Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns is not turning out to be the saving grace of the summer blockbuster season. As of this writing it has yet to break $200 million at the oh-so important box-office, and reactions to the film have ranged from joyous to mixed and downright disappointment. Yet, despite these problems, along with the ones I myself had with the Man of Steel’s return to the big screen, it is an outright masterpiece compared to what I am about to discuss. Today’s subject is definitely the lowest point in Superman’s long cultural history, lower than even Supergirl and the idea of having the tight-wearing hero fight a giant spider. This is Superman: The Musical, a televised film so horrendously inept and obscure there’s not a single External Review to be found for it at the Internet Movie Database.
First, a little history, as the origins of this debacle cannot be overlooked. Before being turned into a TV special this was indeed a stage musical, which featured the ungainly title It’s A Bird … It’s A Plane … It’s Superman. You’ll notice there’s no exclamation point at the end of the show’s moniker, as doing so would create a false sense of excitement. Indeed, the original cast recording (which I own along with this movie) is pure dreck, filled to the brim with some of the most generic material in musical theatre history. It’s also campy enough to make the Adam West Batman series look like a sit-down talk show about current global economic affairs. Despite the show’s overwhelming failure with theatre audiences after its premiere in the ‘60s, the ‘70s saw to it to put this turkey into the homes of Americans everywhere. Why? I have no idea.
Surprisingly, and I’m comparing dung to kaka here, the filmed version of the musical is worse than its older stage brother, mainly because I saw it on its feet instead of imagining some level of quality with the CD. This is an awful looking film from start to finish, with sets so claustrophobic and poorly designed they seem to have come out of a disturbed child’s doodle book. It’s clear the mind behind these locales wanted to incorporate a comic strip feel, seeing as how items like paintings and wallpaper designs are crudely drawn onto the walls, but the result is ugly and insulting to look at. Watching the actors run around these sets is akin to watching disaster victims, since no one seems to know where to go or why they’ve been doomed to roam here.
With their film already looking terrible, those in charge decided it would be best to further anger the gods of creativity by penning an awful script, as well as a lousy set of songs no one could possibly find entertaining. The story contains only the bare minimum of Superman conventions: The Man of Steel himself, Lois Lane, and the Daily Planet all make appearances, but canon staples Lex Luthor and kryptonite are no where to be seen. I assume for whatever reason the rights could not be obtained, which seems ridiculous in light of what they came up with as replacements. In true camp fashion the villains end up being wacky Planet reporter Max and kooky mad scientist Abner, both of whom hate Superman and decide to use psychology as their weapon against the hero. Believe me, it’s just as moronic as it sounds. Meanwhile, as Max and Abner actually perform soft shoe numbers while waxing about their affection for one another’s villainy, Clark Kent is trying to catch the attentions of Lois Lane. Unfortunately the ace gal reporter doesn’t know he’s alive, as she spends far too much time swooning over Superman. At the same time another original (and therefore useless) character, Sydney, is in love with Max but can’t stand his self-possessed nature. Therefore she seduces Clark, which results in his getting the confidence he needs to win Lois, and oh my dear sweet God could this be anymore boring? I applaud you if your patience withstood this awfully written paragraph, since you surely could hold out longer than I did during this monstrosity.
No one is safe from the demon known as Bad Acting in this picture, the worst offender being David Wilson as Clark/Superman. Rather than going for a truth-justice-American way approach to the character, Wilson seems to be pursuing the motivation of beer-stoner-I’m gonna get your sister drunk. He’s a totally unappealing slob, usually seen in either Clark’s ill-fitting blue suit or Superman’s iconic outfit, which here looks like a pair of kiddie pajamas with the cape scotch-taped to the neck (I’m not kidding). Lesley Ann Warren turns Lois Lane into a nattering spaz of a woman, the kind you’d like to smack instead of adore; Kenneth Mars mugs and croaks out song after song as Max, and the role of mad scientist is played up beyond the point of insufferable by David Wayne. As a whole this is without a doubt one of the least talented ensemble casts I’ve ever witnessed on camera, and they should all be ashamed for their work here.
If at this point you feel compelled to seek out Superman: The Musical for its sheer novelty value, consider these additional facts. First, it’s two hours long, and you’ll feel every minute as each atrocious number (including one called ‘Pow! Bam! Zonk!’) refuses to end without one more repeat of the refrain. Second, it might just kill any joy you feel in your heart when it comes to Superman, since the bad singing/acting and suffocating camp atmosphere were created specifically for this purpose. Lastly, there’s a subplot about zany mobsters. Let me repeat: Zany mobsters. Spare yourself the pain and go watch Superman Returns again, as I can assure you that film does not deserve the flak it’s receiving when set next to this garbage.
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