Superman (1978)recommended viewing

Genuinely inspiring cheese
★★★★
☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Richard Donner
Starring: 
Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman
The Setup: 
Tells the origin tale of Superman, then lets him save California.
Discussion: 

This is one of those movies that a large proportion of the populous [myself included] saw 300 times when they were 10, and haven’t seen it since. Identifying some of those movies for yourself is a worthwhile treat, because you get the strange experience of remembering EVERY single shot and piece of dialogue as it plays, but having no recollection of it before you see it. This has the positive effect of rendering the film FABULOUS. I also have the thing of remembering every single shot that was pulled out for commercials or promos for the film. And THEY’RE STILL FABULOUS!!!

This film is pretty much delightful in every respect, but notable mostly for the particular conflagration of the outrageously cheesy execution with the wholesomely solemn tone. I liked it because it took the characters and situation seriously, and allowed generous time to build character.

The movie begins with this 2001-lite tone on a planet made entirely of plastic and Styrofoam, where three criminals are being banished to the sequel, never to be seen again in this film [the trivia section for this film on IMDb proves surprisingly fascinating, including the information that ALL-wrong actors Kris Kristofferson, Charles Bronson [!], and Burt Reynolds were considered for the role of superman]. Then Marlon Brando is chastised for spreading rumors that their world is going to end [apparently NO ONE notices the huge sun 15 feet away from their planet], and loads his son into a frosted glass chandelier on loan from the atrium of the local shopping mall. He then delivers a lot of pseudoscientific exposition about how superbaby’s molecular structure will give him his powers on Earth [that he’s from another planet is explanation enough for me], then lays on a bunch of stuff about how superbaby will carry all of his manhood, then shoots his spermship through the glass hymen, where it hurtles through space and finally entered the big mama earth/egg. I have no problem with that.

It IS remarkable timing, as it appears that Marlon just leaves the council when the planet starts to destruct, and the whole thing goes ka-blewy seconds after the spaceship gets away. But all this ridiculousness only adds to the comic-book charm of the film. I did NOT remember the apocalyptic scenes of myriad people falling into the canyons in the film [maybe that’s one of the added scenes for the DVD], but it couldn’t help but remind me of the footage of the Twin Towers falling.

The amusing ludicrousness continues as Ma Kent sees NOTHING strange about adopting a child that just emerged from a meteorite, and poor Pa buys the farm just moments after Clark’s outrunning the train [it just seems like QUITE an eventful day]. Then Clark finds the glowing crystal and decides he needs to hike in a mere Woolrich jacket into the Arctic and build a crystal palace.

[the friend I was watching with, who saw the whole thing as a metaphor for the young gay man who has to leave the farm to go to the big city and find himself, exclaimed at this point: “And he’s even got a crystal palace!”]

Clark DOES build a crystal palace, once more made from the plastic remnants of 70s shopping malls, whereupon he takes a journey through a bunch of liquidy blobs [not far removed from those in Altered States] that are supposed to represent space phenomena. It’s amazing, I recall this film being the ZENITH of special effects achievement, and it’s amazing just how cheesy they all are. I hadn’t realized special effects were still so primitive at the time. Of course, now special effects are boring, so which is better?

Anyway, after a full hour, Clark finally arrives in Metropolis, and the story starts zipping along. Incredibly, one of the achievements of this movie is that it magically seems to re-start at this hour mark, not seeming long or dragging at all, and all that hour of exposition just lodges itself at the back of your head like something you always knew, not something you had to sit through.

Now the story proper begins, with the introduction of the hideous Margot Kidder [did anyone else notice the throwaway line about her story on “sex and drug orgies at the senior citizens home?”], leading soon to the Can You Read My Mind sequence, which I totally did not remember as a SPOKEN WORD piece!! And a horribly-recited one at that [Margot reads “Holding hands with a God… I’m a fool” exactly like any eighth grade drama student with NO idea how to sell that line].

Anyway, there’s just too much to mention here. This is a fabulous mix of the deliciously cheesy and the entirely lovable, and it really holds up! It’s amazing and fun and oh-so-wholesome in such a wonderful way. True, I don’t want to see it again for another 10 years, but I could also say that about a lot of people I know.

Read my essay about The Themes of Superman [1978]

Should you watch it: 

Definitely, especially if you watched it a million times as a 10-year-old, and haven’t seen it since.