My family thoroughly enjoyed watching SUPERMAN together this evening. It was the first viewing for all but one of my children. My eight-year-old son has recently developed a fascination with Superman, thanks to some books containing the old comic strips, so he watched it wide-eyed.
Viewing the movie caused me to do some thinking back to the film's original release. It's hard to convey to my children here in 2006 just how exciting SUPERMAN was. Growing up in the late '60s and '70s, there were few new films appropriate for the entire family. In that Vietnam-Watergate era the popular movies were titles like THE GODFATHER and THE EXORCIST. Entertainment choices in general were far fewer in that era -- no cable, no video, just cut-up old movies on TV, riddled with commercials.
Things started to turn around in 1976 with the release of the positive, optimistic ROCKY. The next year, of course, marked the beginning of the STAR WARS franchise, followed by SUPERMAN in 1978. I remember exiting the theater dazzled by the new actor, Christopher Reeve. :) After that, it seems there was a great movie nearly every summer, including THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T., and RETURN OF THE JEDI.
It was so exciting to have good movies we could go see. And my friends and I certainly did see them...again and again and again. And the great music! 1977 and 1978 saw the start of my extensive collection of John Williams soundtracks -- LP's purchased at the late, lamented Tower Records.
Enough of memory lane, and back to SUPERMAN. It holds up quite well. It's always been a bit overlong, weighed down on the front end by Superman's backstory and on the closing end by the unpleasant earthquake sequence. And the special effects are occasionally somewhat clunky by today's standards. But on the whole, it's engrossing filmmaking with every actor, especially Reeve, playing his cartoon role with conviction. That scene where Clark almost tells Lois the truth, after their flight together, is magical.
I've seen the movie a half-dozen times or so over the last 28 years, yet as I watched the DVD a couple scenes here and there were jarringingly unfamiliar, such as Martha Kent uncovering a bird cage the morning teenaged Clark tells her he has to leave and go "north." Thanks to Leonard Maltin I realized that while the original movie ran 143 minutes, our 2001 DVD release has a running time listed of 154 minutes. (IMDb lists it as 151 minutes.)
The 2001 edition is a two-sided disc with a number of extras, including screen tests, which were fascinating. A skinny Christopher Reeve is seen reading two scenes with Holly Palance playing the role of Lois. Then Reeve (looking bulked-up in a couple of the later tests) reads opposite several actresses testing for Lois, including Anne Archer, Lesley Ann Warren, and Stockard Channing. Margot Kidder overcame a dreadful hairstyle and '70s granny dress in one of her tests to ultimately, of course, win the part.
SUPERMAN was reissued last month in a 2006 4-Disc Special Edition.
As I wrote last month, two different versions of SUPERMAN II have also been released on DVD. I hope to watch those in the near future.
Finally, back to those great movies of the late '70s and early '80s for a moment. Who would have thought, when RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was released in 1981, that a fourth film in the series would be scheduled to film in 2007?!