I'm referring to the first few minutes of the 1978 Superman movie with Marlon Brando. Jor El comments on the amount of time necessary to travel to earth but Clark arrives here and looks like a 3 or 4 year old.

  • warp drive may be? it doesn't need to spend all thet time if you have some kind of technology to gain super speed – Vishwa Oct 22 at 5:27

The discrepancy between Kal - El's age and the 'thousands' of years that has past since Jor - El's demise is a nod to the relativistic effects of high speed long distance space travel.

Einstein demonstrated that time is relative to the observer.

Special relativity 'indicates that, for an observer in an inertial frame of reference, a clock that is moving relative to him will be measured to tick slower than a clock that is at rest in his frame of reference... Theoretically, time dilation would make it possible for passengers in a fast-moving vehicle to advance further into the future in a short period of their own time. For sufficiently high speeds, the effect is dramatic. For example, one year of travel might correspond to ten years on Earth.' (Wikipedia - Time Dilation).

So, due to the incredible speed of the spacecraft he was in, only 2 or 3 years will have passed for Kal - El during his journey to earth while in relative terms, thousands of years will have passed within the (relatively) static locals of Krypton and Earth.

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    This creates a "plot hole", though. While Kal-El is in the pod the voice of Jor-El teaches him stuff about Earth and at one point even mentions Einstein's Theory of Relativity. But if Krypton exploded thousands of years before Earth's 1978 then how could Jor-El know about Einstein? – Oliver_C Oct 21 at 10:18
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    The voice of Jor-El only mentions Einstein's theory of relativity in its translation to the Earthly languages the film has been projected in. In the original (real) version, Jor-El's voice teaches Kal-El in a Kryptionian language and Einstein's theory of relativity has another name that may include the name of a Kryptonian scientist or not. In fact, before Kal-El landed in Kansas, all action happened in a Kriptonian language although being filmed in English for benefit of audience (or transcribed in English for convenience of comic readers). – Pere Oct 21 at 11:30
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    @Pere - Wich "original/real" version are you talking about? E.g. here is the clip from the Extended TV-Cut (which is 3 hours long!). The exact quote is: "... which Einstein called his Theory of Relativity. Embedded in the crystals before you is the total accumulation of all literature and scientific fact from dozens of other worlds ..." and a moment later: "... early Chinese writings point out ...". – Oliver_C Oct 21 at 12:27
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    @Oliver_C We can assume that as paraphrasing or adaptation of the Kryptonian monologue. Of course, other explanations are possible - and maybe even more likely. However, we need to keep in mind that film dialogues (and monologues) are just narrations of some in-universe real facts. – Pere Oct 21 at 12:32
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    Given that Krypton did a bit of exploding and basically ceased to exist quite shortly after Kal-El’s pod was launched, I think it’s reasonable to say that thousands of years didn’t pass on Krypton, since there was no Krypton for them to pass on. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 21 at 20:18

The film script indicates that the boy is 3 years old.

MARTHA: Jonathan!

The little BOY, aged 3, suddenly springs out of the electronically controlled belts, half naked.

And there's some confirmation that the module was traveling FTL, at least for portions of the journey

37 EXT. SPACE - CLOSE ON MODULE:

Traveling through space: A tiny yellow dot becomes larger as the module enters our Universe. The yellow dot grows rapidly into a flaming yellow sun.

In most other continuities the Kryptonian rocket is explicitly stated to have a "hyper-drive" or a "phantom-drive" to explain its rapid progress.

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