Monthly Archives: November 2021

Superman 1.52: Clap Your Hands

“Her light is growing faint,” Peter says, “and if it goes out, that means she is dead! She says…” Dramatic pause. “She thinks she could get well again if children believed in fairies!”

The children in the audience stir, surprised, as Peter Pan turns to implore them from across the footlights. Their attention isn’t enough, all of a sudden. “Do you believe in fairies?” he asks them. “Say quick that you believe! If you believe, clap your hands!”

They clap, of course. What else could they do? J.M. Barrie has constructed a dramatic trap that snaps shut on every kid in the theater: if Tinker Bell dies, then you personally are an asshole.

Continue reading Superman 1.52: Clap Your Hands

Superman 1.51: The Long Walk

At the end of a hectic day at the newsroom, Clark asks Lois if she’d like to go to dinner. Lois says that she can’t, because she’s going to the airport to interview the President, end of scene.

That’s a simple bit of dialogue that the characters could deliver at their desks in about thirty seconds. Instead, Richard Donner turns this moment into a screwball comedy masterpiece, using a single tracking shot with dozens of extras bustling around the crowded newsroom.

Everybody pays attention to the helicopter rescue scene, which is coming up next, but in my opinion, you can’t beat this walk-and-talk scene, which does it backwards and in high heels.

Continue reading Superman 1.51: The Long Walk

Superman 1.50: Dawn of the Blockbuster

So here we are, my 50th post about Superman: The Movie, and today I’ve decided that I’m going to mark this mini-milestone by talking about something else.

Because this isn’t specifically a Superman blog; it’s a history of blockbuster superhero movies — and so far, I haven’t really explored what a “blockbuster” is, and how it works. So today, I want to go back to the beginning of that story, starting with a 1913 silent film from Italy about the persecution of Christians in ancient Rome. No, wait, come back, it’s interesting.

Continue reading Superman 1.50: Dawn of the Blockbuster

Superman 1.49: The Look of Luthor

For the last week, we’ve been looking at the new version of Lex Luthor that was invented for Superman: The Movie — a down-at-the-heels art thief, inventor and real estate magnate, lurking underneath Metropolis’ Grand Central Terminal in a lair made out of other people’s property. The movie Luthor doesn’t need death rays; he’s got sarcasm, and National Geographic, and the ability to reprogram ballistic missiles. He’s sophisticated and urbane, and he plays the piano. He wouldn’t dream of putting on a silly costume, and trying to punch Superman in the face.

So that puts him at odds with the trend of modern thought at DC Comics in the mid-to-late 70s, where they’d spent the last several years turning Luthor into a cartoon character.

Continue reading Superman 1.49: The Look of Luthor

Superman 1.48: Feed the Babies

Now, if it were entirely up to me, I’d probably stop writing about this Lex Luthor scene at some point, rather than natter on endlessly about it, but I can’t help it; there are larger market forces at play.

Richard Donner ended this scene with Luthor and his sidekick Otis saying in unison, “What more could anyone ask?” But, as it turned out, people did want to ask for more — specifically, the Salkinds, who wanted more money from television sales. TV networks wanted to air Superman, and they were happy to have as much of it as possible, to fill up programming time and justify more commercial breaks. They were willing to pay by the minute, so the Salkinds prepared what’s now called the Extended Cut, taking a 143-minute movie and stretching it out to 188 minutes.

Most of the extra material is just useless filler — slightly longer scenes, extra reaction shots, second-unit footage — all the stuff that was properly cut out the first time, and adds nothing to the experience except making things take longer. But there are a handful of actual deleted scenes, like Krypton’s tinfoil science cop, who exploded before accomplishing anything.

There’s also another two minutes of this introductory Luthor scene, which aren’t necessary but offer several items of interest. If you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the whole scene, and then we can discuss it.

Continue reading Superman 1.48: Feed the Babies

Superman 1.47: Lair Life

The chilly splendor of the Fortress of Solitude interior, the glass-lined maze of the Daily Planet newsroom, the unbelievably well-landscaped jungle of Lois Lane’s balcony — Superman: The Movie is full of enormous art installations for the characters to live, work and fight in. But the most spectacular of all is Lex Luthor’s lair, two hundred feet below Park Avenue.

Overstuffed and shabby chic, this subterranean museum of crime is the perfect hideout for a villain who’s trying to convince the audience that he’s important, in a hurry. Luthor enters the film with a messy murder that immediately establishes his villainous credentials, but after that, he spends a lot of the movie just hanging around downstairs. Superman gets to fly around catching crooks and saving the day, while the villain sits in the basement, reading back issues of National Geographic. If he’s going to get any respect from the audience, then that needs to be a damn impressive basement.

Continue reading Superman 1.47: Lair Life

Superman 1.46: Criminal Minds

Now, where was I? Oh, right, Lex Luthor. Last week, I talked about how striking Luthor’s entrance into the movie is — and it needs to be striking, because we’re already an hour into the movie and he’s competing for our attention with a lot of other stuff.

This first visit to the lair lasts about three minutes, and then there’s another fifteen minutes of Superman material — the whole helicopter sequence, and Superman doing his first batch of heroic deeds. Then Lex gets a second scene which lasts less than two minutes, and then there’s another fifteen minutes, full of Superman and Lois’ first date. Luthor’s scheme doesn’t actually begin until more than an hour and a half into the movie.

The fact that he makes an impression at all says a lot about the level of energy that Gene Hackman brings to the role. His Luthor is a bundle of contradictions, especially in his relationship with his subordinates. He says that he longs to be idolized and congratulated, but Miss Teschmacher insults him most of the time, and the sidekick who idolizes him also irritates the hell out of him. Personally, I think he does this to himself on purpose, just for the pleasure of having someone to sneer at.

Continue reading Superman 1.46: Criminal Minds

Eternals 92.1: The Adventures of Fancy People

“It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history,” Jor-El says, and to the limited extent that means anything, he’s sincere about it. In Superman: The Movie, we’re supposed to admire the crystal palaces of Krypton, but the point of the film is the development of Superman’s connection to everyday life on Earth. Sure, there’s a galaxy-spanning backstory in there, but ultimately, the thing that’s really important is Earth, and real people. And then there’s Eternals, the new Marvel Studios movie that has kind of a different take on that question.

In this blog, I’m telling the story of how blockbuster superhero movies developed into a dominant cultural force, starting in 1978 with Superman and moving on chronologically from there. So far, I’m about an hour into the first movie, and there’s a long way to go. But out in the real world, that history is still going on, so when a new movie is released, I take a look at what’s happening in popcorn world, and what it has to do with the movie I’m currently writing about. Last month, I wrote about the Spider-Man spinoff Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and this weekend, the latest movie is Marvel Studios’ Eternals.

Honestly, I can’t think of a movie more appropriate for this treatment, because Eternals asserts that all of history was influenced by a set of gorgeous extraterrestrial cover models, who are responsible for every good idea in human civilization, specifically including Superman. Apparently, I’ve been writing about these people all along.

Continue reading Eternals 92.1: The Adventures of Fancy People

Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Rick didn’t say “Play it again, Sam,” and Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty.” Darth Vader said “No, I am your father,” and Brody said “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Do you feel lucky, punk? Houston, we have a problem. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Top of the world, Ma! Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?

A lot of the phrases that we pick up from pop culture as famous movie quotes are actually slight misquotes, often making them a little shorter and simpler, because on the whole people are not that good at remembering dialogue. Exact wording fades quickly, and so do plot points and character relationships.

But we’re great at remembering a striking visual, and most of the things that we consider “iconic” are compelling images, like Claudette Colbert showing her legs in It Happened One Night, or Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, or a steam vent blowing up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to reveal her legs in The Seven Year Itch. A lot of them involve women’s legs, for some reason.

So when Superman: The Movie introduces the new version of Lex Luthor that we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of alterations to the comic book character that for the most part audiences don’t notice. The movie version of Luthor has sidekicks and a sense of humor, which has never really happened before, and he presents himself as an eccentric businessman, rather than a mad scientist — but for movie audiences, those are details that they don’t know about.

The one thing that people do notice is that Lex Luthor is supposed to be bald, because we remember interesting visuals. The details of his characterization don’t really stick in the mind, but even people who’ve never read a Superman comic in their life know that Luthor doesn’t have any hair.

Continue reading Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Superman 1.44: The Man Behind the Curtain

He’s had henchmen. He’s had cronies. He’s had dupes and hostages and occasional team-ups, and according to the comics, there’s a whole planet out there populated by knuckleheads who think he’s a hero. But he’s never had a sidekick before; it’s just not a thing that Lex Luthor does.

He doesn’t really have a sense of humor either, or a collection of wigs, or any kind of compelling backstory or motivation.

So this, right here? This is not a Lex Luthor that we’ve seen before. This is something new.

Continue reading Superman 1.44: The Man Behind the Curtain