Superman at the Oscars

Posted by · 7:06 pm · June 10th, 2013

Don’t get too excited. Unlike “Star Trek,” the Superman franchise hasn’t yielded all that much fodder for a discussion of Academy Awards along the way. But there are a couple of things worth mentioning, as well as, of course, speculation to be tossed around regarding the Oscar chances of the latest installment. So let’s take a look.

While not the first theatrical Superman movie (that would be 1951’s “Superman and the Mole Men”), “Superman: The Movie,” though, came out at just the right time, on the heels of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” when blockbusters were really starting to light the way for the business. The film was a big box office story in 1978 (along with “Grease” and “Animal House,” in fact), and it picked up three nominations from the Academy, for Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (for John Williams’s iconic work) and Best Sound. It was bested by “The Deer Hunter” and “Midnight Express” in those fields, however.

While no competitive award for visual effects was handed out that year, the film did receive a Special Achievement Award for its effects work. (Reminding me again: Why can’t we bring those back given how rapidly technology is changing modern filmmaking?) That awe-inspiring effects work would become a hallmark of the series, but no other film of the Christopher Reeve run — not “Superman II,” so certainly not the Richard Pryor-starring “Superman III” or the absurd (but, I’ll admit, fun) Golan/Globus “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” — would pick up another tip of the hat from the Academy.

It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that a Superman film would get some Oscar recognition, but a lone nomination for 2006’s “Superman Returns” had to nevertheless be seen as a disappointment given the investment. The nomination was for, you guessed it, Best Visual Effects. The film came up shy with critics and audiences, barely scraping past $200 million domestically and failing to reach $400 million globally (for a film whose ultimate budget has been whispered to be around $300 million). To that end, it lost the Oscar to box office overachiever “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

And now, “Man of Steel.” What can we expect?

To say the least, the film is breathless in its action and CGI splendor, crafting a gorgeous world of Krypton that could fill its own movie, an aggressive alien invasion and, of course, plenty of that “you’ll believe a man can fly” wonder. So Best Visual Effects will absolutely be in the conversation, perhaps even for a win.

Beyond that, I would say the sound mixing and particularly the sound editing deserve room in the line-up. I’d be a bit surprised if it didn’t at least figure into the latter race. Hans Zimmer’s score is big and ominous and awesome, but likely too outside the traditional confines for the music branch (typical — and he’s used to it by now). Meanwhile, the film editing is really special given that the film is essentially wall-to-wall action. I wouldn’t expect the as-of-late Best Picture-cribbing editors branch to give it a fair shake, but they should.

Performances? Michael Shannon is the MVP in my book. He absolutely crushes the role of General Zod, even ultimately bringing a dose of empathy to a monster who is only doing what he’s meant to do. But it’s not the towering, iconic kind of portrayal — like Heath Ledger’s Joker — that can rise out of the genre ghetto at the Oscars.

The two biggest names involved in the film are Oscar winners already: Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Kal-El’s parental figures, Jor-El and Jonathan Kent. Costner, though, is the name on everyone’s lips first when discussing favorite elements of the film, I’ve discovered. And he gets one truly emotional moment in particular that will endear. Crowe, meanwhile, is stoic and in an interesting zone with his work. But performances, again, are tough to get through the AMPAS gauntlet.

There is, however, one area I absolutely believe deserves some consideration and could make a play, and that’s the costume design. Three-time Oscar-winner James Acheson (“The Last Emperor,” “Dangerous Liasons” and “Restoration”) and Snyder regular Michael Wilkinson breathe a life into the Kryptonian segment of the film that can’t be understated. Production designer Alex McDowell (woefully overdue for his first nomination) deserves to be mentioned for his work in those sequences as well, but the costumes particularly stood out as singular and detailed and impressive.

For more “Man of Steel,” check out Drew McWeeny’s glowing A+ review. I’m not as unflinchingly positive as he is, but I will say that I greatly enjoyed the film and see it as a big win for all involved. And I can’t wait to see it with my dad over the Father’s Day weekend, because boy, what a great film about fathers and sons. Hopefully it will mark the beginning of something big for Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Indeed, they’ve already reportedly fast-tracked a sequel. DUH.

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