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Superman and Me: The Movies

May 14, 2013

With the new Superman movie about to hit theaters, I’m really starting to get excited.  And when I say really “excited” what I mean is REALLY F*CKING EXCITED.  It’s just about all I think about.  I’m eating, breathing, and sleeping Superman these days.  And contrary to what people might think (and the huge Batman tattoo on my back might imply), Superman is my favorite superhero.  Always has been.  Always will be.  So I figured this is a pretty good time to explore this life long connection I’ve had with the character… and maybe make sense of it all.

So when did it all begin?  Well, one of my earliest memories – and this may actually be my first memory regarding any sort of  ‘media’ in general – was watching Superman 2.  I was really young.  So young that I distinctly remember thinking it was real.  So when Superman was facing off against General Zod in downtown Metropolis, I remember thinking it was a news broadcast.  I remember sitting there, transfixed, thinking that Superman really was fighting these bad guys.  And this was some serious stuff.  This man was saving the world.  And I had to watch.  I remember it seemed all so real.  More real than Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or God himself, because I was watching it.  With my own eyes…

Needless to say, eventually… perhaps that very night, perhaps years later… I realized this wasn’t actually real.  It was a movie.  And Superman is a fictional character.  But that memory, watching those scenes, having those emotions… that might actually have been my first exposure to story-telling… and realizing it was just that: a story.  Which, as a storyteller myself now, was quite a significant moment in my life!

SUPERMAN III

So where did my Superman obsession go from there?  Well, eagerly waiting for more Christopher Reeve Superman films I guess. Superman 3 had already been released by this time and although my memories of the film were from television, that made the Superman vs. Superman scene no less memorable.  Not only does the moment ‘good’ Superman rips open his shirt to reveal the (now clean) Superman shield still give me goose bumps but that scene also gave birth to another childhood-adult obsession of mine: junkyards.

SUPERMAN IV

I do remember Superman IV hitting theatres… which probably makes it the first superhero movie I ever saw on the big screen.  Although my memories of the time are certainly distorted by the sheer love I had for the character, I do remember being somewhat disappointed.  Perhaps this was also the first time a film, of any kind, didn’t meet my expectations?  The film wasn’t a complete bust though.  It did have the most important thing in the world to me: Superman on screen.  From that moment though, things began to go down hill…

SUPERMAN V and SUPERBOY

Although I did my best to follow the developments of Superman V (thank you Starlog magazine) it was becoming more and more apparent that Christopher Reeve had hung up the cape for good… not to mention the tragic accident that soon occurred. But there were other sources of Superman adventure in my life (not to mention his comic books adventures) to keep me entertained.  But there too, I only found disappointment.  I remember my parents eagerly showing me a newspaper advertisement for Ilya and Alexander Salkind’s Superboy television series.  But it just wasn’t the same.  To begin with: no Christopher Reeve.  And that might not have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact the show made no effort to stay within the continuity established by the films (something that, even at that young age, was inexcusable.)

RUBY-SPEARS SUPERMAN

There was some hope though:  the Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon.  This show was an absolute gem.  It had the heart of the films, the storylines of the comics, outstanding animation, and, to top it all off,  the iconic John Williams’ theme.  And when I did catch an episode it was the quickest half-hour of my life.  Unfortunately, the show proved to be more elusive than Moby Dick.  They only produced one season’s worth of episodes.  And although I can remember waking up as early as I could on Saturday mornings hoping that I might catch an episode, I’m guessing the show was being used by the TV station to fill random time slots as needed, hence it’s inconsistent airings.  Amazingly, I still haven’t seen much of this show… though the series is now available on DVD. So that’s something I definitely need to check out…

LOIS AND CLARK

This was a show that sounded like a dream come-true.  Superman on prime time television.  But again, I found nothing but disappointment in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  At that time, in my young heart, Christopher Reeve was Superman.  And there was nothing that poor Dean Cain could do to change that.  But besides that, the show frustrated me on other levels.  Most notably: production value.  It felt cheap.  And the show really didn’t take itself too seriously, which didn’t sit well with me.   So, I found myself stuck in my own personal “phantom zone” eagerly waiting for Superman to find his way back to the big screen, where I felt he belonged…

SUPERMAN LIVES

Now, since you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you have a pretty good understanding of the numerous failed Superman productions of the 1990s and 2000s (if not, click here.  It’s fascinating.)   So instead of filling you in on all the gritty details, I’m just going to focus on one: Tim Burton’s Superman Lives.  By this time in my life, I was pretty disappointed with just about everything.  Superman seemed grounded for good.  Indiana Jones and Back to the Future were done.  And I was already pretty upset with the direction the Batman franchise had taken.

So imagine my elation when news broke on AICN that none-other than Tim Burton himself had taken a seat in the director’s chair of a potential adaptation of the Death of Superman storyline from the comics!  And to top it all off, production was looking to set up to shoot in my hometown: Pittsburgh PA.  It was a dream come true: the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning was set to the Daily Planet, the PPG Place downtown was set to be LexCorp headquarters, and there were rumors swirling that Burton himself had convinced former Dark Knight (as well as Pittsburgh native) Michael Keaton to don the cape and cowl once again for a brief cameo in the film!  My adolescent heart was about to burst into rainbows of sheer joy!

But then that very same rumor-mill started churning out some news that was… well… disturbing.  Nicholas Cage had been cast as Superman?  Superman would no longer fly?  He may or may not fight polar bears and/or a giant spider? It all became too much for my naive, teenage mind to process.  How could my favorite filmmaker possibly be screwing up my favorite superhero?!  THIS.  WAS.  A.  NIGHTMARE.

Fortunately, the world was spared the monstrosity that was Superman Lives.  Burton dropped out.  Cage moved on.  And I entered high school.  Never the less, I followed the developments of potential Superman films over the years with growing anticipation.  The project was passed through the hands of various writers and numerous directors but no script sounded particularly promising nor appeared any more likely to see production than the last.  That was, until, Bryan Singer came along.

It was as if my prayers had been answered.  Bryan Singer, a filmmaker who I had the upmost respect for, a filmmaker who had practically resurrected the comic book movie genre with his successful X-Men franchise, took the helm.  And, as if Singer and I (now a college graduate living in Los Angeles) had some magical mental connection, it was announced that his film would not be a reboot… but a sequel to the Richard Donner/ Christopher Reeve films that meant so much to me as a kid. In all honesty, I don’t think I had ever been so excited for a film like I was for Superman Returns.  An unknown actor was cast as the Man of Steel (the kid, Brandon Routh, was the same age as me, mind you.)  John Williams’ iconic theme would again be used. And the amazing Kevin Spacey was set to play Lex Luthor. It seriously could not get any better. And then, finally, after waiting anxiously for almost my entire life, I got the Superman movie of my dreams… or so I hoped…

SUPERMAN RETURNS

There’s not much about this film that hasn’t been said…. Except I liked it. I know, I know, it’s seriously flawed. And Bryan singer has said as much himself. But to be completely honest, and what’s so totally disheartening, is that had I been hired to write and direct a Superman film, I would have pretty much made the same movie.   It’s a vague sequel-homage to Richard Donner’s original film.  And Singer even snuck numerous 2001: A Space Odyssey and Arthur C. Clarke references into the movie as well. But at the end of the day, it just wasn’t what audiences wanted (Superman punching something.)

So here’s a particularly fitting clip from Superman Returns in-which, while being dragged by Luthor’s thugs, Superman screams: “I’m still Superman.”  What’s even more fitting is that Superman, at the end of clip, is literally  stabbed in the back.  Say what you will of the movie, but I think we can all agree that the soundtrack was fantastic and the bit of music in this clip is no exception. John Ottoman did a great job blending John Williams’ original themes with his own haunting compositions.  “So long, Superman…”

And even I, despite still having faith that Singer could have delivered the big-time sci-fi sequel we all wanted, understand a reboot was necessary. I mean, if we had clung on to Tim Burton’s Batman franchise too tightly we never would have gotten The Dark Knight. And I see the same potential in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.  So with that said, I am only too happy to admit that everything I have seen of the new movie I absolutely love.  The cast, the production design, the marketing… it looks outstanding.  Everything looks… to put it simply… better.  And through it all, I feel the perfect touch of reverence for  the films and television shows that came before it.  So, on June 14th we find out.  But maybe… just maybe… Superman, and myself included, are finally getting the film we’ve been waiting for…

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