The Movie Waffler 1001 Overlooked Movies - <i>Superman</i> (1978) | The Movie Waffler

1001 Overlooked Movies - Superman (1978)

The original man who fell to Earth.
Directed by: Richard Donner
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, MArlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Terence Stamp, Susannah York

At the risk of coming across as the biggest Richard Donner fanboy on the planet, it's hard to ignore the man's influence on popular culture. From the previously reviewed The Omen, through The Goonies and Lethal Weapon, it's fair to say that Donner is an incredibly versatile director. But his influence on the now billion dollar industry that is the comic book adaptation has been widely noted, but rarely recognised. Donner's Superman is the blueprint for a lot of this breed of film since, a fact acknowledged by both Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer.
The film itself is your basic origin story, tracing Kal-El's young life on Krypton to his arrival on Earth, and follows him through his teen years and to his "normal" life as Clark Kent. This brief overview doesn't do this film justice. It's no secret that Marlon Brando was paid a king's ransom for his appearance as Jor-El, but his presence elevates the film and adds credibility to it. Once people bought in to the fact that a legitimate actor like Brando could star in this kind of movie, everything else fell into place thereafter. The casting of Christopher Reeve was a masterstroke. His dual performances contain such clever little nuances, such as Clark Kent's nervous disposition contrasted with Superman's confidence. Margot Kidder is his equal in every way as the tenacious Lois Lane, and their on screen chemistry crackles. Gene Hackman hams it up as Lex Luthor, but reigns it in just enough so as not to steal the movie (a lesson Jack Nicholson could have learned from for 1989's Batman).
The unusual thing about this film was that it was shot back to back with Superman II, which explains the peculiar introduction featuring Jor-El's exile of Zod and his crew. I remember watching this for the first time as a kid and thinking "what about those three at the start?". It paid off though, as the sequel is equally as good as the first, but I digress.
All of this would be for naught if the action scenes didn't live up to their billing, but this film delivers. From the first appearance of the Man of Steel saving Lois and a helicopter, to literally turning back time to save Lois, this was stuff that was ahead of its time, all scored to John Williams' glorious theme.
It's a fun, colourful, innocent adventure film that contrasts greatly with the darker, grittier comic book films we've been presented with lately. Even though you've probably seen it a number of times, it's always worth watching on a Sunday afternoon, and serves as a great throwback to the pre-CGI days when we could believe a man could fly.

Kevin Dillon
For more from Kevin, check out his site 'Small Screen Saver'.