Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman (2006) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some violent clips
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Kevin Spacey (narrator), Richard Donner, Brian Singer, Mark Hamill, Ilya Salkind, Margot Kidder, Annette O'Toole, Gene Simmons, Jon Peters, Tom Mankiewicz, Dean Cain, Noel Neill, Mark Waid, Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Stan Lee, Adam West, Chuck McCann, Lesley Ann Warren, Bill Mumy
Director: Kevin Burns
Screenplay: James Grant Goldin, Steven Smith

Call this "Superman for Dummies", as this documentary is aimed squarely at people that want a complete overview of the history of Superman and all of his appearances in popular media.  In a fashion, it is also worthwhile for nostalgia buffs and hardcore Superman collectors, as it does feature interviews, rare footage, and bits of trivia that make this an informative and entertaining look back at one of the most popular and beloved icons of the 20th Century. 

Popping up on A&E, the History Channel, and on DVD before and during the release of Superman Returns, this might be seen as just a means to hype up the summer blockbuster even more than it already is, but footage from the 2006 film only takes up the last 10-15 minutes or so, so this documentary shouldn't be seen merely as an infomercial.  However, it does generate an interest and respect for the Man of Steel, and as an interesting historical recap of Superman as a comic book, radio show, television program, and major motion picture superstar, it's an entertaining and conscientious as such a populist subject deserves.

Spanning nearly 70 years of print, radio, TV and film footage, and also including interviews with people that wrote, appeared in, or were fans of the work, it isn't an easy thing to get all of the information in and still keep the running time under two hours.  The interviews with Superman creative forces and fans alike are kept to minimal sound bites, while never really trying to cram in just anyone to give more star presence to the piece.  Everyone has something to add, whether historians talking about the sociopolitical context of Superman over the decades, or just rocker Gene Simmons talking about how cool it was to tie a towel around his neck and leap off of things in an attempt to mimic his favorite superhero.  All of these interview snippets are nicely packaged to enhance the footage of films and television appearances of Supes, with no major base left untouched in terms of Superman's major events.

Despite the fact that the makers of this film piggyback on the hype generated in the release of Superman Returns, this is a well-produced and informative documentary that can be enjoyed by hardcore fans and those with just a passing interest alike.  Tying in the various ways that Superman was used over the years, as propaganda, advertising, and as a mythological/religious symbol, the doc touches on very interesting aspects and takes on what Superman has meant to each generation.  It isn't exhaustive, as almost every stop along the way could actually be a 2-hour documentary unto itself, so credit Kevin Burns for mostly sticking to task to cover all of the important Superman-related tidbits and history, exploring tangential items like the deaths of original TV Superman George Reeves and film Superman Christopher Reeves in a way that seems to still fit the overall tapestry of information.

Given the type of documentary that it is, perhaps it could have explored Superman's popular history in much less time, and still been as interesting.  Kevin Spacey's narration is solid, although probably only done as another tie-in to Superman Returns, and there are some aspects of Superman thrown in that might make for interesting trivia, but aren't really necessary from a historical point of view, such as the failed TV pilots and musical ("Superpup"?), the Jerry Seinfeld American Express ads, screen tests for the 1978 Superman movie, and George Reeves' guest appearance on "I Love Lucy".  Even if such things don't merit the time given to explore them, they are still interesting nonetheless for Superman fans, who may never see clips of them again in any form other than this documentary.  (Ok, so it doesn't include a reference to my least prized possession, the 1979 LP release called "Superman and Other Disco Hits", but I guess some things may be too detrimental to the psyche of Superman fans everywhere).

While there are some items that could have been excised without losing the overall quality, the important thing is that I can't think of anything they didn't feature that should have been included.  It looks at what clicked with the public, as well as what didn't, and doesn't gloss over the missteps taken along the way.   Look, Up in the Sky gets it all in, from the original Siegel and Shuster comic to Superman Returns, and everything in between, both good and bad.  A comprehensive keepsake for all interested in the world's most popular illegal alien.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo