Superman

Superman ★★★★★

This movie altered my DNA as a kid. It's been my sentimental favorite ever since.

I think what I love most is Superman's earnest tone. This movie radiates goodness and optimism. For a 70s flick, there isn't an ounce of cynicism in here. Also, while it's funny, it is never silly. It winks in the direction of camp, but never drifts over into cheesiness. It's too busy being genuine. Donner (bless him, RIP) took the Salkinds' money, patted them on the head, turned them away from set, overhauled their corny script, and made a grounded, good looking motion picture instead of a 2 hr Batman '66 episode. That smart decision is why this has stood the test of time, instead of being filed away like Superman III or Superman IV.

John Williams' score is such a critical part of this movie’s credibility. The epic main theme is thrilling, yes, but it is the brilliance of the secondary themes scattered in all the other parts of the movie that, taken as a whole, just... I dunno... add dignity.

Combine the music with the cinematography (um, Barry Unsworth, 2001) and Donner’s eye for composing a shot, and this whole thing just gets elevated from a kid's adventure movie into something cinematic.

The cinematography flexes hardest in the Krypton and Smallville sequences. Yes, its a leisurely pace to Superman's reveal, but how pretty is it along the way? The ship launch, any wide farm shot, Clark opening the barn doors on a dutch angle, the cemetery shots, the farewell with mom in the wheat fields as the camera sweeps along. All inspiring, unrushed, and a feast for the eyes. When we get to Metropolis there is less time for lingering takes, but the the composition and editing of the tricky Daily Planet office scenes is pretty great too.

Love this cast full with legends. Brando reportedly phoned it in, reading cue cards off other actors' foreheads, etc. But can you tell? No. He was hired for gravitas and totally brings it. Squaring off with Stamp in the trial? Mmmm. How great is Glenn Ford? He has two scenes as Pa Kent that together total less than five minutes of screen time. Yet he manages to give this movie its beating heart with, what... maybe 30 total lines of dialogue? King.

I love Margot Kidder’s smart, feisty, spelling-challenged Lois. Her aloofness towards Clark is so fun to watch. These villains are a riot. Hackman is somehow both congenial and dangerous. National treasure Ned Beatty's Otis created the title of Best Movie Henchman and kept it for 22 years... until Cronk claimed that throne in 2000 with Emperor's New Groove.

In all, there isn't a bad or stilted, performance in this movie... which leads us to Christopher Reeve. Cripes alive. Our sweet boy. What intangible enchantment of manner, or bearing, or confidence, enables him to legitimize this costume, and this character, so convincingly? He makes the ridiculous look regal. Even the red trunks look natural on Chris. It really is something magical he's pulling off. His Superman is matched by his loveable performance as Clark Kent.

Quick last note on two amazing elements of production design... the Krypton / Fortress designs were astounding enough to change the core lore for a generation. And, Luthor's subway villain's lair is such an awesome piece of set design. I want a tour of every little detail. There's a picture of Mussolini on his desk. LOL.

Alright, to show I haven't lost all objectivity some thoughts from Bizarro Art's review:

>Opening credit sequence is looong. Rousing? Yes, but even I'm checking my watch halfway through.

>Hey Jor-el, will you shut up long enough for Lara to get an emotional beat as she says goodbye forever to her infant son? It's not all about you, ok?

>When we watch as a family, my son literally leaves the room during the "Can You Read My Mind" voice over. He refuses to acknowledge it exists. The rest of us sit patiently and avoid eye contact. The one concession Donner made to the Salkinds ("we need a song!") and shocker: it's a bit cringy, innit?

>Yes, some of the effects are dated, especially the miniature work in the finale's earthquake sequence. But they're adorably dated. Jeff East running in place on a wire in the train race is ooof.

These are minor flaws. I love it completely. For me, watching Superman is restorative.

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