I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
It has been forty years since Superman: the Movie hit the big screen, bringing the first true comic book movie to life, lifting the character out of the perception that he was simply a character for children's TV shows and cartoons. The movie remains a benchmark for directors as the example of how to do a superhero movie, with recent films such as Wonder Woman taking much inspiration from the Richard Donner directed epic. The film spawned four sequels (including Superman Returns), but none of them reached the heights of the first.
For myself, I grew up on the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. I have seen all of them countless times, with the original probably well over fifty times. However, this is only the second time I've had the opportunity to see it on the big screen, having been born two years after the film's release in Australian cinemas.
The film has been restored several times over the years, with a special edition release in 2001 for DVD (which extended the film by 8 minutes), followed years later by the Blu-ray release which brought new depth to the picture and sound. More recently the film had a special edition release of the International TV cut, a 183-minute version packed with 30 minutes of long sought-after moments for us true fans to enjoy. Of course, whilst more Superman is always a good thing, the original theatrical film is still the best version of the film, as the pacing works exceptionally well in telling a lot of story in a short amount of time.
The Astor Theatre is a great night out for film fans, as the theatre gives you the chance to see many films on the big screen you would normally not get too. Seeing a film on the big screen with an audience can be a very different experience than watching it at home on a TV. Even your home cinema can't compete with the true experience of a large theatre audience. Sadly, last night the film was watched by about fifteen people. I once saw The Maltese Falcon at the Astor with a full house, and I had never realised just how funny the film was until I experienced watching it with a large audience.
Seeing Superman: the Movie on the big screen is a delight and exactly how the film was made to be seen (being made just prior to the video rental market taking off). The film is epic and grand throughout, with some exceptional cinematography and of course John Williams' amazing score (still my favourite John Williams score). It is exceptionally 1970s of course, and there are plenty of moments that simply wouldn't be accepted by a modern audience. But remember, this film is from a different era and if you want a more grounded Superman film, then watch Man of Steel. (A double showing of Superman: the Movie and Man of Steel would be great at the Astor! Hint, hint!)
However, I must say that the problem with 4k restorations of old films, is that the effects that were made in the 1970s are not often helped by having much of their trickery washed away by the gloss of high definition. Personally, I think there are some amazing effects in Superman: the Movie that still stand up today. However, even many of the effects that I think are brilliant, looked much more unconvincing in this 4K version on a big screen. Models, miniatures (especially during the Hoover dam scene) and matte paintings were much more noticeable. The slight haze that cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth was able to give the film, which Richard Donner talks about on the making of documentaries, was distracting at times, as it looked like the Smallville scenes were filmed during some sort of light fog.
The audio was also inconsistent, which was surprising. I'm not sure if the restoration is aiming to capture more of the original sound mix, or if the Astor doesn't quite have the sound system to handle bigger sound mixes.
Whilst the extra clarity on the screen makes it obvious that Marlon Brando is reading his lines when delivering his farewell speech to baby Kal-El and not looking at the baby, it does show just how amazing Christopher Reeve's performance was. Reeve's performance, of course, is legendary, but there is a lot more to it than just the 'good evening Ms Lane' you might remember. Reeve expertly shifts from his Clark persona to his Superman persona effortlessly, bringing much more separation of the two characters than any other actor in the role. His performance at the end of the film when left with the emotional loss of Lois is exceptional, and he really does carry the entire film, despite being surrounded by other great performances, such as Glenn Ford and Gene Hackman.
Superman: The Movie is playing at the Astor theatre Friday and Saturday night (22nd and 23rd Feb, 7:30pm) and on Sunday (24th) at 2pm.