SCI-FI MOVIE PAGE PICK: SUPERMAN -
SUPERMAN - THE MOVIE
Marlon Brando Jor-El
Gene Hackman Lex Luthor
Christopher Reeve Superman/Clark Kent
Ned Beatty Otis
Jackie Cooper Perry White
Glenn Ford Pa Kent
Trevor Howard 1st Elder
Margot Kidder Lois Lane
Jack O'Halloran Non
Valerie Perrine Eve Teschmacher
Maria Schell Vond-Ah
Terence Stamp Gen. Zod
Phyllis Thaxter Ma Kent
Susannah York Lara
Marc McClure Jimmy Olsen
Sarah Douglas Ursa
Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman,
Leslie Newman and Robert Benton (based on the story by Puzo, from the comic
strip created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster). 1978. Running time: 142 minutes.
Watching the 1978 Superman
movie the other day on video for the first time in several years I couldn't help but
notice the following:
(a.) The movie has dated. We're not just talking about the late 'Seventies hairstyles
and fashions here, but the special effects. The effects are nowhere as breathtaking and
good as I remember them to be. Sure, the crystal-based world and technology designs of
Krypton (Superman's home planet) and his Fortress of Solitude moved away from the old
"blinking lights" idea of what a highly advanced civilization would be like.
Also, the temptation to copy from Star Wars must have been
huge, and although some people would say that the sterile white surroundings of Krypton
echo the exteriors of the Death Star, I think they are pretty original. Some of the
models, particularly of a bursting dam and the immediate landscape towards the end of the
movie, look obvious and even cheap. Also, matte lines abound in several scenes - even in
the vaunted "flying" scenes. Still, those effects were state-of-the-art then and
if the movie were remade today I suppose I would probably be complaining about obvious CGI
(b.) Despite this, the movie is very, very good.
In fact, I had forgotten how good it actually was and my
wife and I had a fun time watching it. Fun is perhaps the operative word
here. No doubt its success is due to its clever and witty screenplay, the
good acting and the likeable characters. The producers spent a lot of money
on making the film. Not just on the effects, but also on gaining
"respectability" for the movie. Look
closely at the technical credits and you'll notice some of the greatest British special
effects people (such as Wally Veevers who also worked on 2001: A Space
Odyssey), composer John Williams (fresh from his famous Star Wars triumph),
Mario Puzo (who wrote The Godfather and worked on its screenplay), director of
photography Geoffrey Unsworth (also 2001) and director Richard Donner (fresh from
his The Omen commercial success).
The Salkinds, who produced the movie, also went to the trouble of populating the huge
cast with lesser-known yet familiar veteran actors and predictably brought in Marlon Brando. Brando's presence and reputation as a "serious actor" at some time meant
"Respectability" with a capital "R" and the Salkinds paid him a
reputed $3 million (a lot of money today - and more so 20 years back!) for only a few
on-screen minutes. (Rumour had it that Brando didn't bother memorizing his lines and read
it all from cue cards!) Then there's Gene Hackman - also big so soon after the success of The
French Connection. The point is that the Salkinds threw lots of money at the project,
but it wasn't money that was the breakthrough like I said. The effects are never allowed
to overshadow the people that populate the movie . . .
Superman didn't go for over-seriousness or ironic camp - both of which would
have destroyed the movie - instead, it finds a wit and humor in-between these two
extremes. It was a lesson that they'd forget with the terrible Superman
III and Superman IV - The Quest for Peace. It's a lesson
that later superhero adaptations didn't take to heart. Think of Batman
Forever, Batman & Robin and the dismal Spawn.
Like I said, they got the screenplay right. Which
brings me to the current attempts to revive the Superman franchise with the planned
Superman Lives movie. Getting Kevin Smith to write the screenplay was a
stroke of genius. His own films (Clerks, Chasing Amy) show a
particular concern for its characters and are funny as well into the
bargain. I've managed to find and read a draft of this particular screenplay
and it is pretty good. Problem is that the script got ditched because the
studio said it would be too expensive to film. Now this is something I
cannot imagine anyone working on this movie saying: "So you wrote in a scene in which a
dam bursts and Superman has to block the oncoming flood by toppling a mountain in its
path? Are you crazy?" That wouldn't be their response. Instead it'd be "that's
okay, we can hack that".
Lots of labor and love no doubt went into the original Superman movie.
Christopher Reeve was perfectly cast as Superman after a huge nation-wide talent search.
The new Superman Lives will star Nicholas Cage as the Man of Steel. Does he even
look like Superman? No, he doesn't. But I imagine that the producers are just seeing
little dollar bill signs whenever they hear "starring Nicholas Cage."
being? Go watch the bloody terrible Batman & Robin again (um, or rather don't)
to get an idea of what Hollywood probably expects of a new Superman movie. Their reasoning
no doubt goes something like this: "We want noise, spectacle, an empty-headed plot so
that even a mentally retarded three-year-old can figure it out and lots of big name
stars." I, for one, am not particularly looking forward to a new Superman
movie. Look at what passes as decent movies for Warner Bros. (the studio that'll be making
it) and you'll understand why: Soldier, The
Postman, The Avengers, Batman & Robin, etc.
James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page