Tag Archives: art vs commerce

Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

Well, obviously nobody expected The Empire Strikes Back to make as much money as Star Wars. Nothing had ever made as much money as Star Wars except for Star Wars, and everyone in 1980 knew that sequels always made less money than the original film.

In 1972, The Godfather was the highest-grossing movie of all time with a $134 million domestic gross — but Part II, released in 1974, only made $47 million.

Then in 1975, Jaws became the highest-grossing movie of all time, taking in $260 million at the box office — and followed it in 1978 with Jaws 2, which made $78 million.

The Exorcist II made half of the first film’s gross; ditto for Smokey and the Bandit II, and even more so for Damien: The Omen II. The Airport sequels dropped $20 million with every release. Herbie Goes Bananas was the fourth film in the Love Bug series, and I think they actually ended up owing the audience money.

The Superman films followed the same pattern: the first movie in 1978 made $134 million, Superman II in 1981 made $108 million, and in 1983, Superman III made an embarrassing $60 million, which didn’t even crack the top 10.

But that same year, the Star Wars series did something surprising: the third film actually made more money than the second one did. Star Wars got $307 million in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back made $203 million in 1980, and then in 1983, Return of the Jedi made $253 million. So obviously George Lucas did something right with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, because his series made more money as it went along.

Still, money isn’t everything. Oh, wait, of course it fucking is.

Continue reading Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

Superman II 2.1: Things That Richard Donner Probably Shouldn’t Have Said

So here’s how to torpedo your own film in six words, courtesy of Army Archerd’s Hollywood gossip colum in Variety:

Producer Pierre Spengler allows that he and Superman director Dick Donner differed during filming, but he says all’s now well, and Spengler expects to return to complete Superman II. Donner, however, declares, “If he’s on it — I’m not.

It’s late December 1978, and Superman: The Movie has just opened in theaters to, if you’ll pardon the expression, boffo box office. Everybody who worked on the film is feeling that Christmas spirit — except for Richard Donner, who fucking hates Pierre Spengler, and is not shy about letting people know his truth.

Continue reading Superman II 2.1: Things That Richard Donner Probably Shouldn’t Have Said

Superman 1.92: The Curse of Jerry Siegel

A CURSE ON THE SUPERMAN MOVIE!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Re: THE VICTIMIZATION OF SUPERMAN’S ORIGINATORS, JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER

I, Jerry Siegel, the co-originator of Superman, put a curse on the Superman movie! I hope it super-bombs. I hope loyal Superman fans stay away from it in droves. I hope the whole world, becoming aware of the stench that surrounds Superman, will avoid the movie like a plague.

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Superman 1.84: Overtime

So they actually did try shooting the eagle sequence, where Superman is messing around in the sky when he meets one of those friendly midflight eagles that you don’t run into very often, and they loop and dive around each other in close formation, illustrating the beauty and poetry of flight or whatever.

I figured they would have cut that sequence very early on as obviously impractical, considering how difficult it was just to get the guy credibly off the ground in the first place, but the Making of book informs me:

“The flying unit was now working with some natural-born experts: a golden eagle, two Lanner falcons, and a Saker falcon, which were being used to film a majestic sequence of Superman soaring through the sky with an eagle. The Saker falcon was the one finally used and the scene went well; conditioned to fly toward the lights and then return to its trainer’s arm, the bird performed beautifully.”

The amazing thing about that postcard from Pinewood is that they were still having open-casting aviary auditions in February 1978, when it was way too late for them to be dicking around like that.

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Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

I believe that I left you yesterday teetering on a knife’s edge, wondering how Action Comics ever got away with spending four months in 1978 justifying the production of a frankly disappointing die-cast toy. As you’ll recall, Corgi, one of the finest names in the British die-cast novelties market, wanted to make a Superman-themed companion piece to its successful line of Batman toys. The caped crusader had an easily merchandisable Batmobile, Batboat and Batcopter, so Superman was going to get a Supermobile, whether he needed it or not, which he didn’t.

Showing a ready willingness to bend to the needs of die-cast commerce, Action Comics produced a four-issue toy commercial, starting with issue #480 in February 1978. That first installment set up the premise of the storyline: A wave of red-sun radiation that has washed over the Earth, causing several problems.

First, it’s reactivated the deactivated Amazo, an enormous terrifying android who has all the powers of the Justice League and never lets you forget it. Now Amazo is hunting down his mad scientist creator, Professor Ivo, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Second problem: The red-sun radiation has dimmed Superman’s powers, leaving him vulnerable and helpless. Problem number three is that Amazo has tricked all of the other superheroes into gathering on the Justice League satellite, which he’s propelled into another dimensional plane.

As of the middle of the second issue, Amazo has tracked the weakening Superman to his Fortress of Solitude, where the action ace has concealed Professor Ivo, and the only way that Superman can fight the android is to jump into his souped-up Supermobile hot rod, and show the boys and girls at home all of its exciting action features.

Continue reading Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

Superman 1.58: The Alternative

Superman is up in the air at last, and now — at the late date of 70 minutes into a 140-minute experience — we might say that Superman: The Movie has finally begun. He’s rocketed skyward, a danger to sneak thieves and drug smugglers, and a friend in need to cats and kings.

As we discussed yesterday, the film’s special effects crew finally figured out how to produce credible shots of the action ace soaring through the sky, which is great, but it involved a great deal of wear and tear on the harnesses, the front projection equipment and the lead actor. It’s too bad that the Superman crew didn’t realize that there was an alternative, which was proposed in Action Comics in spring 1978, on behalf of a British toy company.

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Superman 1.36: When the Shooting Starts

Something odd!

wrote the LA Times, in July 1977.

Director Donner doesn’t know the exact budget of the film.

“Whatever it is, I’m not privy to it,” he said, sprawled in a chair. “That’s the way these producers work, apparently. It doesn’t make my life any easier, I can tell you. I’ve no way of knowing whether I’m going over budget or not.”

An unusual way to make a movie?

“I would say so. Yes.”

Continue reading Superman 1.36: When the Shooting Starts

Superman 1.24: A Balanced Breakfast

Martha wakes up, and remembers.

In that first moment just after dawn, her head still clearing from sleep, there’s a fraction of a second when nothing has changed.

She opens her eyes and Jonathan isn’t there, because he couldn’t sleep — worried about the taxes again — and he ended up dozing in the armchair in the living room, a magazine in his lap.

She opens her eyes and Jonathan isn’t there, because his leg is bothering him again, and he went downstairs to do those funny exercises the doctor told him to try.

She opens her eyes and Jonathan isn’t there, because

Because he isn’t there.

And Martha remembers.

There’s work to do. It’s a farm, there’s always work to do, and now there’s even more. She’ll get up, and get dressed, and she’ll make breakfast for Clark — a complete breakfast, the best way to start the day, with two eggs, a slice of buttered toast, a glass of orange juice and the delicious whole-grain oats crunch of General Mills’ Cheerios.

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Superman 1.5: The Discovery of Fire

Hang in there, folks; the credits are almost over. I’ve been using this journey through the opening titles to set up all the backstory before the film actually starts, and we’re almost there. But there’s one more piece of the story to tell, and it begins with a warning.

“Richard Lester had been suing the Salkinds for his money on Three and Four Musketeers, which he had never gotten,” said director Richard Donner. This is from a 1979 interview with the magazine Cinefantastique. “He told me he’s won a lot of his lawsuits, but each time he sued them in one country, they’d move to another — from Costa Rica to Panama to Switzerland. So when I took the picture, Richard Lester took me aside and said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t work for them. I was told not to, but I did it. Now I’m telling you not to, but you’ll probably do it and end up telling the next guy.'”

But Donner didn’t listen; he agreed, and managed to direct about 75% of Superman and Superman II before they fired him. As it turned out, he didn’t have to warn the next guy, because the next guy was actually Richard Lester, signing on for another tour of duty with the Salkinds. On the whole, you should probably listen to harbingers; that’s what they’re there for.

Continue reading Superman 1.5: The Discovery of Fire