“I think it’s been a little bit overanalyzed,” says Ilya Salkind, “because, really, a lot of the decisions were pretty logical and common sense. I want to clarify a little bit, because it’s much simpler than all of the things that have been said. I mean, Richard Donner did a fantastic first film, as we all know, and it was a tremendous success, and what happened after was really, I would say, normal film history. Things happened.”
Okay, great, so that’s all cleared up. It was normal film history! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Ilya Salkind, if you’re not familiar, was the executive producer of Superman II, and his DVD commentary is like a two-hour audio affadavit. In his commentary on the first film, Ilya was excited and braggadocious, swerving from one self-congratulatory story to another. In this one, he starts right away with an opening statement from the defense.
“So I think the main thing here is to start with the big question, where especially the fans ask — and I’m a fan myself of these kinds of films, obviously — and since they found out about the production of the first film, I mean, there really has been a kind of — I would say, general misunderstanding.”
Whatever that means. Then he spends a surprisingly long time describing the parties that they had after the premieres, and how friendly and drunk everybody was.
“Now, after that, some time passed, and, I don’t know, certain words were said, certain directions were taken, that were relatively — I mean, I would say emotionally hurtful, because we had all worked like dogs on this. Although, dogs don’t work that much, I’ve noticed. Everybody says working like a dog, but — I’ve never seen a dog, actually, y’know, they walk, and they sleep, and — yeah, of course, police dogs work. Yeah. Police dogs work.”
Which makes me think, if this is how you talk, then I could see how a “general misunderstanding” might arise. It’s true about the dogs, though.
So the theme of the movie, as far as Ilya Salkind is concerned, is: why is everybody being emotionally hurtful to Ilya Salkind?
“The fans really started thinking that we just — y’know, without any reason, we said okay, we don’t want Dick Donner for the second film, end of story. It was not like that at all. Pierre did try to talk to him, obviously — y’know, I wasn’t there, nobody, these are things that are a long time ago — but definitely, the tone that was coming out was really not, let’s say, friendly.”
The nice thing about Ilya stories is that you don’t actually have to care whether they’re true or not, because they dissolve on contact; Ilya is the only person I know who speaks fluent Evanescent.
“It was never in the idea of anybody that Richard Lester would do the second film. I mean, it wasn’t, like, ‘Ah, we planned to have Richard Lester direct the second film!’ Again, this is the kind of thing that can be very, y’know, painful to hear, because it makes us look like these schemers, which we were not, in the sense that he just came to liaise, and that’s what he did.”
Honestly, when you think about all the people that the Salkinds embezzled from and actively defrauded, it’s amazing that Ilya’s this worked up about people thinking that he’s a schemer. You were a schemer, Ilya. You need to own that.
The nice thing about this commentary is that now I don’t need to talk to any Superman fans; he’s telling me every problem that people have with the movie.
“Some people say, yeah, the tone doesn’t match — well, that’s not what the audience said, and certainly not what the majority of critics said!”
Ilya really doesn’t like it when “some people” say things, although he’s had a couple of decades to think up a snappy retort, and he has not used that time productively.
“Some people said, well it’s faster and all that — yeah, of course it’s faster, it’s twenty minutes shorter. Some of the decisions, like the fire instead of the bullet, okay, that’s a question of taste. I personally prefer the fire, I think it’s more unusual, because y’know, the gun, we already saw that with the crook in the first film, so it wasn’t that different from what we’d already seen.”
It’s tough to pick favorites, but I think the best moment in the commentary is when Ilya talks about John Williams’ decision not to score the movie.
“John Williams did come to London. He did see the first rough cut. After seeing it — for whatever reason, and I don’t know, cause I didn’t sit in the screening, which perhaps I should have done — he very nicely said no, I just can’t do it. Whatever the reason was, and I don’t know it. And he was totally entitled to his decision, but he did come to London — we actually paid for his trip, and all that— and we absolutely wanted John Williams, and he was completely absolutely willing to do the film, and — I don’t know. Again, some mysteries will always be mysteries. So that’s one of the facts that has to be clarified.”
Naturally, this clarifies nothing. My favorite part of this story is when Ilya has to make sure that we understand who paid for Williams’ trip.
There are also several places where he talks about whether there was too much comedy in the film. He points out, correctly, that there was a lot of comedy in the first film, which there was, although he thinks that there was “a little bit too much of Otis walking back and forth,” which I don’t really know what he’s talking about.
“So it’s like there’s a prism here, where people look at one film with one set of judgment, and the other one with a bias, and that’s what I would love to help clarify a little bit.”
This is the third time that he’s used the word “clarify”. I wonder what that word means, in his culture?
“I frankly must say myself that I’m not 102% convinced about the cone of ice cream at the end in Metropolis — but then, at the same time, it worked! Because the suspense was still there. So nothing is ever perfect, and nobody knows how to, y’know, really create perfection — except some rare individuals, like Leonardo da Vinci, I guess.”
And then he stumbles on about other great painters, and all of a sudden it’s an art history lesson.
The moment that breaks my heart is when Ilya is already being defensive about something, and he stops in the middle, and points out Richard Donner’s cameo at the beginning of the diner scene.
“And by the way, this is Richard Donner, so I guess if we were such horrible people, we would have cut him out. We didn’t!”
Which honestly makes me feel like giving him a hug. He’s really been stewing over this.
He’s also feeling pretty raw about this moment, when Superman removes part of his costume and throws it at a villain, and it turns into magical clinging energy vinyl, which if it’s not the stupidest thing ever done in a superhero movie, then it’s probably in the top three.
“Now, here, of course, have been people who said: new powers, new things. Okay, well, I must say that we worked hand in hand with the comic book writers, and they helped us, and they said… y’know, and they didn’t object, and… it’s comic books!”
So I don’t know, it feels to me like people should stop picking on Ilya, although I’m probably the only person in 2022 who’s still obsessed with him, and I like picking on him too much to stop. At a certain point, this may be more about me than it is about Ilya. But I do agree with him about the dogs. Dogs have had a free ride for far too motherfucking long.
We discuss all the other dumb Ilya decisions in
2.3: Let’s Twist Again
— Danny Horn