"I'm here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way." ~ Superman
Takes you right back to December of 1978, doesn't it? Well, alright, I'll concede that not everyone drawn to reading this was necessarily around for the theatrical release of Superman: The Movie. Certainly, though, you've seen it by now. The film was well made, making it remain fun to watch. At the same time, though, there were real world issues that spilled over into shaping the finished product.
The producers and the director didn't get along. Some of the details strayed from comic book continuity, even though some of the film's elements have since been adapted into the comics. One of the problems that came up, though, is one that continues to rear its ugly head and I'd like to help bridge the communication gap that apparently exists.
Back then, it was a time that the comic book world has come to refer to as Pre-Crisis. One of the notable hallmarks of that era was the Man of Steel's incalculable Kryptonian power. With virtually unlimited power available to him, Superman would usually find a way to achieve any task he felt he needed to accomplish. As a product of his incredible power level, he had figured out how to penetrate the time barrier so that he could move backward and forward through the time stream freely. Now, two of the requirements of this continuum-rending feat were 1) that he fly faster than light speed (he could do that back then) and 2) he had to incorporate a specifically calculated turn into his flight path (easily determined with his super-intellect) that basically resulted in his flying in circles. Now, one of the dynamics that even Superman needed to respect was aerodynamics. For the sake of the environment and those dependent upon it, he took his hyper-speed, time barrier breaking flights out of the atmosphere.
So, where does that leave us? Near the re-write that became part of the film's climax and had Superman fly back in time about fifteen minutes to save Lois Lane from being crushed to death. Ignoring the time travel rules that would've prevented this sort of convenient story-tampering in the comics of the day (the film did, so...), let's just focus on what we're here for: perception. What the film creators did in the confines of their work was basically fine. What seems to have been received by large numbers of viewers is the idea that Superman "turned the Earth backward" to save the day. Granted, Pre-Crisis Superman had been known to push planets around when the need arose, but the physical realities of such a feat would be far more catastrophic than the quake Lex Luthor triggered. Superman came to help us. He would not and did not turn the Earth backward.
What so many people seem almost unwilling to wrap their minds around is that Superman was flying through time, first back and then forward as he was targeting a specific moment. To him and the audience, the world appeared to spin backward and the damage seemed to reverse itself. When he dropped back into normal time, everything would've resumed happening as it had on first viewing. I can understand the convenience for Supes, flying around the world so he could watch to see the event he was looking for, but it was apparently confusing for those unfamiliar with such things. Clarification is long overdue. You can thank me later.
That this major point of the film has been so misunderstood by so many makes me feel that the creators didn't run it past test viewers to make sure they were getting across what they intended. It seems that a little extra writing to help everyone understand what was going on would've helped. An alternative might've been to use the path that would later be traveled in the Smallville TV series and have our favorite caped farm boy coerce a chronal second chance out of Jor-El's Fortress of Solitude techno-presence. Finding themselves rushed by the clash of the executives and uncertain as to how well the movie would even be received, I don't suppose I can fault them for not making that leap.
If you're a writer, though, heed this. Take the time to come out of your Batcave or your Fortress of Solitude or wherever it is you write and let some other eyes see your work. Let some other minds form opinions about what you've crafted. That's how you can be sure of the reception of what was born in and has only had to exist in the labyrinthine twists of your own coffee-fueled, gin-soaked brain and whatever world it has cobbled together. You wrote the thing. Of course you get it. Your job, that of any writer, is to make your conceptions understandable to others. With developed skill, you'll grow past being ham-fisted about it and learn to make your audience "get it" in whatever way you want.
Now, for those of you who are really really interested in this, follow along. The time travel fix used in the film wouldn't have worked with the Pre-Crisis time travel rules because they were designed to prevent just that sort of thing. Just as Quantum Leap would later reverse, tethering the traveler to effectiveness within his lifespan, DC's rules dictated that the traveler was completely unable to affect things at any point in the time stream in which he already existed. Following those rules, movie Superman could've gone back in time, but only to watch as helplessly as Ebeneezer Scrooge being dragged around the continuum by tormenting spirits. So, while he was saving California, he's also come back in time and become a spectral observer so...he can watch Lois die. Psychological trauma and the humility of humanizing limitations conveniently wrapped into a single package that happens to look like a blood-soaked crushed car.
What was completely ignored was what they did give us: fifteen minutes of two supermen. While time traveling Superman stood around chatting with Jimmy and a time paradox Lois and...no quake, original Superman was flying around doing all the hero work ignorant to the fact that he was minutes away from jaunting back through time for the conversation his time paradox self was simultaneously having with a time paradox Lois... She still has to die, you see, to spur him to go back in time...Great Gallifrey! They've shoved Lois into a blue police box and turned her into Schroedinger's Cat!
Yeah, the Smallville solution definitely would've been the way to go.