It’s a Classic: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Open the pod bay doors please HAL…”

2001

David Bowman (Keir Dullea) faces an unbelievable journey in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (image credit: MGM/Warner Bros. used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1968

Starring:  Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Douglas Rain

Directed by:  Stanley Kubrick / written by:  Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke

What’s it about?

Mankind learns they are not alone in the universe when a strange artefact is uncovered on the Moon, leading to a journey to the outer solar system and beyond all imagination…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Fifty years ago, author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick brought what many consider to be the greatest of all science fiction masterpieces to the big screen.  Based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not only a seminal masterwork of SF cinema but also, frankly, one of the best films ever made.  An ambitious production that’s still impressive today, 2001 is a mesmerising, haunting and beautiful visual and aural experience that marries high concept science fiction ideas with incredible photography (captured by Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later work on Richard Donner’s Superman), innovative special effects and an inspired mix of classical music and contemporary orchestrations, eschewing the use of a traditional motion picture score produced by a single composer.

2001: A Space Odyssey can be an enigma to the uninitiated, it’s more focused on hard SF concepts (technological and existential) and extraordinary visuals than a “coherent” plot – although repeated viewings and a reading of Clarke’s novel (which he wrote whilst collaborating on the film’s screenplay with Stanley Kubrick) deepen both understanding and appreciation for, and enrich the experience of, the “proverbial good” science fiction film Kubrick and Clarke set out to make.  The lack of clear explanation, especially in the mind-bending finale, is an intention on the part of Kubrick and Clarke, wanting to impart interpretation and meaning on the viewer.

In terms of the underlying narrative, 2001 follows the evolution of man and its encounters with an alien intelligence via black, featureless slabs – or monoliths – at key points, from the human race’s primitive beginnings to its spacefaring ways millions of years later (connected by that iconic jump cut) as mankind reaches for the stars and is ultimately taken on a journey beyond comprehension.  Following the unearthing of a mysterious monolith on the Moon a powerful signal is blasted into space, leading to humanity’s first expedition into the unknown.

The main bulk of 2001 focuses on the spacecraft Discovery as it journeys on a mission to Jupiter.  The ship’s scientific crew in hibernation, only her commander, David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and co-pilot Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) remain awake to attend to the day-to-day functions of the mission along with Discovery’s advanced supercomputer A.I., the HAL 9000.  Without delving too heavily into spoilers, everything runs smoothly until the HAL 9000 – or HAL – begins to exhibit signs of malfunction and turns against Bowman and Poole as they consider the possibility of disconnection.  This provides drama for the central act before viewers are taken on “The Ultimate Trip” as 2001 moves towards a conclusion that has been endlessly debated and dissected.

Kubrick’s expert direction coupled with the understated and naturalistic performances of the actors gives an almost documentary style of execution to 2001.  Again, it’s more of a visual and auditory experience that challenges the mind (and the senses) than a showcase for awards worthy character portrayals (as it happens, there is actually – intentionally – very little dialogue in the film).  The exception to this of course is Douglas Rain (who sadly passed away in November) who provides the voice for HAL.  A chilling and unrivalled performance, Rain’s subtle, soft tones and restrained delivery bring a sense of unease that only becomes more unsettling as HAL’s programming begins to unravel.

The production design of 2001 is staggering, with intricate model work and meticulously detailed sets having a functional and believable quality to them.  Adding to this are the astonishing special photographic effects, designed with assistance from Douglas Trumbull and directed by Kubrick – the iconic ‘Star Gate’ sequence remaining one of the most incredible and startling in all of cinema.  The use of music is also ingenious, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s jubilant rendition of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube the perfect accompaniment to the dreamy, waltz-like imagery of man’s journey into space whilst Adagio (from Gayane’s Ballet Suite, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra) conveys the isolation and loneliness of the Discovery’s voyage to the outer solar system.  Most effective though are Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres (performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sudwestfunk orchestras respectively), compositions that complement and accentuate the eeriness and mystery of the monolith and Bowman’s cosmic and reality spanning journey ‘beyond the infinite’ as he encounters a larger version of the alien object floating in the vicinity of Jupiter.

There’s so much that has been said and can be analysed about 2001: A Space Odyssey but in basic terms it is simply outstanding and an enduring masterpiece that will forever be influential and revered by lovers of science fiction, film, music and art in general.

Standout moment

Unable to verify HAL’s report of a fault in the Discovery’s communications system, David Bowman and Frank Poole employ subterfuge as they enter one of the ship’s EVA pods to discuss deactivating the ship’s computer, unaware that HAL is observing…

Geek fact!

Prior to filming on 2001, Gary Lockwood appeared in the second pilot for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.

If you like this then check out…

2010 : Peter Hyams directs the Kubrick-less sequel that sees Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd journey to Jupiter in order to reactivate HAL and uncover the secrets surrounding the monolith and the disappearance of David Bowman.

Solaris : Russian cinema’s answer to 2001, Solaris is a similarly cerebral and enigmatic piece that’s worth checking out.

Advertisements

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ – “Emissary”

25 years ago saw the beginning of a daring new chapter in the ‘Star Trek’ legacy…

Trek DS9 Emissary - cast

Beyond the Final Frontier: the crew of Deep Space Nine.

Year:  1993

Starring:  Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Siddig El Fadil, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Marc Alaimo

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Michael Piller (Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Michael Piller (story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller) / episode directed by:  David Carson

What’s it about?

Commander Benjamin Sisko is assigned to take command of Deep Space Nine, a surrendered Cardassian space station and upon the discovery of a wormhole leading to a distant corner of the galaxy makes contact with mysterious alien entities that exist within…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation at the peak of its popularity on television and plans for the cast to transition to the big screen, Paramount decided they wanted a new Star Trek series that would overlap with the final two seasons of The Next Generation.  Created by Rick Berman (guardian of the Star Trek franchise following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Michael Piller (head writer on The Next Generation), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would present a slightly different take on Star Trek, focusing on a darker section of the universe that would allow for more conflict and drama whilst upholding the core principles of Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision and his intention to use the series as a vehicle for telling stories about the human condition.  In unison with Star Trek’s celebration of diversity, Avery Brooks – the first African American actor in the lead role of a Star Trek series – would head up the cast as Commander Benjamin Sisko.

“Emissary”, the feature length premiere of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (first airing in January 1993), sees Commander Sisko, three years after the loss of his wife Jennifer (Felicia M. Bell) during Starfleet’s battle with the Borg at Wolf 359 (events which took place during classic Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds” and depicted in the exciting pre-titles teaser for “Emissary”) taking up assignment as commanding officer of the space station Deep Space Nine, which Starfleet has been invited to administer by the Bajorans – a deeply religious race who have been liberated from the brutal occupation of the militaristic Cardassian Union.  Raising his young son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) alone, Sikso finds the situation less than ideal but finds he must try and convince the station’s business owners to stay and maintain their community and help guide the Bajoran people to a better future and eventual membership in the United Federation of Planets.

Events take a mysterious turn when Sisko meets with the Bajaron spiritual leader (Kai Opaka – played by Camille Saviola), who believes Sisko is prophesied to become the emissary of the ‘Prophets’ – entities who are the deities of Bajoran faith – and urges him to find the ‘Celestial Temple’.  The enigma is unravelled with the discovery of an unusually stable wormhole near Bajor and Sisko makes contact with the entities residing within – the very Prophets of Bajoran theology.  Tension mounts with the arrival of Cardassian warships as the crew of DS9 prepare to move the station near to the mouth of the wormhole, which leads to a distant unexplored region of the galaxy known as the ‘Gamma Quadrant’, whilst Sisko attempts to prove to the Prophets, who are non-corporeal and have no perception of linear time, that he – and others like him – do not pose a threat.

Trek DS9 Emissary - station

The titular space station itself.

Avery Brooks is a solid leading man and has a lot to explore in “Emissary”, from the pain of his wife’s death and the caring relationship with his son to the loss of direction and eventual restoration of hope and belief in Starfleet’s mission and the principles of the Federation, Michael Piller’s script provides plenty of substance.  Filling out the rest of the central cast is Nana Visitor as Sisko’s waspish Bajoran second-in-command, Major Kira, Terry Farrell as Lt. Jadzia Dax (the new host of the Dax ‘symbiont’, previously carried by Sisko’s old friend, Curzon), the brilliant Rene Auberjonois as DS9’s gruff chief of security, ‘Constable’ Odo – a shape shifting alien of unknown origin, Colm Meaney as Chief of Operations, Miles O’Brien (a popular supporting character from The Next Generation), Siddig El Fadil (who would later adopt the stage name Alexander Siddig) as the young and eager chief medical officer, Doctor Julian Bashir and Armin Shimerman as Ferengi barkeeper – and thorn in Odo’s side – Quark (Shimerman coincidentally appeared as one of the first Ferengi in The Next Generation).  There’s an element of conflict at the outset that continues on into the first season to a certain degree and its rewarding as the characters grow and their relationships solidify, galvanising the crew of DS9.

In the tradition of Star Trek it’s a rich and varied set of characters, representative of different cultures both human and alien and this cross section of life together with the darker, more volatile backdrop of the series go on to fuel stories that parallel numerous social, political and religious themes.  The discovery of the wormhole also allows for missions of exploration to the Gamma Quadrant, ensuring Deep Space Nine isn’t completely landlocked and fulfilling the ‘trek’ aspect of the franchise.

“Emissary” also boasts a guest role for Patrick Stewart as The Next Generation’s Captain Picard (as well as the Enterprise) and the introduction of the superb Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat, the former Cardassian prefect of occupied Bajor.  Alaimo (who, as with Shimerman, played one of the first Cardassians on The Next Generation) would recur throughout the seven season run of Deep Space Nine, becoming one of the show’s most interesting characters and one of Star Trek’s greatest villains.

The production design by Herman Zimmerman is another notable aspect and given that DS9 is an alien facility (designed by the Cardassians and built by Bajorans) he’s afforded the opportunity to stretch his creative legs and create the world of DS9 virtually from scratch and it contributes greatly to the darker, slightly more otherworldly look and feel of the show in comparison to the previous Star Trek series.

Confidently directed by David Carson – who would shortly graduate to the silver screen with Star Trek: Generations“Emissary” does a decent job of introducing the central players and setting of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and whilst it would take a couple of seasons or so for the series to fully hit its stride, it would become an exceptional addition to the Star Trek universe with strong, well developed characters and some truly outstanding episodes that rank amongst the very best of the franchise and SF TV drama in general.

Geek fact!

J.G. Hertzler, who would later recur in the series as General Martok, appears (credited as John Noah Hertzler) in “Emissary” as the U.S.S. Saratoga’s Vulcan captain.

Images herein are used for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owners.

Film Review: ‘Aquaman’

Warner Bros.’ Worlds of DC heads for the seven seas…

Aquaman 2

King of the sea: Jason Momoa leads the action in ‘Aquaman’ (image credit Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison

Directed by:  James Wan / written by:  David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall (story by Geoff Johns, James Wan & Will Beall, Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris) / 143 minutes

What’s it about?

As the kingdom of Atlantis prepares for war, Arthur Curry – aka ‘Aquaman’ – finds he must fulfil his destiny and take the throne in order to unite the underwater world and prevent a deadly conflict…

In review

Aquaman, the latest of Warner Bros. Pictures’ slate of superhero films under the ‘Worlds of DC’ banner (which was previously and unofficially referred to as the ‘DC Extended Universe’, or DCEU) is a fun, albeit partly derivative, comic book blockbuster that’s highly entertaining if inferior to previous Warner/DC outings Man of Steel and Wonder Woman.  It’s fair to say that some of the narrative beats are predictable and unoriginal and comparisons to Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are easily drawn but with that in mind, Aquaman holds its own and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is – a swashbuckling and visually jaw-dropping popcorn action adventure.

Picking up where he left off in Justice League (and with backstory that’s interspersed throughout in a series of flashbacks), Jason Momoa is the likeable lead infusing Arthur Curry/Aquaman with roguish charm and swagger, offset by just the right touch of vulnerability that provides the character with an essential element of relatability.  It sounds cliché, but it’s a significant part of what draws audiences (and readers) to these colourful heroes in the first place and through the efforts of Mamoa and the film’s screenwriters it’s hard to believe that Aquaman could ever have been one of DC’s most ridiculed characters.  Opposing Mamoa is Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson as Arthur’s half-brother Orm – aka ‘Ocean Master’ – whose militant rule of Atlantis and a desire for conquest threatens war with the surface.  Wilson is great and is a formidable presence, providing Aquaman with an effective villain.  Another standout is the reliably excellent Willem Dafoe as Arthur’s childhood mentor, Vulko and Nicole Kidman adds further star power in the role of Queen Atlanna.  Amber Heard is fine as Mera (whose father, King Nereus is played by action legend Dolph Lundgren) but is no Gal Gadot and unfortunately Yahya Abdul-Mateen II similarly underwhelms as Black Manta – it’s not entirely the actor’s fault given he’s handed some cheesy lines that undercut the threat value.

Whilst there are familiar tropes – the reluctant hero searching for purpose and fulfilment has been seen countless times – and there’s a shameless riff on Indiana Jones as Arthur and Mera search for a powerful Atlantean artefact, the writers of Aquaman deliver an enjoyable and fairly pacey tale that despite some droll dialogue is enhanced greatly by astonishing visuals.  Director James Wan (Furious 7) and his team take the fantasy of the lost city of Atlantis and really run with it, depicting vast and rich uaquatic realms teeming with a variety of life that’s wonderfully bizarre and inventive – the sight of an army of soldiers riding sharks and battling gigantic crab-like creatures is both odd yet strangely believable.  Wan executes it all rather well and injects the epic scale action of Aquaman with energy and skill, although the use of slow-motion in superhero action scenes is becoming a little tiresome.

In terms of the film’s tone it’s fairly light and family friendly with dashes of humour (that’s thankfully not too goofy or forced), continuing Warner Bros.’ plan of course-correction from Zack Snyder’s darker, more introspective and existential vision.  In some ways that’s a shame as there are some merits to the latter but from a crowd-pleasing perspective (and in pursuit of Marvel-level popularity and healthy box office returns) it’s understandable.  It’s also completely accessible to new or casual viewers – whilst Aquaman is certainly part of the overall main DC cinematic universe, bar a single reference to the events of Justice League it favours a standalone approach and that’s totally fine and allows Wan’s film to be what it needs to be and provide firmer foundations for the Worlds of DC going forward.

The bottom line:  A fun popcorn adventure, Aquaman doesn’t break new ground but is an enjoyable and visually exciting comic book romp.

Aquaman is in cinemas across the U.K. now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 21st December.

Flashback: ‘Battlestar Galactica’ – “Saga of a Star World”

Looking back at the epic series premiere for Glen A. Larson’s SF TV cult classic…

BSG - Saga

Epic SF on the small screen: Richard Hatch, Lorne Greene and Dirk Benedict lead the cast of the original ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (image credit: Universal, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1978

Starring:  Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, John Colicos, Terry Carter, Herbert Jefferson Jr, Jane Seymour, Maren Jensen, Laurette Spang, Noah Hathaway

Series created by:  Glen A. Larson

Written by:  Glen A. Larson / Episode directed by:  Richard A. Colla

What’s it about?

As the Twelve Colonies of Man prepare to establish an armistice with the Cylon Empire, the crew of the Battlestar Galactica discover that a massive attack is about to be unleashed…

Retrospective/review

Following the cultural explosion of Star Wars in 1977, audiences were hungry for epic science fiction whether it might be on the large or small screen.  Premiering in September 1978, Glen A. Larson’s Battlestar Galactica brought grand Star Wars style space opera to television, launching with the triple-length series opener “Saga of a Star World” which sees the Twelve Colonies of Man on the threshold of peace with the machine race known as the Cylons, who ultimately mount a devastating surprise attack, forcing survivors to flee their home star system.

Heading up the cast is Lorne Greene as the wise and noble Adama, commander of the ‘Battlestar’ Galactica who finds himself leading a fugitive caravan of ships carrying colony survivors away from the Cylon aggression.  Adama, ably supported by Terry Carter’s Colonel Tigh, brings hope to the remaining people of the Twelve Colonies as he announces his intention to lead them on a journey to seek out the fabled thirteenth Colony of Man…a place called ‘Earth’.  This quest drives the core mythology of “Saga of a Star World” and the rest of series as it unfolds against the backdrop of science fiction action and adventure.

Playing Adama’s son and chief pilot of the Galactica’s Viper fighter squadron, Apollo, is Richard Hatch who would receive a Golden Globe nomination for his role and would go on to portray the terrorist Tom Zarek in Ronald D. Moore’s 21st Century reimagining of Battlestar Galactica.  Hatch (who passed away last year) gives a committed performance and Larson’s script serves him well as he forms a relationship with Serina (Jane Seymour) and becomes a surrogate father to her son, Boxey (Noah Hathaway).

Another standout character (and probably the show’s most popular) is hotshot Viper pilot, lady’s man and Apollo’s best friend, Lt. Starbuck – played by future star of The A-Team Dirk Benedict.  The brotherly camaraderie between the two is a highlight of the original Battlestar and enriches the feeling of family between the principle characters, bolstered further by Hebert Jefferson Jr’s Lt. Boomer.  Despite the tragic circumstances that play out in “Saga of a Star World”, there’s still some light relief – principally Starbuck’s entanglement in a love triangle with Adama’s daughter Athena (Maren Jensen) and the enchanting Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang).

Adding to the Cylon threat is the treacherous Baltar (the excellent John Colicos, who would reappear throughout the series), whose collaboration with the Cylons leads to the downfall of the Twelve Colonies.  The Cylons themselves are a memorable and formidable enemy (that iconic swooshing red LED ‘eye’ later repeated in another of Glen A. Larson’s creations, Knight Rider).  They are commanded by the mysterious Imperious Leader, voiced by Patrick MacNee (famous for his role as John Steed in cult British fantasy spy series The Avengers) who also narrates Galactica’s opening monologue and would go on to play Count Iblis in the “War of the Gods” two-parter.

Battlestar Galactica was blessed with a large production budget (which ultimately lead to the cancellation of the series after 21 episodes, although it was shortly revived as the risible Galactica 1980) and thus for a late 70s SF television production the special effects for the time are fairly impressive – no small wonder given that they were produced under the supervision of Star Wars effects maestro John Dykstra – and numerous space battle sequences keep the viewer engaged in between the drama as the Galactica and the rag-tag fleet of survivors head out into deep space and on to their search to find Earth.  “Saga of a Star World” unfolds at a steady pace, following the opening decimation of the Colonies time is taken to flesh out the characters and deal with the crisis the survivors face in the wake of the Cylon attack.  Given the protracted running time it can feel a little slow in places but the pace picks up after the Galactica’s sojourn to a casino planet, whose hosts harbour a terrifying secret (adding a touch of horror to otherwise family-friendly proceedings) and leads into an action packed finale as Apollo and his fellow pilots take on the pursuing Cylon fleet.

This is Disco-era SF TV so there’s an element of camp when viewed today that may need to be excused on occasion but taken in context and with an open mindset the original Battlestar Galactica is actually quite a lot of fun and through its adventurous spirit and likeable characters it doesn’t fail to entertain and no doubt for viewers at the time, scratched that Star Wars itch.

Geek fact!

An edited version of “Saga of a Star World” was subsequently released theatrically and is available on home video as Battlestar Galactica: The Movie.

Elsewhere on WordPress, you can read the insightful Starloggers anniversary tribute to Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica: The TV Space Saga Turns 40

It’s a Classic: ‘Superman: The Movie’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Y-you’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”

Superman 78

The unforgettable Christopher Reeve as the iconic Man of Steel (image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Year:  1978

Starring:  Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Marc McClure

Directed by:  Richard Donner / written by:  Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman & Robert Bento (story by Mario Puzo)

What’s it about?

Fearing his world is on the verge of destruction, an alien scientist sends his young son into space.  Arriving on Earth, the infant Kal-El grows up to discover he has great powers and becomes humanity’s greatest hero and protector…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Just as Superman himself celebrates the 80th Anniversary of his first appearance in Action Comics #1 (courtesy of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), 2018 also marks 40 years of director Richard Donner’s Superman – more commonly known as Superman: The Movie – the character’s first major silver screen outing.  Whilst parts of the film might now seem a bit camp when viewed in these more complex times, the film’s spirit is non-the-less timeless and Superman remains a landmark achievement that set the standards for which comic book film adaptations continue to strive toward.

Superman opens on the doomed world of Krypton as the warnings of the planet’s imminent destruction from Jor-El, one of Krypton’s leading scientists, are ignored.  Sending his baby son into the depths of space as Krypton crumbles to its death, Superman moves into more traditional comic book fantasy as the infant Kal-El arrives on Earth where he is found by the kind and loving Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Kal-El is subsequently raised by the Kent’s as their son Clark, who in his teenage years discovers his true origins and abilities and embarks on a journey to utilise his gifts for good as champion of truth, justice and ‘the American Way’.

It’s a first class production, with a strong story – from The Godfather’s Mario Puzo no less – and screenplay (which received uncredited re-writes from Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz), coupled with epic visuals and a cast which includes cinematic legends Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman – all brought forth confidently under the masterful direction of The Omen’s Richard Donner.  John Barry’s incredible set-design and the pioneering special effects add further to the majesty of Superman.

A huge part of Superman’s success is down to Christopher Reeve, whose performance as Krypton’s Last Son is unforgettable.  Reeve embodies the core principles that drive the iconic hero with strength (both emotional and physical) and believability, whilst conveying strokes of vulnerability that humanise the character.  Likewise, his quirky portrayal of the bumbling, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is fun and endearing.

Margot Kidder is the quintessential Lois Lane for the era, plucky, headstrong and determined and has great interplay with Reeve, whether it’s in scenes with Clark Kent or Superman.  The supporting cast is bolstered by memorable performances from Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet ‘Chief’ Perry White, Marc McClure as budding photographer Jimmy Olsen, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent and of course an introductory role for Terence Stamp as General Zod, who would return to cause trouble in Superman II.

Marlon Brando (who received top-billing along with a hefty $7 million fee), through his scenes in the grand, almost Shakespearean opening act and his later appearances as a hologram in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, delivers his portrayal of Jor-El with nobility, intelligence and an inherent goodness – qualities that, along with his upbringing by Ma and Pa Kent, would inform the character of Superman.  Gene Hackman brings an enjoyable measure of menace to Superman’s nemesis and self-proclaimed criminal genius Lex Luthor in an amusingly pompous performance.  His evil deeds are aided by the incompetent Otis, played by Deliverance star Ned Beatty.

Any discussion about Superman: The Movie would be remiss without mention of John Williams’ legendary score, indisputably one of the all-time greatest motion picture soundtracks – without which the film would simply be incomplete.  Williams’ soaring, spine-tingling Superman theme is obviously the highlight and one of the most instantly recognisable and celebrated pieces of film music.

35 years later, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel would thrust Superman into the modern era with a more layered and introspective approach but there will always be a certain kind of innocence and magic that comes with Superman: The Movie and its legacy continues to endure.

Standout moment

A helicopter accident leaves Lois Lane dangling from atop of the Daily Planet building, about to plummet to the ground.  As crowds gather on the streets below, Clark Kent decides he must take action…Superman swoops in to save the day.

Geek fact!

Richard Donner would revisit Superman: The Movie for a 2001 ‘Special Edition’ which restores eight minutes of footage originally cut from the theatrical release.  An overlong (at 188 minutes), yet interesting 1980 TV version was recently released on home video.

If you like this then check out…

Superman II : director Richard Lester takes over for an inferior but fun sequel that pits Terence Stamp’s Zod against Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel.

Superman Returns : Bryan Singer’s love letter to Donner’s Superman has its flaws but is seen as a spiritual successor and worth considering as a tribute to the classic 1978 original.