This was AWFUL! The absolute worst thing ever! I have never in my life seen anything this terrible!!

 

Um, maybe I should start over…..
 SUPERMAN’s 50TH ANNIVERSARY:A Celebration of the Man of Steel

 

In 1988 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Superman CBS gave us this special on his legacy. Ok, now I have to be fair. When I saw this in 1988 my knowledge of SNL was not good at the time. As a result, I didn’t realize that this was satire. If I knew who Jan Hooks, Dana Carvey, or Lorne Micahels were maybe I would have. That being said…this still sucked! Maybe if they had been clear about the direction of the special, mixing real tributes with satirical sketches being played straight just created a confusing mess. My bother and I watched this, and we just had no idea what the heck we were looking at! Was a it a tribute? Was it a parody? Was it something in between? WTF?????

Since this is the 75th anniversary of Superman this year it’s a good opportunity to take a look at this program and find out if it really was as bad as it seemed all those years ago. It’s not on YouTube but is available as a bonus feature on the Superman II DVD.

The Plot:

 

The special interweaves memorable moments from Superman’s early television series, cartoons and films highlighting his super powers,secret identity, acts of heroism, and personal life. Also included are comic vignettes featuring guest stars portraying various citizens of Metropolis. This special was produced by Lorne Michaels and features many stars of Saturday Night Live. The approach this special takes is that Superman is real, not just a pop icon, and Metropolis is a real city with real citizens. We then get odd vignettes like the one with Jan Hooks pretending to be a woman claiming to be Superman’s lover mixed (yes, really) with sincere nostalgic tributes.
The special begins with a voiceover telling us the story of how Superman came from Krypton from one of the old serials cutting to the origin presented in the first movie. This was a nice opening. Too bad they have to ruin it by having Dana Carvey appear to host the special, He is credited as “Chief Historian Junior Supermen of America” and as I stated he talks as if Superman literally landed 50 years ago (rather than just first appearing in Action Comics).  Although the exact spot is up for debate.
What I Liked:

 

The real nostalgic stuff was really good. Can’t complain.Always nice to see that old footage again from the TV series, serials,cartoons, and movies. They break the clips down by category like his superpowers, Clark Kent, etc. They also show some of the Superman copy cats over theyears like Mighty Mouse which is a cool bit.Fair is faur and the clip packages were pretty decent.
The real interviews include Chris Reeve, John Byrne, Kirk Alyn, Jack Larson and others and are really awesome. I wish we’d had more of these and less of the stupid stuff.
A scene from the “Metropolis Superman museum”which is actually a nice touch as we see some of the memorabilia out there and some comic book covers.
What I Hated:

 

Everything else. As I said the special was hosted by Dana Carvey and he opens the special standing in a field, claiming that is the field Superman landed when he was a baby. And from there it’s a confusing mess. For this article I decided it was time to watch this through adult eyes. So here is the run down of what happened between clip packages :
-We see Dana Carvey standing in “Metropolis” looking for Superman and talking about how great Superman is. Sure. Then somereal people talking about Superman. Inside City Hall we see Fred Wilard playingthe Deputy Mayor discussing how the city loves Superman but Metropolis is morethan just Superman
-The Amazing Kreskin appears to talk about how he uses his powers to entertain rather than save the world like Superman
-A couple appears, the girl talks about how when her date became ill she made it to the prom because Superman arrived with a corsage and took her. The man is clearly jealous.
-Hal Holbrook is appearing as Superman in a one man play, and discusses how he prepared for the role.
-Superman’s dry cleaner played by John Randolph talks about how he cleans Superman’s costumes. Then Dana Carvey talking about Superman’s routine as Clark Kent. Here’s my question, if Clark Kent is Superman’s alter ego how does Dana Carvey know it? Anyway, moving on….
-Some of the Daily Planet competitors talking about how the Planet has exclusive rights to Superman and they have Garfield cartoons. There is a rundown of the Planet staff followed by random women commenting on Lois’s relationship with Superman (actually one is Lois’s mother played by NoelNeill).
-Then we get to the point where I really gave up on this 25 years ago. I already talked about Jan Hooks playing the trailer trash girl who believes Superman fathered her child. She insists the kid has partial X-Ray vision and super strength.  At one point she takes a piece of Kryptonite and when her child shies from it, she insists that’s proof positive Superman is her child’s father. This is still stupid.
-We see two guys wearing tights who try to be superheroes like Superman but really they are just two losers
-A group of thugs that Superman had captured gathering in a bar talking about how futile fighting Superman was. Then an appearance bySuperman villain Brainwave that I can’t possibly describe here. By the way, a look at some of Superman’s famous villains does not include Zod??????
-Peter Boyle as the owner of the Lead-Lined Shop which specializes in goods designed to harm Superman (yeah, silly) like lead lined products and Kryptonite products. Ralph Nader then appears to point out that not all Kryptonite has the same effect.
-These vignettes go back and forth so we get more as the special works its way to the end. Including Hal Holbrook talking about how hard Superman really has it. And then the best for last. We see people gathering for a special red carpet ceremony for Superman, including the characters we’ve already met and, believe it or not, Flash and Green Lantern!! What? Oh, and they are both arriving with hot dates. Ok, must have missed that comic book. Finally Superman appears at the end, in animated form? Everyone else was played by actors why is Superman in cartoon form, and he says nothing just stands there??? WE SPEND THE WHOLE SPECIAL BUILDING THIS UP AND THAT’S ALL WEGET???  What a let down ending to a basically crummy special.
 

 

Final Thoughts
You know, I’m glad I saw this again. I feel silly not realizing that the sketches were just gags, but in my defense they play it so straight it’s hard to really make sense of it. But while quite not as bad as I remembered, this special is still a disappointment. It suffers from not knowing what it wants to be, an honest tribute or a series of parody sketches. Maybe if they had given the sketches some sort of narrative structure that may have helped, instead they are just thrown at us randomly and mixed with the real tributes just making for a confusing watch. And as I noted they also play it straight which was a mistake; it’s like when a movie tries to pretend their world is real. We know it’s fake stop pretending it isn’t. But upon re-watching I realized the biggest problem with the special right away. Most the sketches have the people in one or way or another complaining about Superman. They hate him or are jealous of him, oh it’s always subtle but it’ sthe basic running joke of the special. And it’s dumb! This is a special honoring Superman why are we talking about the problems he causes and the way he makes people feel inferior?
So there you have it, proof you can hate something as achild and look at it as an adult…and not hate it as much. Though it was worth buying the DVD so I could own it and see it again. If you get the chance to see it, it is almost worth a watch just to see how silly this thing really is.There is some good stuff, if you can tolerate the more inane stuff. Just be prepared for some true 80’s silliness.

By richb

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