Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Stream it:
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jeff East, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, based on a story by Mario Puzo, and on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Directed by: Richard Donner
MPAA Rating: PG for peril, some mild sensuality and language
Running Time: 143
Date: 10/12/1978

Superman (1978)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Man Can Fly

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was a fan of Superman since I could read, and I was very excited to see Superman: The Movie when I was about 9. I nearly leapt out of my seat when the first image was Action Comics No. 1, one of the most valuable comics of all time. As the movie progressed, I was thrilled to find that it was both exciting and funny, and lived up to all my wildest expectations.

Christopher Reeve stars as Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman, a.k.a. Clark Kent. He was a miracle of casting in a difficult role; he brings a highly appealing warmth, strength, and kindness to the Man of Steel, as well as wonderful, stammering, comic rhythm to Clark Kent.

The movie starts by telling his whole story, from the explosion of Krypton, to getting a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Margot Kidder is a wonderful raspy, punchy Lois Lane. The big stars at the time were Marlon Brando as Jor-El (who was paid something like $10 million for 10 minutes), and Gene Hackman as bad guy Lex Luthor (with hair).

Richard Donner directed, after having worked mostly in TV and making The Omen (1976), and does a very admirable job. He has been criticized as a generic Hollywood hack, but I find that he has a long history of clean, no-nonsense action-based entertainments that's not to be sneezed at. The screenplay, however, was a bit more prestigious, featuring heavy hitters like Mario Puzo and Robert Benton. Apparently, even the great "B" movie maker Andre de Toth worked on this movie as an uncredited second unit director.

And what can one say about John Williams' amazing score, other than that is has entered the cultural zeitgeist? It's impossible not feel tingles as you listen. Williams received one of the movie's three Oscar nominations. The other two were for Editing and Sound (though it won a Special Achievement award).

Superman was restored in 2000 and now runs 151 minutes. I'm not sure if it's because of the longer cut, or if it's because I'm not a kid anymore, but I found that watching it again, the origin sequences grew a bit tiresome and I was eager to get to the more lively, grown-up, Metropolis sequences. (Certainly, the second half of the movie has more humor.)

Moreover, I now wince at the "Can You Read My Mind" segment, which seems either horribly dated, horribly misguided, or both.

Superman has been released in several DVD and Blu-ray box sets, featuring the entire series so far. As for the other movies, director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) brings a more springy, comical feel to Superman II (1981), which has Superman fighting three superpowered villains. Donner began shooting Superman II concurrently with Superman, but Lester was hired to finish it. (Donner's director's cut is now also available.) Lester returned to direct, but couldn't save, the awful Superman III (1983), co-starring Richard Pryor. And Sidney J. Furie's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace looks even worse today than it did in 1987 with its tacked-on anti-nuke message. (See my separate review of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns.)

The first Superman DVD comes with tons of great extras, including even more deleted scenes that didn't make the final cut, a commentary track by Donner, and screen tests showing the likes of Anne Archer and Stockard Channing trying out for Lois Lane. The great Max and Dave Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941-1943 are also sometimes included.

Movies Unlimtied