Superman (1978) Movie Review

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

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I'm sorry.  I'll go ahead and apologize upfront.  I hope this doesn't change our relationship, I mean taste is subjective right?  I hate onions.  I hate them passionately.  Just one crunchy onion in a meal and it's ruined for me.  But hey, some people love onions right?  And there is nothing wrong with that.  Superman (1978) is my onion.

I have friends who passionately love this movie.  I had one friend who told me often that this was his favorite movie of all time.  He owned multiple copies of it like some people own multiple Star Wars movies.  So, let's still remain friends, OK?  Because I hate this movie and I hate it passionately.

First, let's get one thing straight.  It's not Superman that I hate.  Not at all.  In fact, thus far here at When It Was Cool we have reviewed not one but two Superman live action serials, the George Reeves 1950 Superman movie, and will review others in the future and Christopher Reeve is far and away my favorite Superman.  He absolutely 100% looks the part of both Clark Kent and Superman.  His portrayal of both is consistent in every way with the historical portrayal of Superman.  He simply IS Superman.  No problem there.  But that's where my love starts and ends with this movie as I literally hate everything else about it.

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Our common ground will have to be Christopher Reeve who is the perfect Superman.

Superman (1978) begins with Superman's origins on Krypton, or as his father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) calls it Crypt-Tun.  Krypton is a world where the structures are made out of some sort of crystal substance and, I suppose to some people, looks pretty cool.  I am divided on it.  I like the idea of it but I don't think the lighting on this film pulls it off very well.  We see a convoluted scene where three criminals are banished to the Phantom Zone, a sort of alternate-dimensional prison place.  This plot point will be picked up in Superman II which we will review next week.  I thought the flipping window pane Phantom Zone looked horrible.  And don't scold me about this being 1978 and expecting 2018 special effects, this film was made within a year of Star Wars and the effects on it were many degrees better than anything in Superman.

Then in the same scene we get the leaders of Krypton disagreeing with Jor-El about his assessment that Krypton is about to explode.  I didn't like how they jammed that all together.  It's like, OK, let's sentence these three criminals to life in prison and while we are at it your ideas about science are dumb.  Never-the-less, Jor-El  was right and Crypt-Tun went boom but not before they sent young Kal-El in a spaceship-pod thingy to Earth to become Superman.

Ok, so there is a LOT of bad and made up science that goes along with this whole trip to Earth but I don't have the space or patience to go into that here so let's just accept that, "Ok, this makes no sense at all but whatever...".  Kal-El crashes in Kansas and the Kent family raises him to be a nice young man with good mid-America values and then die.  Pretty much that abruptly and Clark Kent heads to the city to make it on his own leaving the farm to, presumably, fall into ruin and grow up in weeds but the plot needs to progress.

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Science is not a strong point of this film.

Clark Kent arrives in New York.  The buses say "Metropolis" but the Empire State building and the Statue of Liberty are there and in DC Comics New York should technically be Gotham City but whatever.  Clark is in New York and gets a job at the newspaper- The Daily Planet.  He begins a sort of rivalry-friendship with top reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and there begins my least favorite part about this movie.  God bless Margot Kidder who recently passed away.  I know many people love her performance in this movie (I know I have already heard from many of them) but there is virtually nothing I like about her in this film.  

This film also contains the most cringe worthy sequence I have ever seen in a movie up and until Space-Mary Poppins-Princess Leia in Star Wars The Last Jedi.  The flying with Superman scene and quoting made up head poetry was awful when I saw it as a kid and it's terrible now.  Maybe you're one of the millions of people who love that scene but for the life of me I can't stand it.  Forty years later I still squirm in my seat watching it embarrassed for everyone in it.

You might be wondering where the villain is in all of this?  Me too.  The antagonist is Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) who is the dirt worst Lex Luthor in history... scratch that.  That lunatic new Luthor from these abysmal Warner Brothers DC movies is far worse.  Still, Luthor lives in the subway or some such something and has a plan to sink California into the ocean as part of a real estate scheme using missiles that he plans to steal from the government using only one bimbo (Valeria Perrine) and one imbecile (Ned Beatty) to help him.

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This movie could have been a million times better had they cut-scene at exactly this moment.

Superman, as it turns out, is a failure and can't stop the missiles from sinking California and killing Lois Lane in the process.  So, how can Superman fix this mess?  He flies backwards around the Earth repeatedly which, because of science I guess, causes time to back up like a movie reel in reverse and magically fix everything.  If that sounds utterly stupid, just wait, we will see this plot device again in the next movie.

Forty years ago I walked out of the theater as a little kid disappointed that this movie was so dumb.  Again, I thought Christopher Reeve as Superman was great but the plot ruined the whole thing for me.  As a kid, I did go to the theater to see Superman II and like it a little bit better (I thought, and still do, that Zod was great) but I never had the nostalgia for these movies the way I did for Star Wars.  Forty years later I still think this is a terrible movie, Christopher Reeve is amazing, the flying with Lois scene still makes me cringe and look away, and the ending is the most ridiculous deus ex machina plot device in the history of major motion pictures (that is until Superman II: The Donner Cut).

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