“I think it’s been a little bit overanalyzed,” says Ilya Salkind, “because, really, a lot of the decisions were pretty logical and common sense. I want to clarify a little bit, because it’s much simpler than all of the things that have been said. I mean, Richard Donner did a fantastic first film, as we all know, and it was a tremendous success, and what happened after was really, I would say, normal film history. Things happened.”
Okay, great, so that’s all cleared up. It was normal film history! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Continue reading Superman II 2.2: It Wasn’t Ilya’s Fault
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
Okay, let’s get into the money, because that’s the only thing that matters.
Superman: The Movie made 7 million dollars in its opening weekend in December 1978, and it was the #1 box office draw for 11 weeks, all the way into early March ’79. The total domestic box office was $134 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1979.
To give you a sense of scale, there were only seven movies in the 1970s that grossed more than $100 million, and Superman was in the top five: Star Wars ($307m), Jaws ($260m), Grease ($160m), Animal House ($141m) and Superman ($134m), followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind ($116m) and Kramer vs. Kramer ($106m).
So, yeah, it was a big hit, and a big deal. So, the question is: why didn’t they make any other superhero movies for basically a decade?
Continue reading Superman 1.100: One Hundred and Thirty-Four Million Dollars
Okay, we’re almost done with the story of Superman: The Movie, which means that it’s time to call in the lawyers. Last week, we talked about that mad moment in mid-November 1978, when executive producer Alexander Salkind told Warner Bros. that he wouldn’t release the final print of the movie in time for the premiere, unless they gave him another $15 million for foreign distribution rights. And just as they were wrapping up that little scheme, Salkind was arrested in Switzerland by Interpol, for a different but related crime.
Now, I’ve been writing a lot about the Salkinds and their bumbling financial crime syndicate, and people have asked me, “So what ultimately happened to them? Did they get caught? Did they get punished?” There’s no real mystery, so I might as well answer those questions now.
What happened to the Salkinds?
Nothing. They kept on making movies for another fifteen years, which got smaller and less successful until everyone got tired of them. Their last production was the 1992 movie Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which was astonishingly badly-reviewed.
Did they get caught?
Yes, ceaselessly. Their production company folded in 1993, when Alexander’s son, Ilya, filed suit against his father for fraud and racketeering.
Did they get punished?
Nope. People like this never go to prison. They’re just forces of chaos, whirling through the world like Tasmanian Devils. They pick you up and spin you around, and then they go on their way, leaving you exhausted and confused, and with a different amount of money in your pocket. There’s no way to predict how much money you’ll have at the end of it, but it’s a different amount than when you started.
Continue reading Superman 1.97: Man of Steal
The telephone trills.
It’s mid-November 1978 in sunny Los Angeles, and all four of the Warner Brothers, seated at their identical desks, reach for their four matching telephone receivers. “Hello?” they chirp, in unison. “These are the Warner Brothers.”
“Good afternoon, Mizter Brothers,” says the voice, in an imaginary Russo-Swiss-Mexican accent. “Zis is Alexander Salkind.”
Mr. Salkind is the executive producer of Superman: The Movie and the head of a bumbling, crumbling international crime syndicate, and he’s making a transatlantic person-to-persons call to make Warner Bros. an offer that they can’t refuse.
Continue reading Superman 1.94: The Shakedown
Time is running out. There’s a pair of misguided missiles streaking across the country in opposite directions, and nobody knows how to turn them off, except the guy who doesn’t want to.
Superman is currently chasing the first rocket, striving to save Hackensack, and Bergen Country in general, from a desperate fate. But while he’s not looking, the second rocket is headed straight for a fault line. He doesn’t have time to launch the first rocket into the stratosphere, and keep control of the second rocket.
You know, it’s amazing to me that the people who decided to make two superhero movies at the same time never noticed that the climax to their first movie is based on the idea that you shouldn’t try to do two things at once.
Continue reading Superman 1.91: Defining Disaster
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.
Continue reading Superman 1.84: Overtime
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: The Movie was the first feature-length blockbuster superhero film, and at the time, it was hard to imagine what that would actually be like. Would it be a self-consciously silly romp, like the 1966 Batman film based on the campy TV show? What would it look like, once you put a guy in blue tights and a red cape, and strung him up on wires?
The producers, Alex and Ilya Salkind, were constantly announcing that they were spending the most money in history to make the grandest movie in history, but they were hucksters, and nobody knew if they could pull it off.
Co-producer Pierre Spengler’s negotiation with DC Comics for the film rights took two and a half months, because DC was concerned that the project could turn into an embarrassing flop, which would reflect badly on their marquee character. According to a Variety article, when they finished, it was “spelled out in the contracts that the performers signed to play both Superman and Lois Lane must have had no connection whatsoever with pornographic films.”
So that tells you how low DC’s expectations were, for this project. They actually thought it was possible that the Salkinds would hire porn stars to play Superman and Lois.
Continue reading Superman 1.35: The Dentist
As the ground pitched and buckled, Jor-El and Lara moved together across the floor of the great hall of Kryptonopolis. There was nowhere they could go; Jor-El knew that better than anyone. He’d tried to warn them, and had suffered for it.
The dying planet was in its final spasms, rock and crystal crumbling around them. Sliding, crunching sounds, unimaginably loud. They were lost, all of them, irretrievably lost, but Jor-El and his wife ducked and flinched, as everything they’d ever known fell to pieces around them. They continued to move down the hall, looking for — what? shelter? a way out? No hope, no time, but still they kept moving. What else could they do?
The floor gave way. The population of Krypton, a proud and noble people, falling and crying and dying, every one. A great darkness. A final, splintering crunch, and then a burst of light and sound that no one was left to witness.
And then things really started to go badly.
Continue reading Superman 1.30: After Brando