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It took many years before I fell for the copious charms of the 1978 Superman. I didn’t grow up with the Richard Donner classic, and when I first saw it, I didn’t get it. I was way more of a Batman kid, and Superman didn’t have any cool gadgets or bits on his belt. I didn’t get the character at all, but years later (after growing, regressing, and then growing again), I had come to know and love the big blue Boy Scout, re-watched the movie, and I finally believed that a man could fly.
The film has a little bit of everything in it, and Christopher Reeve's performance in the lead role is surely one of the all-time greats. I’d always loved Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor (and anything Lex Luthor-related, honestly), and Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane grew on me, especially her defiance about learning how to spell. Her scene with Superman on her terrace is now one of my favorite scenes in any comic book movie.
The one thing about the film that I always loved has continued to hold up (and gotten even better) with every viewing: that is, of course, another masterful, perfect, and iconic score from John Williams. What would this movie be without his incredibly perfect Superman theme? Well, not as good, that's for sure.
Williams, Reeve, Hackman, Kidder, and everyone else really do make this thing soar, and though I still despise the “turning back time by spinning the earth backward” bit, I can live with it. Jor-El famously opens the movie by saying, “This is no fantasy…,” so I’ll just accept it.
What is the point of all of this? These aren’t exactly hot new spins on this classic film, are they? Well, even though this movie has charm for days and is a chronicle about what humankind can possibly aspire to be (and not to be), it is not immune to a real banger of a WTF Moment.
The spinning of the earth is an obvious one, but when re-watching the film recently, I caught a little disgrace note in the movie, just a sound, and I’d never realized it was there. It’s so odd, so strange, and it comes out of nowhere. It’s a jolt of WTF energy right in the middle of this charming movie.
Personally, my favorite version of this movie to watch is the Special Edition. It has a lot of great scenes put back in the mix, and though none of them are pivotal, they all help to fill out the story. Some of this filling happens to the little girl who has her cat stuck in a tree. Superman helps her out and saves her cat.
“Let’s not be too hard on Frisky,” Superman says to the girl. “We all get a little afraid of heights every now and again. Goodbye, Frisky! So long now.” Frisky the cat is saved, so Superman flies off to presumably help someone else in need. No job is too small for Superman! It’s nice, right?
The WTF Moment comes later, though, when this little girl goes back into her house with Frisky. “Mommy mommy! Frisky was stuck in the tree! This man swooped out of the sky and gave him to me!” We only see the front door of this girl’s house at this point, and only hearing voices. Her mother (or someone who is pretending to be, we don’t know) wickedly responds: “Haven’t I told you to stop telling lies?”
And then ... SLAP.
Who the hell is this kid living with, Miss Hannigan? WTF?
For such a small, weird moment that is audio only, there is so much to unpack here. One thing right at the start: this girl’s mother sounds exasperated. She sounds like she’s just pulled a double shift at the hospital, and this kid could be something of a serial liar. The mother has had it with her, has likely had it with Frisky, so she just slaps her one. The mother is that fed up. What else has this girl been lying about? Is this a tame lie, or one of the more juicy ones?
Something else to consider is that this is a normal occurrence and that maybe this kid gets slapped a lot. For every lie, possibly for everything that comes out of her mouth, there is a slap. This girl’s “mommy” might do this all the time, but that would then make us wonder why this little (innocent?) child goes running to a slap-prone mom to tell her another fantastical Frisky tale. Who, I ask, who is this child, who is her mother, and WTF is the deal in this house? How often does this happen, and should Child Services be called?
Which brings us to the Man of Steel himself, who has super-hearing and is not that far away from the house when Slapgate goes down. Does he hear this little bit of child abuse and just ignore it? Henry Cavill’s Superman would've already hit this kid multiple times himself for bothering him, or he wouldn't have stopped off at all. Reeve’s Superman, though? He wouldn’t just fly off after hearing that. Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman wouldn’t have either. Brandon Routh’s Superman may have floated back, sat in the tree, and watched the rest of the drama going on in the house with his X-Ray vision.
Reeve’s Superman saves the cat, yes, but is the real danger inside the house itself? Did he choose to make the wrong save here? He’s obviously in demand, and he goes off to save an entire airplane right after this. If this was a brief stopover, should he have saved this girl from her hard-knock life, and let Frisky stay in the tree? Or, did he just not hear it? If he did, though, was it time to cut his losses and fly on?
So many questions, and no answers in sight. The real prickly thorn, though? Who added in the SFX of that slap? Was it in the script, or did someone get silly in post-production and it kind of just stayed in the cut? We may never know.
One small slap... and just so much WTF. WTF, Superman? WTF, little serial liar girl? WTF Frisky, what is your part in all of this? WTF, slap-happy mom? Did you apologize the next day when news of this flying man hit the Daily Planet? You probably didn't, you probably went on to slap again.
WTF is going on in that house? With all of his great powers, even Superman himself seems unable to deal with this particularly slappy bit of WTF.