Monthly Archives: June 2013

Superman

Superman Title

I wanted to review at least one of these lousy Superman games before ending Superman month. Not the N64 game (the one where you fly through rings). No, everybody knows how crappy that one is. Besides, while nowhere near as horrific, this game is still less appealing to me than a wait in a long line.

Basically, Superman is an attempt to bring the Man of Steel to the NES. A very half-assed attempt. The programmers seem to have only a vague idea of the character. Things get even worse when you judge this as a game. Simply put, it’s a waste of money (and by “money” I mean $49.99  back then).

Plot: 4 out of 10

It’s true to the comic book in a sense. You start every level as Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. You can talk to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Perry White before you begin. They fill you in on what crisis you investigate as a reporter. And solve after changing into the Superman costume in a phone booth. Each level has a largely disconnected story that seem to have been thought up within ten seconds each. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is really bad.

"Planet" is singular. Can't these hacks even spell?

“Planet” is singular. Can’t these hacks even spell?

At least this game has a more Superman feel than most games about him. All of his powers are usable (see further down). Also, Kryptonite appears as items. The green kind drains life, red drains whichever power you’re using, and blue (I’m pretty sure it was made up for this game) heals you. And as noted, Superman’s friends and the Clark persona appear as well.

Graphics: 3 out of 10

The first problem with the graphics is that they’re repetitive. A few outdoor and indoor designs are used throughout the game. Characters are pretty badly designed as well. They look like they were created for South Park, not Superman.

Sound: 1 out of 10

Very plain and forgettable music. A goofy tune is used for Clark, a dramatic one, for Superman. They are used both indoors and outdoors. There’s not much other music. So it hurts a lot that they’re very weak and even annoying. Plus, they’re very similar to one another. And the fact that you’ll be hearing them a lot through the whole game means that you’ll be far better off Youtubing one of the various Superman themes on your phone throughout the whole game.

Gameplay: 3 out of 10

Again, you start out as Clark but can turn into Superman with a trip into a phone booth. Superman jumps really high but is hard to maneuver in the air. You’ll often end up taking a hit because you didn’t get the landing quite right. Your main attack is punching. Due to the slowness of this attack, it’s difficult to time it when speed is critical.

Superman has, of course, a lot of powers. All of them are in this game. They can be used to attack with enhanced power or shoot from a distance, with the exception of Super Flight. Super Flight allows you to fly to another part of Metropolis. Each use of a power depletes its energy. You can refill a power’s energy by collecting an item with its symbol that randomly appear when you kill someone. Trouble is, each of these is only for a specific power. Since there are so many, the chances of refilling the bar for the power you just used (unless you use many of them) is pretty low.

Elvis is Superman

Elvis is Superman?

When your life gets too low, you revert to Clark (does this mean the bad guys go to prison with the knowledge that Clark and Supes are the same person). Since when did this happen in the comic books? I guess they just wanted to keep it like many other platformers of the 1980s in which you lost your power-up if you took a certain amount of damage.

Challenge: 7 out of 10

This is actually done well. Avoiding damage is reasonably challenging, for enemies’ attacks are clever. In a nice RPG twist, they make you follow clues to find the boss of the level. So long as you know to find and fight some easier enemies for blue Kryptonite, it rarely gets overly hard, and to the extent it does, the bad gameplay is to blame.

Overall: 3 out of 10

It may well be that Superman is not suited for video games. This is about a nearly invincible character who easily defeats most criminals except for a select few who also have powers, are geniuses, or were just lucky enough to find some Kryptonite. You definitely couldn’t make a game in which only the bosses can hurt you. While Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Star WarsLord of the Rings, and Dragon Ball have entertained gamers for decades, I can’t seem to recall even one good Superman game. The best one I ever played was Death and Return of Superman, and that was about average.

Adventures of Superman

AdvSuperman Title

George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent
Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (season 1)
Noel Neill as Lois Lane (seasons 2-6)
Jack Larson as Jimmy Olson
John Hamilton as Perry White

Adventures of Superman is a true benchmark in television history. Not only was it one of, if not the first, TV shows ever based on a comic book, it was one of the early shows that helped put TV on the map. And despite certain flaws, it somewhat holds up over time.

In the 1950s, Superman was one of the most popular characters in all of fiction. His comics were high-sellers that had already inspired spinoffs in the form of a radio show, black and white movies, animated shorts, and of course, lots of toys. The most popular of the movies up to this point, Superman and the Mole-Men, starred George Reeves as Superman. He plays the Man of Steel in this show as well. Joining him are Jack Larson as Jimmy Olson and John Hamilton as Perry White. Two actresses play Lois Lane: Phyllis Coates in the first season, then Noel Neill in all subsequent seasons.

This show is a bit limited by technology. As this was the 1950s, Superman wasn’t going to be moving mountains or anything. He didn’t even use heat vision. They could barely pull off the effect of flight. But at the time, audiences marveled at the sight of Superman flying through the air and going unharmed by gunfire.

Many a child's dream come true.

Many a child’s dream come true.

The format of this show is that villains of the week cause trouble in Metropolis, often kidnapping Lois and/or Jimmy in the process. Using his journalistic training, fellow reporter Clark Kent finds out where these criminals are, changes into his Superman suit, and brings them in. He usually lets some bullets bounce off him before punching out the bad guys. Many episodes also end with Clark giving everyone else an alibi for why he disappeared once Superman entered the picture.

The villains in the more intelligent first two seasons are one-shot crime bosses and mad scientists. Superman’s modern rogues gallery wasn’t really around back then, so he fights one-timers. These villains use advanced technology to hatch their little schemes. It works quite well, for the writers prove proficient at penning these sort of stories. One flaw this show has all the way through is that Superman rarely seems to be in any danger. But most episodes emphasize how well-hidden their villains are and have them do their damage from a distance. This puts the focus away from whether they can kill Superman. After all, what good is a crimefighter if he can’t find the criminals?

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“‘Zees Weell bee Your Feeneesh, Suupermaan!!!”

There are, however, some exceptions. I remember an episode in which Supes is frozen and thus unable to use his powers. This effect is achieved with makeup to color Reeves’ skin chalk-white. Also, several episodes involve Kryptonite. The pieces of Superman’s home planet are poisonous to him. This stuff hurts and prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. Fortunately, Kryptonite is used in moderation so it’s more dramatic when it shows up.

This show is much better in its first two seasons. After that, a larger budget allows it to be filmed in color. Unfortunately, the writing gets more goofy at this point. Plots become more goofy (yes, even for being about a scientific improbability). This was the era of stuff like that freeze I referenced earlier and Superman flying in medievel armor. Plus, Reeves had started to refuse to fly anymore after his wire broke one day, forcing them to use the same shot of him flying over and over. These seasons aren’t bad, but they’re not as good as the first two.

Adventures of Superman was to last at least one more season before George Reeves died. Apparently, he had killed himself over his failure to get other parts (he had gotten a guest appearance in an episode of I Love Lucy, but still as Superman).  That pretty much meant the show’s cancellation. At least two replacement series were attempted. One was Superboy, inspired by the comic book about Superman as a teenager. That actually might have worked. There was actually a full pilot for the Adventures of Super-Pup. It would have basically been the same show as the subject of this review, but with dogs.

Can you say "desperate attempt to keep a cash cow alive?"

Can you say “desperate attempt to keep a cash cow alive?”

In the end, they let this show go. But the question of whether Reeves really took his own life remains.

As for this show, It’s serviceable. Especially in the first two seasons. Seasons 3-6 are significantly weaker, but still acceptable.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Supergirl

Supergirl Title

Helen Slater as Supergirl/Kara/Linda Lee
Hart Bochner as Ethan
Faye Dunaway as Selena
Peter O’Toole as Zaltar
Brenda Vaccaro as Bianca
Maureen Teefy as Lucy Lane
Peter Cook as Nigel
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olson

Believe it or not this is not an easy a review for me to type. Despite its reputation, Supergirl is not the intentional butchering of the Super-lore that Superman III had been the past year. Its creators take this stuff somewhat seriously, try for a true Supergirl feel, and attempt drama. It would seem that producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind learned their lesson about doing Adam West’s Batman with superpowers.

This movie is also breathtakingly inept. The acting is some of the worst I have ever seen in a movie. The special effects are very weak for the budget not being particularly low. The plot and dialogue are a little better, but only a little.

Kara is a resident of Argo City, a Kryptonian pocket of space (hence, she survived Krypton’s destruction). The city is powered by an item called the Omegahedron. An accident causes it to be launched into space. Kara follows it to Earth and is… I guess, magically changed into the Supergirl costume. Meanwhile, a witch named Selena has found the Omegahedron and seeks to use it to rule the world. Supergirl is given powers by the sun like Superman and blends in with an secret identity as a student, Linda Lee, at an all-girls school. She meets fellow youngsters Lucy Lane (little sister of Lois) and Jimmy Olson. Selena seeks to use her new-found power to control men’s minds, so for a test drive, she casts a love spell on a young man named Ethan. But Supergirl interferes. And since the spell causes its victim to love the first woman he sees, Ethan falls in love with Linda (not Supergirl) instead. Thus, a rivalry begins.

Helen Slater makes a great Supergirl, provided she never speaks or emotes. When she does, we’re subjected to a redefinition of bad acting. I’m talking Steven Seagal bad here. Slater has but two expressions: unassuming and happy. And her voice varies to virtually no degree the whole way through. Oscar winner Faye Dunaway turns in a deservedly Razzie-nominated performance as the villainous Selena. What the Hell happened to her? Was she a little too into the role, desperate for cash, or just determined that if she’d been swindled into a bad movie, she may as well be the worst actress in it? Because her performance is just as much of a travesty as Slater’s. But instead of coasting by, Dunaway hams it up like nobody’s business.

Supergirl 1

For a low, low price, this perfect statue of Supergirl can be yours!

To look past the heroine and villainess is to escape nightmarish performances and find typically lousy acting. There are only three other performances that require a deeper description than that. Maureen Teefy’s Lucy Lane is not exactly too horrible. It’s just that she seems to be doing a Margot Kidder impression. That arrangement never works. Marc McClure’s Jimmy Olson, on the other hand, seems unnecessary. Like he was brought in just for the sake of inclusion. Like the Superman movies, Supergirl gives its villainess an annoying moron assistant, Bianca. Not much to say about her except, “did anyone like Otis?” So why a female version of him?

As noted earlier, the special effects could be better. The flying effects are noticeably weaker than in the Superman movies, while the effects for lasers and similar attacks look cheap. Oddly, the budget for Supergirl is not much lower than Superman III’s.

Don't be playin'. That's cardboard and you know it!

Don’t be playin’. She’s flying in front of cardboard and you know it!

One almost tolerable category of this movie is the story. The tale of Supergirl coming to Earth to get something important that just happens to end up on Earth is cliche, but it’s uphill from there. Supergirl gradually discovering life on Earth and the development of the antagonism between her and Selena are actually OK. There are references to Superman that indicate that this movie was supposed to cross over with the Superman movies. Obviously, this idea was abandoned when Supergirl tanked. And in the only good scene in this movie, Supergirl has a fly through a forest to discover the joy of both air travel and Earth nature upon realizing that she has powers. Finally, I have to give credit to them for not making Supergirl half-naked. Anyone with any knowledge of Hollywood knows just how rare this is.

One exception, though. There is zero chemistry between Slater and Hart Bochner. Zero. It doesn’t exactly help that Ethan’s love for Linda isn’t natural. It’s a brainwashing. So is it true love?

The intention behind this movie may be there, but not necessarily the heart. It seems rushed. Like after Superman III didn’t do so well, they were under pressure to get this movie done fast, lest momentum slow. And as a result, it fails as a comic book movie.

Overall: 3 out of 10

Superman III

Superman III Poster

Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman
Robert Vaughn Ross Webster
Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang
Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia
Annie Ross as Vera
Paul Kaethler as Ricky
Gavan O’Herlihy as Brad

I remember an episode of Married… With Children in which a TV director admits that Hollywood giants learn no more about movies and TV shows from making them than us consumers do from watching them. There may be some truth to that. Tinseltown seems full of out-of-touch, soulless technocrats who would have no ideas if they didn’t have cold focus group research. That’s probably the best explanation for this movie. Because while it’s not the worst sequel ever, it’s still not a movie I’d think of buying if I hadn’t gotten a good deal on a DVD set of all these movies.

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Wow! Paint fell on his head! Don’t see that in every comedy, do ya?

Alexander and Ilya Salkind’s preference of a silly, comedic Superman is well-documented. That was their original vision. Director Richard Donner wanted to remain true to the comic book. Although in the documentary Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story Of Superman, Ilya states that Donner was fired for high budgets, not who won the script war, which would explain why the budget for this movie is significantly lower than those of its predecessors. With Donner away, the Salkinds were free to make the Superman movie they always wanted: a comedy. Margot Kidder didn’t like the change in strategy, so Lois Lane is reduced to a mostly meaningless character, the love interest role filled by Lana Lang instead. I don’t know if Gene Hackman felt the same, had a busy schedule, or wanted more money, but he also took a hike, leaving us kind of no Lex Luthor. What do I mean by “kind of?” Read on.

The story is that corporate executive Ross Webster wants to get monopolies on various products by using high tech whatevers to destroy his main competitors in various fields. Very similar to Lex Luthor’s plan to vacate some real estate land by destroying everything near the San Andreas Fault in the first movie. In fact, Webster seems like a watered-down Luthor, complete with humorous mannerisms that don’t quite match those of Gene Hackman. And by “quite,” I mean, “at all.” He’s got a bitch sister named Vera and a henchwoman named Lorelei who is incredibly smart but pretends to be a dumb blonde. Wow, isn’t that a clever joke?

Superman III was basically a star vehicle for Richard Pryor. He plays Gus Gorman, who was Jar Jar Binks before before Jar Jar became the gold standard for annoying comic relief. The problem is his over-the-top performance. Live TV comedians (the many Saturday Night Live stars who made crappy movies, for instance) have quite often had difficulty with the difference between the live TV and cinematic formats. Pryor proves to be no exception. He works hard, but his performance is just so exaggerated as to annoy, not make you laugh. Of course, it doesn’t help that he can be an idiot savant or a genius, depending on the script. But I’ll assume the moron Gus is the real one, since he’s the one that appears in the trailer.

Gus is a computer programmer who uses his skill at hacking to increase his paychecks and is hired for much more villainous work by Webster. With his skill in the new world of computers (remember, this is 1983), he is to build Webster’s machines. When Superman foils the first plan, Gus tries to make some Kryptonite. Lacking a specific ingredient, he uses cigarette tar as a replacement (“what the Hell, he ain’t gonna smoke it.”) Thus, the movie universe’s version of red Kryptonite is born. It always had totally random effects in the comics. Supposedly, Superman is turned evil. Instead, he’s just a selfish smoothie out of a rock concert who seems to care about nothing but getting girls. Eventually, Superman splits into two people: evil Superman and good Clark Kent. In one of the dumbest fight scenes ever filmed, Clark wins, then changes into his Superman costume and goes after the bad guys.

For the master hackers out there, this is an interesting look into another time.in history. For the remaining 99%, it's just a crappy old machine.

For the master hackers out there, this is an interesting look into another time.in history. For the remaining 99%, it’s just a crappy old machine.

Even if you think of this movie as a slapstick comedy — and the way the first two movies went, this is incredibly generous — the jokes are both obvious and weak. There’s actually a scene with a mime’s act is ruined as though that’s clever humor. That’s the kind of joke you generally find only in awful comedies.

There are some good moments in this movie. Clark goes to a high school reunion in Smallville and rekindles a romance with Lana Lang, his teenage girlfriend. While Lana is an obvious stand-in for Lois, the reality is that this relationship isn’t done half-bad. You might notice that Lana is played by Annette O’Toole, who played Clark’s mother, Martha, on Smalville many years later. Also, there’s scenes like the one where Superman saves Lana’s son, Ricky, that showcase Superman performing everyday acts of heroism. That’s something we didn’t see all that much of in the first two films. But they’re quite important to the character.

Another good thing about this movie is that although less money was spent on Superman III than its precursors, the effects aren’t that much worse. Flying effects are still good, as are the lasers Webster and Gus use.

Can you even roast this?

Can you even roast this?

Superman III got roasted real good by critics. That bad filmakers had succeeded where so many others had failed (killing Superman) was a regular joke in the professional reviews. Not saying that’s not a funnier joke than anything in this movie, but I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s not worth seeing, but I wouldn’t call it a disaster.

The Salkinds avoided directly continuing this series, bankrolling the box office venom that was Supergirl. They tried TV with the more successful Superboy. The subject of this review, however, was the last Superman movie that they produced.

Overall: 4 out of 10

Superman II

Superman II Poster

Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Terence Stamp as General Zod
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Sarah Douglas as Ursa
Jack O’Halloran as Non
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olson
Jackie Cooper as Perry White

Superman II was mostly done filming at the time its predecessor hit theaters. They really planned ahead, didn’t they? Or not. You see, they ran outta money and focused on the first movie. To put things into perspective, Superman: the Movie cost many times as much as the original Star Wars had a year earlier. That led to squabbling between director Richard Donner and Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Also, they had different visions of these movies. The Salkinds apparently had the old Batman show in their head, for they set out to make a comedy. Donner had a more traditional approach in mind, but despite that approach’s overwhelming success, he was out as director for Superman II. His replacement, Richard Lester, reshot much of the movie with a carefully over-the-top style. Meanwhile, Gene Hackman’s schedule was full by the time it became clear that some shooting was to be delayed. So with apologies, he bowed out of this movie. Obviously, this means that all of Hackman’s scenes were shot by Donner.

This has lead to a bit of controversy. People seem to find it a lot harder to enjoy this movie. I don’t. While it is unfortunate what happened to the series after this movie, I actually like it better than the original. The spirit of Donner’s vision remains more or less intact, the relationship between Clark and Lois is exceptionally well-done, and the high-flying action, although primitive by today’s standards, is a joy to see unfold.

If these good ‘ol boys were suspicious of visitors before…

The story is that General Zod, Ursa, and Non are three Kryptonians who once attempted a fascist revolution on Krypton and were launched across the galaxy in crystal trappings but have drifted into our solar system. When Superman stops some terrorists in France and sends the nuke they armed safely into space, it ends up destroying their prison. Ordinarily they’d die from lack of air, but the yellow sun has given them powers just like Superman. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison and found Superman’s fortress in the Antarctic. He’s found out exactly who the Kryptonians are and will help them kill Superman and take over the world in return for Australia (this incarnation of Luthor is into real estate schemes and not world domination, so that’s a better deal than it sounds like).

We get some fantastic action in Metropolis and Superman’s fortress pitting him against Zod, Ursa, and Non. There is a sense that Superman has the cards stacked against him, not only because it’s three against one, but also because the Kryptonians learn to take advantage of Superman’s consistent decision to choose saving lives over hitting the bad guy. The way Superman finally beats them is very convincing. It’s one of the best endings of rivalries I’ve ever seen in film.

The relationship between Clark and Lois takes center-stage in this movie. Lois figures out that Superman is really Clark Kent and confronts him about it. Clark ends up taking Lois to his fortress and the two have a dinner and night together But the holographic projection of Clark’s mother tells him that biological differences between humans and Kryptonians are too great for this to work unless Clark uses a machine that makes Kryptonians human. Of course, that proves to be a mistake. Clark has to use the equipment in his fortress to get his powers back to fight Zod and his compadres. And with  the return of his powers comes celibacy. Thus, the ending is very tragic for a Superman movie.

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Bad time for a romantic gesture, eh?

Terence Stamp plays a conqueror of the Genghis Khan kind. He acts much like such a character would, conveying a sense of majesty, restrained instead of yelling-out anger, and a belief that he is destined for greatness. “Kneel before Zod” is one of the best villainous catchphrases I’ve ever heard. It’s made even better by the delivery.

On DVD is the director’s cut by Richard Donner. It’s basically the movie as he envisioned it. It’s throughly improved but the camera angles are rather weak because he had to use recycled footage. The lousy move-so-fast-you-turn-back-time ending returns in this version. Therefore, the ratings for both versions are the same.

Whichever version you watch, it’s a pretty good movie. I did notice that my ratings for these movies so far are the same as the ratings for the first two Batman movies. Will the pattern hold true for the other two movies? We’ll see.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Superman Month

In two weeks, Man of Steel will be in theaters. You can expect some reviews and articles about Superman for awhile in celebration of both this movie and the 75th anniversary of the Last Son of Krypton’s first comic book appearance.