Reflections on Superman Returns

What follows is a SPOILER-filled reaction to the film Superman Returns. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read any further.

You know, the film just worked for me. I’ve read through virtually every comment on the review thread for this film on the Home Theater Forum, along with about a dozen or so pre-release reviews, which have exposed me to a fairly large number of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s not a perfect film. But after seeing it twice now (once on June 30 and again on July 4), the things that resonate with me aren’t its flaws, but its sights and sounds, together with the emotions they evoked.

The visuals were truly spectacular. The Lois/Superman flight was perfectly realized, with two former lovers in a mid-air ballet so physically close, but never more emotionally separated. And this line to Lois:

I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

What an awesome realization, for a mortal to realize but for a moment the heavy burden of a god. I believe that the flights in Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns were crucial events that significantly altered the relationship between Lois and Superman. In the first, Lois went up with a mingled sense of fear and curiosity and came down filled with longing and trust (which in Hollywood-land means love). In the second, Lois went up a jilted lover and came down with a newfound awe for a being she had known so incompletely before. Her added understanding changes their relationship, which in turn motivates her attitude and actions toward him for the remainder of the film.

Superman does suffer loss and heartache, but he buries his feelings by losing himself in his work. He tries to re-connect with his original purpose for being on earth, which I believe is part of the motivation for the frequent Jor-El voiceovers. Superman may believe he has turned his back on his father by relinquishing his powers for Lois’ love (the restored Brando footage in the Superman II "Donner cut" may add greater thematic justification for this), and after her chilly reception to his return, he could be trying to repent for his waywardness by walking more strictly in the path Jor-El set out for him.

Yet the movie makes it clear that there is no way back. At the end of the film, the crystals are scattered and gone. Superman can never return to his Fortress of Solitude for peace and communion with his father. He can only retreat to the lonely confines of space, but even there his meditation is broken by the constant cries for help from the earth’s surface. And now he is father to a son whom he must allow to be raised by another.

This film is a bridge between the Donner films and the Singer films. It contained enough nods to Superman I/II to establish it as a thematic follow-up to those movies, while at the same time closing off some story threads and opening up some new ones. I’m excited to see what Singer et al. come up with next.

Now for a few words about our first (June 30) theater experience. Cassia and I drove up to the IMAX 3D theater about 45 minutes north of our house to catch a mid-afternoon screening. Right about the point where the train set was rumbling and the floor began to split under Lex’s feet . . .

ZAP. Picture dead. House lights up.

A woman walks into the theater holding a walkie-talkie and explaining that the power went out, and it would be back again shortly. There were boos and grumbling from the audience. I took the opportunity to take a much-needed bathroom break. Ten to fifteen minutes later, the movie was back on, and in roughly the same spot as it was when it went off.

By the way, I found the 3D scenes a bit hit-and-miss. Like others have said, things got rather chaotic when there was a lot of activity on screen or the camera was shaking (I’m thinking of the space shuttle rescue sequence in particular), and in the first and last 3D sequences Routh looked utterly unreal, like he’d been teleported directly from "Polar Express"-land. I had no problems with The Polar Express‘ visual style, but it was jarring to see such a smooth and fakey-looking face/body in a live-action film. But the non-organic elements (i.e., the shuttle, the yacht) of the 3D sequences looked absolutely amazing. The yacht rescue sequence was my favorite, especially in the way so many complicated elements (the water, the yacht splitting apart, and the rising crystalline formations) were handled almost seamlessly. The final fly-by scene was quite brief and felt somewhat gratuitous, especially with the "Polar Express" Superman I alluded to earlier.

Back to the movie. Lex’s goons are giving Superman the beat-down of his life when . . .

ZAP. Screen goes dark. Lights up.

The audience goes ballistic. One guy right in front of me kept crying out, "The climax! That was the climax! And now it’s ruined! Now all that tension which was built up is just GONE!" People were crying out for free tickets – some for several free tickets. Another manager shows up, saying that it’s a problem with the local power company. I guess that’s the risk you run when you have a 17-plex with multiple food courts, a three-story restaurant with waterfalls and cliff divers, and an IMAX theater all in the same complex in the middle of a 98-degree summer day. But it still didn’t make people happy.

Five minutes later, and the show’s back on. But now I’m just hoping we can make it to the end of the film before another brownout occurs. So Lex and Kitty are stranded on their little island, and Lex makes a comment about trading hundreds of thousands of coconuts for . . .

ZAP. Repeat above.

Well, to make a long story short, we did make it to the end of the film. But whatever enthusiasm the audience may have had at the beginning was just gone at the end. A few people stayed through the credits, but most filed out rather quickly. Quite a few were genuinely furious. I took a cue from Cassia and just laughed about it. I tried to liken the experience to pausing the DVD several times at home to deal with various interruptions.

As we walked past the guest services desk, I noticed a large crowd of people gathering to complain about all the outages. When management decided to issue free passes to everyone who wanted them, I got in line. There’s no other IMAX film that interests me until Harry Potter 5 hits next year, so I’m not too concerned with quality control issues at that particular theater. (For the record, I saw the movie on the very same IMAX screen less than a week later, and there were no technical glitches to speak of.) Cassia and I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at that particular IMAX screen last fall and experienced no problems whatsoever.

But three outages in one sitting – you’d think they’d invest a few bucks in a decent UPS or something. :roll:

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