Superman (1978) – Review

4 Stars

Superman has just celebrated its 35th anniversary and to this day it still ranks amongst the most entertaining superhero films of all time. The real shinning light is the emergence of Christopher Reeve, the greatest discovery of an unknown in a lead role since Errol Flynn debuted in Captain Blood. Director Richard Donnor hedged his elaborate big budget film on an actor that proves to be the absolute right fit for the material. Reeve deftly handles the lite physical comedy and wholesome nature of Clark Kent, while transforming into the stoic Man of Steel in an instance. It’s a remarkable performance and arguably the best match of actor and comic-book character in the history of cinema to date.

Superman has been beautifully photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth (particularly the Smallville prologue), and while long the film never feels laborious. Richard Donnor keeps the flow and pace brisk as we are introduced to the origin of Jor-El and his trip to earth from Planet Krypton. Meanwhile criminal Lex Luthor is living two hundred feet below park avenue, in a sub-terrain compound that he shares with his girlfriend, Miss Tessmarker and imbecile assistant, Otis. The mastermind Luthor has his sights set on a real estate scheme to buy up land that he will devalue for cheap sale.

The screenplay, credited to four writers including Mario Puzo and Robert Benton, is remarkably agile and witty. Take for instance, editor-in-chief Perry White’s metaphor, that “Lois Lane’s interview with Superman is the single most important interview since God spoke to Mosses”. Hackman and Brando, along with Glenn Ford’s small role are added for ‘legitimacy’ and during pre-production the addition of recognizable talent was probably a comfort to worried parent studio company Warner Bros.

Every dollar of its much publicized large budget is evident on-screen, from the top-level writing and directing team, to the actors and groundbreaking (at the time of release) special effects. All lofted higher due to the iconic score from John Williams, that ranks with his best work on Star Wars and Indiana Jones. This inaugural cinematic introduction to the Man of Steel soars above nearly all superhero films that followed in its wake.

Director: Richard Donnor
Stars: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder

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