By Steven O’Connor
Superman: The Movie (1978) – You will believe a man can fly
So now that that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is over (finally!) we can all sit down, relax and look forward to the next big budget superhero adventure. In July 2013 the wait will finally be over as Man of Steel will be released in cinemas. Fans worldwide are hoping that this will be the action packed Superman adventure that we have been waiting for, since Christopher Reeve first took to the skies in 1978. There have been sequels, proposed sequels, rejected scripts, screenplays and reboot suggestions, but they have either been shelved or did not deliver at the box office or meet the expectations of the fans. I will now review Superman’s cinematic history as we wait patiently to look up into the sky once again.
In 1978, Warner Brothers began production of Superman: The Movie, produced by Ilya
and Alexander Salkind with Pierre Spengler. With a story by Mario Puzzo (The Godfather), a wonderful and iconic score by composer John Williams (Star Wars) and Richard Donner (The Goonies, The Omen) in the director’s chair. We were given a movie which made us believe that a man could fly (well, everyone else did. I wasn’t born yet). The movie would feature superstars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, with both men receiving top billing ahead of newcomer Christopher Reeve, who would play the dual role of mild mannered reporter Clark Kent and Superman, the Man of Steel. The movie was a huge success and it set a very high standard for future comic book adaptations.
So why has Superman on the big screen failed so many times since then?
Throughout the filming process, tensions ran high as Donner had disagreements with the Salkind’s and Spengler, concerning the escalating production budget and the shooting schedule. This resulted in Richard Donner not being asked to return to complete his work on Superman 2, which was being filmed back to back with this movie (Donner had already completed 80% of the sequel). Director Richard Lester was brought in to complete Superman 2 and ended up cutting a lot of Donner’s material. Superman 2 was a fairly good and enjoyable sequel. It lacked the magic of the first movie though, and the story wasn’t quite as good as it could have been. The main thing it lacked though was Marlon Brando, who declined to return without Richard Donner which meant that the footage already shot for the sequel ended up on the cutting room floor. Susannah York would reprise her role as Lara, Superman’s Kryptonian mother in an effort to replace Brando. It was a nice attempt but ultimately failed without Brando.
Two more installments of Superman soon followed. Superman 3, again directed by Lester, was criticized heavily and was considered a failure because of its comedic and campy tone. One good thing that came from the movie was the much darker performance from Christopher Reeve, whose Superman character turned evil. Reeve would also receive top billing for the first time in a Superman movie. If you’ve never seen it before, I encourage you to watch the junkyard scene where Clark Kent fights the evil Superman (an attempt at Bizarro).
“The less said about Superman IV, the better” – Christopher Reeve
The 90s – Failed Attempts
In the 90s there were several attempts to bring Superman to the big screen for a 5th time. Several scripts and ideas were rejected from various writers pitching every idea imaginable. There was even a potential Batman vs. Superman movie being considered. The closest we would ever come to seeing a movie at that time was a script for ‘Superman Lives’ by Kevin Smith. This one seemed like it may actually happen, with Batman director Tim Burton being Smith’s choice to direct the project. The movie would be based on the successful ‘Death of Superman’ comic book series and would star Nicolas Cage as Superman.
The movie was set to take Superman in a whole new direction with a futuristic environment. Thankfully fate intervened and the movie never saw the light of day, although several pictures of Cage in the suit along with some concept art still exists and is available for the world to see on the internet (I love the internet!). You will be able to find this material with a simple Google search, or you can check out some of it out here…
Superman Lives – Costume Test
Here is some concept art from the project:
Superman Returns (2006)
It had been 19 long years since Superman was last seen on the big screen. A new proposal was accepted and both McG and Brett Ratner had at one time signed on to direct, but both men would end up leaving the project. Bryan Singer (X-Men and X-Men 2) would then step in, bringing his entire crew from X-Men with him (not the actual X-Men, which would have been cool).
On the 28th of June 2006, Superman Returns was released in cinemas in the US. The movie was made as a sequel to Superman 2 (completely ignoring 3 and 4) and paid tribute to the great and recognizable work of Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve. Much like the first movie, household names were cast in supporting roles, such as Kevin Spacey who would play the villain Lex Luthor, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Frank Langella as Perry White. Newcomer Brandon Routh would take the lead role as Superman and would deliver a portrayal of the hero that would have made Christopher Reeve proud. He even uncannily resembled Reeve. Marlon Brando would also return to reprise his role as Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father. Yes, he had already passed away but Singer and his crew had used digitally-enhanced archive footage from Brando’s work on the 1978 movie which looked incredible. It was as if Brando was actually there.
Despite receiving positive reviews the film was not quite what people were expecting. The tone of the movie was considered too romantic and somber as the story centered on the love story between Superman and Lois Lane, revealing that they had in fact conceived a child in Superman 2. After being skeptical at first I will go on record as saying that I love this movie, although I can certainly understand why others don’t. The lack of action in the movie was a letdown and the story was in parts very similar to the original.
Superman Returns would gross $391,000,000 worldwide from an estimated budget of $209,000,000. This was not considered enough to green-light the proposed sequel which, from reading Bryan Singers ideas, sounded like it would have been a big improvement.
Man of Steel – The Nolan Treatment
So will Man of Steel be a box office hit? Or will it be another flop that will eventually be rebooted? Time will tell. This one seems much more promising to most people though as Christopher Nolan has produced the movie. Nolan pitched the movie to Warner Brothers based on ideas from David S. Goyer who wrote the script, so how could the studio possibly turn down this idea from the man who recently (very successfully) rebooted the Batman franchise? They would be crazy not to. The new Batman trilogy has been hugely successful but for me, I feel that they have been grossly overrated. I thought Batman Begins was an extremely boring movie which told the story of a young Bruce Wayne traveling the world and struggling to find his purpose in life. We know the story, he ends up becoming Batman, beats up some bad guys, saves the day etc etc. They are popular however, and have brought in so much money that people just want more and more.
Man of Steel will focus on a young Clark Kent, traveling the world unsure of his purpose in life (wait a minute, this sounds familiar) Anyway, this movie does promise to have tons of action which its predecessors have lacked. The movie will feature an all-star cast which includes Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane (I wanted Rachel McAdams) and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White (Wait, what?). Yes, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. Now that’s different. A young and talented British actor named Henry Cavill was selected to play the Man of Steel (not sure if we’re calling him Superman these days).
So will Man of Steel be as popular? Many fans opinions have been split on what to think of this one. There was instant controversy and wide spread media attention as soon as the first image of Cavill in full costume was revealed, showing that he was missing his famous red trunks. I guess everyone has to go in a new direction eventually, and that we all have to move with the times. The image also showed that the classic Superman logo had been re-designed. It is very risky to change the image of such an iconic character but I think the new costume looks pretty cool.
Initial reaction from the teaser trailer has been mixed, although to be fair it is a short trailer and gives very little away. It shows scenes of a bearded Clark Kent on his travels, fishing, hitch-hiking and wandering around not doing much. I promised myself that I will not build up my expectations for this one and judge it when I see it, although I do find myself looking forward to this movie more and more.
I will be there on the first day of release, just as I was for Superman Returns. I doubt that anything could ever replace the magic of the original movie and the image of Christopher Reeve in the famous blue suit and red cape, however maybe one day it will be Henry Cavill who will be remembered as the man who made us believe.
You can follow Steven on Twitter @St3ven91 as he discusses wrestling, The American Office and his obsession with the Chicago Bulls.