Monday, September 6, 2010
Superman; fantasy adventure, UK / USA, 1978; D: Richard Donner, S: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Marlon Brando
Jor-El, a scientist on planet Krypton, uses his vote to banish the criminal trio led by General Zod from the planet. However, bigger problems await: as the only person conscious of the imminent destruction of Krypton, Jor-El sends his son Kal-El away into another Galaxy, to Earth. Years later, Kal-El lands to Earth as a child and is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent. As a grown up, now named Clark Kent, he discovers his special powers and who he really is. He goes to Metropolis and finds a job as a reporter, starting his philanthropic activity as Superman. He eventually stops Lex Luthor's plans of sinking California into water using rockets and turns back the time to save Lois.
From heroes of Greek mythology (Atalanta, Bellerophon, Cadmus, Hercules...) up to Middle Ages (the knights in armour), there was always some subconscious need in human culture through history for a super-hero who corrects the injustices and helps everyone, which is why the infamous Salkind producers did right when they chose to adapt the famous cult "Superman" comic-book to the big screen, resulting in the first serious superhero film that paved the way for numerous other followers of the genre. Except for the sublime poster, the magnificent opening credits and the great esoteric first 45 minutes, "Superman" seems rather dated today, often leaving the impression as if it was just one long, lax intro for future films which would be more fluent. The opening act is wonderful: even though planet Krypton's design seems bizarre, the white-fluorescent glow of the robes of its inhabitants still seems hypnotic, whereas the legendary Marlon Brando is solid in his 15-minute role as Superman's wise father Jor-El.
Also, one often overlooked virtue in Richard Donner's directing is his sense for compact storytelling: one just has to take notice of Superman's childhood. It has only 3 sequences, each lasting only 3-4 minutes - the first when Superman as a child lifts the truck of his adoptive parents; the second where he is a teenager and angry because the girls left for a party while he had to clean up after a football match so he ran faster than the train; and third where his father caught him "showing off" with his superpowers and cautioned him caringly ("Does a bird show off when it flies?" - "No...But you must be cautious. You were sent here for a reason.") - but the three of them were so compact it was enough for the viewer to get the overview impression of his whole childhood in just 10 minutes. The scene where the hero listens to his father's projection, equipped with surreal-esoteric colors, is also fantastic, evoking a few subtle symbols about the philanthropic Superman being a modern, different version of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, once Clark Kent enters Metropolis the whole film suddenly seems dated. Lois Lane's character is terribly annoying, Kent's forceful clumsiness is silly, Lex Luthor is a caricature bad guy who is evil just because he hates good, the helicopter accident scene is awfully contrived and unrealistic whereas many moments seems cheesy and naive, especially the disastrously convulsive time traveling ending. Still, alone the sequence where Superman and Lois are flying together above the clouds stimulates nostalgia, which is why the film still has its merits.