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Bill's Take On the Superman Movies

And now a MovieReviews Ltd. Exclusive: For those of you cyber-nuts who frequent the Superman chatrooms, something completely different: Superman savant Bill Williams offers his unique perspective and insight on the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve.

Bill on Gene Hackman:

Here's the way I see Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor. From the start he's been a brilliant scientist with a super-genius 200 IQ, which could have made him one of the world's most brilliant doctors or physicians or engineers. Somewhere along the way he was rejected by the scientific community, which corrupted his beliefs and morals and turned him into the most dangerous criminal genius in the world. Early on he had an interest in real estate, something passed on to him by his father, who said, "People will always need land, and they will pay through the nose to get it." How Luthor became bald is unclear as far as the movies are concerned, because throughout the first movie we see a vast array of wigs tailor-made for him. Using an unmentioned source of wealth he carved the perfect hideout in the bowels of Metropolis and New York City under Park Avenue, and along the way his path crossed with Eve Teschmacher and Otis, who joined him in his criminal career. Eve was obviously attracted to Luthor's mind and large pocketbook, but deep down she had a heart of gold and probably longed to break away from him, which explains why she saved Superman's life. His penchant for wanting to destroy Superman comes from something basic and rooted in pure evil: the desire for superiority by destroying the ultimate good, represented in Superman. And it didn't matter who got in the way or who he would kill or influence, as long as he got what he wanted. By the time of the Kryptonian criminals' arrival in "Superman II", Luthor knew that even his criminal genius was no match for unstoppable evil in the form of Zod, Non, and Ursa, all of whom were Superman's equals in strength and power. By then did he serve as both comic relief to the trio and master manipulator, using them to achieve his own selfish evil desire to see Superman defeated and destroyed. By "Superman IV" his criminal genius is still evident, but he has become more of a "likable" criminal, the kind of criminal who would stand there and smile in your face while plotting your death at the same time. As he prepares to introduce Superman to his nuclear nightmare, he shoots off one-liners like, "Why don't you stop and smell the roses, get yourself a hobby or a pet?" He may be more relaxed in his good-versus-evil relationship with Superman, but he's still evil to the bone. Gene Hackman brought his own humanity to the role, as well as the needed sense of humor to make Luthor both funny and yet criminally deadly at the same time. He IS Lex Luthor. It's no surprise that Hackman's portrayal of the character was part of the inspiration for the revisions made by John Byrne in 1985-86 in the "Man of Steel" miniseries (the other influences being Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane", Ted Turner, Donald Trump, and into the 90's Bill Gates).

Bill on Lana Lang:

The way I've read it and seen it in "Superman III", Lana Lang represents the love and friendship Clark Kent sought as a youth and into his teenage years, from simpler and more innocent times when all he had to worry about was wanting to like Lana and wanting Lana to like him for his heart. In the comics prior to the John Byrne revision, the adult version of Lana Lang served as Lois Lane's rival love interest for Clark Kent. While Clark wanted Lois to love him for him, he used his Superman identity to win Lois over, which attracted Lois to him. Lana, on the other hand, was determined to win Clark's heart no matter what. (Talk about a four-person menage a trois!! Very similar to what was seen in the double date scenario in Superman IV.). This rivalry was briefly insinuated at the end of III, as Lois noticed Lana's diamond ring, believing Clark to have proposed to his childhood girlfriend. Apparently at this point in the movie series there is an underlying current between Lois and Clark where she still remembers some of the events of "Superman II", though it is never overtly stated. Furthermore, from what is implied, Lois has read Clark's article on the evolution of a small Kansas town from the perspective of one who has made it in the big city. This jealousy toward "the little girl back home... the prettiest girl in the school" becomes evident toward the end of III. This desire for something greater is what Lana Lang seeks during the course of III, as she is attracted to the calm, self-assured successful reporter of Clark Kent. She is no longer looking for popularity or being a trophy on Brad Wilson's arm, she simply wants a better life for her and her son, and who happens to point her in the right direction than the one man who loved her for her - Clark. She's friendly and respectful toward Superman, of course, but she connects with Clark and is attracted to his calm demeanor that would have turned her off toward him back in high school. Apparently the old adage of "things get better with age" still holds true with people. When John Byrne revised the comic, he gave Lana a sad edge to her character of bearing the burden of Clark's mysterious powers and of wanting to escape Smallville along with Clark. Held back by her aunt's illness and eventual death, Lana fell into hard times financially but remained a faithful friend of the Kents, until she clawed her way out of her problems. Instead of Clark being there for her, Pete Ross, now a successful US congressman and a boyhood friend of Lana's and Clark's, was there for her, eventually marrying Lana. Her role in III, sweetly portrayed by Annette O'Toole, was defined fully, even though she was brought in to replace Lois as the female lead in the picture.

Bill's perspective on Superman IV:

We have to remember just who was responsible for bringing the resulting abomination to the screen - master shlockmeisters Golan and Globus of the Cannon Group. And a large chunk of the blame has to be placed on Christopher Reeve, who accepted responsibility (and blame) for the story ideas he contributed to the project, as he says in "Still Me". But another problem with the film is that they had run out of money during post-production and could not improve on the visual effects. That explains the numerous scabs throughout the movie. Who knows? Perhaps the missing 42 minutes of footage also contains some serious scabs as well with the visual effects. With today's CGI technology proving to be a selling point in films like the "Star Wars" series, "Lost in Space", "Jurassic Park", and "Titanic", it's certainly possible for an effects shop like ILM or Lucas Digital Arts or Digital Domain to clean up and really improve on the effects for a revised release of "Superman IV", if we press hard for it. We're not asking that it be a classic, since nothing can replace the original "Superman" movie and Derek Meddings' effects in that film.

Bill on Richard Pryor's Superman III character

I think Gus Gorman was representative of the little guy in life always being pushed around, looking to be successful and overcome his own obstacles of poverty and unemployment, as do many people in life. From the beginning he never meant to hurt anybody deliberately, he just fell in with the wrong crowd and allowed Webster to manipulate him all to satisfy Webster's personal ego and greed. That's why he turned against the Websters and the supercomputer, because he knows inside that human life, even Superman's life, is more precious than money. That's why, in my opinion, Superman gives him the chance to become successful on his own. The Websters may have had money, but they weren't really rich inside. Gus Gorman could relate to the little guy because he's one of them, and Superman has always had the heart for helping the little guys in life.

Bill on the problems of Superman III and IV

According to Christopher Reeve in his book "Still Me", the script for III was built around the Gus Gorman character after Richard Pryor appeared on the Tonight Show and stated that he wanted to appear in a Superman movie. The Salkinds immediately got hold of Pryor, the Newmans rushed the script, which Reeve had absolutely no control or input over, and what resulted was a very unfunny and bad movie from start to finish. Superman IV, however, had a very simplistic but servicable script from the start. The idea of Superman destroying the world's nuclear arsenals sounded good in the pitches, and the final script reads much better, but it was Cannon Group's lowering the budget to $32 million (as opposed to the average $40-$45 million for each of the previous films) and their decision to switch to blue-screening instead of Zoran Perisic's front projection screening that really crippled a lot of the visual effects. That, and the fact that you could see wires and flying harnesses (and even some poor airbrushing and a rotating platform) in the effects shots, really hurt what could have hurt a good movie. And who is to say what the other third of the film might have looked like, had it been released intact? So far, nobody has come forth to admit to seeing the original version of IV either in the sneak preview or in its lone SFM broadcast in 1989, and until the general public at large has that opportunity to see the original film, there's no way of knowing.

Bill on the Superman music scores

In my opinion, John Williams' original score for "Superman" is the best ever! His themes for Superman, Lois Lane, Krypton, Lex Luthor, you name it, have that timeless, epic quality to them. No wonder this particular score is long overdue for digital remastering in an expanded 2-CD release, in the same vein as the "Star Wars Trilogy", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "E.T.", and "Close Encounters" expanded CDs. Right behind it, I would have to place the John Williams/Alexander Courage score for "Superman IV". Though this good score was never released on CD (and it is loooooong overdue), Williams contributed two new themes to the series, and Courage took great care to respect the original themes while adapting them for the fourth movie. Had Courage himself done the music for IV, it still would have been very good - after all, this is the man who gave us the legendary "Star Trek" fanfare in the 1960's. Ken Thorne's adaptations for "Superman II" and "Superman III", however, stink royally. Very rinky-dink and tinny-sounding. (Just listen to side 2 of the III soundtrack... if you think all of this alternative music and rock music being shoehorned into the background of a movie like "Batman and Robin" sounds awful, give a listen to the Giorgio Moroder mess for III).

Bill on the story behind Superman II

Richard Donner did film much of "Superman II" simultaneously with the original "Superman" throughout 1977 and 1978. During this time the Salkinds brought in Lester (having worked with the Salkinds on "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers" - a whole separate mess in and of itself with the studios) as an unofficial "associate producer" to watch over the budget and Donner. As opposed to the outrage from the surprise "double feature" the Salkinds and Lester had pulled, "Superman" and "Superman II" were announced from the start as separate projects yet with the same creative team. During the filming of both movies, the Salkinds got worried that Donner was falling behind schedule, so Lester suggested to Donner that they stop work on II and concentrate on finishing I. After I's release, they could return to finish II the following year (in 1979). This was the only decision which Donner liked. By this time approximately 70-80 percent of II had been filmed, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes, much of the final battle at the Fortress, Clark being beat up by the bully at the diner, and (in the extended version) Luthor's and the Phantom Zone criminals' arrests by the Arctic Patrol and Superman destroying the Fortress. A number of scenes shot by Donner and never seen include: Lois tricking Clark into revealing his Superman identity by firing a gun loaded with blanks at him, Lois' jump from the Daily Planet onto the fruit stand, Jor-El talking with Superman about the birds and the bees, and in a critical scene that would have explained more, Jor-El and Superman's only face-to-face talk that led to the restoring of his powers. Three of these scenes were re-done by Lester, the last one was totally scrapped. "Superman" was originally scheduled for June '78 release but was delayed until Christmas '78 due to problems with the flying scenes (wires kept popping up in the shots). Also, some of the FX scenes looked a bit rushed, and Donner wanted a little more time to do it right. (Oh well, you can't win 'em all!) By September '79 talks between Donner and the producers broke down, leading to Donner's firing by the producers, not by WB. Along with Donner went Marlon Brando (replaced by Susannah York), Gene Hackman (by now all of his scenes were filmed, according to Tom Mankiewicz) and John Williams (replaced by Ken Thorne). Margot Kidder almost left II, but her role was too critical to II's story (which explains her being written out of III at the Salkinds' request). Lester was brought in to finish, the Newmans rewrote the script, and everything Lester filmed was jammed together with the existing Donner footage into the final product of II. In my opinion Donner should have filed suit with the MPAA and the Directors' Guild of America for a co-director's credit on II. He deserved much better treatment than that.

In the original script for "Superman II", Lois Lane attempts to prove in Metropolis that Clark Kent is Superman. When given an assignment by Perry White, Lois holds a news article about Superman and has drawn a pair of glasses over Superman's face. As Clark mentions going on assignment, Lois playfully replies, "Sure, but only if we can fly there." Lois then attempts to prove that Clark is Superman by risking her life. She jumps from the Daily Planet window, and then Clark rushes in a blur to the streets and blows a window awning upward. Lois bounces off the awning and lands onto the fruit stand. By now Clark has rushed back to the office and says, "Lois, are you all right?" Richard Donner had filmed this sequence with Margot Kidder and actress/stuntwoman Ellen Bry doing the stunt in the longer shots, and photos of this scene were published in the "Superman" movie magazines by DC Comics and in some other places like Starlog Magazine. But this scene, and another in which Lois proves Clark is Superman by pointing a gun at him, were scrapped when Richard Lester took over production from Donner in 1979 and replaced the scenes with the insipid waterfall jump at Niagara Falls. Looking back, Donner's material is much stronger than what is seen in Lester's bastardization of "Superman II", and it's easy to tell which clips are Donner's (all of the scenes with Gene Hackman, and borrowed clips from I), and which are Lester's (including the Paris sequence, the cab scene, everything at Niagara Falls, and a good portion of the fight in Metropolis).


Bill Williams is a regular source of information on the Superman movies, one of the most acknowledged and respected on the Web; he makes frequent contributions to numerous Superman Websites. His most recent works include the campaign petitions that appeared at both Megadeth and Hiphat's sites, the soundtrack campaign petition that was at Hips' site and at Scott Hansen's Unofficial John Williams Web Site, and the co-writing of the recent Warner Bros. article with Megadeth. He also hosts a weekly Superman Chat Hour at Talk City every Tuesday at 5:00 PM central. The above are all his opinions, many of them previously posted to message boards. He has no affiliation with Warner Brothers or DC Comics but has worked diligently to see the 1978 Superman film done proper justice, especially through a re-release of the full, original John Williams soundtrack.

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