Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Things I didn't know/forgot about Superman

My childhood was timed just perfectly so that it was the second movie of certain iconic series that really resonated with me. Yes, I have a much greater intimacy with the likes of Superman II, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, each of which I have seen approaching ten times, while Superman: The Movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Terminator have remained only one-time viewings. (The Terminator movies came out later, respectively, than those other movies, but were also significantly more violent, so I didn't encounter them until later on in my maturation.) I'd say the same thing for The Empire Strikes Back, but my preference of that over Star Wars is more in line with traditional thinking, and I never owned it on video, so didn't watch it significantly more than the original.

For years now I have been trying to schedule a second viewing of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but I just never seem to be able to get my hands on the thing. Remembering it to have disappointed me, you could also say I haven't exhausted the conventional means to acquire it.

Superman: The Movie, I realized, posed no such problem.

See, I got all four Superman movies as part of a DVD four-pack at a Christmas gift swap a couple years ago. That led to my first-ever viewing of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which I consider to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It was an easy decision to leave the disc that contained both that and Superman III behind in the states.

The Superman/Superman II disc came with us to Australia, and when I was sick on Sunday afternoon with a chunk of time home by myself, I decided to reacquaint myself with side 1 of that DVD.

Here's what I learned/remembered:

1) This was my third, not second, viewing of the movie. I can be pretty sure of that. Both viewings would have been more than 25 years ago, though, and probably closer to 30 years ago. Then again, there's also a high deja vu factor because some of the events in this movie are recapped at the beginning of Superman II. And some of them are just iconic enough to have seen them elsewhere, in clip packages at the Oscars and the like.

2) I can't believe that the two names that appear before the title are Marlon Brandon and Gene Hackman. Superman himself does not get a pre-title billing. Of course, no one had heard of Christopher Reeve at the time, so it makes sense by Hollywood standards if not by simple logic.

3) I thought I hadn't learned until one of the reboots that the S Superman wears on his chest was his family crest on Krypton. But there it is, right on Jor-El's chest.

4) When General Zod (Terence Stamp) got a mention on a recent episode of Filmspotting as one of the five best "things that came from outer space to destroy us," host Adam Kempenaar referenced his appearance and trial in the original Superman. Knowing that scene iconically from Superman II, I had thought he was mistaken -- and my desire to prove him wrong was one of the reasons I watched the movie again on Sunday. Turns out, he was right -- it's the opening scene of the movie. Which really begs the question: Why in the hell was Richard Donner allowed to include this scene of the three Krypton outlaws being tried, when their involvement in the rest of the movie is going to be absolutely zilch? I know that the first two Superman movies were envisioned as two parts of one whole, and it was probably safe to assume the first movie would be successful enough to greenlight a sequel. (Maybe they were even filmed at the same time -- I can't be bothered to go look it up.) Still, from a basic narrative standpoint that dictates that every part of a script must have a clear purpose for being included, the inclusion of these villains at this juncture makes no sense whatsoever.

5) I said the previous scene was the movie's first scene, but that's not actually true. There's a little prologue that involves us looking at the pages of Superman comic #1 from 1938. Totally forgot that.

6) How horrifying is that Krypton destruction scene? There are bodies hurtling down endless chasms left and right.

7) You would never get away with being able to show the little three-year-old dingle of a naked Superboy these days.

8) Lana Lang. When she made an appearance in Superman III, it angered me -- Lois Lane is Clark Kent's love interest. Not this impostor. Turns out, she has one minute of screen time in Superman: The Movie. Who knew? See #4 about including characters who are going to pay no dividends in this movie.

9) Is that Christopher Reeve dubbing the dialogue for the teenage version of the character? Another thing I can't be bothered to look up.

10) Man of Steel was torn a new one for containing so many product placements in its big fight scene in Smallville. Turns out, there's a dumbfoundingly prominent placement of a box of Cheerios right in the original Superman.

11) This could have occurred to me during one of my many viewings of Superman II, but how the hell did Lois Lane afford a penthouse apartment on a reporter's salary?

12) Metropolis is really and truly intended to be New York. That's something I forgot. Not only do they mention nearby New York cities (such as New Rochelle) in announcements at the train station under which Lex Luthor has his lair, but then of course Superman and Lois also fly by the Statue of Liberty later on.

13) I had forgotten how much of a comedic character Luthor already was in this first movie. I thought he was more of a murderous scumbag, which he is. What really surprised me, though, is that he would be so frustrated with Otis at one point that he would actually jump into the backseat of a car -- while driving -- just to throttle him. Thank goodness Miss Tessbacher is there to take the wheel.

14) And speaking of Miss Tessbacher ... it's so odd to me that the only reason the movie ends positively for anybody is because of this very side character. It's she who frees Superman from the Kryptonite necklace that sinks him to the bottom of Luthor's pool (and how clunky is that entire scene between Superman and the villains in Luthor's lair?), without which Lois Lane would have died and two nuclear missiles would have hit their targets. Not only that, but she also kisses Superman in a moment that the movie lingers on as though it were sort of romantic. I remembered none of this, and frankly consider it to be pretty problematic.

15) And speaking of Lois dying ... the fact that Superman can turn back time by flying at the speed of light in the opposite direction of the rotation of the Earth remains one of the most bogus ideas ever put forward in a Superman movie. It's simply cheating. One question: Did Supe know he would be able to do this when he set out, or was it just a happy byproduct of angrily flying really fast? And if he knew, wouldn't he be more practical about the whole thing, rather than flying through angry tears? And if he didn't know, wouldn't he be more surprised that it worked?

16) And what's up with this series' obsession with nuclear weapons? I know it's a byproduct of the Cold War and everything, but a nuclear weapon is the nemesis in this movie and at the beginning of Superman II (the bomb in the Eiffel Tower). Then there's a whole character devoted to nuclear power in the fourth movie, Nuclear Man, but the less said about that character/movie, the better.

I came away from this viewing with a full confirmation of my belief that Superman II is the superior film. For one, it's got a much more focused and self-contained plot, that builds and builds rather than just springing itself on us (we don't even learn the details of Luthor's plot until just before he executes it). Secondly, it's got far better villains. And thirdly, it's just more fun.

However, I have to realize and acknowledge that it would simply be impossible for me to feel as much love for the original Superman as Superman II, simply for how much I familiarized myself with the sequel and loved it through repeated exposure. It's what I did back in the 1980s that determined this once and for all, and it can't be undone/changed by anything I might do now.

Okay, next up: Finding Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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