Superman II 2.18: Mother’s Day

Well, it’s not hard to understand why the Salkinds decided to cut Marlon Brando out of the second Superman film; he was currently suing them over money that they owed him for the first one. In fact, during the first movie’s opening weekend, he tried to serve them with a restraining order to get them to stop showing it, which if anyone had taken it seriously would have been one of those Great Moments in Chutzpah that would ring down through the ages.

Now, the principal photography with the expensive people was all done at the beginning of the shoot, so this sequence with Brando and Gene Hackman was already in the can when the new director came on board. So when Richard Lester came to this scene, he had to use the Hackman footage that existed, and replace the enormous hologram of Kal-El’s father with something else that Lex and Eve could plausibly be looking at.

In the Brando version, the first crystal that Lex tries out is a recording of Jor-El reciting “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer of the planet Earth, so that was replaced by the weird bald instructor from yesterday’s post.

Then Lex tries another crystal, and Jor-El describes the three Kryptonian super-criminals who are currently busting out of the Phantom Zone. That’s more urgent intel that needs to be delivered by someone the audience will recognize, so they decided to throw it to Lara, Superman’s mom, who it turns out was the keeper of the Kryptonian Archive or something.

The thing that I respect about Lester’s version of this scene is the psychedelic crystal image projector, which looks to me like a frost giant is holding up his hand for a high-five. The image of Lara is broken up and repeated in multiple simultaneous refractions, which looks incredible for a sixty-second scene, but if you had to stand there and look at it for hours while your mom reads poetry to you, it would probably drive you out of your mind. The best part of this is the offbeat idea of positioning an extra mouth to the northwest of Lara’s actual mouth.

The general effect is something like the 1970s variety show staple of showing the performer from multiple angles at the same time, which I don’t think they do any more because people stopped dropping acid and so it wouldn’t occur to you.

But as I’ve mentioned before, the whole point of superhero movies is to show us things that we’ve never seen before and didn’t expect, and the crystal projector delivers on that promise.

That said, the scene is a straight coconut-powered Gilligan’s Island infodump. Lex tunes into the radio, and what he hears — following a brief introduction by Joyce Kilmer — is exactly the information that he can use to advance his storyline.

It’s a long way to go, both geographically and narratively, just to learn something that the audience already knows, and the odd thing is that it doesn’t actually help Luthor in any way. He brings Eve all the way north to this icebox, gets an earful about the Phantom Zone villains, and then dogsleds his way south again… and disappears for the next forty minutes of the movie.

Lex doesn’t appear again until the Phantom Zoners have taken possession of the Oval Office, by which point literally everyone on Earth knows that there are three Kryptonian supercriminals wreaking havoc in the world. He didn’t need to go to the North Pole at all; if this visit to the Fortress of Solitude was cut from the movie, it wouldn’t make any difference to the story.

We lose Eve at this point, as well; she’s got some delightful material with Lex in the Fortress, but as soon as they head back south, she drops out of the picture and is never mentioned again. She’s just another one of Chekhov’s guns, carefully mounted on the wall and never fired.

So if part of the game of Superman II is to figure out where to assign blame for the things that don’t work — and I suppose that’s the game that I’m playing right now — then this flaw goes all the way back to the beginning, maybe even as far as Mario Puzo’s original script.

The problem is that Lex Luthor doesn’t really belong in this movie. The only plot point that he contributes to is that he tells the Kryptonians that they can find Superman by going to the Daily Planet office, a piece of information that they could have learned by asking basically anybody else in the world. He’s a luxury item in this movie, just hanging around on the outskirts of the story, looking decorative and making smart remarks.

So drive south, Miss Teschmacher, south, and then vanish from the movie, which it turns out is actually about other people. There is no security, in a world where even Marlon Brando can be replaced. He can make 2.7 million dollars, but only God can make a tree.

Tomorrow:
We unlock the mystery of Gate 24 in
2.19: Die Hard


Footnote:

The Brando material is restored in the Donner Cut, although for this scene it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. It’s worth watching, though, because there’s some fun extra Lex & Eve material, especially the last line in the sequence, which I think is one of the funniest moments in the movie.

Tomorrow:
We unlock the mystery of Gate 24 in
2.19: Die Hard

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— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Superman II 2.18: Mother’s Day

  1. The Salkinds were probably already having apoplexy over the fact that they weren’t getting their money’s worth out of Brando. They weren’t going to pay Hackman, Beatty and Perrine and not have their footage used in the second movie just because they were no longer essential to the plot.
    Actually, I thought Hackman was there for necessary comic relief. He made me laugh.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah, beyond the practical reasons of “we paid MONEY and that footage WILL be used,” Lex and Eve (and Beatty in the jailbreak scene) are basically those dishes of candy and pretzels people put out at the holidays. They aren’t the meal, and frankly nobody needs them around from a “necessary food” point of view. But they’re delicious and indulgent and remind you that life is more than lettuce.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The MCU often have “fan favorite” supporting characters who turn up in later movies but they usually do a better job of making them relevant to the story. And in most movies even beyond the superhero genre, the “fan favorite” who returns has demonstrated some character growth. “Oh Danny DeVito/Joe Pesci might’ve been working with the bad guys in the last film but now he’s the comic relief for the good guys in this one.”

        Eve working as Perry White’s secretary — as part of the parole Superman helped arrange — would’ve served that purpose and you could’ve gotten a moment later where it seems she betrayed Superman but actually was helping him all along (thinking of the bit with Luthor).

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I have no recollection of the bald guy who replaced Brando! 🤔
    No wonder I was confused by your last entry!

    Am I conflating the Mad Magazine version with the movie when I recall Lara mentioning Lex Luthor in her weird warning?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And they can and do use her again, for a believable emotional moment, when Supes comes to her asking how he can be with Lois. I can’t see that same scene with Brando playing out in the necessary way, where you really get that she’s begging her son to realize what he’s giving up and he actually does think about it. With Brando I think it would play more defiantly, a “Dad, THIS time you can’t tell me what to do” kind of thing.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. No Brando? No Problem!

    In 1981 the biggest stars in this summer blockbuster were Reeve and Kidder — and the special effects. That’s what got us buying tickets.

    Brando was moot, never missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the movie is about Brando’s absence. Superman longs for a connection with his biological father, realizes he’ll never have one, and so tries to forget about his Kryptonian heritage and throw himself completely into his Earthly identity. It turns out that he can’t make that work either- the only place for him is all by himself, halfway between worlds.

      General Zod and his the others are also driven by their feelings for the inaccessible Jor-El, in their case feelings of rage. Like Superman, when they find that they will never be able to reach Jor-El they turn their attentions to Earth- not by acts of renunciation, but of violence. Superman and Zod’s relationships to the missing Jor-El give the movie an emotional center and a unifying theme.

      I don’t even agree that this scene is filler. Unnecessary as it is to the plot, the emptiness of the Fortress and the second-stringiness of the Brando-substitutes delivers a powerful emotional punch, making us feel Superman’s loneliness. Lex and Miss Teschmacher’s ability to stroll right in (some Fortress!) brings home his vulnerability- if these refugees from Batman 66 can infiltrate Superman’s inner sanctum, what chance will he have when it attracts the notice of the Phantom Zoners? Even Lex and Miss Teschmacher’s appearance in the White House reinforces the message- the toughest adversaries Earth has given Superman so far are just comic relief next to what he’s going to be facing now. So Lex and Miss Teschmacher may not learn anything the audience doesn’t already know, but the audience learns everything it needs to know to be kept in suspense for the rest of the picture.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I agree with Anthony. Lara came across as passionate, caring, concerned.

    I’m sure Lester’s thought would have been something like, “With Brando gone, how do I salvage this Lex and Eve footage?” rather than, “With Brando gone, does this scene even have a point any more?” Or maybe Sues, right, maybe Lester was going to cut it and got overruled.

    The original Brando scene not just looked cool, it was a cool way to show that super-Dad was still involved in his son’s life. Despite being super-aloof and then wiped out with his planet.

    Archivist Mom actually makes a little more sense. Rather than that in the month before Krypton’s doom, Jor-El recorded thirteen years of pep talks and poetry for his kid, between council meetings, building the tot rocket, and telling his wife that Earth people really won’t mind having their gravity defied.

    When I grew up, my parents had a subscription to National Geographic. We had a spare room with cheap metal shelves where we piled the growing collection of back issues. Also, there was the shelf with the encylopedia set. Makes sense that Kal-El’s Super-Folks would send along the family info archive with the kid.

    Just plant the magic green seed crystal, and soon you’ll thrill to around three-oh-oh informative and inspiring messages for your acid-trip player. “Which shard am I supposed to face while I record this?” “Don’t worry, express your vibe, man, the player will ake care of the rest.”

    Love the idea of trippy Super-Pops Brando sitting in with the Doors, man. “Y’know the phantom zone’s alright, bad guys kicked aside. Stop the bomb! Stop the bomb! It’ll break on through to the other side!” (Lara shakes tambourine over her head while doing her Trees interpretive dance.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think someone noted that Lara handling the “Kal-El in love” drama was a nice counterpoint to Jor-El’s training scene in the first movie. I still don’t like grown-ass Superman reporting to his long-dead parents. That has more relevance perhaps with Thor, whose parents are still alive and Asgard is a monarchy.

      Also not crazy about the unfortunate thematic implications of “you can’t be in a relationship with a member of this inferior race unless you ‘convert’ and become one of them,” especially since the big moment is Superman realizing he made a mistake and running back to his family.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Brando was stunt casting. Spectacularly so, he nailed the landing, but nobody wants to see the same exploding car/leap off a twenty story building/fleeing a fireball over and over. Especially when it involves the Salkinds and lawsuits.

    While I regret losing the idea of Lex and Eve doing their act in front of a bemused Brando hologram, we can’t have everything in this fallen world.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Still have trouble figuring out the Fortress archive; there seems to be an interactive element where new information can be generated. And all the other crystals came from that one green crystal that young Clark Kent pitched into the wintry wasteland? Talk about a *.zip file!

    Although given that I carry close to a terrabyte of music on my phone, on a micro-sd card smaller than a fingernail, I guess I shouldn’t be all that confused that the Kryptonian crystals have so much capacity…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve always thought of the green crystal as basically a “blueprint” crystal, containing the information necessary to construct the fortress, as well as form all the other crystals and technology, using the surrounding matter as raw materials. Kind of a “master crystal” that can hold significantly more data than the clear crystals, but also has a different function, which is to convert matter to a different form, while the clear crystals are just simple data storage. I’ve probably thought too much about this, and most likely more than the filmmakers ever did.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Although I agree that this scene doesn’t have much point, I’d hate to lose it just because I love that red ensemble that Miss Techmacher is wearing. Her best outfit from both movies!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “The only plot point that he contributes to is that he tells the Kryptonians that they can find Superman by going to the Daily Planet office”

    Lex is also the one who tells the three where the Fortress of Solitude is. Knowledge, of course, that is dependent on the scenes of Lex and Eve at the North Pole.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The giant head “hologram” over your normal head in studio photographer shots in the 1970s. I thought they were the coolest thing and I was always sorry I only got one because I didn’t realize at the time that your facial expressions should match or at least one shouldn’t be a happy grin and the other a soulful look.

    Like

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