Earlier this week, I took a look at the little things that made a big impression on me from Superman: The Movie. In Part One, I covered the beginning of the film through its unforgettable Smallville scenes. Let's pick things up as Clark concludes his journey to the frozen Arctic (click on the photos for a larger view)...
13. The Blankets: As Clark opens his backpack to remove the glowing Green Crystal, a sharp eye will catch a glimpse of the red, blue, and yellow fabrics stuffed inside. These can only be the Kryptonian blankets sent along with baby Kal-El's rocket ship. According to the comic book origin, these were the same fabrics used to create Superboy's indestructible costume...and it's likely that the backpack blankets were the fabrics used for the Superman costume we'd be seeing shortly.
14. "Speak." One of my absolute favorite sequences is the mysterious communion between Kal-El and the pseudo-spirit of his father Jor-El. After emerging from a cascade of light, the image of Jor-El assures his son that he will answer his many questions about his true heritage. Just before turning the conversation over to Kal-El, Jor-El says, "So, my son. Speak." With only this brief line, Marlon Brando (with face slightly upturned) conveys a regal, even imperious bearing...which perfectly sets the birth father apart from the humble adoptive father who raised Clark Kent.
15. Superman Revealed: After twelve years (!) of Jor-El's mentoring, Kal-El is now ready to enter the world with full knowledge of his Kryptonian heritage and power. I still recall the thrill of seeing Christopher Reeve take flight for the first time and soar so smoothly past the camera, giving us viewers enough of a thrill to wait another half hour before seeing any Superman action scenes. Keeping him somewhat in the shadows as he flew past was also a great move, simultaneously revealing him while retaining a bit of mystery. Combined with the heraldic blast of the Superman March, the origin story arc ends on an epic, triumphant note.
16. Speeding Bullet: Seemingly shot by a mugger, Clark reveals that he "must have fainted" to an underwhelmed Lois. As she walks away (without offering her new co-worker a hand up), Clark reveals the bullet he snatched from its path with a knowing smirk. In an instant, the core appeal of the Clark Kent character is revealed: "There's more to me than what appears".
17. "Um...Lois?" Of course, another major aspect of the Clark Kent character (in the sense that Clark is now very much a "performance" of Kal-El's) is the lengths of humiliation he willingly subjects himself to. Without getting too much into the amateur analysis, I believe Superman's willful buffoonery as Clark is actually an important (and very necessary) psychological safeguard for the most powerful being on the planet.
A textbook example of this practiced humility begins when Lois slips into the ladies room and is followed (almost puppy-like) by a clueless Clark. Shooing him out and shutting the door, Clark's coat gets caught in the door. Perfectly in character, Clark softly knocks on the door for Lois to open it. After freeing the captive coat, Clark proceeds down the hall, misses an elevator, gets yelled at by a guy in another elevator, then is completely ignored by two coworkers he bids "good night" to. The sequence ends with Clark standing alone in that dreary hallway, hands at his side...able to destroy the building with the stamp of a foot, yet choosing to remain the fool.
18. Straight Outta the Comic Book and Onto the Screen: Although Christopher Reeve was Superman in every frame he appeared in, the close-ups on the roof of the Daily Planet following the helicopter rescue are quite simply the comic book come to life. Not just the look, but the earnest & positive personality Superman should exude.
19. Got a Light? Perhaps even more perfectly cast than Superman himself was Perry White, flawlessly played by the great Jackie Cooper. A defining moment of the character came as he rallied the Daily Planet staff to continue their coverage of this new "Caped Wonder". After blustering that an interview with Superman would be "the most important interview since God talked to Moses", Perry sticks a cigar in his mouth, leans forward, and...without missing a beat....gets a light from a Planet staffer. As if Perry White would expect nothing less from his newsroom. Picture-perfect characterization.
20. "Do you...eat?" Of course, Lois Lane was the one to snag the interview, but who would've guessed Perry's best reporter would turn to Jello when she met the spit-curled celebrity? During the meandering conversation, she wonders aloud:
"And I take it the rest of your bodily functions are what we'd consider....normal?"
Superman: "I beg your pardon?"
Lois: "Well–putting it delicately–do you...eat?"
21. The Catch: Of all the things that can go wrong on a first date, I think "dropping your date from 10,000 feet" ranks near the top of the list. Ah, but leave it to Superman to make catching said date an incredibly romantic moment. As Lois falls like a blue chiffon anvil, the mortified Man of Steel can be seen diving down past her...then suddenly appearing at her side as the soundtrack crescendo subsides. Sure, Margot Kidder's spoken-word monstrosity "Can You Read My Mind?" begins shortly after the catch, but for a second or two, it's clear these two crazy kids have fallen in love (no pun intended).
22. A Rare Moment of Menace: The camp-fest that was the 1960's Batman TV show cast a long shadow over superhero adaptations for years afterward. So much so, that even "serious" treatments of the source material like Superman couldn't resist the black hole-like pull of campy humor. Without fail, any scene featuring Lex Luthor, Otis, and Miss Tessmacher turned my interest off like a light switch (well, maybe not Miss Tessmacher), and they remain scenes I fast-forward through to this day. A super-genius like Lex Luthor hanging around with a barely-functional dullard and a bored floozie? Really?
Ah, but through the campy haze, one tiny moment of true menace emerged after Lex revealed his Kryptonite necklace to a trembling Superman. Dangling his deadly prize, Luthor gloats, "You were great in your day, Superman. But it just stands to reason, when it came time to cash in your chips, this old...diseased...maniac would be your banker." A line good enough (and delivered convincingly enough) to almost overcome the clown suit and Orphan Annie wig.
23. Mythic Might: Of all the movie's impressive super-feats, this single long-shot of Superman muscling tectonic plates back into place is my favorite. Once again, I prefer the original sound mix of this scene to the cluttered excess of the DVD release, but the visuals are still strong enough to overcome the mild irritation. Sure, the concept of Superman singlehandedly reassembling the San Andreas Fault was pretty crazy, though compared to the notorious "spin the world backward" trick twenty minutes later, it's downright sensible! Whatever the case, I love the image.
24. A Job Well Done: After stopping a deluge of water with a dam of giant boulders, Superman surveys his handiwork with hands on hips and a relieved smile. It lasts only an instant, but it's one of the most surprising, vaguely corny, yet eternally endearing moments of Reeve's performance.
25. The Smile: I suspect I'm not the only one to enjoy Christopher Reeve's brief glance and smile at the camera just before the credits roll. Recalling Clark's knowing wink in the closing seconds of the old Fleischer cartoons, fun stuff like this gives the impression that Superman and his audience are co-conspirators in some kind of cosmic in-joke. A perfect way to end an unforgettable film...as well as my look at its many Randomly Cool moments. Let me know what some of yours are!