Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Cult Movie Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)

Although blockbuster superhero films have come and gone by the dozen since the release of Superman: The Movie in 1978, the Richard Donner film remains, in my opinion, the best film of its type yet produced. 

I make this grand assertion in part because of the film’s layered visual symbolism, which intentionally and methodically equates the life-time journey of Kal-El/Superman with that of a messiah, or Christ figure. 

I make this assertion in part because the 1978 Superman speaks meaningfully about its historical context: the Post-Watergate Age of the mid-1970s.  Specifically Superman is offered up to audiences as a positive role model, a kind of wish-fulfillment alternative for a country that appeared mired in partisanship, bickering, and corruption.  Superman’s promise that he would “never lie” to Lois (and to us) reflects this deep, burning national desire during the mid-1970s for a restoration of belief and trust in our elected leaders.

I make this assertion of greatness for Superman: The Movie, as well, because of the film’s remarkable and epic three act, biographical structure, which actually permits for intense focus on the hero rather than the villain, an absolute rarity in a genre which has distinguished itself largely, by spotlighting ever-kinkier, ever-more perverse antagonists. 

By focusing on Clark Kent’s origin, upbringing, and adult life -- instead of the Lex Luthor’s genesis, for example – Superman: The Movie provides a perfect allegory for the American immigrant experience.  That experience, in short, is about coming to a land of opportunity, assimilating its cherished values, and then living those values at highest level possible.

Buttressed by a sincere, pitch-perfect lead performance by the late Christopher Reeve, Superman: The Movie is also that rarest of breeds: a superhero film that doesn’t wallow in troughs of human ugliness. 

Certainly, the Donner film doesn’t short-change or deny the tragic aspects of its hero’s life, such as the death of his parents and destruction of his world, Krypton.  Yet nor does Superman: The Movie make the grievous, depressing determination that after such a personal tragedy occurs, angst, depression, revenge, and darkness are the only emotions a hero can possibly face, feel, and act upon. 

A real hero can still choose to take to the skies instead of lurking in the shadows, or seething in the dark of night. 

Superman: The Movie concerns a hero who faces tremendous adversity, to be sure.  Superman is a man without a nation (or planet) and a man without a biological family of origin.  And yet his response to such troubles is not to burrow inward and become twisted by hate.  His response is -- simply -- to be kind, to be “a friend” to those who need him; to those who also face adversity.  Because he is strong (physically) Superman can protect those who are like him…but who cannot protect themselves.  This kind of selflessness is, in my opinion, the very quality that should epitomize a superhero, but rarely does in the cinema.

I don’t believe that heroes -- let alone super heroes -- can truly be born through rage, victim hood, or revenge.  Rather, those are the unfortunate qualities of human life to overcome and surpass, not the qualities to dictate the shape of a meaningful and purposeful life.    

Superman: The Movie perfectly embodies this aesthetic. 

Through the dedicated application of visual symbolism and a literate screenplay that focuses on its hero, Superman: The Movie continues to speak to the better angels of human nature, even today.  Although the film’s special effects have certainly aged in the intervening three-and-a-half decades since its theatrical release, the Donner film’s soulful humanity yet resonates and inspires.

An act of revenge may satisfy blood lust temporarily.  But when a superhero soars above us and represents the best of human qualities, the sky is really the limit.   Superman: The Movie embodies that principle, and makes us all believe a man can fly.

I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way.

On the distant, highly advanced world of Krypton, a great scientist, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) warns of imminent planetary disaster, but is ignored.   As disaster and death loom, Jor-El sends away his young son, Kal-El, on a multi-year space voyage to Earth.  There, the boy will grow up with incredible powers, courtesy of Earth’s yellow sun. But he will also grow up isolated and alone…the last of his breed.

On Earth, young Kal-El crashes in rural Kansas.  There, he is adopted by farmers, Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter), and raised as their son, Clark Kent (Jeff East). As Clark matures, he resents the fact that he must always hide his powers away from humans.  But after his Earth father dies from a heart attack, Clark decides to pursue a grand destiny.  He heads north and creates, from Kryptonian crystal, a Fortress of Solitude where he can learn about himself and his world.

After twelve years of study, Clark (Reeve) emerges from the Fortress as “Superman,” a caped hero who can fight crime. He heads to Metropolis, where -- as Clark Kent -- he works as a reporter at the Daily Planet.  He soon falls in love with another reporter, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), but soon learns that she has eyes only for Superman.

When the villainous Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), launches a deadly real estate scheme to destroy the west coast of America, Superman confronts the twisted genius.  Unfortunately, Luthor has discovered the only substance on Earth that can harm the Man of Steel: a rock from his destroyed world, or Kryptonite…

“The single most important interview since God talked to Moses…”

Unusually, Superman: The Movie embodies three distinctive settings and movements in its final cut.  The first segment or section takes place on distant Krypton, the second in 1950s Kansas, and the third in Metropolis of the 1970s. 

By my critical reckoning, the first “act” or segment of the film concerns Heaven, the second concerns the discovery of a home and humanity, and the third involves achievement of destiny.

Superman: The Movie’s religious imagery remains most powerful in the Kryptonian segment, but continues throughout the picture (and indeed, in Superman II [1981] and even Superman Returns [2006].) 

But let’s discuss Krypton first.  It is a world of radiant, glowing white, a world that, literally, symbolizes Heaven.  When we first see Krypton, we pass through a layer of white mist, which suggests, visually, clouds in Earth’s sky.  In other words, we are moving beyond the Earth and firmament into the realm of the Angels.

Here the Kryptonians gather, led by the God-like Jor-El, whose surname, El means “deity” in Hebrew.

In his first order of business, Jor-El casts out the insurrectionist Zod, who is clearly a stand-in for a similar insurrectionist against God, Lucifer.  Zod and his minions are sent into a kind of living Hell, the “Phantom Zone,” for their crimes.

Following this removal of “evil” from Paradise or Heaven, Jor-El and his world face another, equally unexpected threat: a natural disaster that could destroy it totally. Jor-El’s entreaties to evacuate Krypton are ignored and silenced, and the radiant, formerly-white, heavenly realm turns scarlet red under the increasing light of the Red Sun. In Scripture, scarlet or crimson colors signify suffering, worry, fear and blood, the very opposite of the “purity” and “sanctification” that once represented Krypton’s ideal society.

Jor-El, the “God” figure, then sends his “only son” to Earth, to aid mankind, in a deliberate reflection of John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Kal-El then travels to Earth in a spaceship that some suggest resembles the Star of Bethlehem itself.  He lands in Kansas and becomes the adopted child of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Certainly, there is a trenchant comparison to be made here between Jonathan and Joseph, and Martha and Mary.  They are not, strictly speaking, biological parents of a messiah, but rather instructors in humanity.  

Then, as if to cement the comparison of Kal-El to Jesus Christ, the character is seen -- as a young boy -- standing in a crucifixion-type pose, his arms outstretched.  This signifies, of course, that he is to become the messiah, and perhaps face scorn, even, for his sacrifices (as we see in later movies).

As Superman, Kal-El performs acts that -- in keeping with the Jesus Christ comparison -- are quite miraculous.  He can travel faster than a locomotive, leap higher than a skyscraper, and deflect bullets.  He also explicitly states that he “never lies,” a comment which conforms to the post-Watergate reading of the film, but also the religious allegory.  Where Superman will never “lie” to Lois, Jesus noted that there was “no deceit” in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9) and that “I tell you the truth” (John 8:45).

What’s the point of the religious allegory?  I suppose it is largely, that when a God or a messiah walks among men, he inspires men to be better.  That’s Superman’s gift too.  While he must also face “diseased maniacs” like Lex Luthor, Superman’s very existence proves that a man can live up to ideals like justice for all, or even, on a basic level, honesty towards his peers.  The closing shot of the film see Superman break the fourth wall and cast his eyes upon us, in the audience.   When this man-above-men gazes upon us, he reminds us, too, that we can do the things he does.  We can be friends and heroes to the weak, even if we lack Superman’s otherworldly powers.

Krypton is Heaven. 
Casting out the Insurrectionists to the Hell of "The Phantom Zone."

Heaven becomes Hell.

And Jor-El gives to mankind his only begotten son...

Kal-El, on Earth, stretches out his arms, in crucifix position.

The most visually beautiful segment in Superman: The Movie, I find, is the second or middle one.  This section is set in Kansas, under Big American Sky, and it captures beautifully a Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) quality. 

As you may recall, Rockwell often painted imagery of small town life, and his work frequently asked the critical question: what does it mean to be an American?  Such works as Freedom of Speech (1943), The Problem We all Live with (1964), Runaway (1958) and Homecoming Soldier (1945) all focused, laser-like on the idea of the American dream, the American community, and, in some instances, the effort to achieve true social justice for all.  Law and order, heroism, prejudice, and other America-centric topics all found expression in Rockwell’s catalog.

As an immigrant living in America, Kal-El thus gets a lesson in Rockwell-ian Americana in the film’s second movement, and I feel that this view – while undeniably sentimentalized – represents what is best about our nation.  The powerful imagery of windswept wheat fields, of white church steeples, and of productive family farms suggests a simple, honest, corn-fed life of upstanding moral values.  Those values of “truth, justice and the American way” are crucial in forming Superman’s bedrock psyche.  He is not a biological child of America, but through his adoption of our land he understands the value of hard (physical) work, and the value of honesty and truth.  Best of all, he understands something else critical about the American dream: the idea that in America it is not the color of your skin or your land of origin that should matter most. 

Rather, it’s what you do here -- right now -- to contribute to the common good that weighs the heaviest. 

Superman’s story is thus the story of immigrants in America since time immemorial, and it’s no coincidence, I submit, that Superman soon takes Lois on a flight around the Statue of Liberty, an icon welcoming immigrants to our shores.  If Lois is his real life love, then Lady Liberty -- and by extension, America, --represent Superman’s other significant romance.

The scenes set in Kansas purposefully contrast with those set on Krypton, which represented, in a sense, cold intellect as opposed to warm, human heart.. This is significant because the Kryptonians ultimately lost their world because of intellectual arrogance. Clark cannot let the same fate befall his adopted home world.

Big Sky, Rockwell America.

More Big Sky, Rockwell America.

And more.

An immigrant visits Lady Liberty.

The third and final portion or segment of Superman: The Movie concerns America of the movie’s present (meaning 1978).  The Watergate Scandal had recently toppled a President, and America’s heroes of the day were two committed reporters, Woodward and Bernstein.  

Given the public’s dislike of the corporate press today, it is indeed difficult indeed to imagine a time when reporters were widely viewed as ideal protectors of American freedom, but that was indeed the case in the mid-1970s, the same era that gave us investigative reporter Carl Kolchak on The Night Stalker

The idea featured here, in both Superman and Kolchak, is that the truth matters more than power.  A reporter could -- armed with the freedom of the press -- fight City Hall, and expose City Hall as corrupt. Even a President was not above the law. 

In Superman: the Movie, Clark thus takes on two noble professions: that of a dedicated journalist, and that of a superhero.  It likely says something about how cynical we’ve become today that we can’t imagine a journalist being an advocate for unbiased, non-partisan truth.

That quote from Superman that I mentioned earlier, “I’ll never lie to you,” not only represents religious allegory then, but political allegory as well. Those words represent a direct quote from then-President Jimmy Carter, who spoke identical words to a scandal-weary American populace in 1976.

As a nation, we were disappointed with our elected leadership, and were searching for a "new hope." As a people, we no longer believed that a man could fly, metaphorically-speaking. Hell, we didn't even believe that our leaders were "good" or "honest." The public faith was broken. But Superman was the real deal...the genuine article. Not only was he good, he actually brought out the best in the people around him.  When he informs Lois that he wants to fight for truth, justice, and the American way, she scoffs at the cliche, warning that he’ll have to fight every elected official in the country.  But Superman boasts a quality that can change everything: the power to inspire.

Lois Lane, as portrayed by Margot Kidder, thus proves a perfect sparring partner for Superman and Clark in Superman: The Movie because she is so deliberately "of" this fast-moving, cynical culture in a way he definitively is not. And yet despite her cynicism, Lois is still absolutely taken with Superman.  This is so, I believe, because all of us - no matter how jaded -- still want very much to believe in "truth, justice and the American way."

In the age of Superman: The Movie (1978), reporters were national heroes.

Clark as latter-day Woodward or Bernstein.

He'll never lie to you...
Christopher Reeves' Superman is the ultimate fish-out-of-water: a principled man living in an unprincipled time. Yet despite this fact, he commits himself to being the savior of this tough, cynical world. It’s a world that some might say doesn't even deserve Superman.  But this Man of Steel reveals that it is not a weakness to be gentle, and not a character flaw to be kind, or honest. A real hero doesn't need to swagger, or be a misanthropic "loner.”

Instead, this is a visitor who is amused and puzzled by mankind. He can be strong and idealistic and baffled all at the same time. He can be sincere without being a wimp.

Accordingly the crises featured in Superman: The Movie are authentically human rather than special effects spectaculars. Over the course of the film, Clark loses two fathers (Jor-El and Jonathan Kent), bids farewell to his Mother, searches for the purpose of his life in the Fortress of Solitude, falls in love with a flawed "modern" human being (Lois) and embraces the stated traditional principles of his adopted country.

And when he angrily violates Jor-El's "non-interference" directive during the film's climax to turn back time to rescue Lois, Superman proves he is no longer a child of cold, emotionless Krypton ...but a real child of America. It's a great character-arc. 

I always find it ironic that superhero movies of recent vintage slather on one villain after the other. Some movies even boast three super-villains for a superhero to combat.  The implication, of course, is that evil is more interesting, dramatically, than good is; that excavating someone who is evil is intrinsically more interesting than examining someone who struggles to do good.  Superman: The Movie reverses that equation. 

This is the very reason why the film is still held up as a paragon of the form by many, or at least counted among the ten best superhero films ever made.  The Donner film’s focus is squarely on the man wearing the cape, not the freak in the grease paint, or the bald maniac. The film may compare Superman to a messiah, but in the Man of Steel, we can all see, too, the potential to achieve our very best self. 


  1. Anonymous2:57 PM

    John you have summed up in this review everything that made director Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN:THE MOVIE(1978) a brilliant film and the first great superhero film. I will never forget seeing this as a boy in 1978 with my family and getting emotionally involved cheering Kal-El/Superman. The John Williams trademark flying score music endowed Superman with the ability to fly. Between this score and the special effects I believed a man could fly. The Daily Planet Helicopter rescue scene with Lois falling with Metropolis/New Yorkers cheering on Superman has to be one of the greatest scenes in film history capturing all the emotions of such an event. Richard Donner setting it in a real life New York/Metropolis added to the realism. John excellent review!


    1. Hi SGB,

      Thank you for a great and supportive comment. I too will never forget seeing this film in the theater. It was a magical and wondrous experience to go with a magical and wondrous film. I'm glad you mentioned John Williams' soaring musical score -- I should have made note of it too. It is an incredible composition, and as you say, really supports the effects.

      I also agree with you about the helicopter scene. It's tense, terrifying, thrilling and high-flying all at the same time.


  2. Anonymous8:29 PM

    I was surprised that you found the middle section the most visually satisfying. Many sci-fi fans (including me) are dazzled most by the rather classy production design of Krypton. Although grandly entertaining, some aspects are disappointing. The mentally challenged character of Otis is downright annoying. Why would a genuis such as Lex Luthor surround himself with such an incompetant moron? Lex's plan to create more ocean-side property is silly in the extreme as is Superman turning back time by spinning the Earth in the opposite direction.

    The Kansas section is treated with a respect that seems to indicate the foriegn producers wanted to convey a sense of wholesome Americana in the film (which is especially refreshing compared to the overly cynical films of today). As you noted the effects have aged. The zoptic system used for the flight sequences were a unique achievement. The flood sequence at the end remains disappointing because water just didn't miniaturise convincingly.

    The casting of the principals was perfect. The music was some of the most memorable in film history. Who remembers the music from today's films? And lastly, one just left the theater in a good mood from this wonderful film.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Great thoughts here about the film. I do love, very much, the opening section, set on Krypton, but I guess I find the second segment, in Kansas, more emotionally moving, and the visuals seem to reflect that sheer emotionalism. I don't know, it's a close call for me. Both segments are gorgeous.

      I agree with you totally about the effects, the casting of the principals the sterling music. Most importantly, I agree with you about the film's impact. After watching this film, you find yourself happy, and in a good mood. Well said.


  3. Oh, I so agree with you, John. This is the comic book superhero movie that all who have followed in its wake (for decades now) owe a hugh debt to. That and Richard Donner's direction. In 1978, during a time that shaped me as a adult, it was this movie and experience that buoyed me as the year came to a close. I never tiring of watching or remembering it. You've given it an extraordinary appreciation, my friend. Thanks for this, John.

    1. Hi Le0pard13,

      I just went back and read you TMT post. A great job (as is usual...) and a great remembrance. I agree with you wholeheartedly that this is a memorable film, and one with the seemingly infinite capacity to rejuvenate one's faith in the human spirit. Thanks for a great comment!


  4. Anonymous11:41 PM

    John, once again, an excellent review of a cinematic classic. Superman-The Movie and Superman II(especially the Richard Donner Cut)are definitely the ultimate Superhero films. Two films that I watch every Thanksgiving.

    Too bad movies like these aren't made anymore. This is what films are really made of!

    One wishes there were a real superhero like Superman. Christopher Reeve's memorable portrayal of the Man Of Steel definitely proves that the human race, to this day, is in dire need of a heroic figure. He also proved, until his passing in 2004, that he was truly a Superman to the very end. There will never be another real life hero like Christopher Reeve. Let alone a memorable performance like the one he had given.

    *I still get a bit depressed when Jonathan Kent passes away. Sadly, it reminds me too much of my father's own death.

    1. Anonymous,

      First, I want to say how sorry I am to read of your father's passing. My sympathies. That just can't be an easy transition, and I understand why the moment with Kent saddens you.

      I agree with your thoughts on Christopher Reeve -- a hero to the very end, and a role model. What a great man, and what a truly great performance he gives in this film. I'm glad we can watch his performance, again and again, and remember it for the ages.

      All my best,

  5. Fantastic review of probably my favorite superhero flick. The notion of good ole days is usually proven to be a crock, but the white hat/black hat really does work here, and even now, in an irony-saturated age of psychotic (Batman) vs. psychotic (the Joker), holds up amazingly well. Reeve imbued the character with a humanity that's easy to see but never comes across as naive.

    Concerning Otis, I can't argue with anon, but I've always had a soft spot for Beatty's cornball yelps of "Mistah Loo-thaw! Mistah Loo-thaw!"

    1. Hi Randal,

      I concur COMPLETELY. I don't like to do the good old days shtick, either. It makes one sound like a bitter old man. "Get off my lawn!" and all that. But there are some things about the old days (as there are about current days...) worth trumpeting. And the grandeur and glory of Superman: The Movie is certainly one of those things.

      I would take Superman and Superman II over The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises any day and EVERY day. Seriously, those films depress the hell out of me, while Superman: the Movie inspires me and lifts my spirits.

      Otis is a goofball, but a loveable goofball, to be certain...

      Excellent insights, as usual...


  6. In my mind, the single greatest superhero film ever made. Not until Iron Man (and the subsequent Marvel Studio films came along) would another comic property be treated with such respect and reverence towards it's source material. Took me a long time to figure out the Christ connection. In the intervening years I have found myself to be extremely anti DC Comics in just about every regard. But nothing will take away from this film. DC and Warners can keep screwing the pooch, however they got it 100% with this one.

    1. David:

      I am very much in sympathy with your comment that Superman: The Movie is the best superhero movie ever made. I also liked Iron Man a great deal, and feel it's probably the closest film we've got to toppling Superman from its throne. There's also a sense of unfettered joy and...possibility, in that film.

      I'm glad, as well, that DC got this one right. I think it all goes back to Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve...

      Great comment!


  7. As a 34-year-old male, this movie, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark, is the defining mythos of my generation. Every time I hear the first few bars of the Williams' Superman Theme, I get goosebumps - every time! It's nostalgia and that yearning for the actualization of a true hero in whatever time of my life I happened to find myself in.

    Your Christ allegory references are spot-on. Amazing that I've never considered it.

    Christopher Reeve will forever be Superman.

    1. Gunnertec:

      I'm with you on the goosebumps, vis-a-vis Williams' Superman Theme. How can The Man of Steel hope to compete with that immediate, instantaneous melodic touchstone? No matter how good the film, the absence of that trademark theme is going to be problematic, in my opinion.

      I thought Brandon Routh did a good job as Superman, but I always say it: Christopher Reeve is my Superman (meaning the Superman of my generation.)


  8. George12:53 PM

    Great review John. In my opinion, this is the greatest comic book adaption ever. Donner did it first, and set the template that every big comic book movie has followed. Donner and Mankiewicz should get a fandom knighthood for the work they did. The helicopter rescue and Jonathan Kent's heart attack now as an older man choke me up. Even listening to Alexander Salkind's commentary on the dvd, his passion for the project comes through, especially when he touchingly talks about his late father. Christopher Reeve nailed it, and it makes me sad that some people see this Superman as a " Boy Scout". He's brave, compassionate, loyal, funny and patriotic and people find this boring? I seek out every version of this film I can find. I could watch a 9 hour "Director's Cut" if there was one. This was also the first time (as an 8 year old) that I saw minor changes being done to the character continuity wise. We didn't need to see Jor-El with a big sun on his shirt, Luthor with hair etc. I LOVE this movie. I owned the Topps cards and the giant DC magazine. As I got older, I started to pretend that the reason for each subsequent movie getting worse and worse was that it was Superman's fault for going back in time and "fracturing " his own time line and continuity. Sorry for the long post, this is in my top 5 favorite movies ever.

  9. Hi John,

    That "Big American Sky" is actually Alberta; which is a province in Canada (sorry, I'm trying to be funny).

    This Superman is truly epic. Back when films actually looked epic. They looked like a lot of money was put into them. Not like today's "epic" films... which I call "Compressed-Epic", like a compressed file. To be honest, to make this film today, the same way it was made back then, would probably run upwards of 300 million dollars; or more.

    But, budget trivia aside, Richard Donner's Superman feels big and important. Somehow, and perhaps because of this "attitude", emotional resonance becomes part of its viewing experience -- it certainly did when I first saw it in January of 1979.

    As several people have noted, here, John Williams' score is part of this film's success. While not my favourite Superman theme, that would be the one from the 1950s television series, one cannot imagine Christopher Reeve excelling in the role as much as he does, without Mr. Williams' music accompaniment.

    Okay, I'll say it: "They don't make 'em like this anymore."

    Keep up the good work, John. I meant to comment on your posting on Konk... I mean, Kong. I'll do so, soon.


    1. Regarding John Williams' Superman: the Movie music, I meant to add that his theme is very reminiscent of Victor Young's theme/song ("The Air Force Takes Command") for Strategic Air Command (1955).

      On that note: Jerry Goldsmith's 'balloon theme' for Night Crossing (1981) is very similar to Young's 'B-36/flying' music from Strategic Air Command.

      All great flying tunes... which help make us leave the movie theatre, in a good mood.

  10. I didn't have comic books growing up, nor did I have television or a theatre within an hours drive, but I did have access to the neighbors extensive, pirated VHS collection. My worldvIew was shaped by these characters, particularly Yoda, Gandhi, Mr. Miyagi, and Superman.

    Its hard to sequentially list the best comic book adaptations, but Superman held the #1 spot without a challenger until The Watchmen. If The Superman messiah led us back to our potential good, The Watchmen followed the process of how, over time, we aspired to be super but lost track due to time and our human nature.

    Most other superhero movies seem interested only in their characters instead of what the story of those characters mean to us.

  11. Despite the Christ-symbolism, it seems unlikely to me that Superman's creators would have viewed him that way. More likely, Siegel and Shuster would have equated him with Moses (baby sent off in a vessel to escape destruction, raised by people not of his own kind, becomes a person of power as an adult).
    I'm surprised I never thought of this before, but the time-setting of the Kansas sequence is wrong. If Clark spent 12 years in the Fortress, emerging as Superman in 1978, he would have been in high school in the mid-1960s, not the 1950s. The music should have been more the Beatles instead of "Rock Around the Clock."
    And, I think you and I have discussed this before, but it's ironic that when Superman tells Lois "I never lie," he is, in fact, lying, because he is lying to her about his double life as Clark Kent. Granted, there is one aspect of that interview I've always found ridiculous, and that is his confession that he can't see through lead. Never a good idea to give away a weakness.
    The interview scene does, however, give a rationale to why Superman has such trouble catching the missiles. When Lois asks "How fast can you fly?", he responds "I don't know. I've never really timed myself." So, when he chases the nuclear missiles, he's pushing himself for the first time. It's only after Lois' death, that he breaks all of his self-imposed limitations and flies faster that light to go back in time.
    And, regarding that single worst part of the film, I've always felt that the "turning the world around" was a visual, abstract representation of him travelling backward in time, changing what was needed to keep Lois alive, and then resuming normal time flow. However, the earthquake must still have happened, since Jimmy says, at the end, that Superman left him all alone in the middle of an earthquake.
    Overall, though, I agree that Superman is a wonderful movie, due to the time it took to set up the characters, the excellent performances (especially Christopher Reeve-to me the main point of the film is not "You'll believe a man can fly," but "You'll believe one man can convince us he's two different people." ), and, of course, the music.
    Thanks for another insightful review, John.

  12. Andrew6:16 AM

    Dear John, thanks for another great review, insightful and interesting as usual.

    I don't think Donner's film is the best "superhero movie" ever (I love the X-Men movies more, or even Ang Lee's Hulk or Raimi's Spider-man 2 by the way) but it certainly is one of the top 10, especially because it gives us such a good positive role model (and because it's so well made too, a true "movie event"!).
    I deeply dislike Nolan's Batman, for example, and the current fad that every single superhero must be violent/depressed or funny/ironic, but never simply "heroic" like the name itself implies.
    Superman (in both Donner's and Singer's flawed but interesting version) is not faultless but he tries to be a better man and, at the same time, shows us how to do the same. Just like Jor-El says, we need someone to show us the way. Certain things didn't age well (special effects, some characterizations etc.) but this message is timeless and maybe more important now than when the film was released.

    I'm afraid next year's Man of Steel will be a "Batman dressed as Superman" and not the real one, but we'll always have this great movie to remind us who Superman is... and always be.

  13. What a fantastic review, thank you for sharing so many of your thoughts on such a well loved film and hero in film. I was in a conversation with a co-worker from Dish, who is the same age as I am, about "the real" superhero's of our generation. "Superman: The Movie" starring Christopher Reeves and the legacy that was born with Donner’s man of steel was brilliant. I do feel however, that when the actor lost his wings, I put the flag at half-mast permanently for the man of steel. It felt to me that we had seen what happens when man is given god like powers and thrust back upon the Earth in shambles one too many times. My work keeps me away from home, so using Blockbuster @Home to get a movie in advance is perfect for a hotel movie night. Tim, co-worker makes a great partner in crime for movie watching, after long meeting filled days. The Superhero madness of Hollywood has definitely reopened the cast for many caped crusaders; in the honor of those that fight for good, we will be watching some movies in their honor.