The Fortress of Solitude

September 23rd, 2008

Superman Flies Lois Over Manhattan

What do you think? Was the 1978 Superman the best movie made from a comic book, with all other attempts going downhill after that, with the exception of the first two Spidermans (2002 & 2004)? And maybe, Batman Begins (2005)? Oh, wait! There was also the excellent first X-Men (2000).

We shall not even mention the ludicrously exacrable awful X-Man ast Stand (2006) — which seems to be more generally the quality of comix-to-movies and / or video / computer games-to-movies, alas and alack-a-day!

Back to Superman, 1978, the past prophesizes the future. We begin not on the planet of Krypton, but in the Depression with voice over telling us specifically that this is the 1930’s and a world-wide economic disaster has taken place, while black-and-white comic book pages flip. One wonders why, since after that we get the credits, and then the movie properly begins and we’re on Krypton.

However, with the 1930’s global Depression invoked, the trial on Krypton of traitors to the state, and then the denial and rejection of brilliant Jor-El’s warning of coming planetary destruction by the same power elite that passed judgment of the traitors, it feels like today’s headlines.

It’s lovely how the director does not rush us through any of this. The film takes just the time it needs to set-up what needs to be set-up. It remains interesting to look at through this leisurely beginning, leisurely despite the tension and pressure of special effects planetary destruction. Partly this is because the Intro is mostly narrated by Marlon Brando as Jor-El, just the first on-screen member of this all-star cast.

Then we finally get to the best parts of the movie, Superman’s adoption by the Kents and his growing up in rural Kansas. The photography’s tenderness in recording the small details of that life provokes one to wonder whether the director or the cinematographer grew up there too. The glory of the wheat, gold and rose in the lingering sunset glow, sleeping with the bakelite radio tuned in to the local R’nR station, the paper window shades with circle string pulls, the vane windmills, the barns — I know all these details intimately also from my childhood. Then Clark must leave the warm, nurturing pastoral nest, to begin his adult super education via Jor-El’s technology, in the Fortress of Solitude, grown via that same technology out of the empty ice blades at the top of the world.

Next follows assuming a mask and courtship, simultaneously. Such cute bits: no phone booths into which he can change from Kent to Superman, the most extreme looking-up-a-girl’s-skirt scene ever, as Lois Lane dangles from the helicopter teetering at the edge of a skyscraper’s roof deck, x-raying Lois’s lungs through her clothes with his super vision when he advises her not to smoke.

It’s all foreplay and courtship from the moment Superman (not Kent, despite Superman’s Kent mask’s attraction to her) and Lois Lane set eyes on each other. Innuendo, double entendre, her interview of the man who saved her, giving him his name — Superman — gathering his vital stats, most importantly that he’s neither married nor has a girlfriend. She asks if he can, um, well, eat? Meaning, do you, can you fuck? Even better, there is no way that Margot Kidder can be described as anything but, well, homely. This is all lead-up to that marvelous overflight of New York City, which neither Vaquero nor I have ever forgotten. Seeing this movie again for the first time since 1978, seeing the Twin Towers — the flight is even more magical.

For us both this was the highlight of the movie, and it is the point of the movie too. For this is the goal of the courtship-foreplay’s ritual so far: that Lois will take that Flight of Trust with this unknown man, allow him to take entire control of her. First they merely hold hands. He lets her go, to make her frightened rescues her, reprising their first encounter as Super and Lois, so he can hold her in his arms — like a boy at the movies strategizing his move, to get his arm around his date for the first time. She’s already dressed in a blue and white flowing, semi-transparent thing that is essentially a negligee nightgown.

These are more innocent times, even as late as 1978 …. (as well, time is kind of funny in this world of Superman — though in 1978 I passed that lobby of the Daily News at least twice a week, the same lobby with the suspended globe of Clark Kent’s Daily Planet).

“Who are you?”

“I am here to fight for truth, justice and the American way.”

“I never lie.”

“I was sent to America because her people are the the best, to show the rest of the world how it should be.”

Counterpointing this otherworldly romance of erotic attraction, awe and masks, we have the two stooge comedy villains, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther and Ned Beatty’s Otis, looked over by Bodacious Mama, Valerie Perrine’s Eve Teschmacher.

After these parts though, it becomes special effects: Big Crashing, Big Destruction, Big Noise, Big Repairs and Last Minute Rescue of the Screaming Skirt and isn’t so interesting.

What do you think is happening to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, now that the Arctic ice cap is melting?

15 Responses to “The Fortress of Solitude”

  1. Tim Walterson 23 Sep 2008 at 1:27 pm

    No love for Mystery Men?

  2. Constance Ashon 23 Sep 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I’ve not seen Mystery Men (1999), nor — gasp! — heard of it before now.

    What do you like about MM?How do you think it stands up to 1978 Superman?

    Love, C.

  3. Celsius1414on 23 Sep 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Homely?! Margot Kidder in 1978?! I beg to differ:,,20053036_3,00.html

  4. David Louis Edelmanon 23 Sep 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I’ll agree that the first two-thirds of the original Superman is superb. I just saw it recently in high-def, and I was incredibly impressed with the pacing. Just masterful. If I’m not mistaken, this is the film that brought us the Supes-as-Christ metaphor too, which made it strangely moving for me (even as an atheist).

    But then they had to go and fuck it all up in the film’s inexplicable last half-hour. I’ve read that the whole spinning-around-the-Earth-to-reverse-time thing was actually intended to be the end of Superman II, most of which was filmed at the same time. But it makes absolutely no sense at the end of I. Total non-closure.

    (Of course, take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m one of those few who felt that X-Men: The Last Stand was at least as good as the first two films. It could have been half an hour longer, and yes, there was some sloppiness. But so was there in the first two. Really, I think all three X-Men films stand just about equally as 4-out-of-5-star films.)

  5. Tim Walterson 24 Sep 2008 at 12:41 am

    What do you like about MM?

    It was funny, quirky, and good-hearted, with “regular guy” superheroes. Also, William H. Macy. While nowhere near as strange as its source material (Flaming Carrot), it had character to burn.

    How do you think it stands up to 1978 Superman?

    Hard to compare directly, since the two are so different. But it was more my thing–“regular” superhero movies are something I can take or leave (although, like the two of you, I think that Superman was quite well done except for the ending).

  6. Nickon 24 Sep 2008 at 8:33 am

    Mystery Men is a hoot. It is to comic superheroes what Galaxy Quest is to Star Trek.

    “I knew you knew I knew you knew I knew.”
    “I know that.”

    And Ben Stiller’s superhero. Basically he just gets very, very angry!

    Am I a lone voice in thinking the first Burton Batman still the best superhero adaptation? Michael Keaton has never been bettered for me. As dark and disturbed as any of ’em. Hugely underrated. The hype was so massive at the time that it obscured how good the film actually is and Kim Basinger proved herself to be one of the best screamers in the business. And as OTT as Nicholson was, he’s the Joker for goodness sake! The climax in the cathedral, the music, the gargoyles. The whole thing was Gothic gorgeousness.

  7. Jenne Jon 24 Sep 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I beg to differ about the X-men movies. They were all bad and way off from the original comics. (I know because my husband is a big fan of the comics and still has his collection!) Not nearly in the same league as Superman, well maybe Superman Returns…

  8. Laurieon 25 Sep 2008 at 1:31 am

    @Jenne J:

    Being a comicbook purist is a slippery slope, and it’s almost always pointless when you’re talking movies. There’s no way they could put 40+ years of plot in the 2+ hours a movie takes. Plus, which ‘original’ comics are you going to cite? There are roughly a zillion splinters, splits, parallels, and future histories of the X-Men universe. Are we talking Uncanny X-men? Amazing X-Men? Heck, perhaps even Giant X-Men? (I could go on – my love is for Astonishing X-Men, currently. Joss Whedon. *swoon*)

    I loved movies 1 and 2 of the X-Men, and I thought they were pretty darn true to the spirit of the comics (with a few changes thrown in to make it more palatable to those who had never picked up a comic book, of course). Bryan Singer did a fine job. Movie #3 took the spirit of the comics, put it in a blender, set it to puree, and then dumped it into an open cesspool. The story took a back seat to cool effects, pointless theatrics, and mindless action. That’s just how Brett Ratner rolls. No surprise there.

    On a related note, I thought The Dark Knight was an excellent movie, but I am not sure I thought it was a Batman movie. The first two X-Men movies, as I said above, condensed and changed some stuff but I think it was in the interest of clarity and brevity. The goal was to tell a good, true X-Men story to fans and novices alike. The Dark Knight seemed more like a ‘based on Batman’ flick that was more interested in telling a good story than telling a Batman story.

  9. Constance Ashon 25 Sep 2008 at 11:33 am

    Celsius1414 — Tastes differ. To mine eyes, with that terrible haircut, pointy witchy nose and chin, and little eyes, Kidder in this movie, at least, reminds me of another very unattractive star, Sarah Jessica Parker.

    However, Kidder’s figure is superb, which Parker’s is not.

    Also, Kidder in Superman does function primarily as Merian C. Cooper’s script for King Kong makes clear the skirt’s function in a movie must be — she must scream and show terror. No one is attractive in the state of terror.

    However, she’s not homely in every shot. Which again reminds me of Sex and the City: the Movie, in which our four NYC ladies all look, more or less, like they’ve been dragged through knotholes since the last ep of the HBO series was shot — witchy, stringy, spready & / or withered — often simultaneously. This goes for the S&TC gentlemen as well.

    But the ladies all have scenes in which they are again the gorgeous gals of yesterday. Except for Sarah Jessica Parker. The men don’t get a single scene where they look fresh.

    So much of our perception of screen stars is because of how they are filmed.

    Brando looked pretty silly in Superman ….

    Love, C.

  10. Constance Ashon 25 Sep 2008 at 11:35 am

    Is the consensus so far that Dark Knight is the best comic superhero movie?

    Perhaps I should try and watch it again? I only saw it way back when it came out, once.

    Love, C.

  11. Charleson 26 Sep 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I thought Dark Knight was among the best comic superhero movies I’ve seen so far. I’ve heard many claim the recent Iron Man to be superior to Dark Knight. As I haven’t seen Iron Man yet I cannot say.

    I would put forth Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker to be the best comic superhero movie performance.

    As for me, based upon the movies I’ve seen over the years, I’m still partial to X-Men 2.

    I’m a big X-Men fan from a while back (I have much of the original Phoenix Saga in my collection). While they changed many, many things around for the X-Men movies I still think the first 2 are exceptionally done. I also really enjoyed the 3rd X-Men. It is a step below the first 2 but not as terrible as many have made it out to be.

    As for the 1978 Superman, I really enjoyed that. I agree that the ending was silly though. Somehow my brain just tells me reversing Earth’s orbit would rip the planet apart instead of turn back time.

    So, X-Men 2 for me as my top comic superhero movie.

  12. Chadon 12 Oct 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Seriously? The best movie made from a comic book? I thought it was a joke when I first started reading. It would say it’s the worst, but the Batman movies between Michael Keaton’s 1st Batman and Batman Begins are probably worse. Though, Pfieffer in the Cat Woman suit isn’t terrible. Even Spawn is better than the ’78 Superman. Of course it doesn’t help that Superman is the worst superhero ever. If you can reverse a planet’s rotation, how could you ever be threatened by anything. You are so powerful it wouldn’t matter if everyone knew you were Superman. Yes, I know kryptonite…lame. The only good DC comic hero is Batman. All the others are just too dull.

  13. Cameronon 23 Oct 2008 at 1:09 am

    Best movie from a comic book? Spiderman 2.

  14. Daemonon 06 Jan 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Nausicca of the Valley of the Winds
    Of course, it’s an animated movie based on manga, but it’s still the best 😉

    But for live-action… I’m looking forward to 20th Century Boys, based on the manga of the same name. Looks to be insanely awsome, and, thankfully, contains no underwear perverts.

  15. Laurelon 06 Apr 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Best movie from a comic book? Spiderman 2.
    Cameron really. If he’d had one more poor me moment I would have had to throw a brick through the screen rather than just bringing up my lunch.

    The 1978 Superman movie was made back when Hollywood still knew how to make a movie, you know set an atmosphere and not throw everything down your throat with special effects. It’s just the changing times. Nuance no longer matters, movie makers are taking all the magic and the imagination out of their subject matter and pushing all the sex and violence at you they can whether or not it aids the plot. I’ve been trying to think of any movie I’ve seen in the last twenty years that I thoroughly enjoyed for its content and pacing and honestly, I just can’t do it. Producers and Directors are just too much in love with all their new toys. “Gee mom, see what I can do?” Yes, and here’s the thing just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean you should. That’s the difference between art and what you see at the movie theaters today. I guess I’m just too old to enjoy having crap stuffed down my throat. I think I’ll read a book or an old comic book and get to enjoy the experience.

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