Man, it feels like old times, right? Like, back when I was writing about the first Superman movie, I had an endless fund of boring production details to talk about, and it took me forever to get through a single scene. That drive for documentation pretty much dried up by the time they made the sequel, so I’ve been able to move along through this movie without getting too tied up on anything in particular.
But there’s a lot going on with the big New York dance number, which is giving me more than a week of material to dig into. So today, I’m going to tell you a few things that I think are interesting about this scene.
Just to kick things off on a high note, I’m going to point out that the set is really cool. I didn’t think much of it in the crossing the street scene early in the movie, but that’s because they had the lights on, and this set is designed to be seen at night.
It’s at least a couple of blocks long, and then extended with a big matte painting at the end to make it look longer. They built it on the Pinewood Studios backlot, and it took four months to build.
I think one of the big achievements with this set is that it doesn’t feel new. They had to build all of this by hand, including streetlights and window dressing and merchandise in all the stores, but everything is dirty and faded and cracked, like it’s been here for a long time.
I know that’s basic filmmaking when you’re building a city street set, but twenty minutes from now, I’m going to have to stop paying attention to Superman II, and my next stop is Swamp Thing, where even the stuff that was filmed on location looks fake. Oh, how I will miss competence.
And then the other cool thing is that they made it again, in miniature, so they could throw cars around.
Considering how much time and energy it took to make the miniature set, they don’t actually use it that much. The first shot that I can spot which uses it is when Non gets punched out of the sewer, and then crashes through a building.
The exploding Coca-Cola sign is also a miniature.
The Making of TV special also said that there was one shot in the bus-throwing sequence that used the miniatures, but looking at the scene, I’m not actually sure which one it is. I think it’s probably this shot, when the bus lands, and starts moving along the street, but it’s very fast and I’m not sure.
And then there are several shots during the windstorm where the cars are flying around, and these are all miniatures shots. In this shot with the taxicab crashing, there are two cars that smash into the Laugier Trust windows, and the glass smashes are very convincing and clever.
Unfortunately, they do linger a little too long on the shots that have tiny people on the sidewalks, drifting gently backwards, and that doesn’t look very good.
The car explosions were real, though, rigged up to explode safely. A lot of the extras in the scene are stunt people, and you’ll notice that the streets are a bit less crowded in the shots where the cars actually explode.
Now, since all those miniatures are done so well, I’m surprised to see this shot using such obvious fake traffic. This is Superman first facing off against Zod, and there’s a little track of perfect little cars, all moving at the same speed, and it looks like another visit to Tinytown.
Speaking of cars, according to the Internet Movie Cars Database, the scene includes more than 30 real cars, including a 1969 Ford Mustang, a 1974 Chevrolet Camaro and a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda. In other news, there’s such a thing as the Internet Movie Cars Database.
One effect of questionable effectiveness is the General Zod dummy, which Superman picks up and spins around for a full ten seconds before launching it into the sky. This actually works pretty well, if you’re not looking at it very hard, although the moment where Superman releases the dummy is wobbly. This could have used some more coverage from a different angle, to disguise the floppiness of this takeoff moment.
There’s one more cool stunt that I want to draw your attention to: Non crashing backwards through the office.
This set was actually built sideways, so that the stunt person playing Non could fall through the window and into the crash pad on the other side of the set. This was similar to the cat burglar scene in the first movie, where we saw Superman standing at a right angle on an office window. All of the props are attached to the “floor”, and the office workers are all stunt people anchored in place.
All right, I’m going to tell you about one more silly thing, and then we’re good for the day. This is a little joke that maybe everyone else in the world has noticed already, but I saw it maybe a dozen times before I realized it was there.
Zod and Ursa are standing in front of a billboard for air conditioning when they discuss Superman’s concern for Earth people. That’s where Zod’s standing when he uses his heat vision to blow up the oil truck, and when Superman reflects the heat vision back at him…
the heat burns away everything but the spot where Zod was standing, which says: “Cool it!” So that’s cute. Okay, that’s a wrap; we can move on.
2.46: The Blowdown
— Danny Horn