Saturday, December 31, 2005

SUPERMAN returns

I hadn't seen the first SUPERMAN in years, so when it came on TV the other night, I was hooked into it. You know how it goes: you're supposed to be working or doing something important and...ooop--you've simply got to watch this program on TV, no two ways about it! Procrastination at its best (kind of like I'm doing now with this blog).

With these pictures of the new Superman, Brandon Routh, being filtered into the press from the set of SUPERMAN RETURNS, the Christopher Reeve version takes on additional significance for me. I can't help being ultra-aware of the boldy colored 70s costume as opposed to this "newer" darker one with the smaller "S" on the chest. BTW, I like the look a lot, so I'm not even going to get into how many fans are bemoaning the smaller "S." No, instead I want to gush about how great the 70s SUPERMAN is.

First there's the whole epic feel of the story. Even though Supes is an alien, I never doubted for an instant that he wasn't a person, through and through; I give credit to the forty-minute prologue for that. Even though I was getting anxious to GET ON WITH IT, PLEASE, I did appreciate the build-up of his character...the politics of Krypton, the sacrifice of Jor-El as he lets his son go, the meteorite crash, the Kents, Supes in high school, the creation of the Fortress of Solitude.... We see how Superman became Clark Kent, we don't just jump into the action. I love the time the writers and director took to establish this man who flies around wearing tights--something that very well could've been a freakshow curiosity--as a man who could teach a lot of humans about being human.

Second, how excellent was it when Superman really got rolling? His initial string of heroic acts is painted with humor and awe, and I get an adrenaline rush from just watching it. What makes that humor work, IMHO, is that most of it (except for Ned Beatty's Otis) revolves around characterization and Superman "in" jokes (like the telephone booth--AWESOME). When our man of steel comes running out of those revolving doors after that first costume change and that Mac Daddy guy's like, "Hey, whoo-whoo, buddy, that's some dandy suit you're sporting!" and Superman is all serious when he holds up a finger then answers, "Excuse me" like he's going to come back and pop a brewski with the guy later, that's one of my favorite movie moments. I'm serious. I crack up just thinking about that scene. Then, after Superman rescues Lois Lane ("Don't worry, I've got you." "You've got me? Who's got you???" AWESOME.), we follow Supes around as he decides to do a little Metropolis housecleaning. This is really geeky, but something cool happened while I was watching these scenes. We take the fact that Superman can fly for granted--it's no longer a wonderous thing because we've been exposed to so many superheroes and, nowadays, we're probably getting pretty close to allowing men to fly anyway. But while I was watching him wing around the sky, it hit me: DUDE CAN FLY. I'd forgotten how amazing that was.

Told you--geeky.

Also, the John Williams score? So, so terrific. I don't have to say much about it because listening to the music says it all. (And they're incorporating some of the themes into the new Supes movie, so...there you go.)

The best thing about this movie, though, is the introduction of Christopher Reeve. I read somewhere that the powers that be were thinking of casting Robert Redford. Now, count me in as a Redford fan, but can you imagine? It's better than Nic Cage, but...come on. Reeve was absolute perfection. Everything from his I-can-talk-you-into-anything smile to his talent for differentiating Clark from Supes. OMG. We lucked out when he was cast in the part. We really did. He couldn't have done better with each character: Clark parts his hair on the right, has a high-pitched voice, and seems a bit of a pansy, but with just a grin, Reeve was able to show part-his-hair-on-the-left Superman beneath the glasses. He acted with an assurance that never, ever made you doubt that a man who goes around espousing "truth, justice, and the American way" was genuine and not merely priming himself to run for political office one day.

Yes, the opening credits are endless and it takes approximately FOREVER for us to get to the Daily Planet and Lois Lane where the real story "takes off" but, again, I love that the director, Richard Donner, was allowed to show Superman's origins. Also, some parts of the movie haven't aged well: the bell-bottom-and-platform-shoe wardrobes, the romantic Lois and Supes flying scene that's ultimately marred by her cheesy internal dialogue (You know, where Lois starts thinking "Can you read my mind" and gushes out the lyrics to the love theme? Ugh. The thing is, part of me kind of likes when it happens and I hate myself for that.). But, bottom line: this is such a great movie. That's why Bryan Singer has consulted with Richard Donner for SUPERMAN RETURNS; that's why Singer also choose to use Marlon Brando's voiceover for this first trailer--a brilliant decision. Because this is how to do a movie about the most widely beloved comic book hero ever.

I'm really looking forward to next year's return to the franchise because, with a director who pays such homage to something that worked so well the first time, I've got a lot of faith.

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