Superman (1978) — It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a major motion picture

“I’m here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way.”

Kyle’s rating: Okay, let me try this again

Kyle’s review: I already reviewed Superman this morning before I started working, because I had watched it last night but fell dead asleep as soon as the end credits rolled. That first review was mostly positive, but it certainly wasn’t the enthusiastic slobbering that some comic geeks often give the film. There were only a couple personal attacks, a few vitriolic comments about weaker production elements, and a long string of profanities that I just threw in to see if Justin actually reads these things before they get posted.

I will allow only one criticism of that first review: It was extremely well-written. Astonishingly so. But that’s to be expected, I suppose.

But then, at lunch, when conversations waned and it was just me with a few minutes to kill, I listened to my recent song purchases on my iPod. One of which was “Prologue and Main Title” from John Williams’ Superman score. Once upon a time at my first college, my friend Ray and I were talking about the Superman theme, and how it was such an uplifting piece of music. It invokes a swelling of pride and enthusiasm that only patriotic music can (or should) top; I’d go to say it’s easily John Williams’ greatest work and the best superhero theme, maybe the best theme, ever.

Listening to that theme in crystal clarity (gotta love the iPod; I now can understand a lot of my favorite rap artists’ lyrics without research!) helped me realize it’s pretty much impossible to trash 1978’s Superman and really mean it. All my gripes and negatives are still legit (I’ll get to a couple in a little bit) but it remains a magical facet of my childhood. My Super Powers action figures (including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) often waged their wars against injustice with Superman playing in the background; I even remember liking not only Superman II but also Superman III! That’s a fact only a true fan or a true psychopath would publicly admit! (Superman III being, in very many ways, very very bad.)

I don’t know if I grew out of some Superman phase, or if when the summer of ‘89 came along the hardened heroes of Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and License to Kill helped usher me into my “mature” “adult” “morally questionable” modern incarnation.

Still: there’s a little Superman inside of us all. And what a logo! Better than the bat? Probably not. But it’s close.

The Superman film series actually reminds me of television program The OC. At it’s worst (the Oliver episodes for The OC, parts III and IV for Superman) it’s atrocious, and watchable only out of some strange iteration of schadenfrude. At it’s best (each season’s premiere and finale for The OC, the first Superman and lots of Part II) it’s so good that you can’t help but watch and love it, (mostly) ignoring any blemishes and defending it with a passion. Maybe The OC is better than Superman. Maybe! I’ve only seen a few episodes of Smallville, and it’s okay, but I can tell you for sure that the actresses who play Lana, Chloe, and Lois are amazing. Wow! I don’t know about their acting (who are these people? Kristen Kreuk, right?) but that cast is super… super-attractive.

Ha ha! See what I did there?

Maybe Superman is boring. In the comics he’s still got life in the right creative hands (Grant Morrison, anyone?), on cartoons he’s humorous and thoroughly modern, and they’re making a new movie/remake/sequel/thing that will probably be atrocious. Let’s face facts, yeah?

But I urge you, if you have never seen this film or if you haven’t seen it in a long time, to do something: do not see it! Wait for the new one! Why not, really? I think it’s less than a year away, so unless you’re incredibly impatient what’s the big deal? It hasn’t killed you until now to see it, so just go occupy yourself with other stuff until summer 2006.

That’s my suggestion, just because I think no matter how Bryan Singer’s film turns out, it will help put the first film into perspective; giving it a nice shine in the process. The original is slightly dated, but it has a winning Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, a magnetic Marlon Brando as Jor-El, and Christopher Reeve is simply amazing as Clark Kent and Superman. I mean absolutely amazing: whether he’s inhabiting the bumbling Kent or the supremely confident Superman, he’s perfect. The wit and humor are greatly appreciated, but his emotional outburst after a late plot twist is always stunning, no matter how many times you see it. It’s hard to look cool in that costume, but Reeve never looked even slightly goofy. Amazing.

I was going to end with an amusing attack on Margot Kidder, who is monstrous as Lois Lane. Some people believe that her non-traditional looks, her flinty personality, her cig habit, and her displayed glee at writing newspaper stories steeped in sex and violence make her the sort of interesting woman that Superman would go for. I tend to think she’s more of a villain that Superman should be battling in the streets. But I’m really shallow like that.

Instead, I’ll say that the combination of Reeve’s iconic performance as the iconic hero and John Williams’ triumphant score provide movie magic that endures. For all the flaws of this film, as long as Reeve or Hackman or Brando are on-screen, it’s hard not to get caught up in the epic fun. This is old school summer blockbuster stuff, bright and polished, and even though the overall quality dips as the running time progresses you just can’t help but feel ultimately entertained. I think that if you were to rent it and watch it tonight you wouldn’t notice the strange ‘80s fashions or ‘80s plot conventions or terrifying ‘80s hairdos. You’d just enjoy your self immensely, and get lost in the epic, complex world of Superman.

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