Superman: The Movie (1978) is the best Superman movie produced to date. Still, it is far from perfect and I wondered if it was the fog of nostalgia that caused me to remember this movie fondly or if, indeed, it is actually a quality superhero movie. To the end, I recently re-watched this movie several times (I believe the last time I saw it I was a kid and it was on television - probably about 15 or so years).
First, the positives. From the beginning when the in-film curtain opens and we're drawn into a black and white Superman comic book, this film demonstrates that it really respects the character of Superman. Superman as a fully costumed superhero doesn't appear until almost an hour into this film. That doesn't bother me because the stuff with Jor-El and the Kents is so interesting. The strong themes of father figures/saviors/God is a big positive in this film. Characters are well defined and are easily relate-able (Lois is a reporter that can't spell, Perry is principled and hard working). Christopher Reeves is not only the perfect Superman he's also the perfect Clark Kent. In a few scenes when he transforms on screen from on to the other you can see how Reeves actually changes posture, mannerisms and voice for each version of the character. The script does a nice job of making Superman seem like a MAN but still pure like when he tells Lois as he's about to take her flying, "Peter Pan flew with children, Lois." The interactions between Lex Luthor and the hapless Otis (and to a lesser degree Miss Teschmacker) are comedic gold. Finally, Superman in this film is a role model no parent would hesitate to tell their children to look up to. Even as an adult I find this Superman to be inspiring and inspirational.
Now, it's not all sunshine and roses. Perhaps due to numerous rewrites, refilming scenes, and studio meddling the timeline in this film is really a mess. The film starts in June 1938 (clearly identifying the Great Depression) with Kal-El as a child and Krypton destroyed and the main storyline occurs in 1978. Multiple times in the movie this idea in contradicted, however. While at the Fortress of Solitude Jor-El states that Clark is 18 and he stays at the fortress for 12 years. This would make Superman 30 years old in 1968, not 1978. At another time Lex Luthor quotes a Superman newspaper interview as saying Krypton blew up in 1948. Still another reference by Jor-El muddies the timeline even further by stating that he's been dead for thousands and thousands of years. Huh? That would make Superman thousands of years old! Then in the climax of the film Superman travels backwards through time to rescue Lois. But there's a double-Superman conundrum here. Apparently Superman still saves Jimmy from falling off the dam but no earthquake threatens Lois's car after Superman travels back in time. Wouldn't the old version of Superman see the version of himself that traveled back in time? Apparently a time-paradox that destroys reality is not going to stop Superman from selfishly using his powers! Maybe the time paradox caused the really bad model work...
And don't even get me started on the honesty thing. In the interview with Lois Lane Superman state that he never lies but, in fact, Superman is a well versed liar. After all, isn't Clark Kent just one big lie? How often does Clark Kent have to lie ("I must have fainted," after he catches a mugger's bullet for one example.) to protect his secret identity as Superman? In fact, following the movie's storyline one can only assume that Clark Kent faked his journalistic experience. He spends 12 years in the Fortress of Solitude. Certainly he had no experience on a college paper or any college degree at all for that matter (since he didn't attend college).
A couple of things in the film just strike me as odd. Showing full frontal nudity on the young boy in the Kryptonian escape pod is a strange choice. Also, the amount of swearing random characters on the street do is a bit unnerving and unnecessary. I want to be able to show this film to my young children but I can't because of the language! Luthor's "reasoning" that a hunk of Krypton (that apparently traveled from another galaxy in a very short period of time) would harm Superman is dubious at best. That's like Martians assuming a hunk of the earth would be harmful to a human on another planet. And what about Ma Kent? Pa Kent dies and what does Superman do? Take off for 12 years and leave his elderly adopted mother to take care of an entire farm by herself! That's gratitude!
Despite its obvious flaws, I still say Superman: The Movie is an amazing piece of superhero cinema. Richard Donnor managed to strike just the right tone between corny and worldly. If only the studio hadn't insisted on messing around with his scripts! Did you know that the whole time travel thing wasn't even supposed to be in the first movie but the second? Ugh!
Superman: The Movie retains all of the charm it had over 30 years ago. It's a classic and sets the bar high for any future Superman movie endeavors.