Superman Returns, and a few observations on the state of newspaper journalism

Superman Returns
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2006’s Superman Returns went to great lengths to bring Superman back to the screen – but it also gave us some insights into the workings of the Daily Planet.

The average newspaper operation has, it’s probably fair to say, become ‘streamlined’. We’ve seen weekend extras cut back, daily and Sunday news teams merged, and more and more newspapers looking to fill their websites with clickbait, or hunting for hate clicks. Not all of them, granted, but depressingly, that’s the business model that some of the more high profile publications appear to be followed.


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Thank goodness for kinder times, then, and the city of Metropolis. Because I couldn’t help but notice, following a rewatch of Superman Returns, just how willing to cede to more traditional standards the city’s flagship newspaper was. Even appreciating that the film is set in 2006, there’s still a newsroom at the Daily Planet that’s full of fax machines and notepads and pens. There’s no content farm in the corner, there’s no Planet Online website team with a bunch of people looking to shame women for simply putting on some clothes and leaving the house. Instead, there are journalists milling around a newsroom, talking about stories.

And then, of course, there’s Perry White, an old-school editor who wants facts, wants good stories, and knows what sells copies of the newspaper. For that’s what it’s all about at the Daily Planet as we see it in Superman Returns. When it lands a scoop, it wins the Pulitzer Prize. It also – get this! – puts that scoop in print first, rather than straight on the internet. The cavalier bastards!

However, on closer inspection, one or two cracks started to show.

Unfortunately for Superman Returns – and just how good is Brandon Routh in the film, by the way? – the high definition 1080p print of the film on the Blu-ray is really very detailed. In a further stroke of misfortune for the film, the telly I watched the film on this time is bigger than the telly I watched it on last time. As a consequence, I noticed a detail or two.

But let’s start with the positives. Around 42 minutes into the film, a morning meeting is called by Perry White. Presumably the big meeting room was booked, because look how many people have to attend said meeting. All in a room that’s blatantly meant for half the number of people. Sadly,. For a modern newspaper, it could probably fit all the staff in as well as storage of some back issues.

That notwithstanding, just look at how many are crammed in, as the camera pulls back and shows us more…

I can’t count them all up, but I reckon there’s the best part of 100 people in there…

Furthermore, White – played Frank Langella – then assigns stories to various departments.

Men are obviously in charge of sport, politics and business, and women have the travel and health beats, including a critical assignment on exploring what has Superman been eating, and where did he get that suit. And just as I was noting the gender politics at work, it was drummed home to me just what a high profile hotbed of talent the Daily Planet had in 2006.

Because look at the man who’s in charge of the sport…

If I’m not mistaken – and surely I’m not – then that’s a dead ringer for former BBC broadcaster John Humphrys (now to be found on Classic FM and writing for, er, the Daily Mail)…

We’re told that Humphrys was hosting the evening news and the quiz show Mastermind in 2006, and there he is moonlighting in Metropolis! Who paid for that, then? I’ll just head off to Twitter to read some balanced views on the BBC and then I’ll be back…

… and I’m back. Crikey. Not going there again.

Back to the film. Superman Returns then establishes that the Daily Planet is a very well-staffed, respected newspaper with sky high standards. Heck, its reporters still print out their stories and hand them into Perry White for checking. Email wouldn’t come to Metropolis until Zack Snyder invented it a few years later.

And then – eeek – the film’s camera closes in on a story in the newspaper itself. Not the peerless front page, checked to within an inch of its life. No, one of the articles inside this particular organ. And it goes to show you chums that you can have a room full of people claiming to know what they’re doing, and yet still have an end product that’s, well, ‘in need of work’.

With that, I’m going to comfortably position myself in my glass house and invite you to take a look at the article we’re allowed to read in the film, magnified thanks to the joy of 1080p…

I can’t find a better way to put this, chums, so you’re going to have to bear with me: it’s a bit, well, lacking isn’t?

The headline, for a start. And in particular, the half-arsed support line underneath it too. Who’s the person who didn’t bother to put in a shift there? Who signed those off? Hang thy heads.

Furthermore, you’ve got the opening two paragraphs of the story that basically say the same thing. This is, as had been established already, a newspaper whose star reporter has won the Pulitzer Prize that very year. In fact, she’s off to go and pick it up in the film just as this pile of shite hits the newsstands. It’s not as if there’s not intelligence at work: squint at the second column of text and you’ll find the word ‘blebs’ there, which I had to double check, but is indeed a clever person’s word. If you can make out any of column four, it all gets lyrical too.

Yet go back to that huge room of people, and here comes the glass house bit. Where amongst them was the sub-editor? Because who let this through….?

I mean. I can hear you tutting from here, and rightly so. No wonder the newspaper industry would be savaged in the light of such a rogue and inappropriate apostrophe. At the very least, surely John Humphrys – once he’d finished writing up his sports reports – should have said something?

It just won’t do. And I’m now eagerly awaited a potential 4K transfer of Superman Returns so I can examine still further how the Daily Planet has fallen under the stewardship of Frank Langella. I always though he was a bastion of standards, but I think we can all agree that on this evidence, he and Humphrys have not just let us down, they’ve let themselves down.


Superman Returns is available on Blu-ray now.

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