You’ll believe a man can fly for more than three hours…
UPDATED 5/2/18: Superman: The Extended Cut is hitting theaters for special engagements. I saw it myself last night on the big screen in suburban NYC. It will be playing this weekend in Belfast, Northern Ireland (click here), so it could very well be flying your way. It seems like a good time to re-present this piece. — Dan
I first saw Superman: The Movie in the winter of 1978-79, when I was almost 12. It came out in December but I didn’t see it right away. Instead, I saw it while visiting my cousin in suburban Philadelphia some weeks after.
I didn’t beg to go immediately because I wasn’t a huge Superman fan. But I was entranced by the movie and it completely altered my worldview of the Man of Steel. To this day, Christopher Reeve’s portrayal is my favorite in all media, comics included.
When it hit HBO in 1980, I watched it as often as I could and by the time it left the cable network’s schedule, I’d seen Superman 25 times. That’s something of an accomplishment for a 13-year-old living in the predawn of home video.
So the only thing that could really make Superman’s network debut in 1982 special would be if there were something new — and ABC gave it to us: A two-night airing in February that split Superman into two parts but added lengthier edits and a raft of never-shown scenes. (I didn’t know at the time that the Salkinds, who produced the movie, padded the film for mercenary reasons.)
The cut survived subsequent airings but it eventually vanished and it became one of those things that I began to wonder if I imagined. Memory’s funny like that: You’re so sure you saw something and yet there’s no ready evidence.
Anyway, 35 years after it first aired, what’s now called Superman: The Movie — Extended Cut has been released on Blu-ray. (For a thorough rundown of all the additions, check out the Superman Homepage.)
How does it rate? Well, here are 13 QUICK THOUGHTS:
1. It’s a mixed bag. There are definitely things about the additions that I like, though I’m glad that director Richard Donner’s theatrical cut excised the campier scenes among Lex Luthor, Otis and Miss Teschmacher.
2. That said, those scenes do give more depth to the dynamic between the three of them. Miss Teschmacher’s disdain for Otis is clearer.
3. The scenes I remembered most from when I was a kid were the “feed the babies” scenes, which I actually like. They’re gross and disturbing and make Lex that much more sinister. I would have liked to see them in the theatrical cut — or at least in 2001’s Special Edition, which included some of what’s in this cut. Superman’s message to Miss Teschmacher from her mother was a more satisfying resolution to her decision to help him escape than the way it’s left in the original.
4. One of the best things about the Extended Cut is we get longer edits of Superman flying, particularly on his first night. You get an even greater sense of just how much he’s enjoying himself.
5. I did not at all remember the Native Americans subplot. When I watched it the other night, it was as if I’d seen it for the first time. And I really, really liked it. The extra payoff that Superman was a hero to the reservation — with neither side knowing it — added a poignancy that caught me by surprise.
6. Then again, if Superman turned back time and all the water was sucked back behind the dam, is this community suffering from thirst again? Maybe it’s best not to think about this too much…
7. The best bit of clever editing that got lost in the theatrical cut was the transition from Clark and Lois’ mugging to Otis walking through Manhattan Metropolis. It’s really smooth. I can see where you might think it’s too on-the-nose but it leads us to an even longer sequence of ’70s New York scenery and I’m a sucker for that.
8. Going back to the beginning, the destruction of Krypton is more horrifying and powerful in the Extended Cut. This is the best kind of ’70s disaster-movie terror.
9. I like that we get a little more of Clark and Lana in Smallville but it doesn’t really add much. I can see why it got chopped. We also get more Lois, and though I’m a fan of Margot Kidder, it’s not always to the movie’s benefit.
10. Donner should have left in the two-second gag of Superman helping Jimmy get the shot of the dam as it crashed apart. Clark is still a journalist, after all, and it’s his friend’s first assignment. It’s actually nice payback for Jimmy being the one to welcome him at the Planet.
11. I enjoyed settling in with the 3 hour, 8-minute run time. I’d even call it languid. It feels a little less like a movie and a little more like a miniseries, which is why I think it worked as a two-night event in the early ’80s, when network miniseries were still a thing.
12. Still, I don’t plan on making this my go-to version. Because, old hand that I am, it’s the original version that I’ve committed to memory. As much as I may dig some of the additions — whether in this version or the Special Edition — they make my mind involuntarily spark. I’m not quite as immersed in the movie because I’m acutely aware of the changes. (Same with Star Wars.)
13. But, in the end, it’s always good to have more Superman.