Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s–!

Back then, I could watch Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons forever and never get bored. Today, the case is almost the same.

Oh, those films have some of the finest animation I’ve ever seen—even by today’s standards, the animation is phenomenal, right from the fluidity of the movements of the characters to the uncanny weight of the objects. The characters and objects had shadows too. Of course, back then, I was too young too care about the quality of the animation. Back then, all I cared for was Superman’s heroics. How astonished I’d get when mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent said, “This looks like a job for Superman.” At that moment, I would smile widely and try to ignore my hair standing on end. Clark Kent gets into a telephone booth—and gee-whiz, Superman comes out!

The same thing would happen in every single episode, but some how, it never got old. It always had that ability to get me excited—every time felt just as exhilarating as the first, just like when Popeye would gulp down his can of Spinach.

Superman never failed to dazzle me as he flew ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ and displayed his amazing strength– ‘more powerful than a locomotive!’. Those cartoons were really something.

Oh, and that music, oh what music! That hair-raising theme music as Superman flies into the air to save Lois Lane from the Mechanical Monsters or the city from the Mad Scientist! The delight I felt! The delight I still feel.

Those animated films made my young childhood years. They were produced in the 1940’s; I savored them in the 1990’s.

Later on, still in my very young years, I discovered the much newer animated Superman films, the ones actually made in the 90’s. This Superman was more stylistically rendered—he was all squares. The show was way more modern, and the story lines more mature and intriguing. But there’s something about old animated shorts that new ones just don’t get. Maybe it’s the magic. The new Superman cartoons didn’t quite capture all of it. And, oddly, the animation of the new cartoons doesn’t even hold a candle to that of the older ones.

All day long, I used to watch these Superman cartoons, never tiring of them. One day, my mother asked me, “Do you want to see a real Superman movie?” She went on to explain that what she was about to introduce to me was a ‘real Superman’, not an animated one.

She pushed the VHS into the player. I held my breath. A few  hours later, I was awestruck. I was spellbound. I believed a man could fly.

‘Superman: The Movie’ was released in 1978. Made on a considerably high budget for its time, it was the first of its kind—no other superhero film had been created on such a large scale. While the traditional superhero TV show would have a few bank robbers and a car chase, ‘Superman: The Movie’ went all the way; helicopter accidents, earthquakes, bridge collapses, dam explosions, nuclear bombs—and not in the noisy style we now acquaint action films with, but in a wonderful style aided by such brilliant skill, I’m not sure what words to use to describe it. Maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘charm’. It’s an old-fashioned film, sure, but that’s what makes it so appealing. It’s such a huge blockbuster, but it’s somehow– innocent.

The origin story of Superman was told with such respect to the comics and the lore. Here was an opportunity for the film to become a victim of self-parody. Instead, it took itself seriously, and yet not too much so. It managed to tell an epic story and add a great deal of wit to the proceedings.

I don’t think most people reading this might realize the significance of ‘Superman: The Movie’… it is to the superhero genre what ‘Snow White’ is to animation. It is literally the film that started the superhero film genre. Without it, there would be no ‘The Dark Knight’, no ‘Batman’, no ‘X-Men’, no ‘Iron Man’.

The special effects were outstanding, no doubt about it. Some green screen effects, wires, and optical printers all worked together almost seamlessly to make our hero fly. The theme music is, like most of John Williams’ themes, extremely memorable. The dialogue and plot is the ideal example of the superhero origin story. The look and feel of the entire film is spot on. All these things strung together like clockwork to bring out a great film.

And yes, Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve is Superman. And he is Clark Kent. Just Christopher Reeve. Nobody else. Christopher Reeve is Superman.

May he rest in peace.

So there I was, a little kid, gaping at the TV screen. Wow. I remember holding one of those old photo cameras and taking pictures of the TV with Superman in the frame—I loved Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman’ that much. And a small part of me believed what I was seeing was true—a man could really fly, and he wore that costume while he was at it. My mother said it was a ‘real Superman’; I took that as, “He really exists.” Or at least I subconsciously wanted to.

But then there was my dad; he made sure he burst my bubble every time. “It’s not real, okay? It’s all a stunt.” Those words hurt me back then. Even today, I wish it was all real. I’d like to think Christopher Reeve could fly around the world in seconds. Reality, of course, is different. He died an early death after being completely paralyzed from head down.

Over time, my parents got me copies of Superman 2, 3 and 4. They tided me over, but not like the first film. Today, maturity has brought with it the realization that the sequels were no where near the original. ‘Superman II’ was decent. ‘Superman III’ was absolute crap.

‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ is quite surely the worst superhero film I’ve ever seen; even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’. It’s saddening to read Reeve’s thoughts on the film. He said that he knew the film wouldn’t live up to expectations with the approach  that was taken. He was contractually obliged to do the sequels, so he simply went with it and tried to give it his best. You know there’s something wrong with the film when the original film made almost a decade ago had better special effects.

One day, when I was still very young, as I switched through channels on the television, I came across another live-action Superman. This one had a different hairdo. He had a darker costume. The logo was much bigger. And yep, Lois Lane was hot.

I’m talking about ‘Lois & Clark’, the TV show. Dean Cain did a pretty good job playing Clark Kent, and Teri Hatcher was Lois Lane. It was then that  I experienced my first celebrity crush. ‘Teri Hatcher’ is quite surely the first female celeb’s name I typed into the Google Image search-bar ever. I was, what, nine, ten-years-old?

Apart from the thrill of watching Lois and Clark get intimate every now and then (keep in mind, that’s about all the intimacy I could get at that young age), Superman saving-the-day-at-the-end was a great deal of fun to watch.

I’m now the proud owner of all four seasons of ‘Lois & Clark’; nice to throw it into the DVD player every once in a while and get nostalgic. I think the show had, while not the best Superman action, the best Lois and Clark chemistry among all the Superman screen adaptations. I’m not just talking about the sex appeal, I’m talking about their interplay– the light flirting between the characters, the fun they had with Lois’s contrasting rudeness to Clark and infatuation over Superman, things like that. Now that I’m older, I realize people didn’t watch the show for Superman: they watched it for Lois and Clark.

In 2006, almost four decades after ‘Superman: The Movie’ was released, Bryan Singer’s ‘Superman Returns’ was playing in theaters the world over. Though its look, music, costumes, special effects, plot, et all were great, the film was let down by soulless, hollow acting. No amount of special effects can make up for the fact that Brandon Routh is no Christopher Reeve. He is no Superman.

And Kate Bosworth isn’t Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane at all. And she isn’t even anywhere as hot as Teri Hatcher. Just sayin’.

After ‘Superman Returns’ didn’t meet the expectations of the big heads at Warner Bros., there have been numerous rumors and stories being thrown around. Mark Millar wanted to do something with Superman. David S. Goyer was attached to a reboot of sorts. Before ‘Superman Returns’, Nicolas Cage was trying hard to get the role (he’s a huge Supe fan– he named his son Kal-El, Superman’s Krypton name!).

At present, Christopher Nolan (need I say this? The director of ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’) and his brother Johnathan Nolan are doing early work on a Superman film. While I am happy that one of my favorite directors is giving Superman his chance to fly on the big screen again, I wonder: Christopher Nolan’s films are all plot and no humor or wit. Can I accept a Superman film without the excellent wit of the first film?

Sometime in the past three years, I got over Superman. ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ kept me occupied. ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Iron Man’ took me over.

And eventually, my whole craze for superhero films in general died down. I kept myself busy with other films. I was no longer in love with the genre.

Recently, I decided to skim through the first Superman film again. For old times’ sake.

I’m in love with it again.

Say what you want to say about Superman being too powerful, too boring, to0 gay. Say he’s no Batman, say he’s not Iron Man. The thing is– he isn’t. He’s Superman, and that’s all he needs to be. And he’s my superhero, right down to the red underwear.

And you know what I’ve realized? Twenty years from now, I might have outgrown ‘The Dark Knight’ and the ‘X-Men’ and ‘Spider-Man’ and what not. But, mark my words, I don’t think it is possible for me to ever outgrow ‘Superman: The Movie’.

How can you outgrow the thing that made your childhood?

(Christopher Reeve was born on September 25th 1952. Six days ago. He died on October 10th, 2004. Nine days from now.)

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off.


Episode 1 of Max Fleischer’s ‘Superman’


UPDATE : Deadline and Heat Vision are now reporting that Zack Snyder (of Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) has been officially chosen to direct The Man of Steel, with final negotiations currently taking place this week with Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. David S. Goyer is working on the screenplay.

Is this good news? Some of you may think so. Some of might not. I, for one, am going to wait it out and see what happens. I have mixed feelings about this. I mean, I really really loved ‘Watchmen’. I think it was very underrated. In fact, I think it’s the model for superhero graphic novel adaptations. It got the look right, it was intriguing… I’d go far enough to call it a masterpiece. Yes, I know, you disagree.

Having said that, I don’t know if Snyder is the right choice for an all-good superhero like Superman. I mean, can a man in blue spandex and a red shorts work with Snyder’s trademark style?


Read an alternative version of this article that at Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents site here!


15 responses to “Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s–!

  • Rush


  • Ankur Vincent Peter

    As much as I hate superman, I must admit I get what you mean and why you love it so much.
    For me it was Batman :p

  • Rush

    Wowwww!! I remember watching Superman with my brother as often as we could, till we got absolutely bored of it. Just like Indiana Jones and LOTR. The thing is, when he comes back to Dxb, we’ll prolly watch it all over again. 🙂

  • Alston

    Max Fleischer’s Superman is amazing!!!

  • LJ

    I remember watching it too… In fact I still keep watching those animated movies, tv series, movies and other superman creations. I guess you can never really outgrow what you loved as a child. I know one thing though and that is the feeling of nostalgia I get when I do watch something from my past. I don’t know if it’s just me but I don’t feel worried about anything, it’s like Im a kid again… It’s awesome 😀

    Again, nicely written.

  • Manny M.

    Great write-up! Every single sentence posted, I agree with. You accurately encapsulated my childhood and experiences with Supes in every paragraph. I bought the Fleischer series on DVD and I have the 14-disc Superman movie collection. Was worth it, even for the crappy sequels. Christopher Reeve was my Superman, as well… And not just on screen. The man did some remarkable things even with the great obstacles laid before him.

    Have you seen Superman II: The Donner Cut? BIG improvement over the theatrical release, in my opinion. What did you think of it?

    Also, Superman Returns was a let down for me, too. But it wasn’t just the acting, it was more because I was expecting a new rendition of Superman, not a Donner-esque one. Now with the Nolans producing and Zach Snyder directing, I’m sure we’ll be treated to a new Superman. I’m a bit skeptical of Snyder being able to nail the richness of Kal-El’s character. BUT I’m sure there will be plenty of action full of badassery. Any thoughts?

  • cat

    Oh how I love SUPERMAN and you definitely captured many of my same feelings. I’m weary of the next film but excited too. SUPERMAN is my hero!

  • cinematicjackass

    @ Manny M.

    You’re lucky to have that awesome 14 Disc Collection. I have all the older DVDs of the films and the Donner Cut.

    Since you asked, I pretty much liked the Donner Cut, but felt the lame digital effects could’ve been avoided. For example, some of the outer space scenes are terribly out of place as compared to the rest of the film. And the digital titles look really bad. They could’ve done it the ‘Superman Returns’ way. Anyways, petty complaints aside, it was awesome.

    I almost hate Lester for what happened about Donner getting pushed off ‘Superman II’, and though the original ‘Superman II’ wasn’t all that bad, III was just pathetic.

    I didn’t mind that ‘Superman Returns’ was Donner-esque. That was a plus point for me.

    As for Snyder, I updated the end of the article to include that 😀

  • Manny M.


    And rumors are flying around whispering “Zod” for the the new film’s villain. I’m kind of tired of him, but…

    I’m getting pretty excited. I read what Snyder had to say about the project, it seems like he knows the importance of the character. And Goyer’s script is supposed to be a perfect way to “approach Superman in a modern context.” Excited, indeed.


  • cinematicjackass

    Yeah, heard about Zod having a big role. That’s quite possibly the only thing that doesn’t please me even one bit about this project.

    Though he’s overused to heck, I’d like to see a new Lex Luthor. Definitely better than another super-alien.

  • Manny M.

    And now my “nerd-boner” has gone flaccid…

    So very, very sad if true.

  • the floacist

    So you haven’t been watching Smallville the past…10 years…for your Superman needs?

  • Roger Ebert

    Dear Krishna, Can you send me an e-mail. I have question for you and don’t have yours. Roger Ebert

  • Ankur Vincent Peter

    I agree with Manny M.
    If the Nolans are involved in the next Superman project, there’s gonna be a plot with high emotional stakes rather than the usual “save the world” fetch-quests Superman has to deal with. And if Snyder’s proved anything so far, it is that he sure CAN direct epic action sequences. And from what i’ve seen in recent DC Animated Superman/Batman films, Superman sure can fight. So Zack Snyder has pretty much become one of my favourite directors. So looking forward to this Superman film I am. 🙂

  • Ankur Vincent Peter

    You didn’t mention Legend of the Guardians among Zack Snyder’s films -___-

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