Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Superman, 1978, and Superman II, 1980

A different take on the mother of all superhero films for this Tuesday’s edition of Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.


This is not a review of Superman or its sequel directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester, respectively. Rather, this post looks at two specific scenes in both the films which invited ridicule from a lot of viewers in India, including me and my friends. I saw the films in my teens and I recall emerging from the theatre absolutely spellbound—Hollywood had made a real man fly not just through earth's atmosphere but through infinite space without any strings attached.

Everything is spot-on about Superman I & II (though the plot in the sequel was too weak as to be really convincing), except for a couple of scenes that took some of the shine off the films. Both scenes take place in the end.

In Superman, the Man of Steel is distraught with grief when he finds Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) buried alive in her car, the result of an earthquake triggered by a nuclear explosion set off by the villainous Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). What happens next is almost unbelievable: Superman flies and flies around earth at hundreds of times of the speed of light and turns the world, or time, back to pre-quake. He returns to earth in time to see Lane alive and out of her car and Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), his best friend at The Daily Planet, making his way towards them. Superman had saved Olsen earlier. All's well again.

That one scene, turning the time back, is the stuff of science fiction, but it defies logic in the movie even though it can be argued that Superman is a product of that genre. It raises so many questions that you don't know where to begin. For instance, Lane remembers the earthquake and going under ground and while she is visibly flustered she seems okay with it, and since there has been no nuclear triggered earthquake, why does Superman hand Luthor and his sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty) over to the police? Superman knows Luthor is a criminal, in fact, “The greatest criminal mind of our time!” as Luthor brags, but what’s the charge. Am I missing something here?

I thought the scene was silly and Richard Donner lost his way. I'm sure Donner must have toyed with several endings. Sadly, he settled for one that didn't work in what was otherwise a technically brilliant film with excellent music by John Williams. 

In Superman II, Lois Lane is hyper when she finally discovers, over Niagara Falls, that Superman is actually Clark Kent, her bespectacled and bumbling colleague at the paper. Superman, ever the magnanimous and self-sacrificing hero, decides to put his girlfriend out of her misery: he kisses her and erases her memory of him as Superman. When she opens her eyes, she sees Clark Kent and not Superman before her and, I think, she straightaway orders the poor fellow to fetch coffee or something. Again, all’s well that ends well.

With that one scene, Superman proves that he is also Supergod. Although there can be no limit to his superpowers, I can stretch disbelief only so much.

Thirty-six years on Christopher Reeve remains the ultimate Superman/Clark Kent as I've known the kryptonian of the comic books. In 2006, Brandon Routh bravely stepped into those famous red boots, in Superman Returns, but there can be no comparison with Reeve—in coat or cloak, Routh looked the same as Clark Kent and Superman. I'm surprised Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) didn't see the close resemblance.

While we’re on Superman, it’s one of three movies whose catchy soundtrack has stayed with me since my teens, the other two being Jaws and The Omen. Turn off the sound and you’ll see what I mean.

18 comments:

  1. Yeah, I remember that spin the world backward scene and thought it was really goofy. That's one reason this movie isn't high on my list of favorite superhero movies

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    1. Charles, I like SUPERMAN mainly on account of Christopher Reeve's depiction of the superhero and his alter ego, Clark Kent, though some would put it the other way around.

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  2. I very much enjoyed your take on this Prashant - I tend to think such films have their own logic and you take it on trust, but I am very entertained by your objections.

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    1. Moira, thank you. I'm something of a purist when it comes to cinematic adaptations of comic book superheroes. Those two scenes continue to rankle me.

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  3. Ah, Prashant...you're confusing directors with writers. Some directors are writers, and some think they're writers...but directors usually don't write the scripts. And I might be wrong, but I think that notion of that Supes can spin the Earth backward and thus reverse time might've been used in the comics well before the 1979 film. Not terribly sfnal (most sf people would note that it would tend to bust the planet a lot more effectively than it would reverse time), but an amusing fantasy conceit. And, of course, everyone always wonders why people can't see past the glasses to the odd resemblance of Kent to the alien hero...

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    1. Todd, I've read plenty of comics and I don't recall Superman or any other superhero doing anything like this; of course, not counting the likes of intergalactic space heroes like Thor and Silver Surfer. And though Superman is an alien, by birth, I grew up thinking of him as more human than an entity from planet Krypton, hence the disbelief. Funny thing is I'd probably have accepted those two scenes in a Superman comic book but not so much in a movie which overstates his super abilities.

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  4. I'd suggest that comic-book films as we currently see them can trace their roots back to James Bond films, too...

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    1. Todd, I see your point. James Bond often does the unthinkable and the impossible, and emerges unscathed each time. Is he even human? Going by the Daniel Craig franchise, at least, I think he is. The makers have realised Bond is a mortal.

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  5. I give you credit for even remembering these scenes. Comic book hero movies for me are so improbable, they defy logic of any kind.

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    1. Ron, thank you. I have seen each superhero film from the seventies until now no less than ten times, so a lot of scenes are still fresh in my mind. Today's superhero movies are certainly exaggerated. For instance, I can understand Thor and Loki being invincible because they are gods, but what about earthlings like Iron Man and Hawkeye? They take a lot of hammering in IRON MAN and THE AVENGERS but there's little more than a scratch on them.

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  6. Very interesting reminders of these movies, Prashant. I remember enjoying both movies, probably largely because I had read Superman comics as a child. I think I just accept anything in such movies because it is silly that people can't see that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person, especially persons so close to them. If I accept that, I accept everything and just have fun. But your points are still well taken. They probably could have handled those elements of the movies better and improved the movies.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. While I enjoy watching superhero movies, I've reservations about certain over-the-top scenes. In Brendon Routh's case, particularly, I could not make out the difference between Clark Kent and Superman, and it was rather silly that the filmmaker's overlooked that aspect; maybe, they saw the difference where I didn't.

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  7. Interesting post, Prashant. I love both films regardless and I love the scene where he turns back time to save Lois Lane because he loves her. Christopher Reeves will always be Superman to me. No one can replace him. Side note, there's a glut of superhero movies these days. I enjoyed the more recent X-Men iteration. In the comic book world there isn't any logic that I'm aware of.

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    1. Keishon, thank you. I liked the initial two SUPERMAN movies, too, but not so much the other two. I'm with you on Reeve being the eternal Clark Kent/Superman. I have seen all the superhero film that have come out over the past fourteen years and the only one I didn't really care for was GREEN LANTERN who is one of the most fascinating comic book heroes. He hasn't got his due. I'm also waiting for a film on DC's Flash.

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  8. Prashant, I have probably seen both but your recollection is superior to mine. I did like Richard Pryor, especially when he drove into work in a flashy red sportscar - best bit of whatever film it was for me.

    I think I always liked Spiderman a bit better then Superman, and I always preferred Dean Cain in the TV spin-off to any of the films.

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    1. Col, I think Richard Pryor appears in either SUPERMAN 3 or 4 which I'm not as familiar with as the initial two films. Although he has his strengths, Spider-Man is one of the weakest of superheroes; in fact, more like a children's hero. Tobey Maguire did not look anything like Peter Parker of the comics. However, I missed Spider-Man in THE AVENGERS but I can see why the makers of the film left him out; he wouldn't have fit into the plot. I have seen a few episodes of LOIS & CLARK where Dean Cain looks more like Superboy than Superman.

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    2. I think that's why I prefer him, because he isn't omnipotent and he has a vulnerability. As a Peter Parker, he has the same failings and hang-ups and faults as the rest of us, so consequently I find him more believable and sympathetic - or as least as much as I can when dealing with superheroes and superpowers!

      Doesn't hurt that I have a soft spot for Kirsten Dunst either! .

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    3. Col, I know a few comic-book fans who prefer Spider-Man over other formidable superheroes because he is like any of us, someone who carries his emotional baggage around with him and with a sense of humour too. Somehow I could never accept Tobey Maguire as the wavy-haired Peter Parker from the comics; a bit like Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman as opposed to Michael Keaton who just didn't look the part. Kilmer, I thought, was the perfect Bruce Wayne.

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