Well, speaking of foreign distribution rights, here’s girl reporter Lois Lane let loose in a foreign country, and she’s about to be distributed widely across a sizeable stretch of western Europe, if the hydrogen bomb she’s inadvertently strapped to her back hits the pavement at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
The bomb — if it actually is a bomb — has been assembled by a group of inconclusive terrorists demanding nothing in particular from probably the government of France. The terrorists take the elevator up to the top of the tower, where they have the bomb (if it is a bomb) primed to explode in sixty seconds, which they don’t want to do, while the police use their own explosives to set off the bomb, which they don’t want to do either.
This is a complex and somewhat confusing sequence, and I have only arrived at my limited understanding of it by watching it about a dozen times. I will do my best to explain.
Lois arrives on the scene at the terrorized tourist attraction, having flown on the Concorde from Metropolis to Paris during the twelve hours since the story broke. A moment ago, we saw Clark arrive at the Daily Planet in the morning, which means that it’s, let’s say, 8am in Metropolis, and therefore 2pm in Paris. That means the terrorists started occupying the Eiffel Tower around 2am, so those hostages must be the hippest late-night party animals that ever managed to get past the bouncer.
Now, I am willing to waive the fact that, with the exception of the guard that Lois talks to, everybody in France speaks English with a French accent. That’s a standard technique employed for audience convenience so that they don’t have to use subtitles, and everyone in the audience has already implicitly agreed to that by only taking a couple semesters of French in high school and then forgetting it all.
As Lois approaches the base of the tower, a spokesperson is explaining to the waiting press pool that les terroristes have agreed to release the first group of hostages as a sign of good faith; if they don’t release the hostages, the authorities refuse to negotiate. It sounds to me like the authorities are already negotiating, and they’re doing an amazing job so far, so kudos to the authorities.
Lois arrives on the scene just in time to hear that the terrorists claim to have a hydrogen bomb upstairs in an oil barrel. The spokesperson says that “it’s possible for anyone to make a hydrogen bomb, if he has the proper equipment,” which I don’t think is true in real life, but in movies is a well-established fact.
There’s a cute little sequence where Lois gets to be the plucky trickster reporter, getting a guard to look up the word “stairs” in her English-to-French phrase book while she ducks behind him, and goes up the escaliers.
The cop has one of those “come back!” movie moments, where the person left behind isn’t allowed to leave the shot, so they call helplessly for the other character to return and then disappear into the wind. Nobody ever comes back.
Brushing off the gendarmes, Lois mounts the stairs and stumbles toward the story, apparently unnoticed by the police who are watching the whole event through binoculars and sharpshooter gunsights.
This may be the one completely unrealistic moment in the sequence. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, and there is no way that she could get all the way up there without buying a ticket, and browsing through the gift shop. C’est impossible.
The terrorists, wearing hats and shit-stained coveralls, are ushering the hostages into an elevator, which will take them down to a lower floor, and then the hostages will be ushered into a different elevator, which will take them to the ground.
This is part of why it took me so long to come to any understanding of this sequence; I didn’t realize that they were using two elevators. There’s an establishing shot that establishes that there are two elevators running — one going down, one going up — but the shot doesn’t connect properly to their actual plot-relevant position at this moment. I figured it was all being done through quantum mechanics, where you can either know who’s in the elevator or what direction it’s going in, but you can’t know both at the same time.
Then Lois does something excessively plucky, which is to clamber into the bottom of the elevator mechanism, so that she can secretly travel up the tower along with the bad guys, and gather intel for a world-stunning scoop.
Now, I think this moment, right here, is when the audience starts to ask, wait, what the hell am I looking at? Why are we in France? Is Lois suddenly a supersoldier? Why is she spelling words to calm herself down, when we know from the first movie that spelling is not her strong point? There are no easy answers to these questions.
Then there’s some terrorist dialogue that does not inspire confidence in the development of this sequence.
Terrorist 1: Do you think we should have let the hostages go?
Terrorist 2: They’ll give in to us as soon as we prime the bomb. It doesn’t matter one way or the other.
Terrorist 2 is looking extremely sure of himself, for a guy who’s just given up most of his bargaining power, but my main concern is the line “It doesn’t matter one way or the other,” which is a red flag.
We are currently hosting the Lois Lane Spelling Bee approximately 800 feet above the 7th arrondissement, and the characters who are supposed to be responsible for supplying the tension don’t seem to be interested in investing any more in the dramatic situation.
We don’t know who these people are, or what they’re trying to accomplish. What could you possibly get out of hauling a hydrogen bomb up to the top of the Eiffel Tower? There’s only one exit, everybody can see everything that they do, and if they set off the bomb, they would be vaporized. In fact, the authorities have had twelve hours to evacuate the city; at this point, the people who are in the most danger are these three knuckleheads.
And if they do somehow get whatever it is that they want, then they still have to ride the little elevator all the way down to the ground, where they will be instantly captured and imprisoned. I do not see the upside for these guys.
Now, somebody who wanted to speak up in defense of the movie might say that what I’ve just written is “fridge logic”: the logical flaw in the movie’s plot that you don’t realize until you get home and open up the fridge, which is obviously not an important flaw, because it didn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the movie.
When there’s a logical flaw in a good movie, the audience doesn’t notice, because you don’t get any time to think about it — the movie distracts you by showing you interesting things, so that you don’t have time to puzzle over the backstory.
But this sequence gives you plenty of time to wonder what this terrorist threat is all about. One of the guys says that he’s going to prime the bomb, which involves fiddling with something that we can’t see for more than a minute.
So we’ve got time to look at the terrorists through binoculars, and watch the police whispering about their plans. After fifty seconds of essentially nothing happening, one of the terrorists actually says, “This is the boring bit.” Jesus wept.
The really mysterious thing is that the whisper cops are silently placing plastic explosives somewhere in the Tower’s undercarriage, for absolutely no reason that I can imagine on this earth or any other. I defy anybody to explain to me what the hell these people think that they’re doing.
The police somehow convince themselves that the guy who’s currently priming the hydrogen bomb is not actually priming the hydrogen bomb, even though they’re looking directly at him through binoculars and nobody is doing anything else.
So their plan is to cut one of the elevator cables, and plastic-explode I have no idea what, which makes the elevator and the bomb (and Lois) plunge down the shaft of the Tower in free fall, to shatter into pieces on the rocks below, and — at the very least — damage an internationally beloved public landmark, rather than just standing at the bottom with a tunafish sandwich, and waiting for the terrorists to get hungry.
There is actually an explanation for why this sequence exists, and it begins with the end of the previous movie.
The originally scripted plan for the finale of Superman: The Movie was that it would end with a cliffhanger. Lois didn’t die in the car crunch, and Superman didn’t spin the world backwards. Instead, he would save Lois just in time, and then fly off to deliver Luthor to prison. The exciting part of the conclusion was that the nuclear missile that Superman threw into the sky would hit the Phantom Zone prison in space, shattering it and freeing the trio of villains, who head to Earth with anger in their eyes.
But Donner and the producers decided halfway through that they needed a stronger ending for the first movie, so they used the “spin the world backwards” gag, which was supposed to be the ending of Superman II.
So the first movie, as released, ends with the Kryptonian villains still locked up tight in their parallelogram prison, which created a challenge for the new team, when they restarted production on Superman II.
Richard Lester, David Newman, Leslie Newman and the producers needed a new opening sequence that would accomplish the following things:
1) Superman does something exciting and heroic,
2) with an exciting countdown and an interesting visual hook,
3) which involves saving Lois and re-establishing their connection,
4) and sends a nuclear bomb hurtling into space, to free the Phantom Zoners.
So you can see how that line of thinking leads directly to the Eiffel Tower, which is a famous and interesting-looking landmark, and points directly at the sky like an arrow.
The idea of Superman flying a nuclear bomb up through the center of the Tower and hurling it out into space is easy to imagine and understand, with a pleasing visual simplicity.
If it’s the 1980s and you need a spare nuclear bomb, then obviously the scene involves terrorists. (If it was the 50s, it would have been a mad scientist.)
And then you just strap Lois onto whatever that turns out to be.
That’s a clever solution to the problem, and it should have been a really fun sequence, but in my opinion, they botched the execution.
It’s really not just fridge logic. With the exception of Lois, who’s being adorable, every single person that we see for the next five minutes is doing something that doesn’t make sense. We have no connection to the terrorists; the movie refuses to explain who they are, what they want, or why they’re doing any of the obviously pointless and suicidal things that they’re doing. The police are also acting in bizarre and arbitrary ways. The guys looking through binoculars say that the guy isn’t priming the hydrogen bomb, when the audience knows that that’s exactly what he’s doing. Setting the plastic explosives and cutting the elevator cable clearly makes the situation a lot worse in a hurry. And they give us five minutes to think about it, before Superman shows up to hug Lois and it suddenly becomes a good movie again.
But obviously that’s the only way that you could start Superman II — with a big exciting criminal-catching international caper. Right? I mean, unless somebody else could come up with a cool idea…
We consider the alternative in
2.5: The Donner Party
By the way, I just need to acknowledge that there is a framed picture of Bill Cosby in Perry White’s office, which you can see in the first Daily Planet scene, and later on when the villains stomp through the Planet set. This is apparently an homage to Cosby’s classic standup comedy bit about Superman, which appeared on his first album, Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow… Right!, in 1963. So that’s what that’s about.
We consider the alternative in
2.5: The Donner Party
— Danny Horn