The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into “Superman: The Movie.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!
A lot of people regard “Superman: The Movie” as a superhero classic. What’s your opinion of the film?
I actually watched this movie for the very first time a couple days ago, in preparation for this Story Geeks blog.
It is fair to say that parts of the film feel a little dated now; the special effects have not aged as well as some other late 1970s films (“Star Wars: A New Hope” came out a year earlier but looks better). Some of the villain scenes (particularly the henchmen) and overall plot twists feel a little dated as well.
However, the film does have an undeniable charm, and that’s thanks to Christopher Reeve’s performance as Clark Kent/Superman. His sincerity, idealism, and compassion are a bright beacon of hope that still feels very much needed in today’s world. Reeve’s performance was definitely the highlight of the film for me.
There’s a stark difference between this Superman and the Superman we see in the DCEU. Which version do you prefer and why?
So this answer may feel like a little bit of a cop-out, but to me the ideal Superman would actually fall somewhere in between these two versions.
I like the innocence and idealism of the 1970s Superman. This movie has a more hopeful tone, as opposed to the much darker and grimmer DCEU version. And of course, Christopher Reeve’s performance is iconic, and will forever occupy a special place in fans’ hearts.
I also really like the more serious take on Superman in the DCEU. Henry Cavill’s Superman is a less black-and-white version of the character, and he reflects our current, less optimistic view of the world.
In the future, I would love to see a Superman that strikes the perfect balance between the classic and modern takes — a Superman who asks hard questions about the ethics of super powers yet also holds firmly to ideals like hope and optimism.
Superman says in this movie that he fights for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. These days, the “American Way” part of that has been mostly dropped, and Superman doesn’t necessarily represent the USA specifically anymore. How do you feel about that?
The phrase “the American Way” comes with more baggage than it used to, which is probably why it has been phased out of the films.
In the phrase “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” the “American Way” is meant to be a positive concept. It reminds people of the famous “American dream,” symbolizing equality, opportunity, hard work, and optimism. It makes sense that a Cold War-era superhero film would want to highlight this.
Of course, we know from history that America has not always been a place of equal opportunity; as an American, I know my country has made mistakes, and it’s vitally important that we acknowledge that. We need to be aware of our entire story, both good and bad, and we must resolve not to repeat our past.
I won’t dive into politics here, but it is accurate to say that the United States’ policies both at home and abroad have been provoking increasingly heated debates. 1970s America was not the same place that 2019 America is today. Having Superman fight for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” would feel too simplistic (and too narrowly focused) in a modern film.
It’s better that Superman is positioned as a global hero going forward. He’s here to protect all of humankind, not just one country. He addresses both galactic threats and threats that humans pose to themselves.
In this film, Jor-El’s message to Superman says: “Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you…my only son.”
In “Man of Steel,” the message says: “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
What do you think of theses quotes? Which one represents your ideal version of Superman?
I like both these quotes, and at the heart of it they’re both saying the same thing…although the quote from “Superman: The Movie” is slightly more optimistic, and trusts a little more in humanity’s capacity to be good. The quote from “Man of Steel” puts more emphasis on the fact that humans stumble and make mistakes, and fall short of their potential.
Both these quotes speak of Superman as a light that brings hope, and that’s what makes Superman such a powerful character. Sure, it’s great to be able to fly, use super strength, and have X-ray vision, but Superman’s most important gift is to be able to inspire people to rise above their challenges and pain and fight for what is good in the world.
Let’s talk about the classic portrayals in this film. What do you feel the cinematic impact has been of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor? Are these your favorite adaptations of these characters?
Christopher Reeve is great as both Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent; he fits into the role so naturally, and it’s easy to see why his portrayal became so iconic. I don’t know that I can pick a favorite adaptation of this character, though. Reeve was the perfect choice to play Superman in this film, while Henry Cavill was a great choice to play a modern retelling of the character.
I also liked Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Films in this time period vary in how well they portray female characters, but I appreciate that this film made sure to show Lois as a smart, savvy reporter who could hold her own in dangerous situations. I enjoyed her back-and-forth with Clark and Superman.
I wasn’t as much a fan of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, or the henchmen/sidekicks. As mentioned earlier, this part of the movie felt a little dated to me, and I’m used to more serious takes on the character. I wish the villains had been a little less bumbling.
One other player in this film has had a huge impact…John Williams. His Superman theme is probably second only to Star Wars as far as iconic scores go. How important do you think this theme is to the core of this version of Superman and the lasting impact of the film?
It’s hard to imagine a Hollywood without John Williams (and I don’t want to!). He’s written so many iconic pieces, and his Superman theme still soars. I’ve been humming it ever since I watched the movie, and I haven’t been able to stop.
The amazing score is absolutely a part of why “Superman: The Movie” is considered to be a classic film, and it perfectly captures the spirit of the story and the characters. The music makes the movie even more memorable.
This film has taken a lot of flak over the years for the scene where Superman turns back time by rotating the earth backwards. What do you think of that idea? Does it hurt the story or help it?
I didn’t enjoy that particular plot twist in the film. I don’t mind Superman turning back time, but I wish they’d shown that in a different way. To me it doesn’t really make sense that spinning the Earth backwards would cause time to “rewind.” It also makes Superman feel too overpowered, especially since his powers already eclipse those of a lot of other superheroes.
Since this is a sci-fi/superhero movie, they could have easily made up some other kind of Krypton technology that solves the problem. Or they could have left out the reversing time aspect altogether.