Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Superman: The Movie. God damn, Superman: The Movie.
This film drops the bomb on me. When I watch it, it's like someone has unlocked the gates of thunder from above. It just crushes and kills.
It is the film to impact me most during my youth. Not even the sheer might of The Empire Strikes Back could do to me what this film has done. It has had the most long-term effect on me. It lays into me and slams me to the ground with such emotional force every time I see it that I'm not sure I could ever fully explain it to another person. And it may seem strange to say but I truly believe this film somehow contributed to the way I grew as a human being. Has there ever been a film that has done this to you? Just grabbed you and held you in its grip from 0:01 to the end? A film that puts you on an emotional roller coaster no matter how many times you see it?
While I must admit The Dark Knight is probably in a close three-way tie with this movie and Empire, at the end of the day Superman edges out. There are many reasons why I hold it in such high regard.
Brando. Hackman. Ford. Cooper. Even before you get to Reeve, you have a formidable cast and I would go so far as to say unparalleled to this day when it comes to any cast assembled for any superhero movie. When you watch the film it is obvious that the actors — most notably Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder — had real chemistry.
The Overall Scope
They spent a shitload of money on this film. At the time, something like $40 million (of which $3.5 mil was handed to Brando for less than three minutes of screen time... obscene). I know the budget was right up there with the one for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which had $40 mil, the biggest budget up to that point. Now look, granted, the "flying" effects are very dated when you watch them now, I will give you that. You do not "believe a man can fly." I will even say that many of the other effects are also fairly poor. But overall, the scope of this movie is beyond measure. The opening sequence with Krypton is breathtaking. The level of sophistication... the writing, the pacing, the camera angles, the editing... all superb. The logistics involved with putting this film together must have been staggering.
Brando was Brando... excellent. Reeve did a fantastic job and he injected all sorts of subtelties throughout. Margot Kidder was sweet and charming and sexy and feisty and complex. And Glenn Ford's heart attack sequence must go down as one of the most brilliant examples of acting ever; you can literally see a nervous twitch in his face as he realizes he is having a heart attack.
This is the only film to spend any time on Superman's home planet. When the film opens up, we are transported to a gorgeous landscape and a civilization we can relate to — complete with political corruption, scandal and opposition against those who wish to do the right thing. In this case the warning from Jor-El that falls on deaf ears. What's more, we are treated to a masterful performance by Brando where he pronounces selfless love for his newborn son and a chance for his survival. As a young person I used to fast-forward through this entire "boring" Krypton sequence. Looking back I can only see how ignorant I was. This is a rich, flawless chapter in the movie and a great prologue. Easily one of my favorite set pieces in any superhero film.
Other than the special effects (which I've admitted to looking pretty crappy), Superman: The Movie holds up to repeated viewings. To me, it does. I don't own it on Blu-ray yet but I plan on getting it soon.
Out of all the movies I have ever seen I must say I've never watched anything as beautiful nor as heartbreaking as the wheat field sequence. When Ma Kent tells Clark, "I knew this time would come... we both knew it... from the day we found you..." and when the camera begins to circle them, it chokes me up every time. The late Geoffrey Unsworth was lauded as one of the "last great lighting men in Hollywood," and with good reason. The next time you watch this film, pay special notice to the use of lighting... particularly during the Lois/Superman rooftop sequence. You'll see why Unsworth was held in such high regard.
At no other moment in his career has Richard Donner been more perfect a filmmaker than he was during the making of this movie. He has a few stumbles (as Reeve runs toward the camera to reveal the "S" for the first time, he begins to slow down and the camera stays on him for a few beats too long) but overall Donner scores an A+ in my mind. Some very dynamic moments such as the scene when Superman puts a finger up at the black guy on the street as he heads off to rescue Lois, as if to say, "Hey man, I've got someting serious going on, get back"... the scene where Superman spins down through the concrete to get to Luthor. The scene where Superman is interviewed by Lois... the part where Pa Kent realizes he is having a heart attack... the scene where Superman holds a dead Lois Lane in his arms and then flies into a rage through the clouds... the list goes on.
The Dark Knight is a masterpiece but it is no match for this film in terms of class. The scope, the direction, the music, the acting, the dialog makes Superman: The Movie ooze class at every turn.
If there was one word I would use to describe this film it would be "majestic," due in large part to the music. The epic piece composed for Krypton (which you can experience in the video clip below). The heavenly piece done for the scene when Lois goes up with Superman, "Can You Read My Mind." And of course, the main theme, the one where you can actually hear the word "SUPERMAN!" if you listen for it. In my opinion, this is John Williams' best film score from beginning to end. Just epic.
And this. This piece of genius by John Williams. Jesus Christ Almighty, hearing this makes me feel alive. It just fills me with positive energy and hope. In fact, not many of my friends know this (I'm not sure any of them do) but when my wife and I built our first home four years ago, I put together a soundtrack and played it the day we went to get the keys. The song I chose to play as I unlocked the door was the main theme to Superman. My wife and kids thought it was awesome!
When the film opened on December 15th, 1978 and people sat down to this opening sequence, they knew just how "big" a movie they were about to see. Watch this intro from the film. Just listen to it one time and tell me your day will not become all the richer for it.