Film

'Superman' and 'Superman II': What Is, and What Might Have Been

Superman and Superman II are two of the best films of their kind, but budget and time overruns necessitated a number of changes from the original vision.

Carving a New Mount Rushmore and Other Zany Adventures

To borrow the parlance of Warner Bros. own Looney Tunes cartoons: “It just don’t add up!” Why is it that the impact of this bomb is enough to, as the script says, “shake the stability of the furthest galaxies”, and even destroy the nearest star which “breaks into shooting fiery fragments.”, not to mention almost killing Superman, but there are no problems to report on Earth at all? In fact, had that missile been that damned powerful, it would have done a lot more than merely cause a big earthquake in California. Reasonably speaking, it would likely have obliterated the planet and, it's implied, our own Sun. So, yes, it does free the Phantom Zone criminals and they are close enough to immediately find Earth… but Earth isn’t impacted at all? Quel chance, indeed.

By way of comparison, the otherwise ludicrous Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) featured Superman disposing of all of the Earth’s nuclear weapons by throwing them into the sun; somehow, the surface of the star barely blemishes. So did the technology for cataclysmic warhead fabrication diminish as badly as the technology for special effects between the two productions? I would say “Enquiring minds want to know!” but, let’s face it, nobody really cares.

There is no reconstruction of California, as the bomb never hits, and the satisfying triumph of the climax is that Superman survives and races home at super speed. Yet the Phantom Zone has been opened and the three (well, originally four) criminals are close enough to recognize Earth and head that way for our ominous cliffhanger ending.

Luckily, this was fixed in the final version, but another strange plot hole is created by these changes. In the shooting script, Luthor puts Teschmacher in mortal danger, but explicitly states that he knows that Superman will be there to save her, so she is never truly at risk. But in the final film, Luthor takes his revenge on Teschmacher by attempting to feed her to his pets with Superman’s intervention serving as quite a surprise. Yet, Teschmacher still remains inexplicably loyal enough to Luthor to come to his rescue from prison toward the beginning of Superman II. Is this Stockholm Syndrome, or does Lex have some mad pillow talk skills?

In the original scripts, we don’t actually see Luthor and Otis going to jail, but we do hear about it in Lois’ amazing coverage of the event for the Daily Planet toward the beginning of the sequel. At this same time Lois, herself, starts to realize that Clark and Superman are never around at the same time and that, doggone it, Superman sure does look a heck of a lot like Clark when you draw a pair of glasses on his photo. This, of course, would be a lot more ridiculous had a certain scene remained in the first film. In that scene, Lois walks in on Clark at his home wearing the Superman costume and assumes that this is just Clark dressing up to impress her, in spite of the fact that, in costume, he looks exactly like Superman. Luckily, Donner threw that part out.

But neither the newsroom or jailbreak scenes opened the actual Superman II that we got in 1980. In the original ending of Superman, the Hackensack missile went into space and exploded harmlessly and the California missile caused the massive earthquake, which necessitated the reset of time. So how the hell were the Phantom Zone criminals supposed to have gotten out of that mirror?

The Variations of Superman II

In the revised Superman II script, terrorists have hidden a nuclear bomb at the Eiffel Tower. Superman arrives just in time to fling that nasty thing into space to save Lois (oh, and a few million Parisians, but that doesn’t seem to be his motive). This takes the place of the Hackensack missile and results in the freeing of the criminals who, again, head for Earth as soon as possible. In the shooting script, Superman’s first rescue is of a fox running away from British hunters, much like Burt does in Marry Poppins. What a jolly holiday that would have been.

Thus, the shooting script and final film deviated almost immediately due to the separation of Superman I and II. Just as in the final film, Lois Lane attempts suicide to force Superman out of hiding, but in the original script Lois jumps out of a window at the Daily Planet and is barely saved by an unseen Clark, whereas in the final film she jumps into the Niagara Falls to get his attention.

Both Superman II scripts move from the newsroom to the escape of Lex and Otis and the attack of the Phantom Zone criminals on the moon, although instead of rescuing Lex in a balloon as in the final film, Eve does so in a conveniently parked car in the original script.

Different though the “suicide” scene might have been, Lois and Clark do go to Niagara Falls to pose as newlyweds to report on corruption and price gouging. Then again, I don’t remember a hotel lobby sign reading “Vibrators available on request” showing up in the final movie. (Yes, that is in the script.)

Further, Superman’s honesty is firmly established in the films, almost to a fault. He promises Teschmacher that he will save her mother first and he does, at the risk of his friends and virtually all of California, yet in the shooting script for Superman II Clark outright lies to Lois about his identity saying “I'm sorry -- but no matter how hard I try, I'll never be -- him.”

In Lester’s final version he clumsily falls into a fireplace and comes out unscathed, but is unable to lie to Lois when she says “You are Superman.” In the shooting script, the fire scene never happens. Instead, Lois actually produces a pistol and shoots Clark in the torso. Don’t worry, though, Lois is just as playfully duplicitous as Clark here. When Superman tells Lois, “If you'd been wrong....Clark Kent would have been killed,” Lois wryly responds “How? With a blank?”

In both versions, this revelation brings Lois and Clark together in love and they spend a romantic weekend not at the Falls, but at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, cut off from communications and news. What they don’t realize is that Lex and Eve have already spent a weekend there themselves and have learned a few secrets, not the least of which is the Fortress’ location and the existence of the three Phantom Zoners (Jak-El had been deleted by this time).

The one time that Superman leaves the Fortress in the script (to get groceries, no less) he is so happy in love that he celebrates by straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, causing a souvenir seller to smash all of his now-inaccurate wares. Unfortunately, while this scene never made it into Superman II, it was revived for the comic misstep Superman III (1983).

In both versions, the major news that Clark and Lois miss during their solitude at the fortress is the arrival of Zod (Terrence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran), all of whom have the exact same powers as Superman, but plan to use them to enslave mankind, not to serve it. Naturally the only one who can stop them is the Son of Jor-El himself, but he’s too busy makin’ whoopee.

By the way, that last part is not me exaggerating. While the sex is suggested, it's made unquestionably clear in the script and the final film that it took place. Many have speculated that one reason that Superman would have to give up his powers to be with Lois is that human sex with a Kryptonian would be lethal, yet Clark gives up these powers after sex with Lois, not before (implying that she must be incredible in bed).

We even see Lois running around in nothing but Clark’s Super-Shirt and a pair of little socks. Thus, he does it for love, which is more romantic, but somehow much less sensible. Jor-El (or the pre-programmed ghost thereof) reasons that Kal-El cannot love only one woman while continuing to serve all of humanity, so he must give up his powers. By that logic, it’s better to have no Superman than Superman most of the time, which is bizarre, to say the least.

Regardless, this could scarcely have happened at a worse time (as the script will tell you) because Zod has already attacked Texas and is now proclaiming his sovereignty over the world in a speech atop the Washington Monument, which he subsequently smashes. This, in itself, is in some kind of bad taste, but the fact that this speech is accompanied by a montage of Tokyo, Moscow, and Paris on fire, along with Non’s melting of the Eiffel Tower (which doesn’t survive in the script as well as it did in the film) and Ursa single-handedly re-carving Mount Rushmore into their own grim Kryptonian visages, makes this an even worse thing. That Rushmore sequence made it into the final film, but in a different point and by a different method.

In both versions, a radiation chamber is used to rob Superman of his powers (in neither version is the necessity of this logical), but in the original script it's written that the hologram of Jor-El gives Lois one serious Go-To-Hell look before he vanishes. (Note: While Brando’s Jor-El scenes were filmed as scripted and do largely show up in the “Donner Cut”, the original version of Superman II features Superman’s mother Lara and a different Kryptonian scientist, not Jor-El in any capacity.)

Much of the next several scenes follow the same sequence from script to final film. Zod and Company take over the White House, while Luthor attempts to give them Superman in exchange for Australia (the man loves his beach front property). Clark gets his ass kicked by an amorous trucker in a diner, just before seeing the President abdicating the world’s power over to Zod on the diner’s TV set.

Luthor explains to the criminals that the son of Jor-El, whom they wish such serious revenge upon, is actually the “Superman” that the President and others continually call upon and thus “Zod-dammit” sets his sights on messing with the S.

Meanwhile, Clark begs forgiveness of Jor-El and is given back his powers at the expense of all of the Kryptonian energies that previously fed the Fortress computers, meaning he would no longer have any contact with his dead planet again. In the 1980 film, Clark merely finds a second green crystal and cuts to the chase.

As the Kryptonian Krap trio (along with Lex) attack the Daily Planet, Superman shows up just in time for one of the most epic Super-battles ever caught on screen. The original script is somewhat truncated from the final version, however, and Superman’s flyaway is actually an underground escape while hidden by a thrown bus. The people of Metropolis do not run to attempt to avenge him as they do in the final film, nor do the bad guys use super breath to facilitate another Richard Lester slapstick sequence, as they, in turn, do in the final film. In the screenplay, Luthor is also given Cuba in exchange for “Superman’s address”.

As in the final film, the Kryptonians bring Lex and Lois to the Fortress of Solitude (in the script, breaking in dramatically) and the four aliens face off. In Lester’s final film, a series of inexplicable new powers are demonstrated in a largely silly second fight scene. These involve special telekinetic balls of light, Superman’s using his S-Shield as a huge plastic net to capture one of the baddies and all four of them demonstrating the power to duplicate themselves in battle. All of these moments are absent from the original script.

However, in both versions, Superman is forced back into the radiation chamber, but since the lights are seen on the outside, only he is safe and the three criminals are the ones who are de-powered. Luthor is given over to an Army Patrolman and the Zod Squad is similarly arrested.

Here, the screenplay stops making sense. Lois and Clark have a heart-to-heart about how they can’t possibly be together while he continues to save the world although the previous scenes seem to have proven the exact opposite truth. Thus, Superman (who no longer has Lois’ life to save) reverses time to the point that the criminals are back in the Phantom Zone, Luthor is back in Jail and Lois never figured out the truth. This, of course, causes major questions, much more than the “amnesia kiss” (applied only to Lois) of the final film ever could.

Still, the dramatic ending of the single time reversal is intact and serves as the ultimate climactic punctuation of both Superman and Superman II. Even better, anyone killed by Zod and his minions actually never died, Mount Rushmore, the Eiffel Tower, Moscow, Tokyo, the Washington Monument, Metropolis, and Texas are all intact again and Superman can go on to right what once went wrong, which he does.

Cleaning Up the Past

First, he goes back to the diner and beats the holy hell out of the jackass trucker that assaulted him earlier in the film. Second, he goes back to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and leans it back over, causing the same souvenir seller to smash his now-inaccurate wares once again. (That last scene, again, made it into Superman III.)

But, wait a minute: if Superman had reversed time so that the prisoners never escaped, he and Lois never fell in love, and the monuments of the world were never destroyed, how the hell is the Leaning Tower still straight? He only did that out of love delirium. Even worse, if he never fell in love with Lois and never gave up his powers, then that trucker never actually hit on Lois and never actually beat the crap out of Clark, meaning Superman has now just taken “revenge” on a guy who didn’t do anything to him… yet. Isn’t that like Superman beating the hell out of anyone who randomly might do something wrong? Isn’t Superman supposed to be the good guy?

In the end, Superman flies home triumphantly and Lois and Perry White both show signs of Déjà vu, which is close to the “amnesia kiss”, but with a bit more of an ominous tone.

In either case, the ability to reverse time creates all kinds of disturbing possibilities and questions. Why not reverse all the way back to 1938 and remove Hitler before it’s too late? Why not reverse time before the Salkinds started being obnoxious and let Donner finish both films himself? Both the originally intended incarnations of this scene and what we finally got are both epic and questionable and have ramifications for the saga on the whole.

As you can see, most everything remained the same, but the small changes prove to be hugely significant. In many cases, the changes were made of necessity and many of these things actually improved the final product. Many others of these ranged from the inexplicable to the damaging. Then again, no matter what you think of the differences, just after Superman II the series went to hell with Superman III (1983), Supergirl (1984) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), each of which is worse than the one before it and makes, by comparison, any version of Superman and Superman II a work of absolute genius.

Both films managed to be excellent just the way they turned out. Of course, many may prefer both films with the original intentions intact, whereas most have no idea how the pieces might have fit together. Now you know the difference between the intended vision and the final product and the way the two films not only fit together, but were originally intended to. That’s what the Next Reel is all about. See you in the next… Next Reel.

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