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Release year: 1978
Director: Richard Donner
Screenwriter: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, Tom Mankiewicz, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (characters created by)
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Phyllis Thaxter, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Special Achievement Award. 3 Oscar nominations: Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score. 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Original Score.
Just before the destruction of their planet, Jor-El (Brando) sends his infant son on a spaceship to Earth. Here he is discovered and raised by friendly farmers Jonathan (Ford) and Martha (Thaxter), who quickly discovers their new family member is something special. Because in our world, Clark (Reeves), as they name him, has super powers.
At the time, the most expensive movie made, Superman has in many ways set the standard for superhero movies, especially origin stories. Today, right at the top of the Marvel era, no one would blink an eye at the thought of an almost two-an-a-half hour long superhero movie, but in 1978 not many movies were released in the genre. The pomposity and grandness of it all, the charming touches of humour among the action and drama and the lengthy running time strengthening your sense of watching something big is all qualities recognizable in the superhero movies which currently rule the cinematic world. Especially with re-watches, you can find yourself longing for the slightly protracted opening to finish and for Clark to move to the big city and meet Lois Lane, because that is when the movie truly shifts in to gear and gets moving. Suddenly there’s a love interest with attitude and a villain so campy he could have stepped out from a cartoon. All though we have seen several other actors put on the Superman cape since 1978, and though some could argue some of the movies have even been better than this, it is more difficult to argue about if someone has topped Reeves’s (Switching Channels, 1988) performance. What he seemed to get, was that the role had to be played as two different parts; Superman and Clark Kent, and the one in costumes was never Superman, it was Clark. Reeves got that and that may be one of the main reasons this relatively newcomer nailed the performance. His chemistry with Kidder (The Amityville Horror, 1979) is through the roof, something that is of great importance to a movie with the strangest type of love triangle. Hackman (The French Connection, 1971) is entertaining as Lex Luthor, the perhaps best-known nemesis to Superman and Brando (The Godfather, 1972) does a surprisingly good job, considering the well-known behind-the-scenes-drama. The movie deservedly won an Oscar for its ground-breaking special effects. The tagline for the movie was ‘you will believe a man can fly’ and that is exactly what you did. Even with today’s spoiled eyes, there is nothing that has dated so bad that you cringe your toes and it still looks brilliant when Reeves steals a cheeky glimpse at the audience when he flies by in outer space accompanied by the amazing score by John Williams, belting out the still most iconic superhero theme made. It is not just, that without this we probably wouldn’t have had the X-Men franchise or any of the Marvel cinematic universe, it is also that this is a great movie. One that will make you believe a man can fly.
Marlon Brando famously refused to memorize most of his lines in advance. For instance, in the scene where he puts infant Kal-El into the escape pod, he was reading his lines from the diaper of the baby. He told Director Richard Donner that the only way to keep his performance fresh, and not over rehearsed, was to record the first time he read the lines.
As Christopher Reeve was an unknown at the time, top-billing was shared by Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman.
The film was planned in three years, and shot in two. At the height of filming, over one thousand full-time crew on eleven units were spread over three studios and eight countries. Over one million feet of film was used, and it had the highest production budget of any film at the time.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video