I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, but when I was a young child, Star Wars (A New Hope) was one of the first movies that I ever remember watching. Needless to say, it had a massive impact on me as a child. But it wasn’t the only film that captured my imagination. If had to choose another movie from my early youth that inspired me, that would be Superman: The Movie.
I have very vivid memories of sitting on my living room floor, watching Superman, and using my Legos to craft tall skyscrapers and buildings. I had a Superman action figure that I would hold in my hand and I would fly him all around the buildings I created. Then, when I added in another character, well.. . You can imagine the epic arial battles that would follow.
As a child, everything about the character of Superman was just fantastic to me. When you’re young there’s so many things that you take for granted. You don’t put a lot of thought into the backstory or the lore behind the character. You tend to take things at face value. Years later, as I approached my teens, I began to read the Superman comic books and that’s when I started paying closer attention to everything that was actually going on in the Superman storyline. Diving into the comics helped to give me a greater appreciation for the character. Now, years later, when I sit down and watch the original 1978 Superman: The Movie, I can’t help but admire just how true to the original comic book this film managed to be.
In case you’re not familiar with the lore behind the character of Superman, I’ll give you very brief rundown. Superman is actually an alien. When he was just an infant, he was sent to Earth by his father to escape the destruction of his home planet. Due to the way his alien body reacts to the radiation from Earth’s yellow sun, Superman has strengths and powers that make him unique from the humans of planet Earth. Thankfully, after arriving on Earth, Superman was found and raised by a very good-natured couple. They instilled in him and strong moral compass and taught him to use his abilities for good. Now, as an adult, Superman lives his day-to-day life as “Clark Kent” a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. But secretly, under the persona of “Superman”, he fights evil using his unique abilities.
Superman: The Movie does a surprisingly good job of telling the story that I just relayed above. The movie begins on Superman’s homeworld of Krypton just hours before its destruction. Here we meet Superman’s parents and get a small dose of the unusual alien culture of his world. The movie takes us from the destruction of Kypton to Superman’s journey to the planet Earth. A good portion of the film is dedicated to his early life as a teen in the early 60’s. From there, we flash forward to the “modern” day of 1978. It is at this point that Superman first reveals himself to the world. But of course, it isn’t long before he attracts the attention of Lex Luthor, a criminal mastermind.
Throughout the history of the Superman comics (which debuted back in 1938), much of Superman’s origin story, his enemies, and abilities were heavily detailed. The fact that this film was able to accurately capture so much of these, and in such great accuracy, is extremely impressive. Not only that, but the movie manages to do so without coming across as particularly campy. This is quite a feat considering so many super hero movies and television shows of the era, often ended up feeling childish or stupid. Take the old Bat Man television show for example, in many ways it felt like a parody of what was seen in the comics.
A big part of the credit for tone of this movie is due of course, to the authors of the screenplay (which included Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather). The director, Richard Donner, also deserves praise for this handling of the script and characters. To him, the story of Superman was something to be taken seriously and to be discarded as a lighthearted joke. But praise should also be directed at the actors themselves. Christopher Reeve was a stellar choice for the character of Superman/Clark Kent. In fact, the way his switches between the two personas is an example of acting at its very finest.
But neither the writers or the actors alone can claim full credit for the success of this masterpiece. The score for this film is just as iconic as any other part of the movie. The soundtrack for Superman: The Movie was written and conducted by John Williams (the same composer responsible for the iconic music of Star Wars). Hearing the opening notes of Superman’s Theme can still give me goosebump, even as adult. It’s so impacting and powerful. The music is an absolutely perfect match for both the character of Superman and for this movie as a whole. John Williams continues his tradition of using leitmotifs and themes for individual characters and locations. It’s a magical formula that once again enhances the film in a way nothing else could.
If I had to single out something in the film to complain about, it would have to be the handling of Lex Luthor and his henchmen. In the comics, Lex is often portrayed as a brilliant, but evil villain. The same is true in this movie. But oddly, much of the film’s humor seems to center around Luthor and his ridiculous antics.
As a fan of physical media, the best way to enjoy this movie today is debatable. The 4k UltraHD Blu-Ray release is by far the best looking version of this film. The transfer is outstanding. It’s sharp and colorful. Absolutely magnificent. But, it’s important to remember that there is actually an extended cut of the film that adds almost an hour of deleted footage. This footage is not worthless filler. Some of it is actually pretty good stuff. The extended cut of the film is available in HD on Blu-Ray, but it doesn’t look nearly as good as the 4K release. So, if visuals are your thing, the 4K release is without a doubt the way to go. The HD version of the film still looks great, mind you. But it’s not quite as crisp and colorful. Hopefully, a 4K Extended Edition will be released in the near future and fans won’t have to choose between content and quality.
In an age where comic book films dominate the box office, it is important to go back and remember some of these earlier comic-themed movies. Superman: The Movie did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of everything that made the comics great. It also brought the character of Superman to audiences of all ages. This is one of my favorite films of all-time. A real must see!