Saturday, 22 December 2012

Superman 2 authorship

This will be a brief posting as its something that interests me a little after watching Superman 2 but I don't think I have knowledge to write on the subject beyond what I can see from the finished film and areas I carried out basic research on.

Essentially, making Superman 1 & 2 at the same time, Richard Donner fell out with the producers as the budget went out of control (some of which was to do with creating flying effects) and Richard Lester was brought in as a go-between and potential replacement. Donner finished the first film, leaving the second partially shot and was fired by the producers after a war of words in the press. It happens. Superman 1 was a very good comic book film, with a great first half and a good second (when it was on Superman). Plot flaws aside, it had a great sense of wonder and scope.

Richard Lester finished Superman 2, and reshot a lot of the footage Donner originally. There is still Donner footage in the film (anything with Gene Hackman, some shots on the moon, bits of the end). These scenes are awkwardly placed within the film to my eyes, having a different pace. Hackman's part could easily have been cut. His look and characterisation is very broad. If the original director had remained on-board and the in-fighting had been worked out after the success of the first film, I have to wonder how much of this material would have remained.  Its by far the worst part of the film.

Now Lester shot a new opening in Paris, most of the central romance, which had a wonderful absurd yet melancholy air that is typical of the director, the General Zod versus the small town, and the major battle sequence between Superman and the three villains.

Zod is one of the iconic comic book film villains. The character is the template for this type of super-hero villain. In the first film he's a humourless thug. With Lester in charge he has a wit that's a large part of his appeal.

The Superman-three villain fight in Metropolis is still the iconic template for a super-hero fight, is still seen as the one to beat. It was shot by Lester.

Now these are two examples of Lester making good use of the material at hand, building from Donner's template. I would further add that the doomed romance and the hero being tested in the first superhero sequel is a template of most part 2's in this genre, all taken from this film. From Batman Returns to The Dark Knight to Spiderman 2 to Iron Man 2, this air of melancholy romance and the hero under pressure is the base. These plot bases were created by the writers but Lester making it work so well solidified it as the template. (The saving Lois while not giving away his identity at the rapids is an action and character highlight within the action genre)

So while he replaced Richard Donner, Richard Lester's execution and shaping of the material defined part 2's within the genre for decades. Yet Donner seems to get the popular credit for both films. This is partially to do with rancid sentimentality by online geeks, who have one story to tell and cannot acccept the complexity of the situation. Lester's case is not helped by Superman 3, which was fun and interesting but not a good film overall. Yet no-one looks into overall careers. Donner has had a fairly bland career, of mediocre genres films and sequels, very little of which has lasted. Superman is his shining glory as a director. Lester, while having a few money projects, has a catalogue of great films, from Petulia to The Bed-Sitting Room, Robin & Marion, two great Beatles films, to The Three Musketeers and its sequel. He's a major director of entertainment and interesting art films. Superman films is a minor part of his career. The third film had weaknesses due to a lack of interest. Even though he probably wasn't passionate about them, his work on Superman 2 is a major contribution to a slightly self-serious and, at the moment, humorless genre.

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