Superman II 2.20: Lois’ Leap

“Listen,” says Lois, “I’m so sure that you’re Superman that I’m willing to bet my life on it.” Her theory is that if Superman knew that she jumped into a rushing river, he wouldn’t stand by and let her drown.

So she leaps into the water, and Superman stands by and lets her drown.

I mean, that’s the only way that I can interpret this sequence, as a vote of no confidence for Mr. Kent.

A couple scenes ago, the penny finally dropped for Lois, and she realized that Clark is never around when Superman shows up. “I gotta admit, you know,” she tells her partner, “your disguise is nearly perfect. You had me fooled. And I am nobody’s fool, believe me.” It’s a great moment for her, demonstrating the intelligence and quick wit that both Clark and the audience admire.

So she takes a leap of faith…

And then she dies, obviously. She’s in that river for a minute and twenty seconds, and by my count, she is completely and helplessly submerged in a dangerous current at least four times.

Meanwhile, here’s Kal-El, secret king of the sky, who just saved a random little boy from the same dangerous situation, and he’s just standing by a railing and encouraging the woman that he loves to swim.

Finally, after hearing her spluttering cries for help for an agonizing forty seconds, he breaks out the heat vision to knock a branch off of a tree…

… which lands in an entirely different part of the river.

Finally, thanks to editing, she manages to get somewhere near the branch, and continues drowning.

She does get hold of the branch eventually, as the action ace observes from his vantage point somewhere else, and then he falls in the water and she basically saves him, and that’s the end of the sequence.

This river adventure is the theatrical cut’s version of the opening sequence that Richard Donner filmed. In Donner’s scene, Lois jumped out of a high window in the Daily Planet building secure in the knowledge that Superman would save her, which he actually materially does.

So this is an example of why the full Richard Donner version of the film would probably have been a lot better than what we got.

In the Daily Planet version of the scene, Clark pulls a similar trick as he did with the river, secretly rescuing Lois without having to don the supersuit. He uses his super-speed to get down to the sidewalk, his heat vision to unroll an awning underneath her, and his super-breath to guide her descent, as she bounces off the awning and into the welcoming arms of the fruit and vegetable stand on the sidewalk.

It’s the same plot point, but Clark’s rescue plan is much more active, and doesn’t involve leaving Lois in danger for a probably fatal amount of time.

So I think this scene is a downer, rather than the clever thrill ride that it should be. I never liked it, and now that I’ve seen Richard Donner’s treatment, I like this one even less. It’s a good placement for the scene, because it ties quite naturally into the Niagara Falls setting, and it leads straight into the final revelation scene in the hotel room.

But I need Clark to take better care of Lois, to make this work. Her calculation was that saving her life was more important to Superman than protecting his secret, and she was wrong. He would rather dither around on the bridge making Clark noises. I don’t know how he’s going to explain this to the Justice League, at their next meeting.

Monday:
The Phantom Zoners make landfall in
2.21: First Contact


Footnotes:

The river at Niagara Falls is obviously too dangerous to film actors in, so they built their own dangerous river at Pinewood Studios. Margot Kidder is next to the actual river when she jumps, but she’s just jumping down onto a crash mat below.

The fall into the river is a stunt double, filmed from above, jumping into the artificial river at Pinewood.

Monday:
The Phantom Zoners make landfall in
2.21: First Contact

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

11 thoughts on “Superman II 2.20: Lois’ Leap

  1. “Her calculation was that saving her life was more important to Superman than protecting his secret, and she was wrong.”

    I used to think that Snyder’s Pa Kent was the aberration, telling Clark to protect his identity even if it meant letting people die. But maybe Lester’s Pa Kent taught the same thing to him. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that Donner’s Pa Kent would have said though.

    I guess if Lois had actually died in the river, Superman could have gone back in time again to save her. With that sort of ace in the hole, maybe he’s not particularly worried about her safety now. He knows he can get a do-over.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I don’t have a problem with crisis time stretched out in a movie, as we watch the scene from several angles.
    Super-breath could get the tree branch from another part of the river to Lois.
    Agree that setting is better here, but the actual save is worse.
    Also, all Lois gets to revive her is a soggy hot dog, instead of a nice healthy fruit salad.
    Impressive behind the scenes view at Pinewood! Looks better than the Six Flags rapids ride.

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  3. Not every scene can be a climax. Unless you alternate upbeats and downbeats, you aren’t telling a story. And if Lois is going to try to prove that Clark is Superman before the movie is ready for him to drop the disguise, that scene has to end on a downbeat. If the scene is a “clever thrill ride,” no plot point will suffice to explain to the audience why she does anything but keep trying the same thing. If she does that, she quickly becomes an irritant to the audience and a dead end or Clark/ Supey. So the scene Donner shot would have sabotaged the whole movie.

    As for the danger Supey leaves Lois in, we’ve already seen enough of his powers to be confident that he can see the river in all its detail and that he can get to her before she can be seriously harmed. When we see her at the end of the scene, shaken, uncomfortable, and literally all wet, we don’t have to worry that she’s going to miss the rest of the movie because of a compulsion to expose Superman’s secret identity.

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    1. This is a great point: he not only has to “not” save her, he has to do it in a way that convinces a insanely determined woman who just jumped into a certain death trap that she was wrong, well enough that she will not keep trying this crap.

      To do so means having not only to humiliate himself, but to make Lois, who has more lives than a palace full of cats, afraid enough to doubt herself–no easy task. We know that because this is a Superman movie, he’ll think of something, and because this is Lois, she’ll be temporarily dampened (hey yo!) but by no means permanently out of the game.

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  4. Yes, Donner’s scenes are stronger but Lester’s film is better constructed and paced. I understand, watching Donner’s version, why fans dwell on what might have been, even to the point of re-editing it themselves. Both versions are ok but also flawed. Donner has to rely on Lester scenes and Lester has to rely on Donner scenes so it’s surprising in a way that it works as well as it does.
    I was thinking about yesterday’s post of Lois’s picture on the game box and absence from the game and I thought that was pretty much emblematic of Lois in this movie. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want her to be smart and feisty but they keep putting her in damsel in distress situations. They tease her and Superman together but, just like the comic book creators, they won’t allow Lois and Superman to have a grown-up complicated relationship. In both Lester’s and Donner’s versions, Lois ends up reset instead of being treated as an adult woman being allowed to work through her grief. Instead, Superman “makes it all better” because he can’t deal with seeing her in pain. So who really benefits from that?
    No matter how many versions there are, no matter how many edits you make, that ending remains. No wonder people aren’t satisfied.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The movie and television industry took forever to come up with something besides the damsel in distress trope. Usually, if a woman was in physical peril she had to have a man rescue her. I remember how astounding it was to watch Ripley hold her own and defeat the xenomorph in Alien, not only rescuing herself but saving the cat too … yet all the public buzz I caught around Ripley was mostly about her underwear.

      So seeing Lois get rescued in Superman II wasn’t noteworthy. To my way of thinking that was what she was there for. (I wasn’t taking the Superman movies seriously anyway.)

      Of course, now things are better. We can watch men and women physically batter each other and it’s okay because men and women are now equal in action scenes. (sarcasm intended) Both situations seem intrusively unreal and lazy storytelling, but I suppose that’s what I get for watching the fiction genres I like.

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    2. It’s not really “damsel in distress” when the damsel does it to herself 😉 More like a game of chicken with Superman that she loses and ends up with egg on her face. That makes it a battle of minds, which is much more interesting than a simple rescue scenario.

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  5. I really have no problem with this sequence because I’m willing to accept Lois falling hundreds of feet into wild water and being submerged multiple times the same way I will the idea that a falling body will not splat like a watermelon less than ten seconds later but just kind of float there until they can get rescued.

    That is to say, I’m okay with Movie Reality here. While the Donner cut has Superman acting much more cleverly, and it’s a well constructed scene, for sure. But Lester has him doing Clark Kent panicking, which is what he has to do to really convince Lois she’s mistaken. As long as she can see it’s Clark, she isn’t realizing that it’s Superman who isn’t around this time.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “Lester has him doing Clark Kent panicking, which is what he has to do to really convince Lois she’s mistaken. As long as she can see it’s Clark, she isn’t realizing that it’s Superman who isn’t around this time.”

    Great point! I’ve long wondered why the various contrivances Superman uses in the comic books to hide his secret identity tend to snowball into giant time-wasters- what Danny calls “Midichlorians all the way down”- whereas a scene like this can move you crisply along into a livelier story area. You’ve put your finger on it. It’s a matter of a performance that establishes a character. Thrashing about in the rapids and seeing a helpless, panicky man in glasses, Lois defines Clark Kent as a Non-Rescuer. Characterization is a more powerful force than all the Superman robots in the world, so this approach solves the problem at a stroke.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Both versions are ok but also flawed.”
    The run of great comments here helps me realize that in some ways, Donnor’s film is – or would have been – like a collection of individually great, sparkling gems. While Lester’s is more like the completed necklace that looks like a whole. Even though individual beads might not sparkle as much.

    We’re tearing apart the individual chunks of Kryptonite, for all their flaws and inclusions.
    But I seem to remember that in the theater, the movie gently glided the audience through the air, from one plot point right along to the next. As dumb as some of those points were! But also as cool as some of them were!

    Iron Man seems to be a movie that got both the moments and the big structure just right. Danny’s movie list has a whole lot of movies I never saw, between here and there. I wonder if there are some other all-around great films in that list. Or all they all as full of great moments, and also of facepalm mistakes and oversights, as this one?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. People don’t die from floating in a river for a minute and a half, even one with a raging current. That’s almost as unrealistic as thinking that people die from being in free fall 😉 But perhaps I’m taking humorous hyperbole too literally. Regardless, the realistic version of this scene has Lois’ legs getting banged up and badly scraped by the rocks she’s no doubt smashing into, and she spends the rest of the movie with the lower half of her body completely bandaged up, which would be rather distracting and would totally spoil that sexy nightgown scene later on.

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