Project: RPO - Superman


Our small band of Gunters here in the DreamCage universe are reviewing every film mentioned in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This week Steve Taylor-Bryant leaps tall buildings in a single bound with Superman...

I was going to leave Superman to the very end before writing my thoughts as I have not seen the film in 31 years. I don’t know why, I genuinely don’t but, yes, I was 11 years old the last time I watched Christopher Reeve put on the blue spandex for the first time. I didn’t know what now, as a middle aged man whose love of Superman has dwindled over the decades, the film could offer me. It was right at the bottom of the list of my share of the Project: RPO films, until I was given some documentaries for review purposes. I had requested documentaries on films, Making Of’s that kind of thing, as they aren’t my usual watching pleasure. There were some great ones I was given from various eras of cinema history, two of which were Superman related. One I will actually review, Look Up in the Sky narrated by Kevin Spacey, and one about the behind the scenes of actually making the first Superman film. Some of the information within the documentary I really didn’t know and I wondered if it would have an effect on my viewing of the film. It did.

Surviving the destruction of the planet Krypton, young Kal-El is sent by his father Jor-El to live among mankind on Earth. Under the parenting of Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark Kent discovers that he was born with extraordinary powers and abilities beyond imagination. Now living in Metropolis, Clark takes up a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet and starts to fall head over heals for fellow reporter Lois Lane. But then Clark is also using his powers to help the better of mankind as Superman, who the people of Metropolis start turning to for help. But in the shadows, criminal genius Lex Luthor launches a sinister plan to make himself known by detonating two missiles in different parts of the country with only Superman to oppose him. Will Superman save us? Or will Luthor's plan succeed?

Originally I had watched Superman with the innocence of youth. I thought knowing Clark Kent was Superman when Lois Lane didn’t was a secret that only I knew. I took messages of hope, of helpfulness, of kindness, of acceptability from the film that, as a world wise, hardened and haggard adult, I didn’t see when watching back. Superman was a different experience this time around, although not a bad one. Whilst perhaps the message contained within Superman meant nothing to me now, and obviously anyone in a powerful position in the last thirty odd years, the time period it was filmed in, the trials and tribulations and little facts I didn’t know added a level of enjoyment that meant I still got something from the film and something that 11 year old me wouldn’t have seen. As a child, I didn’t get that Superman was a three act play, one that had different elements of storytelling and performance that grew gradually as the story unfolded. I didn’t know that Christopher Reeve was a relative unknown who had auditioned as a skinny guy wearing a large jumper to look bigger and got the part because Robert Redford had turned it down and director Richard Donner decided he had enough ‘big’ stars and maybe an unknown was the way forward. These first two facts are important to me as I watch, mainly because Christopher Reeve has always been a global star, there isn’t a point in my life where he wasn’t Superman, both personally after his tragic accident and professionally on screen. To watch back at a muscly, professional actor with true screen presence and perfect comedic timing and realising that this was essentially his first gig is amazing. You wouldn’t know he had done nothing of note (within the documentary he jokes he had only ever been third guard from the left in Cinderella) and yet here he was going toe to toe with Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty, sharing a screen with the great Jackie Cooper like he was a seasoned veteran of the silver screen. As I child I wanted to be Superman and leap tall buildings in a single bound, as an adult I want to fit in as smoothly and as well as Christopher Reeve, these are both good things to aspire to although I think leaping a building is probably more realistic an ambition than holding conversations with people and enjoying their company.

I didn’t know the scale of the ambition that the producers and Donner had for the Superman franchise, to be honest as an 11 year old I didn’t know what a franchise was, but to find out that were shooting Superman and its sequel side by side in three different countries at once was an amazing revelation. The helicopter scene for example took two countries and six months to pull off and yet looks seamless in the film. I didn’t realise that Larry Hagman was in Superman, I didn’t understand about generation gaps but everyone involved was worried how a prewar character would go down on screen in a post Watergate 1970’s, I didn’t know that the girl on the train watching Clark Kent sprint the wheat fields of Kansas would grow up to be Lois Lane, I didn’t know those wheat fields were actually Canada as the Kansas harvest was over so there was no wheat. I didn’t realise that the girls parents on that train had played Clark and Lois in previous stories on radio, I didn’t see the political aspects of the film, of missiles and war and immigration.

Superman for an 11 year old in the mid 1980’s was a film of innocence and hope, as a cynical man in the 21st century Superman is a behemoth of a film-making project that has no comparable film, no one else has done a film with this scope since, a huge undertaking with limited special effects, a mix of A list and unknowns, bringing an important story to the screen after near 50 years of waiting, and combining everything in such a way that after a 30 year gap in viewing it can still offer something brand new.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @STBWrites

Image - IMDb