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Superman II

Superman II(1981)

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* Although there were cases of manufacturers paying for their products to be used in filmsmuch earlier (notably in Love Happy in 1950 where companies such as Bulovawatches and Baby Ruth paid for placement), it wasn't common until the late '70s/early'80s. An example from this era is Superman II - Marlboro cigarettes received 20 mentions throughout the film in exchange for direct payment to the film's producers.There was even a Marlboro truck - with logo - used as a prop, even though cigarettecompanies don't use their logos on their trucks to prevent highjacking. (This film createdan outcry from anti-smoking advocates.)

In various ways, Superman II (1980) stands as a bit of an anomaly amongst Hollywood sequels. The powers at Warner considered a state-of-the-art screen adaptation of comics' Man of Steel to be such a can't-miss proposition that a substantial portion of Superman II was in the can before Superman: The Movie (1978) opened to its anticipated box-office and critical success. Superman II is further distinguished by the degree of success it demonstrated in expanding upon its predecessor, both in its exploration of the nature of its hero's famous dual identity and the provision of a threat worthy of his stature.

The sequel's scenario finds Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) doffing his civvies for a quick flight to Paris, where Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), is attempting to get up close and personal with nuke-wielding terrorists that have commandeered the Eiffel Tower. Superman disposes of the threat by thrusting the landmark's bomb-laden elevator car into space. There, the weapon detonates but the explosion creates a rift in the prison dimension known to geeks everywhere as the Phantom Zone, freeing the three Kryptonian criminals consigned therein by Superman's father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) in Superman: The Movie. Now imbued with the same powers as our hero, the imperious insurrectionist General Zod (Terence Stamp), the seductive but sadistic Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the mute brute Non (Jack O'Halloran) start making their way toward an unsuspecting Earth.

The tales of the strains that grew on the set of Superman: The Movie between director Richard Donner and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind have passed into Hollywood legend, and the friction peaked with Donner's release in mid-production of Superman II. Recruited to complete the project was Richard Lester. A good portion of the material Donner had filmed was shelved, and Lester's contribution to the finished cut of the film reflects approximately 80%. The difference in approach is palpable, as Lester strayed from Donner's reverence for the subject matter and infused a good deal of his brand of visual humor. His touch served the sequel's story well, however, effectively mining the wit inherent in the protagonist's identity crisis, and staging a monumental clash of the titans when Superman confronted the invading threat.

Co-star Jack O'Halloran who plays Non, one of the Kryptonian villains in the film, discussed the making of Superman II in a 2001 interview (on the web site www.supermanhomepage.com): "We had a lot of fun except the Salkinds were a**holes and caused all the commotion that there was on the film...The movie "Superman II" WOULD HAVE BEEN A 1000 TIMES BETTER HAD THEY LET DONNER FINISH WHAT HE STARTED..Anyone ever tell you the story about when they shot the Eiffel Tower scenes in Paris? They took the Superman 50 million dollar project into Paris as a cheap western production because it was cheaper to shoot in the pouring rain rather than wait for a dry day...just to save money." More damaging to O'Halloran personally was the the staging of the aerial fight scene over Metropolis. "The problem was in the harness we wore," the actor said, "We brought the fellow from American who made the harnesses for the "King Kong" production and they worked a treat. It was either those or we all walked. We worked very hard doing the flying scenes and in fact I was doing A FLY SCENE WHEN I BROKE MY BACK and they never accepted the blame." Luckily O'Halloran recovered from the injury and went on to make such films as Dragnet (1987) and The Flintstones (1994).

As for Christopher Reeve, the present generation knows the actor primarily from the tireless advocacy for spinal cord research that he engaged in over the final nine years of his life after being rendered quadriplegic by a 1995 equestrian accident. His on-screen legacy will always be defined by Superman, the role that made him a star and brought him the most universal acclaim. Reeve's performance worked because he had a true grasp on not just the noble and confident Man of Steel, but on Clark Kent, the klutzy yokel pose he effected to walk amongst us mere mortals. "Superman, since the 1930s, has been a very important figure in our culture," Reeve recounted in a 2001 AOL interview. "In the 1940s, soldiers in the trenches read Superman comics as a morale booster. And in the 1950s and 1960s, he was a larger-than-life hero in a difficult time. And then in the 1970s and early 1980s was more of a romantic figure and someone you could count on, a friend. And so I feel that the character is more important than the actor who plays him. But I feel it was my privilege to be the custodian of the character in the late 1970s and early 1980s."

Producer: Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler
Director: Richard Lester, Richard Donner
Screenplay: Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz
Cinematography: Robert Paynter, Geoffrey Unsworth
Film Editing: John Victor-Smith
Art Direction: Terry Ackland-Snow, Ernest Archer, Charles Bishop, Norman Reynolds
Music: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane).
C-127m. Letterboxed.

by Jay S. Steinberg

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