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Superman II: “General, Care to Step Outside?”

Donner Cut: Superman’s return is anticlimactic.

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The Donner cut of Superman II makes Superman getting his powers back anticlimactic. In the theatrical cut we don’t know if Superman is going to get his powers back (okay, we “know” he will get his powers back) and until he does there is the building of tension in the movie. By not seeing Superman getting his powers back the film then  focuses on Zod and his minions attacking Lois, Jimmy & Perry White at the Daily Planet.

There is still considerable tension in those scenes because we are unsure what what will happen. Superman flying to Metropolis and telling Zod to “care to step outside” is a moment of triumph that resolves the tension. It is actually one of my favorite scenes in the movie. But in the Donner cut we see an elaborate and long scene of Superman getting his powers back and then his return to Metropolis where for the first time in the film, Superman finally confronts  Zod at the window. Ever since we saw the arrival of Zod and his fellow Kryptonians on Earth, paired with Superman giving up his powers at the same time, this very confrontation is the climax this movie is building toward. So if we watch Superman get his powers back it makes this initial confrontation with Zod very anticlimactic and takes all the joy and triumph out of that moment.

Another important moment removed by the Donner Cut is when Lois figures out Clark Kent is Superman! In the scene in Donner Cut, which is from an audition scene, Lois violently shoots Clark to prove he is Superman. The scene is very jarring and violent and unexpected and doesn’t seem to fit in the tone of the movie. It also doesn’t fit with Lois’ character. What if she was wrong!?

In the theatrical cut we see Clark stumble and fall and lose his glasses into the fire place. When he no longer can hide from Lois the fact that he is Superman we get to witness some of Christopher Reeve’s best acting! Sure, there is some similar acting in the Donner Cut, however, it is of my opinion the reveal of Clark Kent as Superman is done much better in the theatrical cut.

Just with the simple act of removing his glasses, standing more erect and lowering his voice, we see Clark Kent transform himself into the persona of Superman before our very eyes without having to don the suit! This moment is also sadly absent from the Donner Cut.

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I know there are many fans that feel the Donner Cut is superior to the Theatrical Cut…I guess I am not one of them.

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My Favorite Superman Part I

Ever since his debut in 1938 Superman has had many incarnations. He has been in comic books, graphic novels, radio shows, television shows and theatrical films. Today I want to focus on the live action portrayals of the Man of Steel in both film and television. Many actors have donned the red cape and the blue tights and soared into the sky. I will not be counting the portrayals of Superboy for I see him as a different character. Therefore this leaves out Tom Welling from Smallville for he only became Superman in the final episode of the final season. However, I will say he did a spectacular job throughout the run of the series. The reasons that spurred this article was the most recent Man of Steel movie where Henry Cavill played the dual role of Clark Kent/Superman. Although the film did very well and Henry, in particular, was excellent in the part, I have read on various message boards and through conversations with fans that Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the iconic character was still the favorite portrayal of many people. Although Man of Steel is my favorite Superman movie to date, I had to ask myself is Henry Cavill my favorite portrayal of Superman? So I did a little soul searching. The first portrayal of Superman on the big screen was by Kirk Alyn who played in 15 serial episodes of Superman between 1948 to 1950.

They were filmed in black and white on a shoe string budget. All portrayals of Superman flying were done in animation. Once Kirk Alyn jumped up an animated cartoon took over, obtained through the process of rotoscoping, until his feet landed once again on the earth. Noel Neill,who would later play Lois Lane in the Adventures of Superman, made her debut as the iconic love interest of Superman. I do not own this serial on DVD although I do plan to pick it up soon. My opinion is that Kirk Alyn did a very good job as Clark Kent but not as good as Superman. It wasn’t because of the lack of special effects either. Alyn just didn’t have that sense of power, authority and strength that the role needed. In 1952 the first Superman television came to the small screen after the success of Superman and the Mole Men had a theatrical release the year earlier. It amazes me how short some theatrical movies were back then. Superman and the Mole Men clocked in at just 67 minutes long! It starred George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. Coates would reprise her role as Lois Lane but for only one season. After season one Noel Neill from the Kirk Alyn serials reprises her role of Lois Lane. A bit of trivia for those who complained that Amy Adams played Lois Lane as a strawberry-blonde instead of a brunette should remember that Neill played Lane as a fiery redhead! The first two seasons of the Adventures of Superman were filmed in black & white and were not only dark in looks but dark in tone.

This was not a show for children! Although you would not see much science fiction in this series, the majority of the shows consisted of Superman fighting organized crime. After the first two seasons the producers realized that children were watching the show, along with adults, and began to show more lighthearted shows along with their more serious fare. However, even the more serious shows never reached the level of seriousness that the first two seasons produced. Having foresight the producers also began shooting the show in color knowing that some day all TV shows will be in color and that these color episodes would be more valuable and could be shown for years to come. Although they were filmed in color from the third season onward they were not broadcast in color until 1965. George Reeves played Superman and Clark Kent virtually the same. Both were tough no nonsense types of characters. Even though the open monologue called Clark a “mild mannered reporter” he really was no such thing. Although in the later seasons they mentioned that Clark could be a bit of a Milquetoast we never really saw him act that way. For myself seeing a tough Clark Kent was a positive draw for me.

 

The supporting cast was also great and the chemistry between the actors is what helped make the show great. Along with Reeves and Niell, Jack Larson was the definitive Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton internalized the gruff editor of the Daily Planet, Perry White. The show also featured a character, Inspector Henderson, that was not featured in the comics. He was brilliantly played by Robert Shayne. In the first season there seemed to be a very antagonistic relationship between Kent and Lane and Kent and Henderson. This added to the darkness of the tone of the series. r many the tough yet friendly portrayal of Superman by George Reeves was the way people measured the role for a long long time. Sadly George Reeves life came to an end in 1959 before he could film the last season of Superman. Was it murder or did he commit suicide? We may never know the truth. It would be 20 years until Superman was once again on the big screen. This time the actor to portray him was Christopher Reeve, no relation to George Reeves who did have an “s” on his name. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is legendary and iconic. He does seem to have walked off the pages of the silver era Superman comic books and onto the big screen. With the vast improvement of special effects in that 20 years you could really believe that a man could fly.

Adventures of Superman: Part II

Now for the conclusion of my review:

The other changed that occurred when the series switched to color was the episodes become more child friendly. The first two seasons were dark and serious and even more violent. This was toned down and we began to see more fun and lighthearted episodes. For example, in “Through the Time Barrier” a A nutty professor uses his time machine to send Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry and himself back to 50,000 B.C., along with a notorious gangster who decides he likes prehistoric times. Although the series did get a reputation for child friendly episodes that doesn’t mean they abandoned the more serious themed episodes. The season six episode ‘The Perils of Superman” where criminals wearing lead masks are trying to kill Perry white, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent is as dark as any of the episodes from the first two seasons.

One of the issues that was played down and almost non-existent in the series was the romance between Superman and Lois Lane. It was hinted at and one dream episode examined the topic, but for the most part it is generally ignored. In the first two seasons Lane and Kent actually have a more argumentative relationship. This is gone by the later seasons. In the early seasons Lois often suspects Clark as being Superman but this theme too is dropped in later episodes.

One of the last things I want to talk about is George Reeves portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent. It is one of my favorite portrayals of both Characters. As I have said on other occasions as I have grown older the Superman/Clark Kent secret identity is hard to swallow. Most actors portray each character differently giving some plausibility to the situation. The interesting thing about Reeve’s portrayal of both characters is that he doesn’t play Kent as a weak, baffoon type of character that some have played him. Reeves played Kent as a tough, smart and crafty individual. Superman/kent knows the audience is in on his secret and he plays wonderfully off that. There are times Kent is in peril but we the audience knows that he really isn’t in any trouble and that does add to the excitement of the drama. We wonder what will he do to get out of trouble and keep his identity. George Reeves really did embody Superman and while others have also played the character well, he is the yard stick I use to measure others by.

I also love the world of the 1950s. The Superman comic had him fighting exotic and equally strong and alien villains. The show has him fighting the average and everyday crooks at a time when organized crime was at its zenith. I like the more realistic criminal he faced. It grounds the show more in reality for me. The clothes, the cars and the primitive technology of the 50s and it is all part of the tone of the show that give it its charm. I know many younger people do not like older shows..even ones from the 60s let alone the 1950s…so it may be harder to convince a younger person to give the show a try. I do highly recommend it though. It is a well done show and even the special effects, though not as good as today’s standards, do fit the tone of the show and does not detract from the enjoyment whatsoever. So give Adventures of Superman a try!

Adventures of Superman: Part I.

The Adventures of Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! And now, another exciting episode, in The Adventures of Superman!

Superman is by far my favorite Superhero and Adventures of Superman is still a favorite of mine. I have been working my way through the entire series on DVD and it amazes me how enjoyable it is. I will never forget the first time I saw the series. I was in a Catholic school and I was about 10 years old. One afternoon my entire class was taken to the Church basement and no reason was given. When we got there we saw a movie projector set up and chairs waiting for us. There was also popcorn! I still had no clue what we were about to see. I sat with anticipation and curiosity as the room grew dark and the projector tuned on and started to hum. Suddenly on the screen with all fanfare was the title screen for Adventures of Superman!! My head was about to pop with excitement! I was in heaven!! We saw one color episode, “The Seven Souvenirs” and one in black and white, “The Deserted Village.” I was hooked on that show and within a few years when cable TV came to town I was able to view more episodes. Ah, those were some of my most fondest memories.

Produced between 1952 to 1958. The series starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman with Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson. Phyllis Coates played Lois Lane in the first season with Noel Neill taking over role in the second season (1953). I must admit the show is pretty formulaic, with an assorted gangsters and criminals trying to commit some crime which will drag Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen into trouble that will require Superman to rescue them. Even though it is a predictable formula it never grows old or tiresome. The scripts were creative in bringing new colorful characters to keep it interesting. The shows first two seasons were reminiscent of 40s film noir style and absent from the series was Superman’s number 1 arch nemesis, Lex Luthor.

To say that it stuck to a formula does not mean the show didn’t change. It did change over the seasons. One of the changes showed great foresight. The first two seasons were in black and white as all shows and the overwhelming vast majority of TV sets were in the 1950s. After the second season an executive got the bright idea of filming the episodes in color realizing that color TV was going to be the wave of the future and that the color episodes would be more valuable in syndication. He was right. Starting in season three until the end of its run,  Adventures of Superman were in full color…even though it would be 10 years or more until the majority of Americans could view it in color. By then color TVs were growing in popularity and availability and the majority of TV shows changed to color.

To keep this review to a digestible level I will bring you part II on Wednesday. Come on back!