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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin -- Superman

For those just joining us, welcome to Fishing in the Discount Bin!  I was doing this bit on my podcast for a while where, as my friend described it, I would just "go off" on one of the many movies in my DVD library.  I abandoned the bit after 10 episodes, but wrote up 30+ reviews first.  And I don't want to see those reviews going to waste.  So, I post them on the blog!

This week, we get to what many still regard as the gold standard in superhero films, Superman.  The original date on this review is September 26, 2010.

Well, with Supergirl still on my mind, you just knew it was a matter of time until I threw Superman into the DVD player.  What can I say about Superman that hasn't been written before?  It is still considered by many to be the gold standard in superhero adaptations.  Being released in 1978, it was one of those films, alongside Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that ushered in our modern day era of event pictures.  Christopher Nolan says he took some cues from it when he made his Batman films, and I can see the cues he took.  Superman and Batman Begins have the same premise:  it's the hero's origin story, told in loving and painstakingly accurate detail. 

In case it's been far too long since you've seen it, the plot is...well, Superman's origin story.  It starts on Krypton, with Jor-El's attempts to warn people that the planet is about to explode.  His research doesn't hold up to peer review, however, so he begins plans to send his infant son to Earth.  We then catch up with a teenage Clark Kent in Smallville, struggling to keep his powers a secret and find his destiny, eventually leading him to the North Pole where he tosses a Kryptonian crystal into the snow, the Fortress of Solitude springs up, and he goes inside, and learns of his heritage and destiny.

Man o man, when I was a kid, do you know how many times I threw icicles into snowbanks hoping the Fortress of Solitude would spring up?

The rest of the film then follows Clark Kent settling into Metropolis, falling in love with Lois Lane, and using his powers to foil Lex Luthor's evil plot.  But, of course, Superman can't be in two places at once, leading to the now-legendary ending where he turns back time so he can save Lois. 

What can I say about this film that hasn't been said before?  Christopher Reeve is just spot-on perfect as Superman.  Gene Hackman portrays Lex Luthor in a more comical light than in the comics, but it works.  However, there are some things that sadly date it in the 1970s.  Like when a pimp compliments Superman on his "nice threads."  That always just seems out of place.  Probably doesn't help that this pimp is the only black guy in the film. 

Plus, you know, you've got to feel some of that Alberta pride when you remember that most of the Smallville scenes were filmed in Southern Alberta, in and around Calgary.  You can clearly see some "Alberta Wheat Pool" grain elevators in Smallville.  And, at the funeral for Jonathon Kent, on the running commentary, director Richard Donner points out that the church off in the distance...really isn't off in the distance.  It was the World's Smallest Church, just outside Drumheller, that they trucked into the location to use for a forced perspective shot.  I was in that part of the country for my vacation last year...I should have tried to seek out the old brick schoolhouse that served as Smallville's school, and the Kent homestead.  According to Wikipedia, the old brick schoolhouse is in a hamlet called Barons. 

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was staying at my grandparents' house, and I watched it on the little, tiny black and white TV in their guest room.  Even back then, I thought it was awesome.

You know how when you see a movie as a kid, and then you watch it again when you're a little older and finally able to understand everything that's going on?  When I was finally old enough to see Superman and understand everything that was going on, I was in high school.  ITV (now known as Global TV Edmonton) had just started showing Lois and Clark, and, in order to promote it, were showing Superman as their late movie one Saturday night.  So, I set the movie, taped it, and watched it the next morning.  I was a little bit stunned at how much of it focused on the young Clark Kent, before he became Superman.  I didn't see it again until college, when I rented it and Superman II one night.  (The local video store had a "rent one, get one free" special for college students...ever since, I've been conditioned to rent movies in pairs.)

Why don't I own Superman II?  Oh, I know why.  I own the original, 2001 DVD release, which was a 2-disc special edition.  And I scoffed that Superman II didn't have a 2-disc special edition yet.  I see Superman II finally got a 2-disc special edition back when Superman Returns hit theatres.  Next time I see it in the discount bin, I'll probably pick it up.  There's a reason why this is called "Fishing in the Discount Bin."

I think it's becoming important for me to also have Superman II in my collection.  Superman 1 & 2 have a very convoluted history.  Here's my Coles Notes version.  So, the Superman films were made by this production company known as the Salkinds.  They'd hoped to emulate the business model they had with their very successful Three Musketeers films in the early 1970s - film the first and second film at the same time, and then release them a year apart.  Richard Donner was hired to direct the two films.  Donner set to work making two films at the same time.  Donner and the Salkinds never got along, as they were constantly fighting over the tone of the film.  Donner wanted to make something fairly faithful to the comics, using the word "verisimilitude" as his philosophy.  The Salkinds, apparently, wanted something campy, like the 1960s Batman TV series.  With production running over budget and over schedule, with the first film about 80% complete and the second one about 75% complete, Warner Brothers (who had already agreed to distribute and sunk a little of their own money into it) stepped in and said, "We're shutting down production on film #2.  If #1 is a hit, we'll go back and finish it."  So they finished #1, it was a colossal hit.  Because the Salkinds and Donner couldn't stand each other anymore, the Salkinds fired Donner and brought in a director by the name of Richard Lester to finish up #2.

But yeah.  Really nothing more to say.  It's become a true classic.

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