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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

Real Steel: How Superman (1978) Changed The Game For Cinema Superheroes

You'll believe a man can fly...again.

The latest reboot of Superman will shortly be arriving in cinemas. Zack Snyder directs, Christopher Nolan produces and the star power comes courtesy of Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Neither, it has to be said, playing Superman. The titular Man Of Steel is Henry Cavill.

Here's the latest trailer:

Looking good. Actually, looking very good. But then again, Snyder's Sucker Punch also had a decent-looking trailer and look what a mess that ended up being...

There was also the last revival of the Man Of Steel brand - 2006's disappointing Superman Returns, which I've talked about before

Whatever. I'm going to be positive and think back to December 1978...because, yes, I'm that old. That's when Superman The Movie was released, an absolute game-changer of a movie. Before Superman, comic book heroes were mainly staples of cheap and cheerful film serials in the '40s and '50s. In the '60s, there was TV's Batman - an entertaining but broadly played and campy version of the comic book.

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Christopher Reeve as Superman

Fast-forward a decade and then along came Superman; stakes were upped all round. In the director's chair was Richard Donner, hot off his hugely successful supernatural hit The Omen. Superman's massive budget allowed for some blockbuster action sequences, on both Krypton and Earth. Marlon Brando played Jor-El - Supie's dad - for a then record-breaking fee of three million dollars. Gene Hackman took on the role of super-villain Lex Luthor, for a not dissimilar chunk of change. Composer John Williams contributed a memorable score, with a title theme as instantly recognisable as that of Star Wars. And relative screen newcomer Christopher Reeve took on the dual responsibility of Clark Kent's glasses and Superman's cape.

But the key element that made this film such a game-changer was that - for arguably the first time in cinema history - film-makers took the comic book subject matter seriously. From the opening scene - Brando, Trevor Howard, Maria Schell et al sitting in judgement of Terence Stamp and his fellow criminals- the tone was set. "We're not screwing around here." the makers appeared to be saying. Grade 'A' talent in front and behind the camera. The best money can buy. No winking to the audience, no parodying of the iconic Superman figure, no resorting to cheap laughs.

Well - mostly. After the epic sweep of the Krypton and Norman Rockwell-infused Smallville sequences, Metropolis brings the film down to earth with a bit of a bump. Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor, together with his sidekicks, appear to have wandered in from the '60s Batman TV show. Fortunately, there was still enough good stuff going on to ensure they didn't completely derail the movie.

All the good stuff propelled Superman into being a tremendous box-office smash. There were successive dips in quality (and grosses) with the inevitable sequels - the lowest point, 1987's Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, is not just a bad superhero film, it's a bad film period. Fortunately, Quest For Peace wasn't going to be the final word on superheroes on film. Two years later, Tim Burton's darker-than-the-TV-show vision of Batman broke global box-office records and restored faith in adapting comic book heroes to the silver screen.

2012's  Avengers

2012's Avengers

Superhero movies continue to thrive - from Christopher Nolan's more realistic take on Batman, to the Iron Man/Hulk/Thor/Captain America movies that paved the way to last year's Avengers epic. Comic books were once widely considered "just for kids". No more. As well as the costumed heroes, there have also been critically acclaimed adaptations of such serious graphic novels as V For Vendetta, Road To Perdition and A History Of Violence. And somewhere in between is Watchmen, the multi-layered exploration of superhero psyches...directed by Man Of Steel's very own Zackary Edward "Zack" Snyder.

And all, in no small way, thanks to 1978's trail-blazing Superman...