose and struggling to open bottled water, when in the next frame he swells as Superman with confidence, heroism and a steel-jawed resolve against evil. There has never been, and never will be, a more faithful portrayal of the iconic hero.
Stellar supporting cast are present in the guise of Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, lending their pulling power to important roles, and Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Jackie Cooper and even Terrence Stamp foreshadowing his role in the sequel – because don’t forget, as well as bring the first major superhero film, this was also one of the first to film a sequel back to back.
And the pacing is something rare nowadays. It takes its time to tell an origin story. We send the first 50mins with the Kryptonians and the Kents as Kal-El/Clark grows from baby to young man. Then, we go well into the next hour until we see our hero Superman himself in full glory with the full John Williams fanfare. Nothing is rushing. Nothing is glossed over. It’s a template many have used and owe to this film in doing so. My only quarm is the finale – I’ve never really invested in Luthor’s real estate plan and find it a little under-whelming, so that is my main disappointment. But it still beats a 20min CGI city destructive headache as we have in most comic books films now.
A strong cast and crew are evident here in everything from the acting to the writing to the editing and direction. It sets about to nothing but entertain, make you feel good and bring a comic book character to live in a near-perfect way. The soundtrack is iconic and could narrate the film without any cast doing so, and it will live on as THE defining superhero theme thanks to John Williams.
Superman stands the test of time beyond the few issues it has to be a film that shows real film-making at its best, and how patience pays off in telling a story without the need for dark, dismal and rather violent story telling. It’s a forgotten art now, which is why Christopher Reeve is such an important reminder of a time way back when, representing all that’s good in the world.
'Superman: The Movie' represents a much simpler era in film when superheroes were just super, with nothing convoluted or corporate taking over proceedings.
'Superman: The Movie' is a Dovemead Ltd. production