Monthly Archives: January 2022

Superman 1.96: Mixed Messages

The main thing is, everybody loved Christopher Reeve.

Gene Siskel called him “totally believable,” and Jack Kroll called him “ridiculously good-looking” and “a delight”. Vincent Canby said “he manages to be both funny and comic-strip heroic without making a fool of himself,” and Roger Ebert said “Reeve sells the role; wrong casting here would have sunk everything.”

Even Pauline Kael said that Reeve was “immediately likable”, and she hated the film worse than she hated kidney stones and road accidents.

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Superman 1.95b: A Small Amount of the Exciting Original Story of Superman: Last Son of Krypton

1978 was not one of the golden years of movie novelizations. Star Wars had done very well in 1976, and the Close Encounters of the Third Kind novelization in 1977 did quite a bit toward helping people understand what the hell that movie was even about.

But the movie tie-in section at Waldenbooks was fairly grim in ’78: there was Jaws 2 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and novels based on some unloved Disney films: Pete’s Dragon, Return from Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. And that was about it.

The one thing that could have perked up the publishing category that year would be the novelization of the long-awaited Superman film, but Mario Puzo screwed us on that, so we got this instead.

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Superman 1.95: Speak Truth to Power

Snap, crackle, pop. Apparently, there’s an electrical power station somewhere in the Western hemisphere that’s experiencing some kind of electricity related fiasco.

“Watch that cable!” someone cries, like it’s my job to watch cables. “Someone try to pull the lead!” Somebody else shouts, “It’s impossible, it’s red hot!” There doesn’t seem to be a protocol for this kind of situation.

But Superman flies in, and he flips a big switch, which turns everything off and saves everyone. Then he points at somebody and says, “Gentlemen, is that man all right?” And I’m like, what man?

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Superman 1.94: The Shakedown

The telephone trills.

It’s mid-November 1978 in sunny Los Angeles, and all four of the Warner Brothers, seated at their identical desks, reach for their four matching telephone receivers. “Hello?” they chirp, in unison. “These are the Warner Brothers.”

“Good afternoon, Mizter Brothers,” says the voice, in an imaginary Russo-Swiss-Mexican accent. “Zis is Alexander Salkind.”

Mr. Salkind is the executive producer of Superman: The Movie and the head of a bumbling, crumbling international crime syndicate, and he’s making a transatlantic person-to-persons call to make Warner Bros. an offer that they can’t refuse.

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Superman 1.93: The Fish Movie

So I think I’ve cracked blockbusters, is the headline for today.

This project is a history of superhero movies, and one of my goals is to figure out how superhero movies work and what they’re for, so that we can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one. And because the concept of “superhero movie” is actually a subset of the larger concept “blockbuster movie”, I’ve been looking outside the genre to see if I could pick up some helpful clues.

So far, I’ve talked about Quo Vadis, which was the first big silent spectacle film, and The Birth of a Nation, the first American blockbuster, which invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. Recently, I looked at Gone With the Wind, which is still the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, our latest and greatest, which is basically a two and a half hour whiteboard exercise on how to fix seven previous movies.

And today, to pull it all together: the 1975 sneak-attack spectacular Jaws, the first modern blockbuster that set the standard for how a summertime adventure story is supposed to make us feel.

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Superman 1.92: The Curse of Jerry Siegel

A CURSE ON THE SUPERMAN MOVIE!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Re: THE VICTIMIZATION OF SUPERMAN’S ORIGINATORS, JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER

I, Jerry Siegel, the co-originator of Superman, put a curse on the Superman movie! I hope it super-bombs. I hope loyal Superman fans stay away from it in droves. I hope the whole world, becoming aware of the stench that surrounds Superman, will avoid the movie like a plague.

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Superman 1.91: Defining Disaster

Time is running out. There’s a pair of misguided missiles streaking across the country in opposite directions, and nobody knows how to turn them off, except the guy who doesn’t want to.

Superman is currently chasing the first rocket, striving to save Hackensack, and Bergen Country in general, from a desperate fate. But while he’s not looking, the second rocket is headed straight for a fault line. He doesn’t have time to launch the first rocket into the stratosphere, and keep control of the second rocket.

You know, it’s amazing to me that the people who decided to make two superhero movies at the same time never noticed that the climax to their first movie is based on the idea that you shouldn’t try to do two things at once.

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Superman 1.90: A Man Can Buy

They didn’t use the word “synergy” for this kind of thing yet, so they just called it a “push”, as in SUPERMAN PIC GETTING WARNER COMMUNICATIONS PUSH.

Superman is due to get a super push from Warner Communications Inc.,” said Variety in July 1978, “marking the first time a major entertainment conglomerate has marshalled virtually all of its subsidiary operations in the advertising, promotion and merchandising of a feature film.”

And congratulations, the superhero movie is born, not with a whimper but a bang. Warner Bros. has realized that they’re about to launch a feature film based on one of the most well-known characters in the world, and by now they’ve actually seen a rough cut of the film, and it’s really good. So it’s time for the Warner subsidiaries to circle the wagons, and get ready to make some Star Wars money.

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Superman 1.89: Bad Girl Goes Good

Forget Catwoman. Forget the Black Cat. Forget all of the scheming anti-heroines who commit crimes and then make out with the superhero, whether they have a feline-based persona or not.

Because we have a champion, right here. As a temporarily-reformed supercrime vixen, Eve Teschmacher — known to her friends as MISS TESCHMACHER!! — has got to be one of the all-time greats. She reforms for a grand total of one hundred and twenty-five seconds, and during that period, she commits sexual assault. And she still doesn’t get any jail time! This woman is unbelievably good at her job.

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Superman 1.88: Toward a General Theory of the Ding-Dong

Consider Otis: sidekick, lickspittle, punching bag, emotional support animal — and, most importantly, a ding-dong.

The ding-dong is the guy who sets off the alarm during the break-in, the one who forgot he couldn’t swim. When someone asks, “Why are we whispering?”, he’s the guy that says “I thought you knew.” His purpose in life is to stand next to a smarter character, and make them wince.

Strangely, ding-dongs still show up, even with network sitcoms on the decline. You would think that the race would die out; he seems like exactly the kind of thing that natural selection was organized to prevent.

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