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SUPERMAN (1978) ****

As far as movies based on a comic book go; you can’t get any better than this. Director Richard Donner treats the Superman legend with intelligence, warmth, and reverence; and as a result creates one of the finest motion pictures ever made. In an age where far too many comic book movies approach the material with their tongue in cheek (like Batman and Robin) or take themselves way too seriously (yes, I’m looking at you Dark Knight); Superman strikes the perfect balance between humor and respect. From the destruction of Krypton, to Clark Kent’s early days in Smallville, to Superman’s first appearance in Metropolis, the film is truly epic in scope and Donner’s direction always keeps you fully enthralled, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

As much press as the casting of name stars like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman generated, it was the then unknown Christopher Reeve who made the movie such a joy to watch. Whether he’s essaying Clark Kent’s endearing clumsiness or portraying the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way; he totally rocks. When the ads for this movie promised that we would believe that a man could fly, it wasn’t the special effects that made us believe; it was Reeves’ performance. And the scene where he fails to save Lois Lane and lets out that bloodcurdling scream will send chills down your spine. He is, and shall ever remain the DEFINITIVE Man of Steel.

The other crucial element that makes Superman a classic is Donner’s direction. He really pulls you in with the opening Krypton scenes piles on memorable set piece upon memorable set piece. The scene of Superman’s first night of crime-fighting is a lot of fun (I especially liked the part when Superman saved a kitty out of a tree) and the eye-popping finale is still a doozy.

Seriously, there is not one false note in this movie. People seem to have a major problem with Hackman’s performance as Lex Luthor, but I think it’s the actor’s best work. Although Hackman makes the character humorous and the interaction with his idotic underlings (Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine) is hysterical, his criminal genius is still more than a match for the Man of Steel.

Superman is a great movie, but what makes it a perfect movie is the John Williams score. While the story and acting are powerful enough to make Superman a classic; it’s the music that elevates it to mythic status. While the triumphant theme is among the best Williams ever did (and that’s really saying something), I have to admit a particular fondness for Luthor’s comical music too. Heck, I even like the goofy “Can You Read My Mind?” freestyle poem Lois busts out while flying with Supes for the first time. Damn, I love this movie.

Three Reeves starring sequels and one ill-advised Bryan Singer directed Supes flick followed.

Superman is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten of the Year for 1978 at the Number 2 spot; which places it below Halloween and above I Spit on Your Grave.


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