The Movie Waffler Superman Summer - Superman: The Movie (1978) | The Movie Waffler

Superman Summer - Superman: The Movie (1978)

Directed by: Richard Donner
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York

The Man of Steel had been vacant from the big screen for close to thirty years when the father/son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided it was time to bring him back.

They had tasted success in the mid-seventies with "The Three Musketeers" and it's sequel "The Four Musketeers". The two movies had been shot simultaneously and they decided to apply the same method to "Superman: The Movie" and it's follow-up. Hot off the success of "The Omen", Richard Donner was hired to direct both movies but ended up being kicked off the second film (more on that later). Himself and the five screen-writers on the whole do a good job of making this an engrossing tale but it's really just a primer for the far superior sequel.
The movie is at it's best in the opening third where we get to see the origin of our hero. We see three criminals (Stamp, Douglas and O'Halloran) cast into outer space by Jor-El (Brando), one of the leaders of the planet Krypton. This sets up the plot-line of the second movie and is the last we see of the trio here. Jor-El is a sort of intergalactic Al Gore who fails to convince the rest of Krypton's leaders of the planet's impending doom. To save his infant son, he places the child in a craft and sends him to the one planet where he thinks he stands the greatest chance: Earth. The infant crash-lands in Smallville, a midwest town, where he is adopted by the Kents, played by Ford and Thaxter, who name him Clark. The following scenes are great, detailing Clark's struggle to fit in as a teen, and are shot superbly by Geoffrey Unsworth, evoking an Edward Hopper look to the fictional town. Unsworth sadly passed away before the film was released and the movie is dedicated to his memory.
Following his adoptive Father's death, Clark travels to the North Pole where he discovers the Fortress of Solitude, a temple of sorts where he communicates with the spirit of Brando and spends over a decade developing his powers and learning of Earth culture. When he leaves as an adult he heads to the city of Metropolis, gets a job at The Daily Planet newspaper and meets Lois Lane (Kidder). The middle third of the movie is great fun, showing Superman thwarting various catastrophes around the city and developing his relationship with Lane.
Unfortunately the movie suffers in the final third when a plot is shoe-horned in involving a plan by evil genius Lex Luthor (Hackman) to send California into the sea, thus elevating the price of his property in Nevada. Hackman is great but his sidekick Beatty is incredibly annoying and the slapstick humor feels in contrast to the rest of the film. Compared to elsewhere in the movie, the effects on display in this climax are particularly poor and resemble a Gerry Anderson puppet production.
Today comic book movies seem afraid to actually be seen as comic book movies but this revels in the idea. The movie even opens with a boy leafing through a Superman comic. The panels on display tell us of the importance of The Daily Planet to the city of Metropolis. In this post News of the World era it's hard to think of a newspaper as a force for truth and justice but this movie was made in the aftermath of Watergate and journalists were seen as crusaders against corruption. Despite it's light tone, the movie brings up some topical issues such as environmentalism and immigration but most of all adoption. Superman is faced with the adoptee's dilemma, does he identify with his birth parents or those who raised him?
It may lose course towards the end but this is still a lot of fun and one of the all-time great blockbusters. Of course it really just whets the appetite as the main course was to follow two summers later.