The first movie I ever saw was Star Wars (1977), the second movie I ever saw was Superman (1978). I saw both at the drive-in, and I was nine when I saw Superman. I remember my mother taking me. For some reason my brother wasn’t interested in seeing it and, I’ll be honest, the movie didn’t excite me. I remember thinking the opening credits were taking too long, so right there I was bored by what I was seeing, and the opening scenes on Krypton bored me too. It wasn’t until Clark gets to The Daily Planet that I perked up, but all-in-all I came away not being much of a fan. Later on when Superman II (1980) reached cable, I ended up liking that one more and my brother even liked it. I also remember liking Superman III (1983), I also saw that one on cable for the first time too, but I hated Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987) at first sight. I have not seen any of these sequels for decades and would love to revisit II and III to see if they hold up, but I have no desire at all to revisit IV.
I didn’t become of a fan of the first Superman movie until I revisited it back in the early 2000s. TCM or AMC, can’t remember which channel now, aired it and I decided to watch and see what I thought of it as an adult and, what do you know, I loved it! It’s funny this double feature blu came out, because I briefly mentioned the ’78 movie when I reviewed Wonder Woman (2017) a few months ago, never realizing I’d be doing any kind of formal review of it months later. Like I said in that review Superman (1978) “is considered the benchmark on how to do a superhero origin story,” and do it right. I enjoyed Man Of Steel (2013) and Henry Cavill’s portrayal, but I still and will always consider Chris Reeve’s performance and Richard Donner’s film to be superior.
As we’ve seen in the intervening years all superhero origin tales aren’t cut from the same cloth. Generally speaking I cringe a little bit now when I hear one is being made, because ever since Hollywood decided to bank all their money on DC and Marvel comic book adaptations we’ve gotten a shit ton of them, some are good, some are bad, some are great, but do we need another movie about how ‘insert hero’s name here’ started his career? No, but at least Hollywood is catching on that a typical origin tale needs to be tweaked to keep the audience’s interest, but with Superman (’78), the first big budget genesis of a superhero, we go right back to the beginning, and I mean when Supes, aka Kal-El, was just a baby on Krypton and his father Jor-El was played by Marlon Brando. I’m not going to go too deep into Superman’s plot since I think we all know his origin tale by hea… oh, what the hell—Krypton blows up, but just before Jor-El sends little baby Kal-El to earth to save him. He lands on earth in his meteorite in the 1940s and gets adopted by the Kents, Jon (Glen Ford) and Martha (Phyllis Thaxter), and they raise him as they own naming him Clark. Jon dies of a heartattack while Clark (Jeff East) is in his teens and the discovery of a crystal his true father gave him prompts him to head North, to the North Pole, where we get to see the Fortress Of Solitude created. Here teen Clark spends twelve years learning about his origin and preparing to go out into the world as an adult and this is when the movie finally reaches modern day, circa 1978, with grown Clark’s (Christopher Reeve) first day as a reporter at The Daily Planet.
We meet Supe’s eventual love, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), cub reporter Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and head of the Planet, Perry White (Jackie Cooper). That night Clark inadvertently introduces the world to “Superman,” when a helicopter ride to her next gig nearly gets Lois killed. Kal-El saves her and then decides to go off and fight random crime that very night. It’s love at first sight with Lois and looks also to be with Kal-El; it’s Lois that coins him “Superman” after a planned interview with him turns into a semi-romantic fly around the city.
Who’s the villain of this first movie? Come on, that’s a no-brainer, it’s Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who comes with a bumbling sidekick named, Otis (Ned Beatty), and girlfriend, Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) who plans world domination and Superman’s demise from a secret lair below Manhattan. Quite an impressive lair I must say. These three also act as the comic relief. Luthor wants to destroy parts of California with an artificially created earthquake that throws the San Andreas Fault into overdrive thus breaking part of it off into the sea, and the remaining part will be his to do with what he pleases. Maybe, not world domination right now, but state domination. He gets Superman out of the right by discovering kryptonite, its lethal power over anyone Kryptonian, and manages to sideline Supes with it.
Missiles are sent into the sky, Miss Teschmacher turns good, frees Supes and the whole final act of the movie is watching the Kryptonian stop the missiles, do damage control on the eventual earthquake, and mourn the loss of Lois, because he simply forgot she was out there in the desert and is crushed to death in her car. But this is Superman, he can do just about anything and he saves Lois by flying around the Earth so fast he reverses the planet’s spin and turns back time, so she isn’t killed, but the logic of this solution never takes into the account he still has to prevent that other missile from exploding and creating the earthquake, and we never see that. Time reverses, all the destruction is reversed, and there’s Lois above ground with her car stalled out in the desert, yet she remembers all the destruction of the earthquake, which she shouldn’t if time was reversed and the missile was stopped. And how did Superman stop that missile, we never see. He just flies down to Lois’ car and is relieved to see her alive. It’s a logic glitch ending, but I’m okay with it.
For a movie where CGI wasn’t in existence all the flying effects pretty much still hold up and so do all the destruction effects at the end via models. The only effect that doesn’t hold up well is teen Clark running like The Flash to outrun a train. It’s obviously practical for most of it with Jeff East on wires, but it looks down right laughable from viewing in the 21st century. If Star Wars has taught us just like Mark Hamill will always be known as Luke Skywalker, the late Christopher Reeve will always been known as the first and best Superman. All hail, Chris Reeve as Superman!
Now let’s talk about this fabulous 2-disc set! Back in 1982 when Superman finally reached TV the movie’s producers recut the it specifically for this airing making it so long they divided it into a two-night event, that 188-minute version (3-hours 8-minutes) has never been aired since (except once in 1994 in Los Angeles only), and has never seen any kind of legit release on any kind of video/DVD format before. If you want to more like how this print came about, created, found and then blued you really need to listen to this episode of the Warner Archive podcast.
This never-before-seen-since-1982/1994-cut has been paired with the new cut Donner did back in 2000; Donner’s cut has already had a blu-ray release. If you want to own this double feature you can buy it here on Amazon!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.40:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (EXTENDED CUT only), 5.1 French Dolby Digital, 5.1 German Dolby Digital, 5.1 Italian Dolby Digital, 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital, 5.1 English Dolby Digital—English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Russian subs
Both movies have their own unique transfer and I personally preferred how the Extended (Producer’s) Cut looked, plus I now prefer that version over the shorter Donner Cut. The Extended Cut is darker, but colors pop more. The Donner Cut may be crisper in appearance, but it’s lighter and colors aren’t as pronounced. Don’t get me wrong, though, both transfers are great looking in their own right, and I like the fact each has been tweaked enough to give them their own identity. And all you’re required to do now is pick a favorite and enjoy.
Superman: The Movie Extended Cut (188-mins) Extras:
Superman: Special Edition Director’s Cut (2000/151-mins) Extras:
- Commentary By Director Richard Donner And Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz
- Taking Flight: The Development of Superman Doc (30:14)
- Making Superman: Filming the Legend Doc (30:41)
- The Magic Behind the Cape Doc (23;45)
- Screen Tests (3 scenes/22:25 total run time)
- Restored Scenes (10 scenes/11:14 total run time)
- Additional Scenes (2 scenes/3:22 total run time)
- Additional Music Cues (9 scenes/35:43 total run time)
- Music-Only Track