Superman (1978)

Superman won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1979, beating Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the animated Lord of the Rings, Watership Down and the original radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. For once I have actually seen/heard all of the finalists. Even though the Worldcon that year was held in the UK, which should have given the BBC a natural home turf boost, Superman won (and Christopher Reeves actually turned up, as did Tom Baker). It's a tough call, but I think I would have just voted for the Hitch-hiker's Guide ahead of Superman (though at 12 I would probably not have had a vote). One of the best shortlists for years before and after, anyway. IMDB users rank it 4th and 6th best film of the year, with Grease and The Deer Hunter at the top. I actually remember seeing this in the cinema when it first came out, and enjoying it; I'm glad to say that the magic mostly remained after forty years.

There are a number of familiar faces from previous Oscar and Hugo winners, starting with Superman's parents, Jor-El and Lara, played by Marlon Brando and Susannah York.

Brando had the lead role in two Oscar-winning films, The Godfather (1972) and On The Waterfront (1954). I must say he looks younger here than he did in 1972.

Susannah York, who was a schoolfriend of my aunt's, was Thomas More's daughter Margaret in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Sophie the Good Girl in Tom Jones (1963).

And we saw Trevor Howard, here the First Elder of Krypton, thirty-two years ago as Fallentin the Reform Club member in Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).

We've had Gene Hackman, who is Lex Luthor here, in both Oscar-winning and Hugo-winning films. He was one of the lead cops in The French Connection (Oscar 1971) and then the blind man in Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975).

Valerie Perrine, who plays his sidekick Ms Techmaker here, was Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack in Slaughterhouse-Five.

And to my immense surprise, there is a Doctor Who link. Somewhat out of focus, one of the Elders of Krypton is played by William Russell, who was Ian Chesterton, one of the First Doctor's first companions way back in 1963-64.

Right. On to the substance. This was a lot of fun in 1978, and it's a lot of fun now. I think the biggest complaint I have is that it's a bit too long, at 3 hours and 3 minutes. There's a lot of story to pack in there, and the Boyhood Years segment in particular maybe could have been trimmed a bit.

(And the Lex Luthor slapstick too – but doesn't he remind you of another meglomaniac New York property developer?)

The silliest bit of the plot by far is Superman turning back time so that he can save Lois. Even at twelve I thought this was over the top – if he can do that, he can undo anything so what's the point? Nice graphic though.

Teetering on the edge, but in the end safely enough, is the chemistry between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. Reeves himself is just brilliant and in a debut role (for which many much better-known actors were apparently considered) acquits himself gloriously. He was born 68 years ago yesterday.

The effects are glorious too.

And, well, the music. Let's finish with the music.

I'm putting this near the top of my Hugo/Nebula list – probably just after 2001, and ahead of A Clockwork Orange. The latter is probably a better film, but frankly less fun.

One thought on “Superman (1978)

Comments are closed.