Category Archives: Memoir
Look, I already wrote this essay, but this one is going to be a little different. When I originally wrote about Freddy vs. Jason, it was from the viewpoint of a Freddy Krueger fan who’d hardly seen any of the Friday the 13th movies. At this point, I’ve seen them all and feel a little more comfortable going into my thoughts on this movie in regards to Jason. If you haven’t already read my original (and I’ll say, for now, definitive) take on Freddy vs. Jason, click on the link and read it. It all still applies.
I like this version of Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) probably more than any other. I know that Friday the 13th fans (those poor souls who will admit to it) were outraged that Kane Hodder was not cast as Jason in this movie, even after it had looked like he would be. I know there are still people upset by this. Get over it. Ken Kirzinger’s Jason actually performs in this movie. One gets a sense of vulnerability even though Jason is still the cold-blooded, mindless killer who has been through ten (should I even count Jason X?) movies. And his size is quite imposing.
The movie has a silly basis and is fun. There are a few creepy parts (belonging to Freddy) but it’s really not scary. It’s gory, silly fun. Anyone going into a movie called Freddy vs. Jason wouldn’t want it any other way. In this movie, Jason is his normal force to be reckoned with. He stabs, crushes, beheads, impales, and slashes his way through the victims in this movie in the way he always had. If anything, this movie’s silliness allows it to be the goriest of all the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
There’s an attempt by the screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, and director Ronny Yu, to give both characters a little more background, and make them more human. In this case, it’s mostly Jason who gets the real winning treatment. Because Freddy is portrayed as a manipulative monster who is more than willing to torture any- and everyone, it falls on cold-blooded, murdering, mindless Jason to be the more “sympathetic” one. In some ways, it actually works.
Katharine Isabelle. All right, I mentioned her in the first Freddy vs. Jason essay I wrote for A Nightmare in Gautham. I think she’s beautiful.
The silliness is a cliché and wouldn’t it have been interesting if the filmmakers actually tried to make a genuinely scary movie? With the brute freight-train of Jason, and the psychological menace that is Freddy, the filmmakers could’ve really gone for the jugular with a movie in which no one is safe anywhere and in the end, the monsters fight for more than just survival (or the audience’s amusement). Just a thought.
Jason’s wardrobe doesn’t match anything he’s worn before. That said, I like this outfit better than all the rest. Freddy’s wardrobe has also changed in its details, and that bothers me.
Jason is afraid of water. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to do something that would mess him up, to give Freddy an advantage over him, but a fear of water? This same character who has, time and again, walked willingly into Crystal Lake? Who boarded a ship going to New York City? Really? But…yeah…he’s afraid of water in this.
Saturday the 14th
As I said in the other essay, Freddy vs. Jason is really Freddy’s movie. Jason has about as much screen time (and way more kills) but it’s really Jason in Freddy’s world. The last act of the movie takes place at Crystal Lake, but by then, Jason has terrorized Springwood and all the locales Nightmare on Elm Street fans know. While Jason is placed in a fairly sympathetic light, Freddy owns the movie. Maybe it’s because this was done by New Line Cinema but I think it boils down to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies show far more imagination than the Friday the 13th movies. In 10 movies, nearly every story involves Jason coming back and butchering people in various ways and in various locales. In seven movies, Freddy Krueger doesn’t kill as many people, but the deaths are far more memorable, as are the victims. By using the dreams and secrets of the teenagers Freddy haunts, he gives them a life that their waking interactions don’t in the weakest of the movies. With Jason, it’s just killing. This movie highlights those differences.
A sequel was proposed as New Line Cinema was looking into acquiring the Evil Dead franchise. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash would’ve had the stars of this movie square off against Ash, presumably played by Bruce Campbell. The deal with the Evil Dead people fell through and New Line decided that remakes would be the best thing to utilize these characters.
I’m not opposed to remakes in general, especially if really good filmmakers are behind it….
In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to kill Freddy Krueger with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Around this time, they acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th and wanted to bring the two monsters together. However, when they asked Wes Craven if he wanted to be involved, he said no, but said he had an idea for a possible seventh installment. New Line jumped at the chance to have Craven back to helm a Nightmare film. Friday the 13th co-creator Sean S. Cunningham thought it would be a good idea to do with Jason what had been done with Freddy and officially kill him off, while also hinting at the long-desired team-up movie. New Line agreed and 1993 saw the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. You know this because I wrote about it in the last essay.
Jason Goes to Hell did all right at the box office but not as well as they’d hoped. New Line was eager to see what Wes Craven’s return to the dreamscape would do to revitalize interest in Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released in October 1994, it failed to live up to expectations. Interest in making the long-awaited team-up were put on the back-burner. At least until a different Wes Craven film, Scream, was a huge hit. Suddenly, New Line wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie and even promised one for 1998. There was a major problem with that promise: They didn’t have a script.
Time passed and script after script was written, director after director was attached, and it kept falling apart. It seems that every year between 1994 and 2003, Robert Englund would tell an interviewer that they had a new script and there should be a movie within the following year. And each year would pass and nothing would happen.
Sean S. Cunningham didn’t like this. He was afraid that people would forget about Jason Voorhees. So he went to New Line head Michael De Luca and asked about a tenth Jason movie. Writer Todd Farmer pitched the idea that Jason goes to space and De Luca, he who co-penned the cinematic masterpiece Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, greenlit it.
Jason. In. Space.
Though the film was supposed to be released in 2000 or 2001, it was eventually released in April 2002. I didn’t see it then. Seeing now for this essay was one too many times.
David Cronenberg appears in cameo role. Until Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) kills him. It’s always a surprise to see a director that is considered very good make a cameo in a less-than-stellar movie, and here it’s downright shocking. To think that the man who directed one of the best horror films of the 1980s, The Fly, would appear in this horror (I use the term loosely) movie is shocking. But it’s fun for the What the FUCK?! factor.
The escape ship explosion was another nice touch. The set-up is typical horror movie stuff. A girl who is freaking out locks her friends out of their safehaven, in this case, the spaceship that will allow them to escape. Despite them banging on the door (or whathaveyou), she decides to leave the main spaceship without them. Typically, this is where Jason would suddenly appear to kill her. In this case, her own stupidity does her in and it actually surprised me. So did the spaceship’s crash into another safehaven, a space station, earlier in the movie.
The special effects are surprisingly good. I’ll give them credit. For a movie with a fairly small budget, the effects mostly came off.
Jason looks funny in this movie. His head isn’t malformed enough and he had a strange buzz-cut thing going on. His hockey mask is different. His clothes are different. And that’s before the Uber-Jason at the end. Uber-Jason is one of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. The costume looks like something from a bad SyFy Channel movie. I understand that Jason has looked different in each movie, and there’s certainly a Who Gives a Shit? attitude about that, but this Jason just didn’t do it for me. I think there was too much of Kane Hodder present.
The acting is some of the worst in the series. But I can only blame them so much, because–
The story is ridiculous and full of clichés. I’ve read or heard somewhere that the movie was better before the studio watered down the script. Who knows? The very idea of putting Jason in space is stupid. At best it can only be a low-rent version of Alien. Add to that the most obvious one-liners and scripted dialogue, and we’re talking a disaster of a movie.
The Saturday After
Look, these have been some of the most negative essays I’ve written, and I know fans of the series are used to that sort of thing from non-fans. I almost feel bad about these essays, but I have to call it like I see it. Whether they made money or not, these movies just keep getting worse. The box office for Jason X was also lackluster.
But that was okay, because in 2002, news broke that horror nerds had been hearing for a looonnng time. And this time, it looked like it might actually happen….
With the lackluster performance of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989, and with the urging of series co-creator Sean S. Cunningham, Paramount Pictures sold the franchise to New Line Cinema, whom they’d attempted to “rent” the Freddy Krueger character and situations from a few years prior. This would prove a major coup for New Line because now they could finally set up the Battle of the Ages: Freddy Krueger versus Jason Voorhees. The sale in the early 1990s came at just the right time because 1989 wasn’t a good year for Freddy, either. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, released a year after the highest-grossing Nightmare, earned the lowest amount for the franchise at that time. Hoping to cash in one last time, New Line released the final Nightmare movie, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, in 1991, and it made a good amount of money. The purchase of the Jason Voorhees character and Friday the 13th meant they now had the two most popular monsters of the 1980s and could finally put them together.
Robert Shaye knew Sean S. Cunningham would be on board since he’d been trying to get the Jason/Freddy project off the ground for years, but decided to ask Wes Craven if he had any ideas. As it turned out, Craven did have ideas…only not for a monster mash-up. Excited by any Craven involvement in a new Nightmare film, New Line Cinema went ahead with his idea for a seventh movie. This gave Cunningham and the studio the chance to do what the eighth Friday the 13th movie couldn’t do: Put an “end” to Jason and set up the eventual Freddy/Jason movie.
With a screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguley, from a story by Huguley and director Adam Marcus, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was released on August 13th, 1993. I remember watching it when it came on Cinemax about a year later, when I was either a junior or senior in high school. I was interested in watching it in and of itself but the real reason I wanted to see it was because, by that point, Fangoria had reported the surprise ending….
The acting is slightly better in this movie than in the previous Friday movies. The script gives the actors a little more to work with. That said, the stand-out performance for me was Erin Gray’s. Now, it could just be the nerdboy in me talking, except that I never saw her in Buck Rogers (because I never saw the show, not because I couldn’t see her, that’s weird of you to think), I only knew her from Silver Spoons. But she brings real pathos to her role. John D. LeMay as Steve Freeman is also pretty good. He also starred in Friday the 13th: The Television Series, only he played a different character.
I know I write this often in these essays, but I feel like I’m often grasping at straws, so my apologies for repeating myself, but the fact that the screenwriters tried to move into a totally different direction with Jason (Kane Hodder) and the series needs to be applauded. They truly leave the idea of Jason terrorizing teenagers/young adults behind and take the movie into a new direction. Jason is now a known enemy to the United States and a task force has been employed to destroy him. Playing with horror as a genre, they reference the Evil Dead films and give a reason for Jason’s supernatural ability, as well as a way to destroy him. They also give him a larger family that changes the way he can be viewed.
If you’re into these movies for the gore, then you’re in luck. Whatever shenanigans that kept gore out of the eighth movie seems to have gone away for this one. It’s ridiculously gory. So if you’re into that, that would be a plus.
Freddy! Yeah, you must’ve known I was going there. At the end Jason is dragged into hell by monsters. There’s a close-up of his hockey mask. He’s dead. And then Freddy’s gloved arm shoots up, grabs the mask, and drags it into hell, with Freddy’s signature laugh. Of course, the arm looks strangely muscular (Kane Hodder provided the arm) and the blades of the glove bend when they hit the dirt, but it’s Freddy.
While the overall acting is slightly better in this movie, there are still some horrible performances. For me, the most surprising of these bad performances was given by Steven Williams as he played bounty hunter Creighton Duke. Williams has had a long, good career. I first knew him as the boss on Fox’s hit 21 Jump Street, which starred A Nightmare on Elm Street alum Johnny Depp. Williams was also a nerd favorite on The X Files as Mr. X. He’s a pretty good actor who is terrible in this movie. Maybe it’s not the right role for him. I don’t know, but it’s bad.
The story is real bad. That’s the problem with the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason movies, as I guess they should be called for the next few essays), even if it’s the best written one, chances are likely that the movie is still shitty. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is no exception. It begins with Jason stalking a young woman who turns out to be part of that federal task force I mentioned earlier and ends with him being dragged to hell by some of the silliest monsters I’ve ever seen (though less silly than the Dream Demons from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I’ll give Jason the point for that). And then a young family walks into the sunrise. What? Yeah, you read that correctly. There’s a baby in this movie, and family issues, and a love story, and stereotypical foul-mouthed fat ladies, and more plot holes than I have time to list. And, the biggest problem by far is–
Where’s Jason?! New Line Cinema acquires their biggest horror competitor. They want to do a Freddy vs. Jason movie. They’ve already killed off Freddy (and it won’t be an issue that he returns for Wes Craven’s new Nightmare movie, which will be released the following year). And here we go with killing off Jason and…we’re going to keep Jason out of most of the movie.
Jason appears at the beginning, as I mentioned, until the U.S. government blows him up. Then his remains spout some creature that then goes around possessing people. We’re told by the bounty hunter that Jason the person has long been dead, but the evil entity in him takes his evil essence and finds new hosts for him. The idea is that Jason has been different people all the time. Forget the fact that almost every Friday the 13th movie showed him return from the prior movie’s resting place. The only other time we see Jason until the very end when he finally returns (plot hole alert), is in the mirror whenever his hosts stand in front of one. Instead of seeing Jason kill, which is all his fans pay to see anyway, we’re given a variety of characters committing Jason-style violent deaths.
Which only highlights what I’ve been saying throughout these movies: the true reason for the horror of a horror movie isn’t even being attempted, not even for laughs. The movies have devolved into a slaughterfest meant to do nothing but make powerless adolescents laugh at gruesome, horrible deaths. The fact that this is the ninth movie of this is a horrific happening unto itself.
Oh, and let’s talk about Jason himself in this movie. He looks stupid. His head has somehow inflated to twice the normal size, he’s regrown hair, and he’s not even close to wearing what he wore in the last few movies. If this is because he’s in a new body, how did the head come to look like a watermelon-sized meatball? He’s lame.
The Saturday After
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is a new day for Jason. New Line was able to make it more supernatural than the character (and story) had been but ultimately failed to do anything interesting with the movie. It’s essentially a 90-minute prologue to Freddy vs. Jason, which they hoped to make after the new Wes Craven Nightmare was released. As a teenager, I thought the movie was okay. As an adult, I’m shocked by how bad it is compared to my memory of it.
The movie did okay and it certainly promised fans what they’d been hoping for for nearly a decade. With all the pieces in place, what could possibly go wrong?
Though the box office for Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood wasn’t as high as some of the previous installments, it was still in the ballpark enough for Paramount to greenlight an eighth movie. This time around, longtime producer of the franchise Frank Mancuso, Jr., was out. Taking on writing and directing duties was Rob Hedden.
According to Hedden, he was one of the people who pitched for a Jason vs. Freddy Krueger crossover and was also a writer for the Mancuso, Jr.-produced Friday the 13th: The Television Series that ran on syndication at this point. The chance to write and direct the next film was something he couldn’t pass up.
Once again, Paramount gave permission to the writer/director to create a story in any way he wanted so he pitched taking Jason Voorhees out of Crystal Lake and bringing him to New York City. Paramount loved the idea and pre-production begun. However, even before production began, problems arose, mostly regarding budget.
This was, I believe, the second Friday the 13th movie I saw, again it was on Cinemax. My best guess was 1990 or 1991. I remember the teacher (Barbara Bingham) giving the star, Rennie (Jansen Daggett), a pen that she said she believed Stephen King used when he was a student. I also remember the boxer (V.C. Dupree) that Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) decapitates with a single punch to the head. There were other things I remembered faintly, too, that came back upon rewatching this movie.
Jansen Daggett as Rennie is attractive and likeable, though she’s not the best actress. She is also very 1980s. This is fun.
The attempt by Hedden to take the franchise to a new place, both metaphorically and literally, is to be applauded. He didn’t want to do yet another Jason-stalks-kids-in-the-woods movie. Taking Jason to New York is thrilling in many ways. First, just the What The Fuck? Factor of seeing Jason in Times Square is fun. And this is 1989 Times Square, so it’s not yet the full neon, crazed, carnival it is today. It still has a little of the old Times Square danger to it. Seeing Jason in back alleys and the like is also fun.
There’s a billboard in Times Square for 1989’s Batman, starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. That’s fun to see. Now digital effects would have replaced the ad for the Warner Bros. film for a billboard for a Paramount movie, or maybe even something else entirely. Yeah, this has nothing to do with the story, I’m grasping at straws here.
All right, in the last essay I wrote that I wasn’t a fan of Jason’s makeup. Well, this movie’s is even worse. First off, it’s a step backward. Where Jason looked too withered and falling apart in The New Blood, in Jason Takes Manhattan, even though he’s been under water for however long between movies, his shirt has somehow come back together and some of his flesh seems to have regrown. Oh, and it’s changed color, too. And when they take the mask off, it’s the worst makeup of the series. Jason looks like a poorly drawn smiley face. And the mask, which had black fabric covering up the left eyehole through most of the series suddenly has both eyeholes covered, so no eyes remain. I always felt that seeing Jason’s eye(s) somehow made him scarier.
The acting is typically bad. The story has a bunch of teenagers going on a cruise from Crystal Lake to New York City for some school thing in biology class and there’s a hell of a lot more kids than it seems we ever get to know. And the ones we do get to know are the normal stereotypes that we never get the chance to care about. Even Jansen Daggett’s Rennie is little more than the typical quiet girl who will survive this horror movie through her cunning and innocence.
And while I applaud Hedder for attempting to take Friday the 13th in a new direction (how often have I written that or something like that in these essays?) it fails. Part of it isn’t his fault. Some of it was the budget. Some of it was, no doubt, the MPAA.
At $5 million, the budget for this movie was higher than any of the previous installments, but it still wasn’t enough. Apparently, the original script had most of the movie set in New York City, but Hedder was told that it was too expensive to shoot there. And even with shooting some of New York’s settings in Vancouver, time in the city (and on location) kept getting shorter and shorter. In the end, he had two days in actual New York and only the last third of the movie was set there.
The MPAA surely hurt the movie. By this point in the 1980s, Tipper Gore and other watchdog types were actively going after horror movies and heavy metal and anything that could seem too much for children. This is because R-rated adult entertainment is something that children regularly see. Well…maybe…but I digress. This movie is actually pretty tame compared to the previous movies (and those that follow). Most of the deaths happen offscreen. Jason comes into frame, lifts his arm, brings it down, and then we see the body at some point. There are exceptions to this, I already mentioned the fate of the young boxer on a rooftop. Compared to the crazy gore and gratuitous violence of, say A New Beginning, Jason Takes Manhattan is pretty tame. People don’t watch Friday the 13th movies for tame, though. They watch for over-the-top violence and gore.
Even with the constrictions brought on by budget and censorship, Hedder must take most of responsibility in the failure of this movie. From beginning to end, very little fits logically with the story within the franchise or even within the movie itself. Rennie sees the little boy of Jason throughout the movie, and he only slowly grows to look like how he did in the original. The way Jason is brought back to life is also odd. He’s electrified again, which isn’t so odd, by a giant electrical cable that runs under Crystal Lake, which gets frayed by a yacht. How does a yacht fit on this lake? Is it one of the Great Lakes? Or perhaps a great lake in its own right? Anyway, this cable–which is out in the open under the water–is frayed by the yacht’s anchor (which is light enough to be carried by the lake’s current but strong enough to break this huge cable) and the electricity goes up the cable to where Jason is under the broken dock from the last movie. It brings Jason back but not the girl’s father from the previous movie. His body isn’t even there. So not only do Jason’s clothes somehow repair themselves (as does his skin) but the father also disappears magically. At the end, Jason is essentially turned into the little boy, which is also weird and doesn’t make sense. His choices in direction aren’t always the greatest (the POV of the boxer’s severed head is stupid, because the boxer can’t see because he’s dead).
And let’s not forget how Jason suddenly appears in places. There have been jokes as long as these movies have been out how the killer will walk after his victims and always seem to get them. For Jason, the walking after victims really began in the fourth movie. In this movie, though, Jason begins to appear whenever needed. One example is on the cruise ship to New York. Jason is stalking a victim and the victim turns away, runs up some steps, only to be confronted by Jason, who somehow managed to get from the deck to the stairs without passing his victim. Now I can only assume that this was done because of Freddy Krueger. Freddy is known to do this trick throughout his film series, and this makes sense because he’s in a dream. Jason may now be supernatural, but he’s still in the real world and should adhere to at least some of the physics that we all live with. Yikes.
Saturday the 14th
What might have been a fun jaunt to the city with a popular monster is a lame movie. The attempts at humor fail. There’s nothing particularly creepy or scary in the movie. And the one thing that the Friday the 13th movies always did well–gory death scenes–are trimmed to the point of nearly being safe for network TV (of the time, anyway).
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan no doubt caused more eyerolls than anticipation when the trailers first hit theaters. The film did the least business than any of the other movies in the franchise, earning a measly $14.3 million dollars. Its release date didn’t help any. Released on July 28th, 1989, it was smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest summers the movies had seen. Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Ghostbusters II were all released that summer. Even the better-faring Freddy Krueger movie A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (released in August) failed to do the business its predecessor of the prior year did; $22 million compared to $49 million.
Between the poor audience reception, the fact that it was the eighth movie, and the fact that the horror bubble was beginning to collapse all around, Paramount decided that Jason’s trip to New York would be his last resurrection for awhile.
With the Friday the 13th movies still making money but straining a very thin premise, Paramount and producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. were looking for something new to do with the franchise. Sean S. Cunningham was also interested in possibly doing something new with the franchise, especially now that there was a new kid on the block. The block happened to be on Elm Street in a sleepy town called Springwood.
In 1984, the fledgling New Line Cinema released a film by Cunningham’s protégé Wes Craven called A Nightmare on Elm Street. The movie was scary and had become a sleeper hit. The villain of the film, Fred Krueger, portrayed by the classically trained Robert Englund, sliced his way to the top of people’s Favorite Villains list with a concept unlike any that had been done before. New Line went ahead with a sequel even though Craven refused and 1985 saw A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. While the critical and fan response to the second movie was much less favorable than its predecessor, the movie earned more than the first movie, securing another sequel. In 1986, filming was underway on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. With the return of Wes Craven, along with his writing partner Bruce Wagner, on the story and script (along with Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell), anticipation was high. Freddy Krueger was already being mentioned alongside Jason Voorhees as one of the best monsters of 1980s horror.
Cunningham saw this as an opportunity to revitalize the series he co-created and pitched the idea of putting the two maniacs together in the style of the old horror movies. So began talks between Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema. Paramount wanted to “rent” the rights to Freddy Krueger, Elm Street, and the rest. Being an old movie studio, it was in a position of power. Except that New Line’s new horror villain was the “It” Monster at that moment. Freddy had a sense of humor, ran around, and got people in their dreams while Jason just shambled about. So New Line proposed “renting” Jason, et al. Neither party would budge and the deal fell through. Still, the movie was pretty close to happening.
So with the Jason and Freddy match-up off, Paramount and Mancuso, Jr., went ahead with plans for a seventh Friday the 13th. Still, the idea that Jason had a formidable opponent was forefront in their mind, so writers Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney gave Jason a psychic/telekinetic teenage girl to fight. It reminds me of that famous quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “I asked for a car, I got a computer.” Paramount asked for Jason vs. Freddy, they got Jason vs. Carrie.
This was the first Friday the 13th I believe I saw since it came on HBO/Cinemax the year after its release and by that point I was officially into horror. I liked it well enough at the age of 12, I guess. It was interesting, at least, the girl using her mind to move things. Since this was before I began reading Stephen King and hadn’t seen the movie Carrie, I didn’t have that as a frame of reference. That probably helped me somewhat like the movie back then.
Jason (Kane Hodder) looks like a monster, which is cool. Between the third movie and the sixth, he could just as well have been Michael Myers of Halloween–a dude with a mask killing late-teenagers/young adults. Somewhere he even got a jumpsuit like Myers. With this movie, director John Carl Buechler decided to really have Jason look like he’s been through the wringer. While the previous movie zombified him, this movie went all out. He’d been in a lake for years and now looked it with his clothes in tatters and bones visible. It also made Jason different from the other famous monsters of the 1980s.
The attempt at something different should also be given a nod. It would have been real easy to just have the kids be at a camp all over again and Jason inexplicably come back to life and kill them one by one. This time, there’s a telekinetic teenage girl named Tina (Lar Park Lincoln). There was a hint of spousal abuse that could be brought up and a doctor (Terry Kiser) who seemed to be taking advantage of his patient for personal gain. Tina’s powers are a little silly at times (try not laughing when a TV flies through the air when she’s upset at the doctor and her mother) but the fights with Jason are almost interesting and somewhat entertaining.
Terry Kiser is good in this movie. His is a face you would recognize as he was in so much in the 1980s. I mean, he was Bernie in the Weekend at Bernie’s movies! He has a quality about him that’s just kind of slimy and he pulls off the Doctor-Up-To-No-Good thing so well.
The acting has gone back to being uninteresting at best. Some of it is horrible. Most of it is forgettable. Lar Park Lincoln does her best with the material but it just falls flat. I almost wonder if a better director, or better script, would have helped her. The rest of the cast fits into stereotypes, one way or another.
Though the look of Jason now distinguishes him fully from Michael Myers, I was distracted by the make-up effects for him. You can see his teeth and jaw exposed on the left side of his face and his ribs and spine on his back. Yet, they never feel like they’re in him, but rather on top of him, which they are. It was a valiant effort that ultimately fails and actually distracted me.
The beginning and ending are lame. The movie starts with young Tina running out of a house on Crystal Lake (where we see Jason floating beneath the surface, looking like he did in the previous movie). Young Tina climbs into a boat and rows away from the dock. We’ve heard the sound of her parents fighting and her father hitting her mother. Then Daddy comes out and chases Tina, saying he’s sorry and that he’ll never hit Mom again and all that shit. In a moment of anger, Tina uses the Force to destroy the dock, which means Daddy falls into Crystal Lake, to his doom. When she comes back for “therapy” years later, Tina goes to the dock and senses a presence underwater (I think…this is never really clear). Then she uses her telekinesis to bring Jason back, thinking it’s her father.
At the end, the way Jason is finally “killed” is lame because Tina, once again on the dock, her new boyfriend with her, is being attacked by Jason (who we thought was blown up with the house). Tina uses the Force again to feel a presence under the lake and WHAMMO! Daddy comes out of the water, through the dock, and brings Jason down with him. Unlike Jason, though, who decayed underwater for almost a decade, Daddy is a little dirty but is otherwise the same guy we saw in the prologue.
And while we’re talking about Daddy here, let’s talk about how fucked up this movie is when it comes to women. Now, I know that the Friday the 13th movies tend to objectify women, but there are some strongish women in most of the movies. Or at least I think they’re supposed to be strong, because it’s almost always a woman who defeats Jason, or helps defeat him. But bear with me here. So in the prologue, we hear the mother get slapped by the father, who, moments later, tells his little girl that he won’t do it again, even though it seems he’s made this promise before. So she kills him. Now, she comes back in her therapy (which is really just the doctor using her powers to make a name for himself) to the location where Daddy met his fate. She is distraught at the memory that she killed him. Her mother tries to assuage her grief. There’s a photo of Dad on the wall in the house. She killed her Dad, she killed her Dad…waaaah! And then she uses the same powers she used to bring Jason back to bring him back to save her. Has she forgotten the reason she killed him? Has she forgotten that he beat her mother? I know that a child may feel guilt at this, and that guilt might carry over the years, but how can Mom be so understanding? Or am I just reading too much into this subplot?
While the filmmakers attempted something different, they fail. By now, it’s beginning to feel like gimmicks are being thrown together. Not that the whole series is anything more than gimmicks. Jason in 3D! Jason dies! A new killer! Jason lives! Jason fights…um…er…you said we can’t use Freddy?….um…Jason fights…[sees Stephen King’s Carrie on the bookcase]…a telekinetic girl! Here’s the thing with the Friday the 13th movies and the character of Jason Voorhees as he’d been presented up to and including this point: You can’t do much with him. He is a zombie who doesn’t eat his victims, who has superhuman strength, and always manages to find a machete. He’s just a machine that kills. So you could have him fight a telekinetic girl, Freddy Krueger, or the Harlem Globetrotters but the fact remains that he’s just going to shamble around killing people.
Saturday the 14th
I realized while writing that last paragraph that it was becoming the wrap-up, so I’ll wrap it up. By the seventh movie in this franchise, Jason Voorhees is a bore. The sixth movie proved to be the exception that proves the rule. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was made for $2.8 million and earned $19.2 million after its May, 1988 release. Compare that to A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master, which was released that August and cost $13 million (about $10 million more than the former) but made $49.3 million, more than any of the original Friday the 13th movies had ever made.
The only thing the filmmakers could do to keep him interesting was throw in different gimmicks. What would be next? Freddy was too successful on his own. Fight Michael Myers, whose own franchise had been rejuvenated based on the successes of Jason and Freddy? Have Jason fight Superman, whose movie career was over for a bit? Or maybe a change of scenery would be it. Something silly, like sending Jason to New York.
Yeah, right. Who would buy that?
After the mess that was Part V: A New Beginning, it’s a surprise that Paramount would’ve okayed a sixth film, except for one thing. Well, make that 22 million things. With a budget of just $2.2 million, the fifth movie earned back ten times the cost. The movie may have been a financial hit but it still met with a lukewarm reception at best. Critics, naturally, hated it. This was nothing new. However, the fans didn’t like it either, and that was a problem. With this in mind, Paramount and producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. decided to abandon the set-up at the end of the fifth movie, where it looked as though Tommy Jarvis would become the next killer of the series (which is what the fourth movie did, as well). As such, the decision was made to bring Jason back. They hired Tom McLoughlin to write and direct the movie.
Unlike my experiences with the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I don’t have clear memories of the first time I saw most of these movies. I’m pretty sure I was between 12 and 15 and they were all showing on Cinemax. They never captured my interest as much as the Nightmares did, so watching these now is like watching them for the first time, only with odd flashbacks. So I can honestly say that Jason Lives surprised me.
I’m surprised, but happy, to say that the acting is pretty good. Now don’t get me wrong, no one was going to win any Oscars from this movie, but the actors were definitely better in this installment than in the previous few. Thom Mathews as the new Tommy Jarvis is pretty good. He’s much more charismatic than John Shepherd was in the role in the previous movie. Jennifer Crooke as Meghan is also pretty good, although straining at times. David Kagen as Sheriff Mike Garris also does a great job. And this movie features Future Serious Actor Tony Goldwyn, just four years before his memorable appearance with Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg, and Demi Moore Ghost (he can now be seen as the President of the United States in the TV series Scandal). This movie may have the best cast since the first movie.
The humor is a welcome change from what’s come before. This movie is actually funny in spots. Not that the Friday the 13th movies ever shied away from humor, but it was usually camp that was employed. McLoughlin’s script is actually pretty funny. This isn’t a comedy, not in the true sense of the word, but it’s got elements that would later be employed (more successfully) by Wes Craven’s Kevin Williamson’s-scripted Scream films.
There’s actual tension in this movie. Not much of it, but it’s there. Jason (C.J. Graham) has stopped running yet still manages to be unsettling. There’s a scene when someone catches him killing another person. He stops and looks at the voyeur. The shot is done so that we’ve become the voyeur so Jason has caught us. It’s a little thing, but it helps. So when Jason turns and begins walking quickly toward us, the reaction is purely, Oh, shit! Run! There are other scenes where this horror movie comes close to living up to the genre’s name, which is a welcome relief from the previous movies.
There’s an actual, true supernatural element to the movie. Prior to this, Jason gets his ass handed to him over and over again but is supposed to be some sort of man with a lot of strength. This movie opens up with Tommy Jarvis and a friend from the mental hospital (played by none other than Horshack himself, the late Ron Palillo) going to find Jason’s grave (skipping over the previous movie’s assertion that Jason was cremated) because Tommy doesn’t believe Jason’s really dead. They dig him up and upon seeing Jason’s decaying, worm- and maggot-ridden corpse, Tommy freaks out and grabs a piece of the wrought iron fence–which looks like a spear–and begins pounding it into Jason, screaming. Finally, back to his senses, he climbs out of the grave to get the gasoline to finally, truly cremate him. Lightning strikes the spear and brings Jason back to life. Jason is essentially a zombie from here on. It opens up a whole world of possible fun and actually gives the previous movies some help. Now Jason really did die as a child, but came back after his mother was killed. And that’s why no one is ever able to kill him, except Tommy in the fourth movie.
There’s thought that actually goes into this movie. If Tommy wasn’t obsessed with the idea of Jason not being dead, he wouldn’t have brought him back to life (even accidentally). I like that Tommy is the one who “killed” Jason before accidentally bringing him back. Also, the common thing is to have the main heroine of the movie be the sweet, innocent one. Not so in this movie. Meghan is the wild child who would normally be killed fairly early on in this kind of movie. The girl who is most like the typical heroine in these movies is the last of the camp counselors to die. There’s surprisingly very little in terms of plot holes in this particular story (though in the overall scheme of the franchise, there are plenty).
The ending is a little weak. Tommy puts Jason underwater with a chain around a rock and Meghan goes at him with the motor of a motorboat and he dies. Or does he? When the camera goes in for an extreme close-up of Jason’s eye, it’s no real surprise.
The sheriff’s deputy is played badly. He’s the typical horror movie cop and the rest of the material is beneath this.
Saturday the 14th
This movie surprised me. I liked it. More than I should’ve, probably. McLoughlin understands the material and does his best to make it fresh and it works. I don’t know if I saw the whole thing as a kid (I remember the opening in the graveyard from back then) but if I did, I certainly didn’t get the humor. Or maybe I thought it was lame. I don’t know, but I found myself quite entertained by Jason Lives. I daresay, it may be my favorite of the series. At least so far.
The movie made less than the previous movie at around $19.5 million, but still earned back a lot (its budget was $3 million). By now, though, Jason wasn’t the only monster on the block. Freddy Krueger slay his way through two movies with a third on the way in early 1987. And around schoolyards and school hallways, the inevitable question arose: Who would win in a fight…?
I know that at some point in my early teens I saw some of this movie, just as I saw some of the others. As I watched it more recently, though, I was surprised by just how little of it I remembered….
The movie begins with Corey Feldman returning as Tommy Jarvis. He witnesses two young men digging up a makeshift grave for Jason Voorhees. Jason comes alive and murders them both. Then he comes after Tommy, raises his machete, and Tommy (John Shepherd) awakes, a young man, in the back of a van. He is being brought to a halfway house after his release from a mental institution. He has had a hard time coping with killing Jason (as well, I assume, as the grisly murders that took place around and at his home). Of course, violent murders begin happening shortly after Tommy arrives leading to a final showdown with none other than Jason…or is it?
Claiming the fourth movie as The Final Chapter no doubt brought people into theaters, which no doubt decided the Paramount brass, as well as producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., to immediately resuscitate the franchise. So A New Beginning was devised and the world became a darker place for it.
Corey Feldman returns as Tommy Jarvis. Seeing him and the level at which he works is a great thing. It’s a shame that it all went downhill for him after Stand By Me, but here he kicks ass–again–as Tommy Jarvis. In the five minutes or so he is onscreen, mostly in close-ups, he brings emotion and pathos to the film.
While I’m mentioning Feldman, I’ll mention Shavar Ross, who plays Reggie. If you grew up in the early-1980s, then you’d recognize Ross from Diff’rent Strokes, where he played Arnold’s (Gary Coleman) best friend Dudley. Here, he gives the second best performance of the movie. I think the reason both he and Feldman are so good in these movies is that they are kids. They’re not adult actors who are aware of the kind of movie they’re making. They’re child actors who are probably thrilled to be in a Friday the 13th movie, or any movie. It’s one more step to a long, fruitful career for them. Ross isn’t as good as Feldman was in the prior movie, or in his five minutes in this one, but he’s the best thing in the rest of the movie despite the poor writing he’d given.
The nudity is the most in this series thus far. Now, I know it was a little funny the first time I mentioned this. And maybe still funny, a little, the second time. Now I look like a pervert. Well, allow me to defend myself: As I mentioned, the teenagers and young adults who paid for Friday the 13th flicks in the 1980s wanted only violence and sex. Let me go back and edit that. The teenagers and young adults who paid for many low-budget horror flicks in the 1980s wanted only violence and sex. Unless the horror flick was truly scary (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser) the only thing going for these kinds of movies were violent and sexual perversion. So, by that standard, this movie succeeds. The nudity is upped. There are lots of breasts in this movie. Not as many as some, perhaps, but better than others in this series.
The violence has been upped. Again, if you’re paying for this–and teenagers were–then the depravities onscreen are upped.
The writers try to go in a “new” direction. There’s a little more psychological suspense (a term I loathe) in this movie. When older Tommy Jarvis arrives on the scene, he sometimes sees Jason (Tom Morga). It’s apparent that it’s not the ghost of Jason but his own PTSD that’s fucking with him. Unfortunately, writers Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, and Danny Steinmann and director Steinmann don’t really get into it. They try to keep Jason dead.
The acting is all around bad, except for Feldman and Ross. Again, I think they’re bad because they’re not given anything to work with. By the fifth movie, the template hadn’t just been set, it had become part of the DNA of a certain moviegoing audience. A small set-up at the beginning where we meet the characters, all stereotypes, and then 60 to 70 minutes of those people being murdered in especially grisly fashion, with tits thrown in for good measure. So the actors are there just to flesh out the stereotype and then react to the killer. And the actor who plays older Tommy, John Shepherd, is awful. He’s a goddamn zombie!
If I’m going to be base, then I have to say that the killings are lame. Because the writers decided to try something kinda-sorta new, we never see the killer until the very end, when it appears to be Jason. This means that, like the first movie, the filmmakers have to be clever and not show the killer doing the killings. While this worked for the first movie, it hinders this one. Maybe that’s because it comes after three where Jason Voorhees was seen in all his cardboard glory, I don’t know. But it falls flat.
The writing is horrible. Yeah, Mssrs. Kitrosser, Cohen, and Steinmann get a little kudos for trying to go in a new direction, but the rest of the movie just sucks. And if you’re going to try a new direction, try a new goddamn direction. Don’t do the same fucking thing but with someone else, unless it’s in a new place, under new circumstances, and breaks away from everything that’s come before. And if you want the Tommy Jarvis connection (and what about his sister?), why not bring him to a hospital in the city where he starts having hallucinations? I don’t know. Like Friday the 13th in New York? (See what I did there?). But they don’t. It’s in the woods, assumingly in Jersey, near Crystal Lake. It’s a halfway house this time, that way we can give the kids in the movie a reason for acting differently, and maybe get some built-in pathos straight away. The lines the actors are given are bad. The story is nearly nonexistent, and there’s no real structure. The “heroine” in this movie, Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) is boring. She looks like Amy Steel from Part II but isn’t given anything interesting to do. And considering she’s one of the people in charge, she makes some horrible choices. The Black characters are given bad lines, the White actors each have their own stereotypes to deal with (the slow fat kid, the angry kid, the horny guy, the horny girl, the sweet girl, the new wave girl, the super-sensitive guy, the guy running the show) and none move beyond that. And let’s not forget the ending, which takes place in a barn. Just like the third movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same barn. And the twist ending(s) of Jason not being Jason but rather an ambulance driver we see for 10 seconds at the beginning of the movie, after the first (actually, third, if you count the opening nightmare) murder who is upset because his son, the fat kid, is murdered by the angry kid. The other twist is that Tommy may suddenly be a killer. At least that’s what’s hinted at. Both leave the viewer feeling cheated. The former because there’s really so little evidence that it’d be the ambulance driver that no one could guess it, and the latter because if you want Tommy to be a killer, have him be the killer!
The direction is horrible. Again, comparing this one to the first one makes the first one almost seem like Casablanca. Sean S. Cunningham will never win an Oscar for directing (or for anything else) but at least he did a semi-professional job. Danny Steinmann points the camera. Done.
Lastly, the violence. I know that I listed the increased amount of violence in The Day section, but that was in terms of what is wanted by the boneheaded 1980s teenager/young adult who pays for (or sneaks into) a Friday the 13th movie. In actuality, the violence is appalling. I counted 10 grisly murders in the first half hour, and 12 by the 40 minute mark. There were twenty grisly murders in this movie before the killer is killed and there’s still another one in Tommy’s epilogue nightmare. I just looked it up and, up until this point (I’m not spoiling the rest of the movies for myself) it’s almost double the average, already-too-high number of deaths in these movies.
Now, folks, I’m not a squeamish person. I think Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is a superb, heartwrenching novel and I liked the movie (much to the horrified chagrin of my lovely wife). I have watched the original I Spit On Your Grave several times (and have it on my Netflix instant streaming queue for another viewing). I’m not squeamish when it comes to film violence, but I want it to at least have a reason, and preferably an outcome that is more than just a body count. This is the kind of violence that gave the horror movies of the 1980s a bad name. Maybe as a teenager I would’ve thought it was cool, but I have definitely outgrown the target audience for these movies. It’s almost enough to make me abandon this series and move on to greener pastures.
Saturday the 14th
This movie is despicable. There is no redeeming value in it. According to Wikipedia, Cory Feldman was only available for the five minutes at the beginning of the movie because he was filming The Goonies. Good for him. This turkey is beneath him. Even though the fourth Friday the 13th lacked charm, at least there was some. This movie is a giant, steaming pile of shit. It’s only purpose that I can see is to remind us of how bad these movies could get.
The movie cost around $2.2 million. It made about $22 million. So you know what that meant….
With Friday the 13th‘s premiere in 1980, a sequel followed each year afterward for two years. Friday the 13th Part II came out in 1981 and Part 3 came out in 1982. The filmmakers, seeing how the film was repeating itself like a crazed hamster on its wheel, decided not to rush things for a fourth part. They also decided it was time to end things. This led to Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which was released in 1984 and took the franchise into new territory with careful plotting, intelligent directing, and acting that blew away every other horror film that year.
All right, the only true part in the above paragraph are the titles and the dates, I made up the rest. The truth is, I have no idea why it took two years to make this movie except that, maybe, Paramount was ready to end the franchise with the third movie but figured, “Hey, why not? These things keep making money for us.” However, they may have also had enough of the Jason Voorhees character and may have decided this would be his last outing.
The Final Chapter begins much like the prior two sequels. The first five minutes show what has happened before. Unlike the prior two movies, though, it doesn’t replay the final scene. Instead, it takes “The Legend of Jason” story from Part II and illustrates it with some of the “Best of” the gory scenes, leading us into the end of Part 3. This movie picks up almost immediately after. Jason (Ted White) is on the floor of the barn we left him, ax removed from the head, but only recently. He’s taken to the hospital and turns out to be alive(!) and, well, does what Jason does.
There’s a little bit a new twist in this movie. There’s a family, Mom, daughter, and little boy living in the woods in a log house. They have a dog. There’s a house next door (the only house next door) where the “kids” who will become the main victims will stay, but there’s at least a family unit at play here. Joan Freeman plays Mrs. Jarvis in a fairly realistic way. Considering she’s not given much to do, she does a pretty good job. Kimberly Beck plays Trish Jarvis fairly well. Certainly not the best acting I’ve ever seen, but better than most heroines in this series (though I still think Amy Steel is the best so far). Her little brother, Tommy, is played by Corey Feldman, who turns in a star-making performance. He’s a little boy in this and cute-as-a-button, and he steals the show. This family gives what little heart The Final Chapter has. And it is only a little.
The hunter, Rob Dier, played by Erich Anderson, is also a nice twist to the movie. He’s the brother of a girl killed in Part II and is looking for Jason under the guise of hunting bear. His performance isn’t bad, though fairly thin.
Crispin Glover. Do I need to say more? I will. He’s as bad as everyone else in this movie but the fact that he’s in this movie, a year away from his big role as George McFly, is funny. He also displays some cool dance moves.
The gore is upped once again. Tom Savini returns to the series and the gore factor is raised from the prior movie. And while I’m writing about base entertainment, the nudity has returned, too. Woo!
Will I continue to knock the writing and directing in each of these essays? Probably. It struck me as I sat through this movie that I bet that somewhere, someone can write a good Friday the 13th. At this point, four movies in, I’m not sure. Here’s an interesting idea: Instead of making another Kids In the Woods Get Killed movie, focus on the family unit. The recently divorced Jarvis and her children who happen to be staying in the woods meet young Rob Dier, who’s “hunting bear” but is really looking for his sister’s killer, whom he believes is haunting the woods around Crystal Lake. Have the story unfold as Jason comes back and stalks them, maybe because Dier pesters him. Something like that. Spend time with the characters so the audience cares about them. Yes, yes, it’s breaking the formula, but why not? Instead, there’s a ton of characters that are barely written (though are better written in this movie than the last) and a killer who is somehow able to get around everywhere easily and without much effort. He can get from a kitchen to an eave near a window to a room downstairs to a room upstairs to the house next door to a basement in moments, and somehow finds time to arrange his victims for horrific display at just the right time. Jason is an artist. His canvas is the human body. His medium is fear. But physics don’t apply to him for some reason.
Should I mention the acting? I just did. I’ll leave it there.
The blatant disregard for life is another theme in these movies. Not just by the killer but also by the filmmakers. They just don’t give a damn about the horror of the violence they portray. I know, it sounds hypocritical of me to say this yet praise the gore, but it’s true. It’s scary how popular these films were (and still are) despite this. I’m not saying I’m above watching this shit, I’m obviously not, but I feel like I should mention it somewhere.
Saturday the 14th
The second movie introduced Jason as the killer. The third movie introduced the hockey mask. This movie makes Jason almost superhuman. He keeps getting lethal blows and coming back. Yet, the writers and such are still saying Jason is a man, a crazy man, true, but a man.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, according to Wikipedia, was a huge hit and spawned, of course, a fifth movie. I’ll also note that seven months later, the far superior A Nightmare on Elm Street was released. This would become very important for this franchise.
Like its predecessor, Friday the 13th Part 3 begins with the last five or so minutes of the previous movie. Unlike its predecessor, it reinvents the ending just a tad, which leads us to the third part of this ever-growing saga. Director Steve Miner returns to the franchise with his second–and final–effort. Being the third film in as many years, they had to pull out all the stops, so they made this movie in 3D! Makes sense, right? Part 3. Part 3D. Get it? Great, huh? And, because they wanted to really get the audience, they crafted the best script yet and hired the best actors the series had seen until this point.
All right, I’m lying. The extent of their efforts was in the 3D department. Oh! And the gore. This movie is gorier than its predecessors. Anyway, even though you can pretty much guess what I’m going to say by reading my last entry, let’s get into this.
I’ll give the filmmakers a little credit. They try a little to differentiate these movies. The first movie took place at Camp Crystal Lake. The second one happened at some other camp. This one takes place at a cabin/barn/house on the lake. The last two films featured blondes as the heroines, this one has a brunette. So at least it’s not happening at the same place…just the same lake. I’ll put this in the positive section, along with–
The gore. I know, this is base entertainment, at best, but like being happy with the nudity in the prior film, the gore in this one was upped. According to my sources (Wikipedia), most of the death scenes were edited down because they were too gory and the movie almost received an X-rating. Why the Blu-Ray I watched didn’t have it unedited is beyond me, but it didn’t.
The 3D shots. I had the option to watch the movie in 3D. I didn’t. Why? Because I thought it would be more fun watching the way things came at the screen for no real reason, and I was right. It’s silly and it’s fun. Handles to pitchforks, yo-yos, popcorn, prongs from pitchforks, and eyeballs all come toward the screen, along with other things. Whee! F-U-N!
The origin of the hockey mask is told here. According to my sources (again, Wikipedia) the hockey mask was used because it was around. They wanted to change Jason’s mask from a sack to a mask and 3D effect supervisor was a hockey fan who happened to have gear with him. The director loved it and they made masks for Jason. Little did they know that the hockey mask would become his iconic look.
Oh, and Jason (Richard Brooker) runs some more. That’s good. He’s almost scary.
This cast is the worst cast yet. There is so little distinction between the victims that it’s puzzling. There’s the girl who owns the house, the pregnant girl, her boyfriend–who walks on his hands, the hippie guy, his girlfriend, the fat kid with the Jewfro and a penchant for doing the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time, the Latina girl, and the main girl’s boyfriend. There are other victims, too, including a three-person-biker gang: a tall, bald black guy, a black woman, and a white dude with a dagger earring and cigarette hanging from his maw. There might be more, I can’t remember. This movie killed too many brain cells. The extent of their characterizations is exactly what you just read. Nothing is followed up and no one really comes off the screen despite the 3D (see what I did there?). These people exist only to get killed. And unlike the second movie, which at least killed the original movie’s heroine within the first fifteen minutes, the second movie’s heroine is mentioned in a news report at the beginning of the movie as being transported to a local hospital. Which reminds me, there are two people who die in that scene–an inept shopkeeper and his shrieking-stereotyped wife. Ugh, the stereotypes.
The writers (I use the term loosely) provide a script that is not so much story as graphically violent scenes attached with minimal story. In true Friday the 13th fashion, things are left unexplained. We never know what happens to the camp in the second movie and the main heroine in this movie (played by Dana Kimmell) has survived a Jason attack two years earlier. He attacked her and she passed out, to wake up later in her bed, unharmed. Huh? Why? Who knows? In this world, loose ends abound and the filmmakers don’t care because they know their audience: kids out for a good time and a few laughs. There’s a hippie guy who seems to be too old to hang out with the others. Why? Because. Why doesn’t Jason replace his sack until he finds the hockey mask from Jewfro? Oh, who cares?
The nudity. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Maybe things were getting tough in 1982, but there’s so little nudity that it’s a step backward. Prudish Americans.
Jason. In Part II, Jason is almost scary. He’s dressed like a farmer with a sack on his head, but he runs and is kinda creepy. In this movie, he’s larger, he’s lost his hair, and he’s…well…less scary. Not that he was really scary in the second movie, but was almost scary. In this one, he still runs, he still feels pain, but he takes a much harder beating. The makeup is pretty terrible, too.
Saturday the 14th
By 1982, people knew what they were getting in a Friday the 13th movie: young people being picked off one by one by a killer with nearly supernatural strength. I imagine seeing it in the theater in 1982, with your friends, and wearing silly 3D glasses is the optimal way to watch this movie. Check brain at door and have fun. This third installment could’ve ended things and just let sleeping hockey-masked killers lie. But, of course, that wasn’t going to happen….
One of the things that’s great about sequels is that the premise has been set up so the action can begin at once. It’s one of the reasons why The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight work so well. The characters are re-introduced in clever ways and we get right into the story. Friday the 13th Part II doesn’t even get that right. Released a year after its predecessor and featuring a new writer and director, the audience is given a recap of the previous movie in the first five minutes. It only gets moderately better from there.
I first saw the movie in my early-teens, I was probably around fourteen or fifteen when it showed up on Cinemax, and I was surprised by how different Jason Voorhees was to the monster I’d watched in later installments in the franchise, for this is the installment where Jason (Warrington Gillette) becomes the monster, which in itself is historic to horror geeks like me. Hell, Drew Barrymore died because she didn’t know this! Because you know the story, I’ll get right into my ten cents of opinions.
Amy Steel as Ginny. She’s likeable, pretty, and somewhat realistic. She’s got a strength about her that radiates from the screen. A few of the other campers are also not too badly drawn, and I’d mention their names except that I never learned them. And we’ll get to that later. But Steel is pretty good even though I wish she were onscreen even more.
The nudity. Let’s face it, there are two reasons to watch a Friday the 13th movie: sex and violence. The first movie was much tamer on both counts than what I remembered. This one ups the nudity. I know, it’s very base of me to say such a thing but let’s not beat around the bush (no pun intended), these movies are base and when I watch them, I want to see me some boobies. This movie delivers…at least a little bit.
Jason’s introduction is also not bad. As a matter of fact, he’s almost scary. Jason’s outfit in this movie is biballs, a flannel shirt, and a sack on his head. He’s not a supernatural entity here so much as a madman running through the woods. Running. Jason Voorhees runs in this movie. He chases people, and tackles them, and is generally quite energetic.
The music by Harry Manfredini is also really good. Better, I think, than the first movie’s music. He takes the whole Psycho-meets-Jaws thing to a new level.
Alice’s return. Adrienne King returns as Alice in the first ten minutes or so of the movie. She’s having nightmares about the events of the first flick (that helps the audience know what’s gone down until this point) and wakes up. Ms. King is likeable but she’s not a great actress. Her return is generally better than most of the lines she delivered in the first movie. And then she’s killed with an icepick. In her home. In the city. With an icepick. How come so many people die from icepicks in movies? I’ve never even seen an icepick in real life. But anyway, she’s killed and that’s the end of Alice. So, aside from her memories from the first movie that helps set the audience up for this one, what’s the point? According to the well of information known as Wikipedia, Adrienne King was stalked by an obsessed fan of the first movie and only agreed to make this movie if her time was short. Why appear at all? Besides money? Why have her at all? Anyway, it doesn’t work and it makes the ending of the first movie tragic.
Characterization. Get used to this being in my reviews of these movies, methinks. Who are these people? Why should we care about them? I’ll give that the filmmakers of both movies used likeable actors who did their best to give the characters some kind of personalities, but I never really cared about any of them. Not enough to remember their names anyway. There was the guy running the camp, his girlfriend (Ginny–who I looked up to get Amy Steel’s name), the weird guy with red hair and electronic games, the wheelchair guy, the girl-who-likes-wheelchair guy, the frizzy-haired-big-boobed girl, her boyfriend–the blond guy with the hat and the truck, the work-out girl with the dog (who gets nekkid), the smarmy lothario who’s trying to get her…and I think that’s it. These characters mean so much to the filmmakers that the weird guy with red hair actually disappears from the movie. Which leads to–
The story. This movie does not take place at Camp Crystal Lake but at another camp on the same lake, five years later. Two camps sharing a lake? Does that happen? Well, in this part of Jersey it does. I don’t remember the name of the camp and it doesn’t matter, any more than the names of the characters matter. The only purpose of the camp is to make it like the first movie but more believable (???). After all, what’re the chances that a serial killer would go to the same camp?
Not only does the story not make sense, but the direction and editing also has major flaws. After a night at a bar, Ginny and her boyfriend come back to the camp to find everyone dead. Jason attacks the boyfriend but chases Ginny. There’s some cool, intense moments hear, but then she gets away and runs through the woods. We dissolve to the full moon, dissolve back on Ginny running, then dissolve to the full moon. She seems to have run to Camp Crystal Lake, yet when Jason is in the place where she’s hiding, she comes up with the chainsaw she was using earlier in the movie to cut wood, which means she didn’t run out there. Which means…what? She was running in a circle? The boyfriend comes back in Jason’s little hut to help her “defeat” him. They go back to the camp to find the little doggie that we believed was dead because we saw the remains of the same kind of dog earlier (Shi-Tzus run rampant in the woods of Jersey). Then Jason, sans sack, crashes through the window and attacks Ginny. The camera holds the shot and fades out. Only to snap back to Ginny being loaded into the back of an ambulance, asking after her boyfriend. What happened? Why isn’t she dead? And in all of this, what happened to the weird guy with the red hair they left at the bar? Or the other campers at the bar, too? And why does the movie take place five years later? How come so many sequels take place five years later? Don’t filmmakers know that styles and technology change in five years?
There’s a lot that’s taken for granted in this movie, stuff the characters seem to know yet shouldn’t. At least, the audience wasn’t made aware of them in the first movie. The Legend of Jason, let’s call it. The legend went that Jason Voorhees didn’t really die in the Crystal Lake but lived in the woods surrounding it. When Mrs. Voorhees is killed, he witnesses it and decides to kill everyone because of it. We’re told this legend around the campfire, which is cool, except…how come no one in the first movie knew of the legend? How come the crazy old man on the bicycle didn’t mention it when he was telling those original campers about how Camp Crystal Lake would lead to their doom? And how come Pamela Voorhees didn’t know about the legend that featured her son? And if Jason loved his mother so much, how come he lived in the woods, hiding, and not with Mother?
Saturday the 14th
Overall, the movie is a fun popcorn slasher flick, but it’s little more than that. There are too many questions and holes in logic. More so than its predecessor, it feels like a very cynical movie. The cynicism of the filmmakers to give its audience what is essentially the same movie with different faces, the lack of attention to detail, or the lack of any real thought makes Friday the 13th Part II a basically forgettable movie. But it did well in 1981 and meant that a sequel would follow.
The story goes that Sean S. Cunningham, producer of low budget movies (mostly horror, including Wes Craven’s first movie, The Last House on the Left) had an idea for a movie called Friday the 13th. He had no story, no characters, nothing else in mind except for the title. So he went to a graphic designer and had an ad designed with the title smashing through glass. The kicker was the tagline: The most terrifying film ever made. Then he placed the ad in Variety. The feedback was immediate. People–teenagers and young adults, mostly–wanted to see this movie.
Victor Miller wrote the story and Cunningham took on directing as well as producing. You know the story already: After being closed for 20 years because of murders, Camp Crystal Lake is being reopened as a place for inner-city youth to experience nature. A group of young people join Steve Christy in preparing for the reopening. Someone attacks and murders them one-by-one until the lone survivor, Alice, wins. There is a shock ending and an implication that a sequel could be made.
There is a gradual build-up to this first film. Miller and Cunningham start off with a young couple being murdered in 1958, but then allow some time for the characters to arrive at Crystal Lake and hang out before the killings really start up. There is the sense that they actually want the audience to know the characters.
Peter Brouwer as Steve Christy is pretty good, though he is hardly in the movie. He’s the “old man” of the group, in his mid-to-late-twenties, yet is young enough to have a thing for Alice (Adrienne King). There’s an implied romance there that is never developed.
Betsy Palmer is priceless as Mrs. Pamela Voorhees. Her arrival at the end of the movie is sudden but you instantly like her, and then fear her when she goes nutty. Her revelation that she’s the killer and her motive, the drowning death of her son Jason, is well done for a melodramatic scene. It looks as though she’s having a blast playing the crazed killer.
Tom Savini’s makeup is another thing that’s always fun to watch. His makeup never really feels polished yet is always believable. His strength as a makeup/special effects guy is in the roughness of the final product and helps the movie achieve a shock-value that the other early slasher movies lacked.
The music by Harry Manfredini is also really good. It’s very Psycho-meets-Jaws in its execution and sound. When the famous Friday music begins, you know to hang on to your armrest.
The overall feel of the movie isn’t serious. Sean S. Cunningham wasn’t trying to create a horror masterpiece, but rather was trying to make a fun, scary movie. Obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween, he moves away from his work with Wes Craven to something meant to sell a shitload of tickets, barrels of popcorn, and make kids scream and laugh. And it does. More than 30 years later it’s like opening a time capsule, but it’s fun.
And the last good thing about this movie is Kevin Bacon. He does a good job in this movie. Hell, all of the “kids” do a good job in this movie, but it’s Kevin fuckin’ Bacon! And this is where the passage of 33 years really counts. To see someone who has become more than just a really good actor but an icon in an early role like this is fun. It’s like seeing Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, there’s a major difference between the two. I’ll get to that later.
The characterization is crap. With the exception of Mrs. Voorhees, none of the other characters have a history. The only “kid” who seems to have lived at all before this is Annie (Robbi Morgan) whom we first meet hiking into a small town on her way to Crystal Lake. She is thumbing her way there and gives a little insight into her life. There is an attempt at giving Steve Christy and Alice a little bit of characterization but it never really gets off the ground. Whether it was Victor Miller’s writing or Sean Cunningham’s lack of caring is for the individual viewer to decide. I think it’s a combination of both. Considering the slower build-up to the killer’s spree, this is a shame.
Because of weak characterization, the acting never really gets off the ground. As I said before, all the “kids” do a decent job, and I’ve already acknowledged Brouwer and Palmer (and Bacon) but for the most part the kids are given very little to do. They are caricatures more than people. Alice is the nice, smart one who Steve wants but may want Bill (Harry Crosby) instead. Jack (Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) are boyfriend and girlfriend and go to the camp with their friend Ned (Mark Nelson), who is a bit of a jokester who takes things too far. Brenda (Laurie Bartram) is a little risqué but…not…? And to try to go any further is impossible, because that’s all these people are. They’re played adequately enough, but there’s no meat. They’re given nothing to really do but go through the movie and, well, die.
This is the biggest problem of the movie. Because we’re never really invested in the characters, we never really give a damn about who lives and who dies. One of the strengths of Halloween, the thing that made it a classic, is that John Carpenter and Debra Hill crafted teenagers who one could relate to and care about, so when the faceless killer goes after them, you give a damn.
The revelation of the killer at the end is also a misstep. Yes, Betsy Palmer plays Mrs. Voorhees with gusto and has fun in the role, but because she shows up out of nowhere, she’s meaningless to the audience. Miller gives her a throwaway line (“I’m a friend of Steve Christy”) to throw the audience off and make them think she’s safe, but considering they’ve never seen her before it doesn’t matter much. Perhaps if she’d been around throughout, it might have more surprising. Even if she’d been in the town at the beginning, trying to warn Annie off, it would’ve worked. Instead, here’s this nice lady from out of nowhere who must be the killer. (Let’s not go into the question of how she can lift some of these dead bodies and throw them through windows even though they’re larger than she).
Saturday the 14th
Overall, Friday the 13th is a fun movie with no pretensions. Cunningham wanted to make a movie that would sell tickets and popcorn and he did. The film has been picked apart by critics and naysayers since its debut in 1980 (which, being three years old, I wasn’t really aware of). It is not, and never should be, mistaken for a work of art, or even a good movie.
The biggest problem from an adult point-of-view is that it exists only to watch people die in various ways. It’s surprisingly tame considering the later movies and its reputation. There are gory scenes, but the gore is minimal and is cut away from quickly. And there is, surprisingly for a slasher movie, an innocence that comes through. Despite the depravities, it’s somehow a very innocent movie and worth watching now if, for no other reason, only to see it as a popular classic movie, bad as it may be. I had fun.
With the template set, and box office being huge, there was no wonder Paramount wanted a sequel.
If you grew up in the 1980s, you know that horror was king. In the bookstores, the horror section featured many books with lurid covers that titillated and frightened those of us curious–and brave–enough to venture into the section. Late night TV was creeping with horror. And in the multiplex, a turf war was going on. Every child of the 1980s had a side. The horror wars had two major figures and you were usually fans of one or the other. These figures were Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger. I fell on Freddy’s side, of course. So it’s with great caution that I have decided to leave my nice home on Elm Street and venture into the woods at Camp Crystal Lake.
I knew of Jason just like everyone else, and over time have caught nearly all of the original movies (the Paramount movies, and the first New Line one). Unlike each A Nightmare on Elm Street movie (or as the lamebrains would call ’em, Freddy Movies), I don’t really remember much of watching the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason Movies). I know I saw most of them on Cinemax in various marathons, but hardly recall much else, or at least not enough to write about. Even as a 10-to-14-year-old, the movies left me uninspired and unimpressed. Still, they are a part of an era so why not take a look at them in my own, special way?
Over the course of a year, I have watched all the Friday the 13th movies. Considering the final Friday the 13th will be in September, I decided this was the appropriate time to begin a series of essays about the movies. I’ve decided that between September 13th and October 31st, I will post these essays right here. Some of these essays will come twice a week.
For fans of the Friday the 13th franchise, please take it easy on me. This will be like a Boston Red Sox fan trying to write about the New York Yankees (or vice versa). Let’s be civil, shall we?
Over the course of 75 years, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young men from Ohio, has not only withstood the test of time, but has grown because of time. Yes, Superman has not always been successfully translated to the screen, big or small, just as he hasn’t always been successful in his own comic books, but he has somehow managed to survive the Senate Committee Hearings of 1954, the stark realism that grew out of the 1960s and into the 1970s due to the Vietnam War and the cynicism of modern America. His origin story is retold over and over again. I’ve read two very different retellings in just the last three years–Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, both of which are superb–and have at least three that I can think of downloaded from Comixology (Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, Superman for All Seasons by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sales, and Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen). His personality has changed though the core of this modern American myth remains the same.
In watching and rewatching Superman’s exploits on the Silver Screen, it becomes apparent just how much his story is our story. The baby from another place comes to the United States, learns the principle values on which this country was founded, and grows up to do his best to maintain those values both to keep what is essential about himself as well as to be a role model to the humans he could so easily annihilate. His values aren’t just American, in the end, but human.
Each version of Superman that made it to the Silver Screen was able to capture where this character was at any given time. The early Fleischer and Famous cartoons gave us a Superman who was quick to leap into battle and protect Metropolis, the United States, and the world from danger. The 1948 and 1950 serials gave us a Superman who was ready to get the bad guys with gusto and verve. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) gave us a Superman who would use his might when needed to but would appeal to our goodness and be a role model when possible. The Superman portrayed by Christopher Reeve was a straight-forward, earnest man who spoke plainly but also was all-too-human. He made mistakes but, more importantly, he rose above those mistakes. Brandon Routh’s Superman was a throw-back to Reeve’s but in the modern world. Does the earnest, caring young man with the strong principles have a place in a world as complicated as this one? What happens when the human emotions become so strong in the man who can never be physically hurt? And Henry Cavill’s Superman brings us to the modern era in which you and I live, with a young man torn between doing what’s right and doing what’s safe. How does the world react to a super man in Post-9/11 America when there’s serious talk about building walls across borders and when no one is trusted?
Superman is not on the top of very many people’s Favorite Superheroes list. For a long time, he wasn’t on mine at all. But now, I have to ask myself: does Batman still get the top spot? The big argument against Superman (and for Batman) is that one simply cannot become Superman, but anyone, with the right amount of training and education, can become Batman. And now, after watching these movies, and writing these essays, I can firmly say: You’re wrong. Superman isn’t about whether or not a boy or girl can someday become him, Superman is about living with the set of principles that includes tolerance, empathy, ethics, and love. Superman is about the goal of not being super-powered, but the goal of being human.
The two young men in Ohio, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, sons of Jewish immigrants, understood what it was like not to fit in. They understood what it was like to be different. And what was their payback to the people who surely bullied them as they were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s? They gave the world Superman. Superman isn’t supposed to save us, he is supposed to show us how to save ourselves.
Author’s Note: BEWARE! Here there be SPOILERS. You have been warned.
Despite pulling in pretty good box office and fairly decent reviews, the sequel to Superman Returns was abandoned. I can’t say that this was a surprise. In a world where Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) existed, as well as the Marvel movies leading to The Avengers (2012), it seems appropriate that Bryan Singer’s version of Superman never went anywhere. So it was announced that Superman would get another reboot. (Though it could be argued that Bryan Singer’s reboot wasn’t really a reboot but rather a sequel…but we discussed that, didn’t we?). Another problem that Warner Bros. and DC Comics had on its hands was the abysmal failure of 2011’s Green Lantern. The film opened strong but sunk quickly and the movie won over not even the most ardent comic book fans. That was okay, because there was another card up their sleeves by the time Green Lantern opened.
Based on concepts discussed during the story phase of The Dark Knight Rises (2012), David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan came up with a story for new version of Superman, one that would be more in line with the success achieved by Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Warner Bros. and DC went for it and announced in 2010 that Man of Steel was a go. Many names were bandied about as director but finally Zack Snyder was announced. As I’m sure many people were, I was unimpressed by this announcement. Snyder showed great potential in films like Dawn of the Dead (2004) and 300 (2007), as well as the ability to carry off an epic-sized production with Watchmen (2009), but he seemed mostly style and no substance. And Superman needs substance. With Christopher Nolan on board as producer as well as working on the story with screenwriter David S. Goyer, it seemed as though maybe a new Superman would come for today’s audiences.
The first look at the new Superman was released in 2011, during filming of Man of Steel. There’d already been some location-shooting leaks and the official first look featured Henry Cavill in the suit. I was unimpressed. It was dark, and rubber, and just too damn much for Superman. Still, I held out hope.
And here is where I give you, my friend, another note. Unlike most of the essays/commentaries/whathaveyous I’ve posted in this series, I have only seen this movie one time. It’s not the only one I’ve seen only the one time; the cartoons, 1948 and 1950 serials, and Superman and the Mole Men have all only been viewed once. Where those differ than this is that they were all way before my time. Beginning with 1978’s Superman: The Movie, these essays began to get real personal because they were the movies that, in some small way (and sometimes big way), have meant something to me.
Back in November, my wife gave birth to my second daughter. She is now soon-to-be-8 months old. As such, I couldn’t get out to this movie opening weekend or the weeks that followed until today (as I write this paragraph on July 2nd, 2013). I would like to see it again but probably won’t be able to until the Blu Ray comes out later this year. So this is a first-time viewing write-up, with only just under 12 hours to digest what I’ve seen.
You have been warned….
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman is superb. I was worried by the previews and the photographs that his Superman would be dark, would be moody, and would be a drag to watch like his predecessor Brandon Routh. This is not the case. Well, not entirely. He is dark. He is moody. But he’s also real good. The moment he takes flight (for the second time) and goes, the natural smile that breaks out on his face is priceless. He is young enough to really enjoy this newfound sensation but old enough to know he’s the only one who can feel this. It is a moment when all the preceding worries slip away, and all the succeeding worries are too far away to worry about. For that moment, for the first time, he knows who he is and he’s happy. From his wandering, lost soul that we meet onscreen early on, to his final horror at what he has done to the only other member of his species toward the end, Cavill doesn’t just embody Superman, but a Superman for our time. And, if I may, let’s talk about his physique for a moment. Wow. I want to look like that. I won’t. I’m too lazy with too much of a predisposition for cheeseburgers and pizza, and I’m too short, but if I could look like any actor working right now…yeah. Henry Cavill. If Christopher Reeve was the embodiment of Superman for his generation, then Henry Cavill is the embodiment of Superman for his.
Michael Shannon deserves mentioning because he’s becoming one of my favorite actors. Like many people, I first took note of him as the scary Federal Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden. I need to see more of his work because I find him mesmerizing. And he does just such a job here as General Zod. For a generation, Terence Stamp’s portrayal of General Zod was so deeply ingrained in our minds, it seemed foolhardy to put anyone else in the role. Even the comic books began to shape General Zod after him. But when it was announced that Shannon would play Zod, I knew it would be fine. Shannon brings a passion that is quite opposite to Stamp’s cold, emotionless approach. Both men are able to use their respective takes on the character to make General Zod chilling. Shannon’s General Zod is not evil for the sake of being evil, but a man who is so convinced of his rightness that he will not be dissuaded. Reason won’t work with him. Pleading will not work. Zod wants only to bring the Kryptonian way of life back into existence that he will destroy a whole other species to do so.
If Henry Cavill is the Superman of his generation, then so Amy Adams is its Lois Lane. Intelligent, girl-next-door beautiful, and not willing to take shit from anybody, Adams gives a great performance. She owns this Lois Lane. If I have any complaint about her, it’s that I wish there was just a little more character building for her. I want to know more about her. But that’s not Adams’s fault. She brings a realism to the role and her love for Clark Kent/Superman grows naturally, not in some quick, school girl way.
The rest of the cast is really good, too. Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Lawrence Fishburn as Perry White, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha Kent, and all the others were just really good. They gave great performances and I bought them all in their roles, which says something because I’m no fan of either Crowe or Costner.
David S. Goyer’s and Christopher Nolan’s story (Goyer’s screenplay) is really good. It’s not perfect, which I’ll get to soon enough, but I liked it a lot. They tell an origin story for this Superman that’s familiar but different. They spend about the same amount of time on Krypton as Donner did back in 1978, but this Krypton is much different and action-packed. The costumes for the Krypton Council were wonderful. Then the decision to go through Clark Kent’s past in flashbacks (like they did with Bruce Wayne’s past in Batman Begins) was good. We get to see Cavill in action sooner but still get examples of where he came from throughout the story. General Zod and Jor-El are given a backstory that tightens their relationship and makes the happenings when Zod comes to Earth that much more personal. And the decision (SPOILER) to have Lois Lane know Clark Kent is Superman through her research before he even becomes Superman is a good one. I don’t know what the reaction of it is by other people, because I haven’t read a goddamn thing about this movie (if I could help it–and let me tell you, that’s hard these days) but I’d guess that Superman purists are unhappy with this decision. I loved it. It made me love Lois even more.
Of course, the biggest upset in their story is the ending, the final moments between Superman and General Zod. Let me say this about it: It was spoiled by a relatively well-known science fiction writer who I follow on Facebook. He posted something about heroes and heroism and I began reading it. It wasn’t until the fourth paragraph that he mentions this scene, which shocked me. He had nothing at the beginning indicating that he was writing about Man of Steel or would give away the goddamn ending. Since then, there have been other instances of this scene mentioned, sometimes in headlines. Today’s culture assumes that we all go to the movies right away. There’s no time for people to go and see anything except right now because if you don’t, nudniks on Facebook, Twitter, and the goddamn nerd presses will ruin it for you. I’ll stop my rant here and go on about this new culture we find ourselves in another time. From what I can gather, there seems to be a backlash about (SPOILER–this is the last time I’m posting that. If you haven’t figured it out by now, just go to another website) Superman breaking General Zod’s neck.
Now, if this were an ending that happened because Superman suddenly became Rambo, I’d be upset. But I thought it was handled really well. Cavill’s emotions in this scene are great. Here he is at the beginning of his career as superhero, and he is really given no choice but to kill the only other member of his species that remains. He doesn’t want to, and maybe if this were the second movie of the series, he wouldn’t have gone there, but he does what he has to. One can argue about the lameness of what was going down in the museum in the moments before and all that, but the fact is, where would Zod have been held? He’s as powerful as Superman but without the ethics. There’s no molecular restructuring in this version. There really is no choice. But Superman always has the choice, you may argue. My response: Bullshit. I’m as against capital punishment as much as the next guy, but sometimes, there really is no choice. I’m sorry.
Finally, I’m going to lump Zack Snyder’s direction with the special effects. Krypton looks amazing. The feats Superman pulled off were really super. Oh, and I really liked Superman’s suit. I didn’t think I would but I found it to be closer to the original comic book suit than Superman Returns‘s suit but in line with this story’s needs. Well done. It turned a disbeliever into a believer. Snyder, for once, doesn’t get in the way of himself (300), nor does he go so purist that he misses the chance to adapt a story cinematically (Watchmen). I really feel like what I saw onscreen was a modern version of what Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel created 75 years ago.
It’s a little choppy in places. I’d like to give examples but I can’t. As I said, I’ve only seen the movie one time but I remember thinking at one point, How’d we get here? Maybe another viewing would change that.
The flying dildoes were an issue for me. General Zod’s people are punished for their crimes on Krypton and are placed in pods that go onto a spaceship that goes to the Phantom Zone. These pods fly up to the awaiting spaceship and look like a bunch of dildoes. It’s ridiculous. Did no one notice this throughout preproduction? Did no one point this out during the various viewings? How could no one look at these pods ascending toward the spaceship, stand up, and shout, “That looks like my junk!” But, alas, Zod and his crew gets put on the Phantom Zone spaceship in flying dildoes.
The destruction is stupid. I know I’m not the only one to say so since a quick Google Search brought up many articles that are only about the destruction. Days ago, this one from BuzzFeed crossed my feed and I ignored it because I hadn’t seen the movie, but knew I wanted to give it a looksee. The destruction was staggering. It was as though Goyer, Nolan, Snyder, Warner Bros., and DC watched The Avengers and said, “We’s gotsta go bigger!” It was ridiculous. I know we live in a Post-9/11 world where the imagery of falling cities is supposed to be cathartic in some way, but can all agree we’ve had enough? If this were the sequel, I could almost understand the reason to go so goddamn big, but it’s the first movie of (hopefully) a good series. What’s going to happen in the next movie? Will half the planet be wiped out? And the worst part about it is that there’s no follow-up to the destruction. We get a scene between Superman and a United States general, a touching scene between Clark and Mom, and Clark Kent donning the glasses as he arrives at the Daily Planet to “meet” Lois Lane and begin work as a reporter. This is all well and good, but about the damage? The lives lost? Shouldn’t Superman be out helping rescuers and clean stuff up? Will that be brought up in the sequel? Either way, I found the destruction of Metropolis too much and it detracted from my overall enjoyment of the movie.
After the Battle
Overall, I really liked Man of Steel. It’s not as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it’s the best Superman movie we’ve had since Donner’s 1978 film, and it’s just different enough to be its own thing. I’m looking forward to what happens next. If Goyer and Snyder were smart (and they are) they’d go with a more personal story instead of the spectacle. A Superman story will inherently have spectacle, whether he’s fighting a rogue Kryptonian or a street thug. And if they follow The Dark Knight Trilogy in the way that Man of Steel used the template set up in Batman Begins, then the next movie will be a more personal. And judging by some of the LexCorp logos on buildings and tankers, I have a feeling we know where they’ll go.
Nineteen years. The world changed substantially between 1987 and 2006. One thing did not change: The desire to bring Superman back to the Silver Screen. After the disastrous Superman IV, it looked as though the Man of Steel would be on sabbatical. That was fine because 1989 brought a different superhero to the Silver Screen. Batman, starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, written by Sam Hamm, and directed by Tim Burton, was one of the most anticipated movies of 1989. Don’t think that Superman still wasn’t on people’s minds, though. 1988 saw the worldwide celebration of Superman’s 50th birthday, he appeared on the cover of Time, and the Salkinds returned to him…kinda-sorta. They produced a syndicated television series of Superboy that lasted between 1988 and 1992. But the word on Batman was good. People were looking forward to it and the Warner Bros. marketing machine went into overtime. And when the movie finally opened on June 23rd, 1989, it was a blockbuster. A new era in the comic book movie had dawned and Superman seemed like a relic.
The success of Batman and its 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, as well as the general popularity in comic books that resulted, made the comic book movie seem like a legitimate film genre. Despite Superman appearing on television in a new series in 1993, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which promised at the outset a more grown-up Moonlighting feel but quickly descended into a juvenile adventure show, the idea of bringing Superman back to the Big Screen was very much on the minds of Warner Bros. Jon Peters, the famed former-hair-dresser-turned-Big-Time-Hollywood-Producer and one of the producers of Batman and Batman Returns, wanted to bring Superman to the Silver Screen in a big, big way. And that is how the Superman Lives fiasco came about. The film, written by Kevin Smith, directed by Tim Burton, and starring Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent/Superman seems to be a near-miss for Superman fans. Peters kept at it, though, and so did Warner Bros. I won’t go much more into it but a simple Internet search for Superman movies will bring you a lot of information.
Besides, by the late-1990s, the comic book movie genre had pretty much died. Aside from the Batman movies, no other movie hit its mark. There was a lot of development but little actual production. What movies were made looked horrible, weren’t taken seriously, and died a quick death. Television was a little kinder with the Warner Bros. Animated series of Batman, Superman, and Justice League.
And then in 2000 came X-Men. With a story by Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer, a screenplay by David Hayter, and direction by Singer, the film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’s most popular teams hit all the right chords and was a mega-hit. The idea that Bryan Singer would have gotten involved was shocking. He was an up-and-coming indie film director and his film The Usual Suspects was an Oscar darling. What he brought with him was the knowledge that the characters were important, that without strong characters, these films could have as much spectacle as anyone could put in them but it wouldn’t mean a thing.
X-Men rejuvenated the comic book movie genre, but it took Sam Raimi’s adaptation of Spider-Man to really get it going.
I loved these movies, but not being a Marvel kid, I kept waiting for DC’s triumphant return while skipping the 2001-2012 TV series Smallville. With Batman Begins (2005), DC returned to the Silver Screen in a triumphant way. Using the model set up by the Marvel Entertainment movies, Warner Bros. went with Christopher Nolan, who’d gained tons of attention for his indie thriller Memento. So it wasn’t a shock that Warner Bros. would have a new Superman movie for the following year. What was the shock was the director: Bryan Singer. After two successful X-Men films, who would’ve called him jumping ship for Superman?
So in June 2006, I found myself with a friend whom I liked a lot sitting in a local movie theater eagerly awaiting Superman Returns. With a story by Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris, and screenplay by Dougherty and Harris (who’d written the screenplay for the great X-Men sequel X2), there was no doubt the movie would be great. Although I’d seen the trailers and wondered about a few things–Marlon Brando’s posthumous return as well as the use of John Williams’s original theme–I was pretty excited.
It was a movie that I was truly looking forward to. Things hadn’t been so great for me starting in 2003 but were beginning to take an upswing. I would be starting a new job at the end of the summer as a teaching assistant. Though I was pretty depressed, I knew that I was on the road to recovery. Things were looking up. And there was a new Superman.
So the lights dimmed, and I was transported away for my first Superman movie viewing on the Big Screen….
The opening title sequence. Though I’d seen all the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, I’d seen none of them in theaters. So to see the opening title sequences for the first two films recreated on the Big Screen gave me chills. John Williams’s music has been a part of my life seemingly forever, so sitting there and seeing a “new” version of the old credits with his music just blew me away and brought tears to my eyes.
The special effects were astounding. Superman’s flying effects were as real as anything done to that point. It wasn’t just the flying effects that were good, either, but all of the effects. A little too good, perhaps. In the sequence when Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is covering a space shuttle test on an airplane and the plane ends up plummeting from the sky until Superman (Brandon Routh) saves it, I actually had a panic attack brought on by the uber-realistic effects, both visual and sound. It is a scene that started me wondering if maybe special effects are too good these days.
The story wasn’t bad. It took the material seriously and did its best to give the characters pathos. It honored what came before but went off in a different direction. And it took some bold risks in the adaptation. It’s not perfect, which we’ll get to, but it’s a valiant attempt with some good moments.
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is perfect. He comes across as arrogant enough, and cold enough, to be Lex Luthor. Besides being one of the best actors working today, he embodied what a modern Lex Luthor would be like. And, unlike Gene Hackman, Spacey was willing to shave his head for the role.
The Phantom Zone
This is a tough one. I’d like to talk about the rest of the cast, but I don’t feel like they should be placed under The Kryptonite, so I’m placing them in The Phantom Zone. Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Parker Posey, and James Marsden were all actors I had some issues with, especially upon rewatching this movie. Marsden plays Richard White, Perry White’s (Frank Langella) nephew. Look, I’m not a fan of Marsden. I’m not sure what it is exactly, though I’ve liked him in some stuff I’ve seen him in. He was great as Cyclops in the X-Men movies, but here I didn’t particularly care for him. He plays Lois’s boyfriend–partner? fiancé?–her not-husband and seemingly the father of her child. He has some good moments in this movie, but there’s something about him that just doesn’t sit well with me. Parker Posey is another actor who I think is great but who got on my nerves here as Miss Tesch–er…um…Kitty Kowalski. She’s obviously supposed to be the modern Miss Teschmacher except she’s not…how to put in a Politically Correct way? Aw, to hell with it. She’s not sexy enough. Valerie Perrine, I’m sure, got many a young men started on the road to puberty in 1978. Parker Posey? Not so much. She’s attractive in different ways and I think her talents are under-utilized in this role. She’s not bad, she actually brings a lot of emotion to the part, but she just doesn’t feel right to me.
Which brings me to Kate Bosworth and Brandon Routh. As the two most important characters in the movie, their roles are essential. Both look too young to be in their roles. Considering both look (and, according to Wikipedia, were) in their early-to-mid 20s, it’s hard to believe they were together five years before this story for any substantial amount of time in Metropolis. They’d be better cast as young Superman and young Lois Lane first meeting, but even that wouldn’t be ideal since Lois was already established as an up-and-coming major reporter. Bosworth lacks some of the toughness that Margot Kidder had that made Lois Lane believable. Whether it’s 1948, 1978, or 2006, being a woman reporter is difficult because the news agencies are boys’ clubs. Lois Lane needs to be tough-as-nails while still being soft and, sometimes, vulnerable. Bosworth doesn’t sell me on the tough part. She’s cute, she’s a capable actress, I guess, but I had trouble buying her as Lois Lane. Not only that, but I never sensed any onscreen chemistry with Brandon Routh. The chemistry is essential to the part.
And now I go to Brandon Routh. I want to love him as Superman, and after that first screening at the Flagship Cinemas in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on July 15th, 2006 (I keep my ticket stubs), I did. I thought he was the perfect Superman. But now I’ve seen the movie three, four, maybe five times (I think it’s four) and I’m not so sure. He plays the role fine in the sense that I’m sure he did what he was directed to do or as the script called for him to. He mostly looks the part of Superman and Clark Kent, and even resembles Christopher Reeve when he smiles. But he’s too muted. He’s too serious. He’s too goddamn subdued. And because he looks so young, I had trouble believing him as Superman. His Clark Kent has nearly no personality, and his Superman only a modicum more. As a matter of fact, he hardly speaks as Superman. Again, I think it’s the performance that was asked for, and he delivered. But….
The story. Here’s one of those contradictions I enjoy employing. I mentioned what I liked about it so here’s where it rubs me the wrong way. Is it a new movie that’s paying homage to the original Donner movie(s)? Is it a follow-up to it/those? What is this beast, exactly? It has the John Williams theme, the opening title sequence, pictures of Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent, Lex Luthor’s obsession with real estate, Lois’s article “I Spent the Night with Superman,” a consummated romance between Superman and Lois, the Kryptonian crystals forming the Fortress of Solitude, and Marlon Brando as Jor-El. It looks as though it’s a follow-up to the Donner film(s). But the fact that it takes place in modern America, with cell phones, flat screen televisions, etc., disputes that. So it seems to be a new movie with a helluva lot of homages. This is cute when you see it in the theater for the first time, but it gets old upon further viewings and once you bring your brain to the party.
The lack of wonder and fun is a problem for me. It tries for wonder, I’ll give it that. The image of New Krypton rising from the Atlantic towards space is something to behold, however, the rest of the movie falls short. In some parts, the movie is just plain boring. Maybe it’s the lack of chemistry between actors. Maybe it’s boring lines. Maybe it’s because the fact that this entire movie feels like the song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song and the ideas behind it, but I don’t want a 2hr 34 minute movie based on it. Yet, that’s exactly what it feels like. Superman spends a lot of time alone and serious. It’s not that I don’t want Superman serious, or alone, but I don’t want him emo, either. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was serious, but not slit-my-wrists-serious. Lex Luthor and his gang have some dark humor, and there’s some humor at the Daily Planet with Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) and Clark, but overall the movie just went on and on and the performances and story in between action set pieces aren’t engaging enough.
Superman’s beating has always bothered me. New Krypton is made with Kryptonian crystals stolen from the Fortress of Solitude combined with Kryptonite. This means that when Superman is standing on it, he becomes powerless (and, in theory, should eventually die). Lex Luthor and his gang use this opportunity to beat the living shit out of Superman, ending with Luthor stabbing him with a shard of Kryptonite, breaking it in Superman. The beating is brutal and probably is what led to the PG-13 rating, because none of the rest of the movie really warrants it. It’s a bit overkill, really, based on everything that’s been set up so far. I know Lex Luthor is a ruthless criminal, and there’s no Otis this time bumbling around, but the beating feels out of place in this particular movie. That’s probably because the movie is so closely related, by its own cleverness, to the 1978-1980 films. Maybe I’m being too judgmental here, but I just don’t think it fits.
I’m not a fan of the new Superman suit. It’s a little too much. I don’t mind the switch away from tights/spandex, but there’s something about the costume that just doesn’t feel like Superman to me. It’s unfair, perhaps, due to the perfection of the Christopher Reeve costume when compared to the comic book version, to be so critical over the suit, but there are things that just bother me. The boots look like something from Nike, which makes me wonder how it fits into Clark Kent’s shoes. For that matter, how does the S on the chest go unnoticed under Clark’s shirt? Also, the dark red and gold aren’t right. I made an allusion to this in my essay on Superman III; Bad Superman’s red and yellow is the same color as Brandon Routh’s Superman’s, only he’s not evil (he’s barely even alive!). The shirt goes up too far, too, or something. I don’t know. I’ve just never been a fan of this costume.
Finally, by biggest issue with Superman Returns is Jason White, played by Tristan Lake Leabu. Jason White is Lois Lane’s son, whom we think belongs to her fiancé Richard, but is actually Superman’s son. This shocker wasn’t all that shocking, which is part of the problem. The moment the audience is introduced to the asthmatic little boy it knows the kid belongs to Superman, even though they look nothing alike. The kid doesn’t look like Lois, either. The thing that made me think that maybe the kid wasn’t Superman’s was the thought that I’m sure every fan had: Oh, wow. The creators of this movie are really adapting this by giving Lois a kid. It must be Superman’s, except, who’d be that stupid? Surely fans will revolt against this. But it is Superman’s son. Which, again, throws the plot into a weird light in regards to the Donner movies. There’s no hint in this movie (other than the boy) that Lois and Superman were ever together, just that they obviously cared for each other. So the question goes back to: Are the filmmakers going back to Superman II with this, and if so, which one? The Lester Cut has Superman giving up his powers before sleeping with Lois, which would mean his sperm wouldn’t have the super powers anymore, right? The Donner Cut has Superman sleep with Lois and then lose his powers. But since most people probably wouldn’t have seen this version, isn’t that a little out there? And if it doesn’t have anything to do with those cuts, or the first Donner Superman, then how come more isn’t made of Lois and Superman’s relationship? Does she realize who Clark is? There are so many damn questions, never mind the science of two different species conceiving a child. If it’s impossible for two species of creatures on Earth to conceive, how can a humanoid creature from another planet conceive with a human woman?
And that’s not even my biggest problem! Because if it were Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder on the Big Screen, directed by Donner, with a screenplay by Mankiewicz that exhibited the same dedication to the characters that their movies did, I’d be with Superman, Jr. Or if Singer and his writers done a better job with their characters and hired actors I could get behind more, I’d be with Superman, Jr. But that’s not what happened. Their story is good, but never really finds the right balance. Their actors are all right, but I have trouble really buying them as people who’ve gone through these kinds of adventures before. And the worst of the actors is, I hate to say it, Tristan Lake Leabu. Look, I don’t want to beat up on a little kid so I won’t say it’s his talent that’s lacking, I’m sure the kid is a fine actor as he’s worked in movies and television after Superman Returns, but it’s the story and the directing. He becomes a Creepy Kid. As I wrote about Miko Hughes in the otherwise phenomenal Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Creepy Kids seem to infiltrate many movies. Why does Jason White have to walk around like a zombie? Why must he have no personality? There’s nothing charming about what this kid does in the movie. Again, I don’t think it’s the young actor so much as the way Jason White is written and Bryan Singer’s direction for the boy. When a kid is used to advance the story like this, and really doesn’t do much else to contribute to it, he’s a prop, and the filmmakers should be ashamed. It would’ve been far more interesting having the child behave like a five-year-old child, running around, getting into true mischief, than having this Golden Boy who walks catatonically through the movie to finally throw a piano at someone.
After the Battle
I left the movie theater that summer night happy, and I guess that’s what really matters. Superman had returned (for the time being) and things would be getting back on track for me, too.
If it seems as though I dislike Superman Returns it’s because I get hung up on the details that bother me. I don’t dislike it, nor do I particularly like it. It’s better than Superman IV and, overall, Superman III (though there are parts of Superman III I like better than anything in Superman Returns). I think it was a lost opportunity. On its own, I think there’s some great stuff in this movie, but I think some of the ideas going into it were flawed, as were many storytelling aspects of it. I think Brandon Routh could’ve done better in the role had the script (and direction) had him do so. I think Bosworth does as well as she can but is miscast as Lois Lane. I guess I just expected something better from the people who brought us X-Men and X2.
I still would have seen a sequel to this, though. It does intrigue me on where Singer and company would’ve gone. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
After the mixed and bad reviews that Superman III received, as well as the same for Supergirl (1984), Alexander and Ilya Salkind sold the film rights to Superman to Golan-Globus Productions, which were working with Cannon Films. Interested in bringing Superman back to the big screen, they approached Christopher Reeve, who had pretty much sworn off playing Superman again. They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: If he signed on to reprise his role as the Man of Steel, 1) he could help come up with the story, 2) they would greenlight any project he wanted, 3) if Superman IV were a success, he could direct Superman V. Reeve signed on.
The story came from an actual letter he received from an actual little boy who asked how come Superman didn’t get rid of all the nuclear weapons in existence. For those reading this who were born after 1990, keep in mind that while the shadow of nuclear holocaust still envelops us all, back in the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan as President and Gorbachev in power of the Soviet Union, it felt like there would be nuclear war at any time. I remember being a little boy and aware of this, terrified of it. By 1987, the year I turned 10, I’d been living with the understanding that the kind-looking old man we called President was really a lunatic with a charming smile, and so was the dude with bird doo on his head. So the idea that a little boy would write the actor who was Superman for a generation of youth isn’t surprising. The fact that Reeve wanted this to be the basis of the fourth Superman movie is surprising.
I saw some pretty earth-shattering movies in 1987: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Beverly Hills Cop II that were personal favorites. I also saw Three Men and a Baby and The Secret of My Success, because I was a big Michael J. Fox fan. Even though I wanted to see it, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace wasn’t in my cards. I had to wait until it came on HBO/Cinemax.
The movie that Reeve got Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus to produce was 1987’s Street Smart, which earned Morgan Freeman an Oscar nomination. As far as Superman V is concerned, well….
It’s 90 minutes long.
All right, all right. I’ll try harder.
The concept isn’t bad. The credit for story belongs to Christopher Reeve, Lawrence Konner, and Mark Rosenthal. Moving into a direction where Superman decides to go against the rule that he should not interfere with humanity on such a grand scale was done in the first movie, but it’s something that’s bound to come up again and again if you’re Superman.
Also, Christopher Reeve is still a real good Superman/Clark Kent. He still plays the part with earnestness and takes the character seriously. That’s important. He even dyed his hair this time around. The scenes of his I like the most are at the beginning when he’s on the Kent farm, just looking around. There’s a scene where he’s brooding on the couch of his apartment when there’s a knock at the door. He looks up, surprised, and grabs his glasses. It’s subtle but it never feels put-on. He’s even good as he’s sick from radiation poisoning (though I find this scene chilling since the makeup isn’t too different from what Reeve looked like as he began to lose his hair after his accident).
The acting is pretty bad by everyone else. Margot Kidder’s role is once again fairly prominent, Marc McClure returns as Jimmy Olsen (though his part is even less existent than in Superman III, where they at least gave him stuff to do other than stand in the background). Jackie Cooper is firing on all cylinders as Perry White in this one, though he seemed to have aged quite a bit in the four years between movies. Finally, Gene Hackman returns as Lex Luthor, which should be a welcome thing considering the watered-down villains of the previous installment. Newcomers include Mariel Hemingway as Lacy Warfield; Sam Wanamaker as her father, David Warfield; Jon Cryer as Lenny Luthor, Lex’s nephew; and Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man. With the exception of Cooper, all the acting falls flat. Kidder should be a welcome return but the dumbing down that began with Lester’s rewrite of Superman II continues here. As I mentioned, Jimmy Olsen is barely involved in this movie. The Warfields are boring, Wanamaker is the typical 1980s tycoon who cares only for money and Hemingway is the typical 1980s-spoiled-rich-girl-who-finds-there’s-more-to-life-than-money (that may be the longest hyphenated title I’ve ever written. May be). You’d think that Gene Hackman’s return would up the ante but he pretty much phones in his performance. There are maybe one or two good moments, but they’re brief moments. The rest of the time he’s hamming it up. Jon Cryer, one of my favorite actors of the 1980s, is horrible as the silly Lenny Luthor. Horrible. Uck. He actually calls Superman “The Dude of Steel.” I know that’s the writers’ fault but the fact that he agreed to say it…. And don’t get me started on the piece of cardboard called Mark Pillow. Maybe it’s because a decision was made that he’d sound like Lex Luthor (which doesn’t make sense), his acting is wooden. Or it could be that he was a terrible actor. His IMDb résumé shows that this was his only film role, and he only acted twice afterward on TV.
I think there’s a good reason for the bad acting: bad script and direction. The screenplay is by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (I’ve already mentioned they worked with Reeve on the story) (and now I’ve mentioned it again), and Sidney J. Furie directed. Now, Furie seems to have been around forever and has done some good work, but Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is not among the good. I’ll be talking about the budget for the movie, which was low and seems to be the thing blamed most for the poor reviews and earnings of the movie, soon enough, but I think the small budget is only a fraction of the issue. Sure, you may not be able to have great special effects or shoot on the locations one would like, but that doesn’t excuse sloppy acting, writing, or directing.
I mentioned above that this movie is only 90 minutes long. Superman: The Movie runs at 2 hrs 23 mins (the Extended Edition runs 2 hrs 31 mins), Superman II runs 2 hrs 7 mins (I’ll add the Richard Donner Cut only because you may be interested: 1 hr 54 mins, but keep in mind that this really isn’t a finished film, but rather as finished as it could get nearly 30 years after shooting began), and Superman III runs 2 hrs 5 mins. At 90 minutes, it’s the shortest of the Christopher Reeve series. That was not the intention. The original script went much longer and there was much more footage shot. Word is that Cannon Films cut nearly 45 minutes from the film during the editing phase. Part of it was due to budgetary issues, a lot of it was because it was just bad. There are several places for more information about this, including Mark Rosenthal’s commentary on the DVD and Blu Ray releases of this movie. The Superman Homepage is one such place, as is Caped Wonder. If you’re interested but don’t feel like going to hardcore Superman websites, then Wikipedia will do. No matter, the extra 45 minutes would’ve brought the movie up to 2 hrs 15 mins, the second longest movie of the series. Rest assured, having seen some of the cut material on the Superman Anthology Blu Ray of the movie (if my reading is correct, there’s actually more deleted goodness on a DVD version of the movie), no one is missing anything.
And it goes back to story. As the movie opens, The Daily Planet is being bought by David Warfield, who is planning on turning the Planet into a tabloid and letting his daughter, Lacy, run it. So it pokes fun at the Rupert Murdochs of the world, as well as every other businessman who performed hostile takeovers of companies and destroyed them. As this is happening, arms talks fail and it’s announced that both the United States and the Soviet Union are going to expand their nuclear weapons, which could lead to, well…BOOM! A school somewhere is watching this where two of the worst actors of the movie are. One is a school teacher and the other is the boy, Jeremy, who will write Superman despite the taunts of classmates. He wants to know why Superman doesn’t just collect all the nuclear weapons of the world and destroy them. After some back-and-forth and public humiliation, Superman, Jeremy, and a crowd that includes Lois Lane, Lacy Warfield, Jimmy Olsen (I think), and many others, go to the U.N. (not the real U.N.–not even close) where Superman announces to the world leaders that he will be ridding the world of all nuclear weapons. And, just like it happens in real life, every world leader agrees to let this alien from another planet, who could kill them all with a fart, take the weapons they’ve spent decades and billions of dollars building and accumulating and destroy them. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor breaks out of jail with the help of his nephew, Lenny. Luthor devises a plan to stop Superman by taking some of Superman’s hair from a museum exhibit, grinding it up, using some science, and launching it into the sun on one of the missiles to create…(music)…Nuclear Man! There’s fighting and this and that and Superman wins and gives a speech. The end.
If you skipped over the above paragraph, or skimmed through it once you realized it was the movie’s story, I don’t blame you. But you have to understand that it’s that kind of movie. The kind that you feel compelled to retell in detail because you’re not sure it could be that bad. Watching the movie is painful at times, and it’s the story. It often feels like the screenwriters took pieces from the previous Superman movies and threw them into this one because they knew fans enjoyed them the first time around. One of Superman’s earlier appearances in this movie is when Clark misses the subway but Lois gets on. The driver has a heart attack and Superman has to save the train. He literally stops rescue personnel from getting to the driver to tell the crowd that the train is still one of the safest ways to get around the city. Just like he told Lois in the first movie that flying was, statistically speaking, the safest form of travel right after the helicopter she was in nearly killed her. Speaking of Lois Lane…. Remember that scene I mentioned where Clark is brooding in his apartment until a knock on the door? Well, it’s Lois. They’re going somewhere together and he’s not ready. He takes her by the hand, goes onto his balcony with her, and they walk off the building with her protesting and screaming. He changes to Superman in front of her and she suddenly remembers Superman II. Then, like Superman: The Movie, Lois and Superman fly around. Only this time, he actually lets go and she keeps flying (more on this later). Finally, they return and he feels better. He kisses her and as she stands, out of it, he quickly changes back to Clark Kent and she awakens, having forgotten that Kent and Superman are one and the same. You know, like Superman II. Of course, Lex Luthor is back and there’s a supervillain with many similar powers. There’s a return to the farm in Smallville and the Fortress of Solitude with holograms. It’s all familiar and so bad the second time around. There’s very little original in this movie and when there is, it’s bad.
Take the double date between Lacy Warfield and Clark Kent and Lois Lane and Superman. It’s supposed to happen at Lacy’s apartment where Lois is cooking for them. What happens in this scene is some fun slapstick for a kid, where Kal-El keeps changing between Superman and Clark Kent, doing things to trick the women so they don’t know the two are the one (I wrote that purposefully confusing). I remember particularly enjoying this scene at the age of 10 but now, at 35, I find it pretty mean. Why schedule both “dates” on the same night with women who will be together? Lois needs to interview Superman, and Lacy has the hots for Clark. Okay. So why allow them to happen together? The same night, a few hours apart? All right. But together? No. Only a dick would do that. No logic.
And speaking of logic, because of the cuts made, and the poor budget, there are some ridiculous leaps from logic and science. At the end, Nuclear Man sees a picture of Lacy Warfield and decides he must have her. He goes to the Daily Planet building and lands on the street outside, because that’s what a guy with super powers would do, as opposed to busting through an exterior wall. He wreaks havoc and suddenly Superman re-appears (he was nearly killed after his last fight with Nuclear Man) and shouts, “Leave her alone!” or something like that. Huh? How does he know why Nuclear Man (oh, how it pains me to write that name) is there? Well, it’s in the cut scenes, which actually make things more complicated. Anyway, Nuclear Man finally gets Lacy and flies her into space. Go back, reread that sentence. I’ll wait. Good? Good. Yeah, Nuclear Man takes Lacy Warfield into space sans spacesuit. You know, he takes her into the freezing vacuum of space unprotected. And Superman is okay with this. He saves her, but… Ugh. Need I go on? I know it seems trivial to be upset about her not having a spacesuit since, by all rights, even Superman should, technically, have one. I’m willing to buy that Superman (and his kind) can survive in space without a suit, fine, but not a human. Not no way, not no how. And there’s the science of Lois’s flying alone. It happens for a few seconds in the film (the deleted scene had her flying alone for far longer) but is ridiculous and goes against what happens in the first movie when Lois’s hand slips from Superman’s and she begins plummeting. And there are more instances, I’m sure, but time is running out and I still have more bases to cover.
The budget was miniscule. As I mentioned before, the budget is the thing that seems to get the most blame for the quality of the movie. That’s horsepucky. Yeah, the effects suck, but they were already on the decline in Superman III. Now they’re even worse. Apparently, Cannon Films had many movies in development that, for a small company, ended up hurting all the films. They simply didn’t have the funds to make the movie they’d intended. Consider the costs of making the prior three movies:
- Superman: The Movie – $55 million
- Superman II – $54 million
- Superman III – $39 million
When you take into consideration that the first films were begun simultaneously and one of the reasons that the Salkinds fired Richard Donner was that he went over schedule and over budget, it should come as no surprise that the third film’s budget is lower. Most likely, that’s probably closer to the budget wanted for each of the first two movies. Now, according to the Wikipedia article on the Superman series (and they give the source as Empire), the original budget for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was $35 million. That was cut, though, due to all the other films Cannon was trying to do. The final tally for the budget of the fourth film of one of the most popular franchises of the 1980s was…(drumroll)…$17 million. We’re talking low-rent Superman in a time before rampant digital effects. Still, that doesn’t excuse poor writing, poor directing, or poor acting. Hell, let’s throw the editor under the bus, too. Poor editing. The reason the budget was probably cut wasn’t only because of all the other movies Cannon was trying to make at the time, but probably because the Powers That Be saw the script, saw some of the crap that was coming in from dailies (like the first Nuclear Man. Yes, there were originally two. The first one is like Bizarro and is destroyed the first time he fights Superman), and said, “Hells no!”
After the Battle
Look, I could keep going. I’m at nearly 2,800 words at this point, though, and you want to go back to your life. Needless to say, this movie is bad. The only charm this movie has to offer is that it’s so 1980s. When I did a similar essay on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, another movie I hate that comes from a much-loved franchise, I mentioned one of the only redeeming factors of the movie is its 1980s charm. The same can nearly be said about this movie. The shoulder pads, Nuclear Man’s hair, the corporate greed thing as well as the nuclear arms thing–these all give the movie some charm, but it’s taken 26 years.
As a 10-year-old when I watched it on HBO/Cinemax, I was shocked by how bad it was. Yeah, some of it entertained me, but most of it was bad. My opinion on it hasn’t changed in that regard, and has only become more venomous. I never understand how people who get the ability to take the reins on such a good franchise would hurt it so much. I know that wasn’t anyone’s intention, but it still angers me. Maybe it’s that inner-9-year-old who still dreams of being a filmmaker, but when things go so wrong like this, it gives me pause and makes me angry. Give me the keys to the goddamn car and let me drive! Alas, that will not be.
Due to the failure of this film, the Superman franchise died. There was always talk of the possibility that maybe, possibly, someone would come along and rejuvenate the franchise. That Christopher Reeve would don the blue spandex and red cape and fly once again. But you and I know that would not happen. You and I know that it wasn’t Kryptonite that would kill this Superman. It was almost 20 years before Superman would fly across the Silver Screen again, and my, how things changed in that time.
One Last Word
If you’ve been reading these essays since the beginning, then you surely noticed that I mentioned Christopher Reeve’s performance in each of his movies. I struggled about whether or not I should do so. After all, death tends to sweeten such a performance. The thing is, that’s not the case here. Reeve was a great actor who never really got the credit he deserved in his screen career. His comic timing was great, his energy always came through, and he was classically trained and able to do drama. His way of speaking his lines and his acting was unique. I sometimes think about what would have happened had he not fallen off that goddamn horse in 1995. I like to think he would’ve had a career upswing sometime in the 1990s, one that would’ve brought him along to us today. It looks as though his career was already on an upswing when the accident happened.
The thing about Christopher Reeve as Superman was that he was always approachable, and I think that’s because Reeve himself embodied much of that same spirit. Kirk Alyn’s Superman was eager to fight bad guys and be Superman. George Reeves was the wise uncle. Sure, he’d fight the bad guys, but he always had good advice. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was earnest, honest, and had true beliefs and morals, and was flawed. He was our brother, our friend. One of the successes of Superman IV, that I purposely waited until now to mention, is its politics. In that way, it’s a brave movie. Greed, war, fear are all bad and government-sanctioned in some capacity, but Superman is able to still see the good in everyone and uses his kindness to sway others. He acts as a role model, not out of a sense of being better than us but by trying to be us. Reeve surely brought a lot of that into the role.
As a child, Christopher Reeve was a hero. Not because he was Christopher Reeve, but because he was Superman. As an adult, Christopher Reeve was a hero. Not because he was Superman, but because he was Christopher Reeve.
In 2000, I went in for an appendectomy and woke up with much more done to me. My appendix had been fine when they removed it and further exploration led the surgeon to discover that my intestine had ruptured due to undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease. This led to a temporary colostomy bag. What was supposed to be “three, four months,” became a year-and-a-half. During that time, whenever I’d fart in public because I couldn’t stop it, whenever I’d have an issue with a colostomy bag leaking, whenever I felt bad for myself because of my situation, I’d tell myself, If Christopher Reeve–Superman–can find a way to stay positive and keep fighting, then I can get through this.
Reeve’s accident happened days after I signed out of high school.
I learned of his death in an apartment I lived in a few months after my separation from my first wife. I think I cried. I don’t remember. I remember, though, the feeling that this man had lived. He’d done good for others. He was…well…Superman.
One last, brief, thing. The story of Superman IV can work. In 1998, DC Comics published an oversized graphic novel called Superman: Peace on Earth. It was written by Paul Dini and painted by Alex Ross. In it, Superman decides to rid the world of nuclear weapons. However, instead of all the nations of the world cheering him, many are offended and threaten war. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated book that I highly recommend.
1983 was a big year for me. I turned six in August. I was finishing up kindergarten that spring and going into first grade that fall. And, most importantly, the third film of my favorite movie series was coming out: Return of the Jedi! I was also excited that there was a new Superman movie. I only got to see one of them that summer, though, and the honor went to Return of the Jedi. Still, I was very much aware of Superman III and even watched the hour-long Making Of special that aired on TV to promote the movie. What a delight for a six-year-old that special was! Superman was going to go bad! That funny dude from The Toy (which had been on HBO), Richard Pryor–whom Mom said told dirty jokes for adults–would be in it. There was a lady named Lana Lang, and Clark Kent would go back to Smallville. And, the coolest of all: Superman would fight Clark Kent…in a junk yard!
When the movie finally came to HBO, I was not disappointed. I thought it was strange that Lois Lane was only in it at the beginning and at the end, but I thought the movie was funny and full of adventure. Sure, even at six/seven I knew it wasn’t as good as the previous movies, but I liked it well enough. So much so that when Dad brought me to an auto salvage yard, I re-enacted the fight scene. Alone. It gave the guy to whom my father spoke a great laugh. And imagine my shock when I discovered, on the dirt next to some scrap metal, a pair of broken glasses. Unaware of just how big the world was, I thought that maybe–just maybe–they shot the movie in that junk yard.
The Salkinds and Spengler rehired their screenwriters from the first two Superman films, David Newman and Leslie Newman, as well as director Richard Lester, to return to the franchise for Superman III. Most of the original cast returned, too. And with Richard Pryor on board, the movie was sure to be a winner. Right?
Christopher Reeve’s return as Superman is the best part of this movie. After all the time playing the Man of Steel from 1976 through 1980 for the first two movies, by the time he returned for 1983’s film, he had it down. Of course, the reason most people are even willing to rewatch this movie is when Superman turns bad. The bad guys give Superman synthetic Kryptonite with one wrong ingredient (this actually happens in 1950’s Atom Man vs. Superman) that turns him bad instead of killing him. As a result, we get to see him leer at and try to pick up Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), be mean to people, have sex with the bad guy’s squeeze (played by Pamela Stephenson), and become a drunk. His suit gets darker, too; the same shade as the suits in Superman Returns (2006) and Man of Steel (2013). The best part, though, is the fight between Superman and Clark Kent. It’s pretty deep when you get right down to it. The Bad Superman is a symbol of the feelings that Superman surely puts to rest while Clark Kent is the symbol of the wholesome goodness he tries to live by. Does Superman literally break into two people? Is it just in his mind? Who cares? Even though the special effects are somewhat dated now, it’s fun to watch. Of course, I’ve always loved the idea of an actor playing off him/herself onscreen. It probably goes with my love of dual personalities and the like. Either way, the Bad Superman parts of this movie (which go longer than the Powerless Superman parts of the prior movie) are fun, if not somewhat silly. And you can tell Christopher Reeve is having fun. Not in a silly, slapstick way, but he’s digging his teeth into the chance to go dark.
As a matter of fact, Reeve is the only serious thing in this movie. He takes the character(s) seriously and it shows. And as much fun as it is to see him as Bad Superman, for my money, I think his best performance in this movie is as Clark Kent. It’s established in the first scenes that he would like to return to Smallville for his high school reunion (Class of ’65 representin’!). At the reunion he runs into Lana Lang, his high school crush (she’s actually featured in the first film). Lana is divorced and raising a little boy on her own. There is an attraction between Clark and Lana almost from the go and it plays out slowly through the movie. Unlike the romance between Lois and Superman, which became quite intense, the romance between Lana and Clark is simple, much more innocent. Of course, the big thing is that Lana likes Clark for Clark, whereas Lois accepted Clark as Superman but was pretty dismissive of him beforehand. Reeve understands this and it’s in his performance. Around Lana, Clark isn’t stumbling around. He isn’t the joke. He’s a real man, though he still has to throw people off the scent of Superman.
Annette O’Toole is also pretty good as Lana Lang. She’s not a Lois Lane 2.0, which is a direction the producers, writers, or director could have gone. She’s more innocent but wants to move on, wants to leave her life in Smallville for a life in Metropolis. Fear holds her back, as it does to so many. O’Toole plays the role earnestly. Plus, I just think she’s beautiful. I love her. Don’t tell my wife.
As I write this, I am at about 960 words. I never intend for these essays to go much past 1,000 words. However, the more I dislike something, the longer the essay gets. I’m going to try to keep this minimal, but it’s really not my fault. It’s the goddamn filmmakers’ fault. So….
The move opens, pre-credits, on Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) standing in a jam-packed unemployment office. He’s being kicked off unemployment after a year or so because he can’t hold down a job. When he asks another patron for a light, he sees an ad on the matchbook cover for a school for computer programmers. He grunts as though this might be a good idea, and we’re off.
Think about that opening for a moment. This is a Superman movie. There’s no Krypton, no crime, no Superman. Just Richard Pryor doing Richard Pryor (and doing it well, I might add) and then the loose set-up. If the prologue is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the movie (which it should) then this isn’t a promising start to the third Superman adventure. But okay, cut them some slack. Once the titles are streaming by us in space and we get to Metropolis and Clark, Lois, and the rest of the gang at The Daily Planet, surely things will go back into normal territory and we’ll be on our way. Gus Gorman will prove to be an important villain or ally for Superman and everything will be right. After all, these are the people who made Superman II.
So imagine the surprise that befalls the viewer when the opening credits don’t stream past us in space, but rather in blurry places at the top and bottom of the screen as a slapstick comedy opening ensues. We’re talking mechanical toy penguins running amok (one has its head on fire and is extinguished by Clark Kent), a blind man chasing his seeing-eye dog, a man who’s had a paint bucket fall over his head and then crashes into a gumball machine, the gumballs of which roll under the feet of a mime. There’s even a cream pie in the face of some poor schmuck who’s been weaving his way through this mess since the beginning. Oh! And there’s a bank robbery that goes unchecked and a guy who almost drowns in his car after it strikes a fire hydrant and fills his car with water until Superman rescues him. And that’s not all of it, either. Not by a long shot.
It’s the humor in the movie that essentially hurts it. Superman‘s humor came from character and life. Sure, Lex Luthor and Otis were a little silly, but you had no doubt that Lex Luthor would happily murder millions and not give a damn. Superman II began camping it up under Richard Lester’s control, but with a movie that still had quite a bit of Richard Donner’s (uncredited) work in it, the slapstick campy humor didn’t drown out the drama. Superman III does not have Donner’s or Mankiewicz’s touches on it at all. The script is all David and Leslie Newman, whose script for the first two movies were pretty distasteful to Donner, which is why he brought Mankiewicz on to rewrite them (uncredited, see the first Superman‘s essay). The movie is all theirs and Lester’s, and this is the heart of the problem. It keeps going for the laughs when it shouldn’t, because their laughs aren’t funny. It’s like watching two movies playing simultaneously, a Superman movie and a Richard Pryor movie.
Which leads me to Richard Pryor, a man–a legend–whom I admire a great deal. Richard Pryor has an Every Man way about him that really comes across on film. He was a great actor. Some of his scenes in this very movie are wonderful. Just not when he’s being funny. When he breaks into the Pryor persona, it falls flat. This is not the right kind of vehicle for him or his comedic talents and it sticks out and hurts the movie. I think he would’ve been great had they dropped some of the silliness and had him play it straight. The premise for his character is pretty cool, really. He’s a down-on-his-luck guy who finds out he’s a savant with computers. He makes a mistake by trying to rob his boss (Robert Vaughn) who catches him and is evil in his own way. He decides to use Gorman’s talents for bad and Gorman goes along out of fear. There could have been a really good human story here. Instead, we have Richard Pryor pretending he’s other people, from a salesman to a general, to trick people. We have strange, funny hand gestures. We have him skiing off a building and surviving.
The villains are pretty shabby, too. The rumor is that Gene Hackman refused to work with the Salkinds again after the firing of Donner (it’s said he refused reshooting scenes for Superman II) so instead of Lex Luthor we got Robert Vaughn. I have to look up Vaughn’s character’s name, hold on. He played Ross Webster. Annie Ross plays Vera Webster, his sister. Rounding out the villains is Pamela Stephenson who plays Lorelei Ambrosia. Now, I had to use Wikipedia for those names because I didn’t know them, not through the movie, not now. Vaughn, who’s been around forever, plays the evilish Webster in the way one might expect, sneering, overly dramatic, very different than Hackman’s matter-of-fact villainous ways. Pamela Stephenson’s character is sort of Otis mixed with Miss Teschmacher, only not good at either. I find that they make her pretty intelligent at moments but she hides it whenever her man and his sister is in the room. She’s conning them, and that’s the best part about this trio. There’s no real scheme they’re plotting. After Webster discovers Gus Gorman stealing from him by being a savvy computer guy (remember, this is 1983) he decides to use Gorman’s talents to ruin the Colombian coffee crop for a reason I have since forgotten. Gorman takes over a computer that runs a satellite that has the power to control the weather and–I don’t know. It goes from there to them wanting to control the oil, and there’s a super computer that suddenly becomes alive and Vera Webster becomes a cyborg and–
I know. It’s crazy. Let’s move on.
Lois who? Margot Kidder is convinced that the producers were punishing her for being vocal in the press about firing Richard Donner so they gave her what amounted to a walk-on part. Ilya Salkind refutes that. I say, who cares? She’s not in it, and when she is she isn’t all that great. If she was embarrassed by it, why sign on? Was the paycheck that good? I don’t know, but it does feel strange to have her gone and Clark Kent seemingly fall for someone else, when the last two films were about Lois and Clark/Superman’s love.
Superman doesn’t have black hair. I don’t know if Reeve didn’t want to dye his hair black this time around, but his hair is his dirty-blonde/light brown color. With the stuff they use to style the hair of both Superman and Clark Kent, it’s hard to tell completely, but for a lot of my life, I thought it was gray hair showing. It took the remastered Blu Ray to realize it was dirty-blonde showing. Continuity, man.
It’s mean-spirited. I found quite a bit of Superman III mean-spirited. Maybe it’s the 1980s vibe in this movie, maybe it’s that David and Leslie Newman and Richard Lester are just mean-spirited, but I was unhappy with some of the jokes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there should be limits on humor. Everything is game, if it’s funny. But from the bumbling blind man at the beginning, to the silly happenings as the computers malfunction and we’re shown the effects of these changes on citizens, there’s mean-spirited stuff. Sexist, too. One example of the sexist humor comes during a montage of shots when Gorman has used the computer to create havoc. A man and woman, husband and wife, sit down for breakfast. The man is older, with a mustache, wearing a jacket and tie. The woman is a mousy housewife type. Both have grapefruit in front of them. The man opens an envelope from Bloomingdale’s and finds he owes something like $175,000. He takes the grapefruit and pushes it into his wife’s face. She just takes it and then gives a Lucy-type eyeroll! What the hell? And then there’s Lorelei Ambrosia. She is supposed to be Webster’s Miss Teschmacher and she’s definitely got big boobs that are flaunted as much as possible in a PG-rated kid’s movie. Unlike Valerie Perrine’s performance as Miss Teschmacher, though, Pamela Stephenson plays Ambrosia as trampy, stupid, and selfish. The few times we see that she’s actually pretty intelligent, she quickly hides it for Webster and his sister. And when she seduces Bad Superman, it hits a new low.
After the Battle
I can’t say that I hate Superman III because I don’t. There are some people who do hate it and I understand why. While it never really hits any of the heights of the first two movies, Superman III does have some good, watchable moments. It’s really the performances of Reeve and Pryor that make this movie. The supporting cast ranges from real good (O’Toole) to unwatchable (the lottery winners) but it definitely is a step down from the previous movies.
Coming out a month after Return of the Jedi to lukewarm reviews, Superman III disappointed all around. The Salkinds would try one last Super- adventure on the big screen (1984’s Supergirl) before bringing Superboy to syndicated television in the late-1980s/early-1990s. In interviews to promote the movie, Christopher Reeve said he doubted he’d ever do another Superman movie. If only he’d stuck to his guns….
I don’t remember when I first heard/read about the fiasco between Richard Donner and the producers of the Superman movies. It may have been in issues of Entertainment Weekly or Starlog or even online. Either way, I was in my teens or early twenties. Maybe my mother read or heard it somewhere and informed me. Either way, there was a Eureka! moment for me, when it made sense that the feel of Superman II is different than Superman: The Movie and Lois Lane is hardly in Superman III. I know that the documentaries that came on the 2000 release of the Superman movies on DVD, along with the special extended edition of the first movie, went into it a little. And like Superman fans around the world, I wondered what could have been. By the time I really knew about Donner’s firing, Christopher Reeve was already paralyzed from the neck down and the idea that there was, apparently, a load of unused footage of him in his most famous acting role was heartbreaking. If only Warner Bros. or the Salkinds would release the footage. If only someone would go by Donner’s notes and try to piece together what was filmed for his version of Superman II (surely Donner, who’d moved onto The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon series, and other successful films, wouldn’t want to come back) it would be such a great thing to honor Reeve, the late-Marlon Brando, and the hard work put in by everyone involved in those movies.
In 2004, Christopher Reeve died. It wasn’t a surprise. Still, it broke my heart.
I don’t remember when I first heard/read about the release of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, but I was excited. As a matter of fact, it was one of the first DVDs I got from Netflix when I joined.
Due to demands made by fans worldwide (and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns being on its way toward theaters at the time was a big influence) Warner Bros., who now owned the sole film rights for all the Superman movies, went to Richard Donner and asked if he wanted to do a special edition. He agreed, bringing his friend and collaborator Tom Mankiewicz back into the fray. Using remastered footage from the original shoot of both Superman and Superman II, along with some Richard Lester footage, two screen tests, and even a few brand new shots, Donner told the second chapter of the Superman story as it was originally written. Or at least as close as he could manage under the circumstances.
The DVD came during a particularly dark period for me. I was living with my parents again, not long after the divorce from my first wife. I was depressed. This movie made me very happy, while it also hurt a great deal.
It’s essentially the same story as the theatrical Superman II. General Zod, Ursa, and Non are freed from the Phantom Zone and come to Earth. Superman and Lois Lane consummate their relationship and he gives up his powers for her. He gets his ass kicked and finds out about Zod, goes back to get his powers back, fights Zod and crew in Metropolis, and finally leads them back to the Fortress of Solitude where he defeats them. Lex Luthor even escapes jail the same way, finds out info about Superman the same way, and sits in the background the same way. By the end, Lois has forgotten that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same and everything is status quo again.
Yet, it’s very different.
I intend to keep this one short. I don’t wish to get as carried away by this movie as I did with the original version. Let’s see what happens….
Should I even waste the space mentioning Christopher Reeve as Superman? I think I do. I think his performance is even more impressive in The Donner Cut than in Lester’s version. While a lot of Donner’s footage was used in Lester’s movie, a lot wasn’t. Most of the Daily Planet scenes in Superman II were rewritten and reshot, which led to the continuity errors mentioned in the last essay. That said, the idea that Reeve, Kidder, and the rest would shoot a scene in Perry White’s office for Superman, then go change, come back, and shoot a scene for Superman II where there seems to be a higher comfort level for Clark and the rest is pretty amazing. Reeve brings a certain intensity and seriousness to the role that seems even more on display with Donner behind the camera than with Lester. Maybe it’s comfort. I don’t know, but while he’s great in the 1980 Superman II, he positively shines in the 2006 Donner Cut. The scene when he returns to the Fortress of Solitude after getting his ass kicked is so much more powerful in this version, with Reeve playing it not only as desperate but terrified, because–
Brando returns. By the time Warner Bros. approached Donner to do his cut, Brando was dead and his family had given consent to use footage of him as Jor-El. This meant that the story of Jor-El and Kal-El continued to its logical, and heartbreaking, conclusion. I don’t want to give anything away in case you’ve skipped this version of Superman II, but suffice it to say that the scene is great. To know that greed triumphed over this scene back in the original is a sin.
The movie is less silly. Even the scenes that needed to be kept that Richard Lester shot have been re-edited to excise superfluous silliness. If you’re from Krypton, you’re taken seriously. If you work for the Daily Planet, you’re taken seriously. The humor in this movie comes from the same place as the first film: Lex Luthor and company, as well as the simple things that come out of life, best personified by Clark Kent. The rednecks, the silly army stunts, Non’s silliness, Lois Lane’s screechy stupidity, and the people of Metropolis’s odd comments and sight-gags are all gone. That’s not to say that everything is dead serious. Lois and Clark still have witty banter, Otis still almost brings the balloon down, and other funny moments pepper the film, but they’re from character, not set-ups.
The story makes more sense because the continuity is kept in better check. From first-to-second movie, to the scenes within this movie itself, it just flows better. Let’s look at an example.
In Richard Lester’s Superman II (1980), Superman takes Lois Lane to the Fortress of Solitude. They have dinner, falling deeper in love as they do. Finally, he decides he wants to be with her, so he calls on Lara (Susannah York) and is given a speech. A chamber comes up and he steps inside. Red light shines and there’s a pretty cool special effects shot of the breakdown of Superman. The audience sort of goes into Superman and watches him become (gasp!) normal. In a strange turn of events, Superman’s costume and hair fade to street clothes and simpler hair, and he leaves the chamber as Clark Kent. Then he and Lois sleep together.
As a kid, I wondered: How the heck did his clothes change? Why did his hair suddenly change? It made no sense.
Now, Donner’s cut (2006): Superman still takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude. They still have dinner, falling deeper in love as they do. Finally, he decides he wants to be with her, so…they sleep together. Now, let’s ignore the science of interplanetary coitus for a moment, and how someone who is called the Man of Steel might accidentally kill his lover when he…well…you know. It’s a beautiful scene, done the same way as in the theatrical version. Now, though, he awakens and leaves Lois in the shiny silver bed. We next see him dressed in a white shirt and dark pants. He is talking to Jor-El, the same basic conversation he has with Lara. And this time, not only is Lois watching, but she’s watching him wearing Superman’s shirt! It’s a subtle touch, but so effective. Even more effective, the holographic head of Jor-El looking at Lois in an accusatory way as Kal-El becomes Clark Kent. Again, the drama in the situation is heightened and makes more sense. When Clark Kent steps out of the chamber, sans special effects of him coming apart on the inside, he is wearing the street clothes he went in wearing. His hair is the same. He’s just…different. Another superb moment by Christopher Reeve.
The biggest problem with this movie is, of course, that it isn’t really the sequel to Superman. Because it wasn’t finally put together until nearly 30 years after it should’ve been, it looks like a rough cut of the movie in some places. I got the sense that this is a good outline, in some cases, of the way the final film would’ve looked. That it was mostly the best thing they could come up with based on what they had. Which is exactly what it is. The joy of watching this movie isn’t getting Richard Donner’s definitive vision, but rather as close to it as we’ll ever get, which is pretty damn close. In that way, this movie works wonderfully.
The ending. I could’ve this in the 1980 Superman II essay but chose not to because I was already very long. The deaths of Zod, Ursa, and Non. Superman tricks them out of their powers and then beats the hell out of them. Well, out of Zod and Non. Lois takes care of Ursa. They fall into the nothingness of the Fortress of Solitude and, we presume, their deaths. In the Donner Cut, the same thing happens. They up it, though, by showing only Superman and Lois Lane leaving the Fortress. They lands miles away and Superman turns around and uses his heat vision to destroy the place. Unlike Lester’s Superman II, Lex Luthor is not shown leaving with Superman and Lois, so one must assume that he’s still in the Fortress. A cut scene in the Special Features section of the Blu Ray shows the three Kryptonian villains and Luthor being taken away by the U.S. Arctic Patrol, presumably to jail. I’d understand why this was cut. If the Fortress of Solitude was supposed to be a secret, how would they get there? Of course, it also helps understand why Superman would destroy his little piece of Krypton. In the theatrical version of the movie, Superman leaves with Lois and Luthor and the Fortress of Solitude remains.
The ending, part 2. As I mentioned in the my essay on Superman: The Movie, the scene of Superman changing Earth’s spin, and thereby changing time, was supposed to end Superman II. In The Richard Donner Cut, the movie begins with what Donner wanted for the original ending of the first movie (and a much better scene of the Phantom Zone Prisoners’ escape) and ends with the Earth-spin-time-changing sequence. I feel like this is even more confusing than it was in the first movie. Did this whole second movie not happen? Isn’t that akin to saying it was all a dream? I don’t know. I really just don’t like this ending, either way. If this is only to make Lois forget about their romance, it’s kind of douchey. Speaking of which–
The ending, part 3. This is the ending of both versions of Superman II, shot by Donner. Superman saves the world and goes back to the diner where he got his ass kicked in the few days he went without power. There’s Mr. Wonderful himself, the truck driver who kicked his sorry ass. And, being the hero we all aspire to be, Clark Kent/Superman shows just how human he has become by humiliating and, essentially, kicking the bully’s ass. Now, I’m torn on this part. As a kid who was bullied, and who has some great stories about me getting my ass kicked, I still cheer that Superman/Clark Kent teaches the bully a lesson. Still, it is unbecoming for a hero who should be teaching by example. In essence, by teaching that lesson, he sorta kinda becomes the bully himself. Do you disagree?
After the Battle
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a beautifully executed case of What Might Have Been. This is not the movie that Donner would’ve released, but is as close as we’ll ever get, and it’s fine. It is a labor of love and the love seeps through. It’s also a fascinating thing to watch for those wanting to be filmmakers. To compare and contrast the two versions of Superman II shows how you can get two very good movies with the same basic story, but how the minor details can make or break aspects of it. Which do I prefer? I don’t know. Both have things I love, both have things I’m not fond of. Either way, it’s worth seeing whether you’ve seen the original Superman II a million times or only once.
Based on the success of Alexander Salkind’s, Ilya Salkind’s, and Pierre Spangler’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) being shot together as though they were one movie, when the rights to Superman were bought in 1974, the decision was made that they’d make two movies together. So their original screenwriter, Mario Puzo, wrote one massive script that was eventually rewritten by Robert Benton, David Newman, and Leslie Newman into two screenplays. When Richard Donner was hired to direct the films, he brought in his friend Tom Mankiewicz to overhaul the screenplays, though his credit on the film was as creative consultant. In April 1977, filming commenced on both Superman: The Movie and Superman II. However, due to the production of both films going over schedule and overbudget, as well as clashes between the producers and Donner, the production of Superman II was halted to focus on finishing and releasing the first film.
Because it was known that a sequel would be made, Superman: The Movie introduced its sequel’s villains in its opening scenes. Brando is putting General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) on trial for treason against Krypton. The council votes them guilty, with Jor-El’s vote the deciding factor. Zod announces that because Jor-El’s was the vote that sealed their fate, that he and his heirs will pay and kneel before him. The three criminals are placed in a flying piece of glass which holds them in the Phantom Zone. It’s one of the more jaw-dropping moments of the first film, with a giant dome opening on the crystal planet and a ray of light shooting up into the night sky and space. Superman II opens on Krypton with the three criminals going bad, getting caught, and being put to trial…without Jor-El.
It is the first change an audience member would have noticed sitting in their movie theater back in 1981. They may or may not have heard why Brando was suddenly not in the scene, I wouldn’t know, I was only three years old and knew of Superman II only through trading cards. Of course, with the huge success of Superman, one would think that the producers would have happily returned to shooting Superman II with all the original cast and crew, but that’s not what happened.
Of course, the story is legendary and if you’re here reading this, you probably know it. Still, in case you don’t know the story….
Because of the clashes between Donner and the Salkinds (I’m hoarding Spengler with them), even though Superman: The Movie was a huge success, Donner was not asked back to finish the sequel, effectively being fired. The Salkinds went with their friend, director of their Musketeer movies, Richard Lester. In order for Lester to get sole credit as director (so the story goes), he would need to shoot more than was actually left of shooting on Superman II when Donner and company left off. So more rewrites were done and in 1979, shooting (and in some cases, reshooting) began on Superman II.
I eventually saw it on HBO or Cinemax when I was about five or six. I knew about it, though, and I knew of the horrible happenings in the story: Superman and Lois Lane “get married” (that’s how it was explained to me). I was horrified. The two things the main heroes–my main heroes–could not do, under any circumstances, were: 1) Fall in love/get married, or 2) cry. When I get to the Star Wars Saga (if I get to the Star Wars Saga) you’ll hear more about that rule. Kissing was all right, but actual falling in love and marriage? Absolutely not. Still, I liked the rest of the movie at that age, even more than the first movie, which had slow moments. But I’m not a kid anymore (despite writing ad nauseum about kid’s fair), so, let’s take a look at Superman II.
Superman returns! It’s the common complaint of these kinds of movies and it started with this series: The first movie may be great but it’s always a build-up until the superhero we’ve paid money to see finally makes it onscreen. Nearly an hour goes by in Superman: The Movie before we finally see Superman, and it’s another 15 minutes or so before he saves Lois Lane in the helicopter scene, his coming out party. In Superman II, he pops up in the first 20 minutes, probably even sooner. Lois is at the Eiffel Tower trying to get a story on a terrorist situation and is in trouble and Superman shows up to rescue her (and set up the rest of the movie). Because a lot of the movie was shot at the same time as the first movie, and because Reeve’s embodiment of Kal-El is so pitch-perfect, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed. I daresay, he’s the most consistent part of this movie. Or at least one of them. He has some of the real anguish that was only hinted at in the first movie when it comes to having to choose between maintaining his dual identity or becoming human for love. When Clark Kent, sans super powers, gets his ass kicked, the look of fear and shock on Reeve’s face is perfect. Looking at his own blood for the first time is terrifying. His helplessness and anguish as the realization dawns on him that no matter how much he may want to be human, he can never be so, is simply short of amazing. The whole performance, whether it’s Donner-directed or Lester-directed, is pretty much perfect.
The Phantom Zone criminals. Zod, Ursa, and Non bring some actual danger to Superman’s world. No matter how great Lex Luthor is in this incarnation, without the green rock, he’s essentially powerless over Superman in any physical way. Sure, using Lois Lane and the Daily Planet folks can get to him, but physically, he’s no match. General Zod and company is a match…a match to be taken very seriously. They are roles that could have been too big, too much, except that casting Terence Stamp as Zod was the right choice. He is cool, calm, and venomous. He says more with a look than just about anyone else in these movies. I suspect that Sarah Douglas took her cue from Stamp and played Ursa under Zod’s spell. Non is a little too silly at times, but when is up to evil, a formidable villain that is quite dangerous. Their costumes are cool, too, though a little strange.
The battle scenes at the end are every little boy’s dream fight. Or at least it was in 1980. Earlier that year, little boys got to see Luke Skywalker finally duel with Darth Vader…and lose. Six months later, Superman took on three equally-powered villains. Before CGI effects dominated the cinema with huge, grandiose battles (that often last far too long), children of the 1970s (1980 was barely the ’80s) got to see a battle like that without any CG effects. Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran were actually on the streets of New York beating each other up using wires, camera tricks, models, and ingenuity. And the kicker? They weren’t even in New York! Instead, a set that looked like New York-as-Metropolis was built in (I believe) a studio in London. Re-watching it in the age of CGI, where just last year I saw The Avengers fight space bad guys in New York, doesn’t hurt the fight. The emotional resonance between Superman and Zod is still there.
The adult theme of the romance is another super thing about this movie. They really don’t sugarcoat it but never get graphic. Superman is giving in to his human feelings and being selfish and we root for him (while the little boys surely do not–they know what Superman should do!). We understand because we would do (and have done) the same goddamn thing for love. And this is where Superman: The Movie and Superman II succeed. “This is no fantasy” is still in the back of the mind. The beautiful sequence where Superman and Lois Lane fly together and begin to really fall in love is brought to a head here. They have an official date and then Superman chooses to give up his powers despite the hologram of Lara (Susannah York) warning him not to. It was a decision that troubled me–maybe even offended me–when I was between four and six but that I understand 30 years later. Like its predecessor, it brought Superman to the big screen not just for the kiddies, like the previous incarnations of Superman did, but also for their parents. Unlike the Kirk Alyn Superman serials (Alyn and Noel Niell appear as young Lois Lane’s parents on the train in Smallville in the first film) and the George Reeves movie, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies came out when the cost of a ticket got you movie trailers, the feature, and that was it. No cartoons, no newsreels, not endless viewings just by staying in the theater all day. This was the post-JFK assassination, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Star Wars world and the parents needed something to hold onto, too. And this aspect of the story delivers.
Marlon Brando, now known for his arrogance and laziness as much as for his talent, wanted more money–a load more money–to appear in Superman II and the Salkinds, now known for the stupid arrogance, decided not to pay. Suddenly, Jor-El was no longer convicting Zod, Ursa, and Non. Suddenly, the holograms were of Lara that Kal-El spoke to. Jor-El hardly gets mentioned until the end. It’s a shame because it’s jarring for the viewer to go from the story of the father and the son to suddenly go to the mother and the son. It’s even more jarring when a famous, perfect scene loses its key player. Jor-El placing the final guilty verdict is the reason for Zod’s rage, and in the sequel it’s excised. Foolish.
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor is under-utilized. He’s nearly as sinister as in the first movie, especially in the way that he tries to use Superman’s friends against him and to win favor with General Zod, but he almost gets lost in the shuffle. And his escape is ridiculous. Ned Beatty is once again the oafish Otis who is roommates in prison with Luthor. There’s a plan where they fool prison guards by placing a hologram of the two of them playing chess in their cell (apparently, in whatever state Metropolis is in, they allow convicted friends to share a cell). They then attempt an escape by hot air balloon, piloted by Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). Luthor gets on but Otis begins to bring the balloon down as he tries to climb the ladder. Luthor eventually throws the ladder over and Otis stays in jail. The scene is ridiculous and one I’d like to blame on Lester’s touch (which I’ll get to very shortly) but can’t. All of the Hackman scenes are said to be shot by Donner. While bringing Luthor back definitely helps bridge films, he spends most of his time making wiseass remarks and watching the Phantom Zone prisoners be evil. Maybe he’s there to bring some lightness to Zod’s seriousness. Maybe the intention was to utilize the knowledge Luthor gains when he finds the Fortress of Solitude in a future film (the end credits begin with a notice that Superman III will be coming soon). Either way, Hackman’s talents are wasted as the comic relief to Zod and gang.
Continuity is an issue with this movie. It’s pretty apparent that Superman and Superman II are supposed to be one long story, or two chapters of a long story. However, because of the issues between the Salkinds and Donner, because of the money issues with Brando, because of Richard Lester’s insistence on rewriting the story to suit his direction (which was probably needed if he were to take sole credit, according to the Director’s Guild), continuity between the two chapters is very loose. It begins right away, on Krypton, where we see Zod, Ursa, and Non murdering a guard to a red crystal to suddenly be jailed in the rings. The Kryptonian Council heads float above them on the dark dome and go through who they are, and then find them guilty. I mentioned this scene two paragraphs ago. For fans of the first movie (which I’d assume would’ve been everyone in the theater seeing the sequel), it rewrites history and lessens Zod’s motives.
Another thing that bothers me is: What happened to Miss Teschmacher? True, we’re not sure what happened to her in the first movie, but she shows up to help Lex Luthor escape from prison. She goes with him to the Fortress of Solitude. She sees the holograms of a man teaching poetry and of Lara telling Kal-El about General Zod and his friends, but then…? She’s never seen or mentioned again.
Another continuity thing is the Daily Planet offices. Their basic set-up is the same, only now Lois has an office. It was pretty blatant in the first movie that she didn’t have an office, but had her desk with several other reporters, including Clark Kent. Now, suddenly, she has an office. It could be argued that she received one because she’s such a good reporter in between movies, but the way the office looks it makes one believe she has been in it a while. Of course, there’s no mention about how much time passed between the chapters of this story, but we know two years passed between the release of Superman and Superman II, so perhaps shortly after the events of the first movie, Lois Lane received an office. Still…
Richard Lester’s decision to bring more camp into the movie, and to give Superman, Zod, and the other Kryptonians ridiculous powers hurts an otherwise really good movie. Now, this is the 35-year-old talking. At five, six, or seven I thought these powers were great, but I didn’t realize that they were very much not powers Superman had. The first movie took his powers fairly seriously. With the exception of his turning the world, and time, backward, every power Superman displays is in the comic books. Superman II gives the evil Kryptonians the ability to make people levitate. Superman has the ability to broadcast himself throughout the Fortress of Solitude at the end, making some versions of himself holograms, others statues, all to throw the villains off. Don’t forget the S he takes from his chest and hurls at the villains. The S grows and becomes, essentially, cellophane and wraps around Non. The camp of the first film remained mostly with Lex Luthor and his goons, but in this one, it’s all over. From the silly doorman at Niagra Falls, to Lois’s attempt to out Clark as Superman with the falls (albeit, Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are great in the scene, even if it is silly), to some of the people of Metropolis, Lester’s world is sillier. A little too much so. Again, I don’t want to be one of those fanboys who believes that everything in these kinds of movies must remain serious, it’s just that compared to the first movie, the tone is a little off.
After the Battle
Despite such a long list in the Kryptonite section, I actually enjoy Superman II quite a bit. After I found out the story behind the story, the firing of Richard Donner and everything else, I wondered what Richard Donner’s version would have been like, but that doesn’t hurt this movie that much. The cast still turns in strong performances, there’s still plenty of action, and it feels like a satisfying conclusion to the story begun in Superman: The Movie. As a child, I really enjoyed this movie and loved how the two movies went together. As an adult, I’m impressed by the work that went into both movies at a time when movies like these were huge gambles.
Superman and Superman II set the template for the superhero (or comic book) movie. It’s been used again and again, but hardly ever as well. Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and Iron Man are the closest to the feeling of the pure joy of discovery that Superman: The Movie provides. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight the left-right punch of that Superman and Superman II delivers.
I feel like Superman II has gotten a bad rap because of the controversy behind the Salkind-Donner feud. When you get right down to it, it’s a pretty good movie. In some ways, it’s less than in its predecessor, in others, it’s better.
June 1978 marked the 40th anniversary of Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1. By now, Superman was more of a joke than anything else. Considered a square Boy Scout in tights, he chugged along in his comic books, trying hard to still be relevant. He was still on TV, though not in a live action series. After George Reeves’s death in 1959, live action Superman just didn’t happen. There’d been a Broadway show, which had been televised as a special, and a few small attempts in kiddie-fair specials, but mostly Superman had been relegated to cartoons on the small screen. He had his own cartoon from 1966 (the year another DC Comics megastar returned in live action) to 1970, and was a star in Super Friends, beginning in 1973, but live action? No. The late-1960s belonged to Batman, with Adam West bringing the Caped Crusader to the small screen, as well as the big screen for one movie. That show never even made it to the 1970s. Between the high camp of Batman and the general sour disposition of the Vietnam War, not to mention the civil unrest that was going on in the United States at the time, who cared about Superman?
Well, Ilya Salkind, that’s who. The young movie producer convinced his father, Alexander Salkind, and Pierre Spengler to purchase the film rights for Superman in 1974. At that point, the task was to make the movie. I’m not going to get into the rest of the story. It’s readily available (and, honestly, fascinating) throughout the Internet as well as a myriad of documentaries for various versions of the movie. Suffice it to say that five months after the 40th anniversary, on December 10th, Superman: The Movie premiered.
I was aware of this movie before I saw it through Superman II trading cards. Because I was almost a year-and-a-half when the movie came out, I wasn’t aware of it, nor did I see it. It wasn’t until the movie debuted on TV that I saw it the first time. I feel like it was a yearly Movie the Week until home video killed that tradition. I feel like it ran for three hours on TV. I feel like George Reeves stopped being Superman for me at the moment of watching t this wonder-to-the-eye of special effects and…well, wonder, and the man my mother told me was Christopher Reeve, who was also not really flying, but was hanging by wires, and lying on tables, became Superman.
Like Star Wars the year before it, Superman: The Movie may have failed if had come out sooner. It may have failed had the producers gotten a Big Name Star to fill in the blue spandex. But it didn’t. Oh, boy, it didn’t.
The cast is superb. You know this, I know this, I should just stop. But I won’t. Brando is convincing as Jor-El, member of the Kryptonian Council as well as major scientist. Susannah York as his wife Lara isn’t in much of the movie but her pathos is undeniable. She does not want to give up her only child, no matter the consequences, but does so anyway. Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen also shine. And while she’s a little goofy at times, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane is spot-on. It’s really a surprise her career didn’t take off after this movie. Gene Hackman is an interesting, diabolical, and sometimes chilling Lex Luthor. The inferiority complex that Luthor must have in shown with his choice of sidekicks, the bumbling oaf Otis, played by the always-great Ned Beatty, and the sultry, sexy Miss Teschmacher, played by Valerie Perrine. Her outfits and very presence would be enough to send many boys into puberty, even in this movie. And don’t forget Glenn Ford or Phyllis Thaxter as Jonathan and Martha Kent. Ford’s death scene chilled me as a little boy (and, truth be told, does so now, too). All these actors are great in their parts, chewing up the scenery and getting the viewer to believe in the world of Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis. But the center of the movie, the spoke on which this wheel turns, is–
Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent and Superman. I went back on forth about giving Reeve a paragraph to himself instead of lumping him in with the rest of the cast–after all, Kirk Alyn and George Reeves were both placed with their casts–but I had to. The choice of the unknown, too-skinny classically-trained actor to embody the Man of Steel in the flesh was a bold one. When Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman/Clark Kent, George Reeves was still planted firmly in everyone’s mind as Superman, even though he’d died when Reeve was only six years old. Reeve portrayed Clark Kent as a classic screwball klutz, think Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. Yet, Kent never really feels like a farce. There’s a real-world simplicity and charm to him that sells him. Reeve had said that one of keys to playing Clark Kent in the way he chose was to make sure he didn’t walk into every door, but to make sure Clark got through the door with aplomb nearly as often. If anyone has ever been able to sell that Clark Kent and Superman were two different people, it was Reeve. As far as Superman is concerned, Reeve gave him an earnestness that was almost dorky, but never made it seem like he was better than anyone. Reeve’s Superman wanted to be human, and it could be read on his face. But this Superman wasn’t simply the do-gooder as presented in previous incarnations, and he was nobody’s wise uncle. He was the older brother you trust, but he also had an edge. Take the following exchange: Lois is interviewing Superman on her balcony and says, “Clark said you were just a figment of somebody’s imagination…like Peter Pan.” After some back-and-forth on who Clark is, Superman replies, “Peter Pan flew with children, Lois. In a fairy tale.” Who knew that Superman had game? The implication, of course, was that they weren’t children. This was no fairy tale. The line would be a hard sell but it works, and I give credit to Reeve.
Still, someone had to write that line, and the writers were Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton. And after Richard Donner came onto the film as director, Tom Mankiewicz did a tune-up to the script, though his credit is “creative consultant.” The story and script are great. Because the producers wanted to film Superman and Superman II together, the original story was quite large. With Richard Donner on as director, the feeling that this was a fantasy for children went away. The director of the horror classic The Omen might be doing Superman, and he knew it would be seen by children, but his intelligence and that of the writers was not to make a kid’s movie. They took Superman fairly seriously. After a great black-and-white prelude that features a little boy speaking and opening an issue of Action Comics, as well as a Daily Planet building with rotating globe, after the opening credits with John Williams’s wonderful music, the first line of the film is Marlon Brando as Jor-El saying, “This is no fantasy.” Brilliant. We’re reminded of this throughout the movie. This is no fantasy, no fairy tale. Superman is made plausible and, in some ways, is the most realistic character in the entire movie.
And while I’m talking about Richard Donner, his direction is great. The actors inhabit the roles entirely and seem at ease. Technically, the movie looks great and has Donner’s touches as an activist as well as a storyteller. One rather adult moment that I caught (that may only be in the extended version) happens in the scene when Lois Lane meets Clark Kent. Lois’s desk in outside Perry White’s office amongst six other desks, three facing one way, three facing the opposite so the occupants can look at each other over their typewriters. Lois shows Clark where his desk is, which is across and kitty-corner to her own. In typical Clark Kent fashion, he needs to squeeze behind her in the tightly packed, busy newspaper office, just as she bends over. He brushes against her and she shoots up, eyes wide, shock on her face. Clark mumbles something, pushes his glasses up, and quickly gets to his desk. Her look at him is over in an instant, but it’s a priceless scene that proves that he is the Man of Steel…everywhere.
John Williams once again creates a classic theme. As he did with Star Wars, he created a symphonic story that matches the beauty of some of the scenes, as well as the heroism of the character. The music is as important to this story as anything else in the film.
Superman flies! The tagline on many of the posters and advertising of this movie was, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” And for the first time in live action, that was a promise nearly kept. Using masterful wirework as well as technology developed for Star Wars, Superman really appears to fly, which not only serves the story in general, but gives us one of the classic scenes of cinema: Superman and Lois Lane flying. It is a scene that is beautiful and filled with wonder. Sure, 1978’s special effects don’t hold a candle (or an iPhone) to what is capable now, but its beauty isn’t in its realism but in what goes down in the scene. Two people are falling in love though they know they can never really be together. For the first time, Clark Kent actually has found someone he can be comfortable with, and Lois Lane has found something that’s more important than her career. It’s a scene that should be silly, hokey, but works.
Otis is a bit too dumb. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ned Beatty and his role as Otis, but it’s a bit of a stretch that Lex Luthor would keep around such an idiot. I like the idea that he would have those he deemed lesser than him as henchmen but Otis seems borderline retarded. Even Miss Teschmacher is a little too dumb for Lex, though she has much more realism than the bumbling oaf. Now, I hope I’m not coming across as one of those fanboys who feel that every superhero/science fiction/space fantasy/nerdmovie should be serious with no comic relief, but I think it’s a little much. The joy of this movie is the decision to move away from the 1966 Batman‘s camp but Otis almost belongs there. As a result, so does Lex Luthor. That said, I’m writing this from the perspective of a 35-year-old. The 5-year-old thought Otis was great, so I guess that really settles this minor gripe.
The ending. The idea of having the movie end with Superman changing the rotation of Earth and thereby changing the course of time brings the movie straight into fantasy, which is great considering the first line of the movie. That said, I leaves too much open. When the world went back and saved Lois, did everyone get saved? Did the missiles not hit anything? Because it seemed that Superman didn’t bring time back far enough to erase their launch. And if he did, and there was no launch, when Superman picks Lex Luthor and Otis up, do they even know why, or are they befuddled because they never launched their plan? And if they launched the missiles, then wouldn’t they strike anyway? Or did Superman in essence make a copy of himself that took care of the East Coast missile and then is erased when time catches up again with post-Earth spinning Superman? Because if that’s the case, then maybe he disposed of the West Coast missile offscreen and understood the other one would vanish and become him.
You see what I mean? Time travel is not for the faint of heart! Only aliens in blue police boxes and teenagers in Deloreans should attempt it! It feels like a cop-out. Originally, this was to be the ending of Superman II. The ending for this film would have Superman getting the missiles in time and sending them into space, where they’d explode and meet up with the Phantom Zone inmates, General Zod, Ursa, and Non, and free them. The final shot of Superman was supposed to be the three evil Kryptonians flying toward Earth, which is why they’re at the beginning of this movie. Richard Donner was convinced by others that his original ending was too small and to put the Earth spin at the end of the first film.
And speaking of offscreen, we never actually see Superman get Lex Luthor or Otis. He is overjoyed to see he saved Lois (who is upset that her car ran out of gas and that he couldn’t be her taxi service or something), then flies away. Suddenly, Luthor and Otis are carried into the penitentiary’s courtyard. What about Miss Teschmacher? Well, if you happen to own the 2000 extended cut of Superman, you get the answer about Luthor, Otis, and Miss Teschmacher…in the bonus features. In the nearly 10 minutes of restored footage to the actual movie, that was kept out. I received the Superman Anthology Blu-ray set for Christmas last year so saw this feature, though it may be on the 2000 DVD (I’d need to check but am way too lazy).
After the Battle
Superman: The Movie is a masterpiece. It’s one of the first adaptations of a comic book character that took the whole thing seriously. It was a movie not just for the kids but also for the grown-up kids who’d been fans at all in the forty years Superman had been around at that point. When the movie came out in 1978, it was big. Suddenly, Superman was cool again. It had intelligently set up the second movie in its first few scenes. It couldn’t be long before Donner and the rest would provide Superman II. With the way this movie turned out, what could possibly go wrong?