1978 Special: Superman – Don Sparrow Guest Post

The following is a post by my friend Don Sparrow. There is no one else I know who knows more about Superman, or who loves him more. When we went to see Man of Steel on opening night, almost everyone in the theatre went to Donny on their way out to ask him what he thought of the movie. You will never get to know, but here is what he has to say about the 1978 original: 

In the same way that the very creation of Superman began a completely new genre, so too did his first foray into feature films do the same trick for cinema.  For the first time, comic book material was treated as a genuine source of dramatic storytelling.  From the casting of Hollywood legend Marlon Brando (considered among the world’s best actors of the time—or any time), to director Richard Donner’s adherence to his mantra for the film “verisimilitude”, nothing in this film was treated as kids’ stuff.  The filmmakers embraced the outlandishness of the comics, never winking, never seeming embarrassed of the material (or, importantly, the costume).  The locations and characters we all knew were translated into big screen visuals, which in some cases (as with the totally alien and fascinating design of the cold and sterile Krypton) surpassing even the best of decades of publishing.  The film also took great risks, like not having our hero in his famous primary coloured suit until nearly an hour into the film.  Incredibly, the film doesn’t really suffer for it—indeed, the lush cinematography of Smallville’s rural setting, coupled with the warm and genuine performances of the steadfast Kent parents all grounded the film with wholesomeness and heart.

And since we’re on the subject of heart, not enough can be said about the charm, ease and dedication Christopher Reeve put into his role as Superman and Clark Kent.  Never before had an actor embodied a pulp literary character so well, and I would argue that few actors have matched his performance since.  The film’s tagline “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly” put a great deal of pressure on the special effects, but the pressure was even greater on newcomer Reeve, not only to embody the spit-curled demigod physically, but spiritually.  The greater challenge was Reeve’s alone—to make us believe in a character as unambiguously good and upright as the Man of Steel was meant to be.  Cleverly, the film also illustrates this feat, as the hardened and jaded Lois Lane meets Superman’s earnestness with the same cynicism an audience member might.  But with the gravity and humility of Reeve’s deliverance of the line “Lois, I never lie,”  she believes in him.  And so do we.

For all these reasons (that they did it first, and did it right) Superman remains the high water mark of superhero storytelling.  A cultural phenomenon, it is still the blueprint the better superhero films use as their guide.  In the same way that the creation of Superman made a model for all comics to follow, so did this film invent an entirely new film culture.  And its deep investment in the source material elevated its status onto modern folklore.

For more Don Sparrow knowhow check out:


and for his art check go to:


Here is an original drawing Don did of Superman and Lois. readmymind


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