Friday, November 26, 2010


Superman: The Movie (expanded edition)
from my DVD collection

Our family's first VCR was Betamax, if you can believe that. I believe it was a Panasonic, though I don't recall for certain. We treated it like a big deal, especially my sister and me. My father, who was something of a technophile, would buy blank Beta tapes by the pack and we'd record stuff off the TV all the time.

I remember how seriously I took it. I've mentioned before how I would meticulously label my music mix tapes, inspired by how my father did his own. Well, it was the same for our Betas. I loved taking the labels and sticking them on the top and side of each tape, and writing the title of whatever movie was on it in my neatest handwriting. 

I always wanted my handwriting to be as good as my father's, so I worked hard at it in school. (Being left-handed, that came with its own set of challenges as well, but that's another story.)

I wasn't as discerning a viewer as you might think when it came to recording stuff off TV. Around this time - the early 80s - network television was fond of mini-series, and many of them ended up on my Beta tapes, even though it was material I didn't rewatch too much (Masada? Marco Polo? The Thorn Birds? What was I thinking?) 

I suspect I was more in love with the ability to use this marvelous new technology than anything else, little realizing that this particular piece of technology would go out of style by the time I started high school.

Yes, we did eventually trade up for a VHS and never looked back, leaving behind a shelf full of Beta tapes that eventually became neglected and took up space. And like I said, most of them were recordings of TV movies I was too young to understand anyway and had little interest in beyond the initial viewing. There was, however, one notable exception.

When I first recorded Superman, it aired on ABC as their Sunday Night Movie. (Remember the ABC Sunday Night Movie?) My recording, if I recall correctly, was a bit sloppy - I'd get pieces of the outros and intros before and after commercials ("We will return to the ABC Sunday Night Movie after these messages!"), but that never bothered me. I was such a nerd I think I even made note of the original television airdate on the labels (although even if I didn't, it's definitely the kind of thing I would've done back then). Now, we only had the one VCR, so I couldn't re-watch it as often as I might've liked, but I did - probably whenever I had the TV to myself (being a latchkey kid, I had the opportunity).

I've wondered why, when I was a kid, I loved Superman the movie but not the actual comic book. A big reason might be because I was a Marvel junkie growing up (Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, etc.) during a time when one had to be either Marvel or DC - no in-between. Silly? Perhaps - but the publishers themselves encouraged this rivalry to a certain extent. And anyway, it made for one more thing for kids to argue about. I mean, my father would drive me to a comic shop every Saturday - back when comic shops were new - and there Superman would be, along with Batman and Wonder Woman and the rest of DC's finest, and I'd routinely ignore them in favor of anything and everything with the name Marvel on the cover. (And I do mean everything - when I eventually write about the Marvel movies, I'll have to talk about some of the loopier comics I b
ought back then.) Today, of course, I have some Superman comics, and quite a number of DC comics in general.

Yesterday I watched Superman with the audio commentary from director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz. Their commentary is quite good. They repeatedly emphasize the fact that much of the special effects and set design was being invented from whole cloth - even getting Superman to fly was something new and unique that they had to figure out on their own (hence the movie's famous tag line).

They did own up to when some things didn't come out as well as they would've liked; Do
nner, for example, admits that the use of miniatures for outdoor scenes looks painfully obvious now (which it does). But they also expressed pride in when scenes went right; for example, the transition from when Supes leaves Lois' balcony and then enters her apartment door as Clark Kent, all in one take. (Margot Kidder was actually standing in front of a screen in the beginning, which showed a pre-recorded Christopher Reeve taking off from her balcony, then she walks into her apartment and opens the door, where the real Reeve enters. The lighting and camerawork make it all look seamless and naturalistic.)

Donner and Mankiewicz admit that today such tricks could be done on computers - and sure enough, speaking of computers, there's apparently talk that Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman movie may employ Avatar-like technology to make Superman look even more super, I suppose. This article sums up my feelings on that.

Watching Superman still feels good and still makes me smile, even after all these years.

Man of Steel
'Man of Steel' must escape Reeve's shadow
The Dark Knight Rises

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