Starting from the prologue, so effective in its meta-cinematographic essence through which the director first brings the comic into a screen and then the screen towards the viewer (or vice versa), the ambition seems crystal clear and still today it is one of the few things to have stood the test of time.
Superheroes in the cinema are a show to be enjoyed on the big screen, an exuberant science fiction adventure capable of transporting the audience into a world incredibly similar to ours yet different in all respects, a golden age escapism made of action and wonder.
The wink that Christopher Reeve gives to the audience a moment before the credits – which closes the meta-narrative subtext opened by the prologue – is a point at the end of a discourse that continues today.
Sense of wonder
The sense of wonder expected from cinecomics today comes with the 1978 Superman: just one year after the success of Star Wars by George Lucas (to whom this work owes a lot, not only to John Williams in the soundtrack) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg, the film based on the comic by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster it represents the base, the starting point of a genre as the public frames it today.
For the first time, a major Hollywood film studio, Warner Bros., is ready to spend large amounts of budget ($ 55 million: the two aforementioned science fiction cults released in 1977 cost 11 million and 19 million respectively) for adventurers in tights , to rebuild their alien planets, to give a lair to their supervillains, to represent their inhuman feats.
Even the most important players in circulation are involved (mantra that decades later would characterize Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios), and we are already starting to think in terms of horizontal productions.
At a time when sequels were only made after the public success of a given film, the production began shooting Superman II at the same time as the first episode.
At the dawn of his career in the world of cinema after years of television and only one success (The omen) in the decade of the ’70s in terms of feature films, Richard Donner unwittingly founds the concept of cinecomic.
For a while, Hollywood wouldn’t give him much twine: Superman III e Superman IV they did not do as well as the previous two chapters, to the point that the saga was only resumed in 2006 with Superman Returns, today a bit of a forerunner of the nostalgic current launched by Super 8 e Stranger Things, but time would prove him right.
The law is hard, but the law
Zack Snyder would take the opening scenes of Richard Donner’s Superman, giving Russell Crowe the part of Marlon Brando (Jor-El) and Michael Shannon that of Terence Stamp (General Zod), but the pessimism that would later undermine these blockbusters (not just through Snyder) in 1978 was still far away. .
The desks of the Daily Planet look like the same ones used by All the President’s Men (1974) but that sense of paranoia and those oppressive atmospheres find no place in Richard Donner’s scenes. There is a lot of resignation (the Jor-El of the overpaid Brando is, even the whining Zod of Stamp) but there is also the desire for joy and enthusiasm to leave behind a very gloomy decade to write a new future, as Superman himself will do in the face of the death of Lois Lane, another element revisited by Snyder along with Lex Luthor squinternato di Gene Hackman.
Of course, over 41 years later it is unlikely that the film will still be able to impress younger audiences, accustomed to very different standards, and in its desire for realism – unlike Burton’s exasperated baroqueism, which thrives on its own aesthetics – Superman shows all his wrinkles today. Yet it still has many tricks up its sleeve capable of arousing a particular interest in science fiction and cinema lovers short. In a sense that of Richard Donner is a bit of a crossroads for the Hollywood blockbuster: sort of meeting point between George Lucas’ faraway galaxy and Spielberg’s terrestrial one, arrives five years ahead of the Oscars for Tron’s Best Costumes but at the same time it re-proposes for another audience some found in Kubrick’s cinema. The floating glass square that imprisons Zod and his acolytes in the Negative Zone seems to mimic the rectangular alien monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that returns overbearing also in the journey through the stars of the child Clark (the super-being fetus that closes Kubrick’s film) and above all in the visionary abstractions with which Jor-El, from the Fortress of Solitude, teaches his son Kal-El all Kryptonian knowledge (a sequence identical to that in Space Odyssey concludes the narrative arc of astronaut David Bowman).
Finally, it is impossible not to mention Richard Donner’s most beautiful visual stunt, that of Superman’s first flight: when the camera begins to float, cradling Christopher Reeve’s movement on the invisible wires to imitate the first superhero’s freeing from the laws of gravity, today we immediately think of the swinging shot that Sam Raimi would have invented for his Spider -Man.
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