As a child I wished that I could fly like Superman.
I still can't fly, nor do I have super-strength or x-ray vision, like the man of steel. I am, however, an unassuming mild-mannered reporter like his alter ego Clark Kent.
Not too long ago, I bought the 1978 film version of "Superman" on DVD. Though "Superman II" (which I also own on DVD) is, in my opinion, the superior movie with its explosive special effects and comic book-like villains, the original is an enjoyable tale that examines the humanistic side of the superhero.
On the DVD, Superman flies out in glorious colors and blends in pristinely with the sky. Though the effects are rather primitive by today's standards, the film still makes you want to believe that a man came to fly.
As explained in a documentary on the DVD, Superman came to life during the depression. He came to conception by two Cleveland teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who wanted to draw for comic books. He came to the midwestern town of Smallville (the exploits of which are currently being documented on the WB series of the same name) as a baby in a space capsule after his home planet of Krypton blew up. Jonathan and Martha Kent adopt him.
This is where the movie begins. "Superman" is essentially a retelling of the comic book mythology that follows Clark Kent from his humble origins as a shy kid in the bucolic farming community, to his life as an awkward writer for The Daily Planet and to his heroism as the man of steel. Along the way, he falls in love with Lois Lane.
In the movie, he is played by Christopher Reeve (years before he became paralyzed in a horse-riding accident), a then dashing 6'4 actor who looked so much like the comic book character it was eerie.
The plot for "Superman" is as thin and fragile as the newsprint the comic was printed on. Villain Lex Luthor (played by Gene Hackman) hatches a scheme to flood the California coastline and drive up the price of his real estate in the desert. The film's saving grace is how much fun the filmmakers have with the concept, and the creativity the actors take with their roles.
Hackman, the best performer in the film, is like a predecessor to Mike Myers' Dr. Evil, not quite as silly, but at the same time more over the top. More than anyone else in the film, Hackman looks like he honestly enjoys being in the role. In his underground lair he revels in his big ego, pretty girlfriend and bumbling sidekick, and cartoonishly barks out orders because it seems that he couldn't quite make it into the same club as James Bond's villains.
Reeve plays Superman as a true American hero, belting out his lines with supreme confidence yet delicately formulating his romance with Lois (played by Margot Kidder). Who else can get away with uttering a line like "I'm here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way," without inducing bouts of laughter? At the same time he plays as Kent, a screwball type character who doesn't quite seem to fit in with the cutthroat world of journalism. Yet, it makes sense that he would pursue such profession since his powers would allow him access to information and scenarios (such as fires and hurricanes) that would be untouchable for mere mortals, and would give him an edge over other reporters. As a writer, these are issues I feel I have to address.
Perhaps what makes "Superman" so enduring is that he is a quintessential American myth. Like the heroes of antiquity, he embodies supernatural traits, but he is also a man of the people. His democratic ideals and fair justice suits him for the American psyche, which espouse equality above all else. He is like an ideal American in tights, who can run faster than a speeding bullet and leap over tall buildings.