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Movie Review: Superman (1978)

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Director Richard Donner's Superman is a classic. The first of all the Superman films, it is far and away the best and I doubt that they will ever be able to reach this quality again. Mario Puzo came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay, and anyone who's seen The Godfather knows just how skilled Mr. Puzo is at storytelling.

The film starts on the planet Krypton. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is giving a speech to the council, trying to convince them that the planet is going to explode within thirty days and they are doomed unless they evacuate immediately. Unfortunately, the council disagrees with him and insists he not cause widespread panic by either evacuating or leaving the planet on his own accord. Jor-El promises the council that neither he nor his wife will leave Krypton; however, he mentions nothing of his infant son. Jor-El and his wife load young Kal-El into a spaceship and send him off to Earth, just as Krypton starts to explode.

It takes three years for the ship to reach Earth, and when it arrives it crashes into a field somewhere in Middle America — a town called Smallville. Driving on the road through the field are Jonathan and Martha Kent. The meteor startles them and they swerve, causing a flat tire. They stop to fix the tire, and notice the ship. Emerging from the wreckage is a little boy — thus is born Clark Kent.

Growing up is tough for Clark, having to hide his special abilities from his peers, and upon his eighteenth birthday he takes a glowing crystal from the ship in which he arrived and heads on a quest to find himself and his meaning. This quest ends in what appears to be the North Pole, in what is now to become his Fortress of Solitude. It is here that over the next twelve years Clark Kent learns from Jor-El all the secrets to himself and the universe, and where he transforms into Superman.

When he returns to the regular world he assumes his secret identity, that of Clark Kent, the meek, mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet. This of course is only to hide his true self from his enemies, as he takes on evil genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and saves his true love, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).

One of the things that make Superman great is the special effects. Before the days of CGI directors actually had to try and make things look real, and in my opinion all this CGI is really hurting the films of today. Another great quality is the script. Although it starts out poorly with a few too many clichés from Marlon Brando, it really gains strength upon Kal-El's arrival on Earth, as it becomes less pretentious and the perfect amount of humor is thrown in.

Christopher Reeve plays the part to a tee; he even looks like Superman did in the comic books. Although Superman was not Christopher Reeve's big screen debut (that honor going to Gray Lady Down), it is most certainly the role for which he is best remembered. He was a fine man and will surely be missed. Glenn Ford is fantastic in his small yet important role as Jonathan Kent; he was a great actor in the '40s and '50s and shows here that despite his age he didn't lose a step. As always, Gene Hackman is great as the diabolical Lex Luthor, and Ned Beatty gives one of the all time great comedic performances as Otis, Luthor's idiotic henchman.

Superman is definitely worth seeing for anyone who hasn't yet done so, and definitely worth showing your kids. They will love it; I did when I was a child. I don't hold it in as high regard as Tim Burton's Batman, but they can't really be compared, as Batman is a much darker film. For an action/adventure movie it is a bit long at two and a half hours, but the time just flies by. I've seen 90-minute long films that took a lot longer than this.

Grade: B+

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