Science Fiction or Science Fact?

The first film came in 1951 and was called, “Superman and the Mole Men”; and it sounds like a terrible mis-match.  What special power might the Mole Men use against a man with limitless strength; x-ray vision (helpful underground); and an body impervious even to bullets? Might they employ their prodigious sense of smell or sharp little claws? Or did they perhaps have access to thermonuclear weapons? It mattered not, for they were not destined to clash head-on with the man in the red cape.

Superman and the Mole MenThe world’s deepest oil drilling operation had disturbed the Mole Men in their homes; and they emerged from the ground rubbing their eyes due to the light, but why evolution had seen fit to bless them with eyes was never explained.  The townsfolk are frightened by the Mole Men and march on them with malice in their hearts. My Grandmother recommended 6 ounces of castor oil mixed with 2 tablespoons of Murphy’s Oil Soap to make the perfect mole repeller, but the militia clearly had other thoughts on their mind, and had clearly visited their gun lockers, and not their kitchens, on leaving their homes. As luck would have it Clark and Lois happened to be in town, and this gave Superman the opportunity to broker a peace accord; though why he had to wear his red and blue outfit for this was not clear. He also saved the life of a Mole Man with his skills in the Operating Theatre – his blue and red costume still visible beneath his green operating gown. If you can spare 58 minutes to see this film before you die, you won’t regret it.

Over the next quarter of a century American history moved forward1 and when the second film, Superman the Movie was made in 1978, our hero was necessarily reintroduced as someone with strength instead of diplomacy, honourable instead of wisdom; and, for his coming of age, a crystal fortress of solitude instead of a prostitute.

Green CrystalAnd so after throwing a green luminous stick into the ice Clark Kent didn’t seem particularly surprised to see a building pop out of nowhere. I guess Ma and Pa Kent had told him what to do and what to expect, and there’s probably a prequel in there, somewhere. In his sanctuary, he learned all of human history and this, somehow, allowed him to master the art of flight. Miraculously, there’s no flapping when he flies. In fact, no movement at all.  He just points, and goes. He doesn’t even stick his arms out to the side which, as any four-year-old boy knows, is a pre-requisite to flight – if not for taking off, then certainly for remaining airborne.

Three faces of Christopher ReevesIn looking through photos of Superman and as Clark Kent I noticed, of course, that they were all of Christopher Reeve and I noticed the absence/presence of glasses; and of their different wardrobes.  But I also noticed something else.  On every photo I’ve seen: Clark Kent parts his hair on the right; and Superman parts his hair on the left. Clearly, as well as being quick at catching bullets, he must also be quite nifty with a comb.

If you don’t believe me take a look at the pictures to the left.  Not only do they all show his left parting, but they also combined to demonstrate the full acting range of this wonderful actor.

And then there’s Lois Lane. She rejects, indeed, hardly seems to notice, the quiet, thoughtful, kind Clark Kent, who also worships her; but as soon as Superman rescues her from certain death, catching both her and her helicopter, she goes all week at the knees.

So should Superman view this behaviour.  As soon as she went all mushy on him he should have surmised that she is a fickle and shallow woman.  He should reject her but instead arranges a date with her and takes her flying.

OK, so we can get over the fact that Superman can fly, but what about Lois? Being held by your fingertips at speed and altitude must be like and aircraft engineer getting his finger caught in the undercarriage; and then find himself dragged along the runway and up into the air by one finger, his body straggling behind in the wind. I don’t know how long a finger might remain attached to the hand under such circumstances but it must be excruciating. And all credit to Lois and her inner, core strength for holding her body position throughout the flight.

Lex LutherIn the final scenes Superman is over-stretched. Lex Luther has launched two nuclear missiles, one to the east and one to the west, where Lois is. Superman is trapped in an underground pool with kryptonite chained to him, and does a deal to be freed, but only if he deals with the east-bound missile first. He knows that he only has time to deal with one of the missiles, and because he is an honorable man heads east, where he succeeds in averting disaster. But the west-bound missile explodes before he can get to it.  There is chaos everywhere. School buses are in peril of falling from high bridges, Railway lines are missing rails, and Lois’s car is being eaten by the San Andreas fault. Superman saves everyone but Lois.

Superman Railway LineHe hears his father’s words, “You must not interfere with the course of human history”.  Well, I think we can agree that ship has already sailed.  By saving America from the first nuclear warhead he has already had a profound effect on human history.  But that’s not enough for him and decides to turn back time.

He flies into space and orbits the earth, in the opposite direction to its rotation, until the spin is reversed which, as we all know, reverses time. After going back in time for a little bit he reverses the process and gets time going forward again, and so Lois is saved.

It’s possible there may be one or two logical flaws in this story line.

First, if Superman could really fly fast enough to reverse the earth’s spin, which must have been close to light speed, could he not simply have flown a bit faster to catch both missiles before they explodes.

Superman turns back timeSecond, if the shenanigans with the planet really did cause a time shift (don’t get me started) wouldn’t time also go back for him, and for everyone else, too? Might he not find himself, after the time-shift, back in the pool chained to kryptonite, or chasing the first east-bound rocket, or having school buses to save and railway lines to fill in?  Wouldn’t he need to save all those people again before witnessing the the death of his beloved Lois again?  Didn’t they think this though?

Thanks for listening.  Next week we take a look at Superman 3, and ask if a block of ice from a frozen lake could put out a fire in a power plant, or whether it would crush the plant, cause an explosions and kill everyone everyone in the vicinity?  We also ask, if superman can freeze a lake by blowing on it, whether it wouldn’t have been quicker and safer to solve the problem by blowing directly on the power plant itself?

  1. At the time of the first Superman film America was on a confident high, having recently won wars in Europe, North Africa and Asia; and become the world’s first nuclear power. But the next quarter of a century saw American dominance challenged, not just around the globe but on their own doorstep. In 1957 America were shaken to see Sputnik fly over their heads every 90 minutes and to hear the radio signals it broadcast. In 1961 the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba failed, and it led to closer ties between Cuba and Russia, and then to the the Cuban Missile Crisis during which a nuclear attack on America seemed possible. In 1973 American troops had to pull out of South Vietnam, leaving it vulnerable to communist troops from the North, who completed their invasion of the south in 1975.