Monday, July 03, 2006

Top 9 Reasons Not to Worship The Original "Superman" Movie

So you've probably heard that Bryan Singer made Superman Returns in part as a tribute to the 1978 Richard Donner movie, and if you haven't heard it, you've probably seen the movie and noticed how strongy it's influenced by Donner's film. This is not a good thing, and here are nine reasons why the Donner Superman should not be the template for other movies:

1. Margot freakin' Kidder. It's depressing to watch the screen tests of other actresses who were considered for the part of Lois Lane -- Ann Archer, Stockard Channing -- because they're all better than Kidder. There are several ways to play Lois; she can be a tough, career-oriented reporter, or she can be a simpering sweetie swooning over Superman, or she can be some combination of the two. But Kidder gives us a neurotic, screechy, thoroughly unappealing Lois.

2. John Williams' theme borrows both from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's King's Row score and the old Universal Pictures logo theme.

3. Lex Luthor is portrayed as an idiot, or at least he would come off as an idiot if it weren't for the fact that...

4. ...Luthor is surrounded by sidekicks who are even more idiotic than he is.

5. It's another one of those portrayals of Clark Kent where Kent is a complete caricature of a bumbling idiot -- Superman's parody of what ordinary humans are like. This doesn't make any sense: Clark was Clark Kent long before he became Superman, and the personality of Superman is an extention of the way Clark Kent was raised. But more than that, it's boring, because it robs Clark Kent of the chance to be an interesting character: we can't care about Clark because he's clearly just an act, not a person. "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Superman: the Animated Series" both did a much better job with Clark (though it was a little silly that the animated Clark looked so ridiculously muscular).

6. One of the better sequences in the film, the flying scene with Clark and Lois, is nearly wrecked by the decision to have Lois recite Leslie Bricusse lyrics in voice-over.

7. It's another one of those big '70s productions that was mostly shot in England (Star Wars is another) because studio space was cheaper there, and because English special-effects technicians were better than American ones at the time. The problem with that is that too many scenes are clearly populated by English people faking (or dubbed with) American accents.

8. Filming the exterior Metropolis scenes in New York, and generally not trying to pretend that Metropolis is anywhere other than New York, means that Metropolis has no real identity of its own as a city. The point of Metropolis or Gotham City is that they're like New York but they're not exactly the same; they have their own quirks. Not here, though.

9. It's just too damn long. Almost two-and-a-half hours, split between a) A story we all knew coming in and b) A villainous Lex Luthor plot that isn't very interesting.

And you can put Marlon Brando's accent as reason # 10, but frankly it's just too easy.

Now, none of that means that the Donner Superman is a bad movie; I think it's a very entertaining movie and a lot of the sequences are deservedly famous. But to make it the direct inspiration for a new Superman movie seems a bit misguided; you'd think Bryan Singer would want to try to improve on the older film, the way Christopher Nolan actually tried to improve on earlier Batman movies.

In case you're not all Supermanned out, Paul Dini has his thoughts on Superman Returns.


Daniel said...

I couldn't agree more. Yesterday I watched the "Worlds Finest" episodes of the Superman: The Animated Series, and it occurred to me what's really missing from Superman ('78)/Superman Returns:

Giant Robots!

Superman needs something to punch. He's never going to fight human beings--for obvious reasons--and he needs an adversary that can take a punch and fight back. Pretty much the entire movie consisted of Superman lifting things. What a sad, missed opportunity.

Yes, Luthor was pretty weak too.

Anonymous said...

1. If they ignored the other movies than people would have complained and been confuded. After all some people didn't like Batman Begins because it ignored the other movies[!!!] And the whole ignoring the previous four was confusing to some people. But then again the whole "ignoring 3 and 4 and not 1 and 2" was confusing anyway.

2. Superhero movies are either too serious or too campy. You can't win. If Lex was more serious people would be ranting about how great Gene Hackman was. Because according to most educated *cough* film critics you can't take these things seriously.

3. And your name really Jon Peters? :p

Daniel said...

Triviachamp: "And your name really Jon Peters?"

Funny. But, no.
No gay companion-robots or polar bear guards pined for here.

lonestarr357 said...

I'm willing to forgive your comments about Luthor and his cohorts (so I like them), but going after John Williams' music...sorry, but I must put my foot down.

Williams's theme is exciting, powerful and sets a pretty good tone for the film. Try not to look at it as 'borrowing' Korngold's music, but (in his own way) exposing to people who might not have otherwise been exposed to it.

Yeldarb86 said...

I can understand the part about Metropolis looking like NYC, because a lot of filmmakers seem to think NYC is the only city worth basing an urban setting on.

But please don't knock the John Williams theme. That's a classic.

Anonymous said...

"I think Batman & Robin deserved to be ignored, don't you? All four previous movies were severely flawed."

I agree. I loved BB.

Anonymous said...

Williams also appears to be ripping off his own theme from "Star Wars."

npetrikov said...

You're right about the portrayal of Lois Lane, but let's not be too hard on the actress. The director is to blame, I'd say.

The flick tried to make Superman "real": confounding Metropolis with New York City, using gags of the mundane like the telephone-booth-that-isn't, and the whole PR campaign telling us that we'll come away believing that a man can fly. The director asked, "How would a woman from our dull world behave, if she found herself in a world with super-villains and flying men?" and took it from there.

The trouble with this approach, of course, is that it undercuts the very sense of reality that ought to be conjured up: a real-world Lois is a never-ending reminder that there ain't no Metropolis.

SamuraiFrog said...

I actually like Margot Kidder better than any of the other actresses in the screen tests. She was the only one who actually LOOKED at Superman; Anne Archer was too busy and Stockard Channing was as arch and unrealistic as she always is in everything. Kidder looked at Superman (Reeve) with real intensity, and barely ever looked at Kent, which at least made her inability to see through his guise somewhat believable.

I still think the 1978 version is one of the greats. If Singer had bothered to reinvent the mythos and created a new film, that would have been welcome, maybe even necessary. But everything I've seen in the preview for Superman Returns is so unoriginal and uninteresting... who cares?

At least the animated series is on DVD.

Loren said...

Reeve was too young, but Brandon was WORSE. Waaaaay too young. It's SuperMAN not Superboy.

Speaking of which, Routh is 2 1/2 years younger than Tom Welling, the 'Superboy' of TV's Smallville.

Anonymous said...

I saw it today and was not impressed. Routh tries to act like a Christoipher Reeves and the mvoie wants to be campy and deep at the smae time.