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.
We unlock the mystery of Gate 24 in
2.19: Die Hard
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.
We unlock the mystery of Gate 24 in
2.19: Die Hard
— Danny Horn