The Science of Superman
The Science of Superman 2006
One of the shows that I used to enjoy when I was a kid was the early programming of the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel back before they became the go-to channel for reality TV freak shows. There were plenty of shows on those two channels that were full of cutting edge technology and the like and in a way, this special follows that format. And while it does remind me of the Batman Tech special that I watched on the DC Universe app a couple weeks ago, where that felt very much like the promotional material for the Dark Knight that it was, while this was released in a similar way as Batman Tech, being shown on the National Geographic channel the day after the theatrical release, it really spread out the clips used between all sorts of Superman shows and cartoons alongside a fair amount of Superman Returns clips. It also helps that it was inspired by an actual book of the same name and they included the author alongside several of those interviewed for the special. Overall, it was a pretty good doc with a lot of interesting information and theories backed up by the shows and comic books of Superman that weren’t just Superman Returns.
Like many of these types of documentary slash promotional TV specials, it’s generally just a series of interviews along with TV and movie clips as well as some comic book panels. This falls somewhere in between Batman Tech which felt too much like a Dark Knight promotional material and the Secret Origin which felt like a full blown documentary on DC comics as a whole. There is a lot of information and speculation about Superman’s powers and how the science and science fiction would or could actually make his powers work and they also look at how different multimedia presents those powers. The one odd man out with all the interviewees would have been Hal Sparks who in the superhero world is probably best known as the random guy in the elevator in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 though he does have a slight Superman connection as one of his first roles was in a very minor role in Lois and Clark as a skateboarding teen.
The more interesting thing about this documentary is how they go into detail on Superman’s various powers, although they don’t go into his many lesser known powers that show up only once or twice like his cellophane shield that he only used in Superman II, or his brick building vision, or even his very specific super breath that was able to blow an oil spill back inside an oil tanker. Instead, the doc takes a look at his various well known super powers like his super strength, his ability to fly, his super breath, heat vision, X-ray vision, super vision, super hearing, and even takes a moment to discuss his weakness to Kryptonite as well as how he gains his powers from our yellow sun. They’re all handled without any level of incredulity with only one or two exceptions where they basically say that it’s just fiction, especially when discussing his flying around the world to turn back time. Also for example, when they’re discussing his super breath, they mention how he would basically have to have super lungs in order to take in air, compress it, then expel it with extreme force. But if he does have lungs, he would have to be able to process oxygen yet he’s also able to survive in space without any air at all. These discussions are all presented in a mix between a matter of fact statement, and a more fun “what if” air.
Besides taking a deep dive into the scientifics of Superman’s powers like how he would need hyper sensitive ear drum, would have extra eye receptors, and some sort of energy battery to store solar energy and expel it through his eyes. The doc also goes a little bit into real world technology that mimics some of Superman’s powers like how genetics have altered mice into super mice that are stronger and more resistant to disease as well as the more advanced X-ray style machines that don’t look like typical X-rays but look through solid objects in a similar way that they handle it in Superman Returns by going through the outer layers of solid objects and see in the middle fairly clearly. They also take a look a little bit about how Superman’s abilities have been represented in different multimedia outlets across the years. Like how Superman’s flying was initially just extreme leaping in the comics until it became flying shortly before the animated Superman shorts. They also have a bit of a mix in the George Reeves’s Adventures of Superman where he would take a running leap before flying through the air, and it wasn’t until later on where Superman had the ability to essentially take off from a standing start which leads to theories about gravitons rather than just being able to propel himself through the air. Even the X-ray vision varies from a circular hole in the wall in early Superman TV and cartoons to the more X-ray style vision used in Smallville to the visual slicing used in Superman Returns.
This documentary slash promotional show was a fun ride overall. It really helps when they’re able to use clips from Superman throughout the ages, including Lois and Clark, Smallville, Adventures of Superman, the Christopher Reeve movies, and the Fleischer shorts. It is a little bit obvious that they were limited to how much they were able to use clips from Superman Returns as the famous trailer shot of the bullet bouncing off of Superman’s eye was used about three or four times in a fifty minute program was a little much. But they did also use a handful of behind the scenes clips including a couple interviews with Brandon Routh. The science was interesting, the clips were fun, and the deep dives into basically having a fanboy argument about how Superman’s powers actually work was pretty great overall. Especially with all of the scientific speculation about Krypton and how its core could have been made of heavy metals like Uranium which would account for the extreme density, unstability, and the radioactive fragments of Kryptonite. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.