Stalmannen..!

Join SUPERMANIA as we spin the world backwards in time to 1979, where Superman reigned supreme at the box-office and ABBA ruled the airwaves.

And speaking of our Swedish friends, DC Comics in Europe at the time were being published by Semic Press as the adventures of Stalmannen – featuring reprints of ‘current’ stories mostly featuring art by Curt Swan and translated accordingly –

Free from the restrictions of DC in the US however, opportunities were provided for awesome photo covers (top pic) and contained unusual features like a page dedicated to snapshots of kids in their finest Super-Costumes.

For the February’79 release of Superman: The Movie in Sweden the publishers celebrated by holding a competition (or lottery) to attend the premiere (second pic) and in a later issue (third pic) the back cover featured an ad for some pretty unsavoury looking confectionery based on the film – the packaging for which making them somewhat of a scarce collectors item today…

Welcome To The Family..?

Although originally conceived by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind as a series of movies ‘much like the Bond films’, the critical and commercial disappointment of Superman III had prompted a revision that ultimately lead to the screen debut of Supergirl.  When the spin-off failed to hit the heady heights of its predecessor the future of the franchise became uncertain.

By 1985, with Santa Claus: the Movie proving to be another misfire, the Salkinds relinquished their interest in the Super portfolio to the Cannon Group, who, despite a reputation for churning out straight to video trash, were nonetheless expanding into the mainstream at an alarming rate.  Literally buying up every comic-related property on the market at the time, Captain America, Spider-Man and Masters Of The Universe were in pre-production already but Cannon needed a sure-fire hit with a built-in audience to start the momentum, and who better than the Man of Steel?

And so Christopher Reeve was welcomed into the Cannon Family, (top pic, from the pages of Variety) with ecstatic producers proclaiming that they had managed to secure him by ‘Giving him the picture he wanted, and one that the world wanted’.  With his personal project (contemporary thriller Street Smart) greenlighted and greater creative input into Superman’s writing and direction, Reeve would become a willing Cannon ambassador ( even making a personal appearance for the opening of a Cannon Multiplex cinema in Salford Quays, England (third & fourth pic).

The infatuation with their new adoptive son would be short-lived, however, and Reeve would soon become the black sheep of the Cannon family. In an amazing show of foresight, during filming of Street Smart, Reeve chewed out an outraged Golan over the phone by demanding another 1.5 million to shoot on location in New York, stating ‘If you don’t have the money to do this, how do I know you have the 30 Million to do Superman IV?’ (watch the fantastic footage here).

Of course, history now tells us just how well-founded these concerns were as by January of 1987 Screen International covered the story of Cannon’s bailing out by Warner Brothers (second pic) but such was the extent of  the company’s losses that it collapsed altogether the following year, having slashed Superman IV’s budget and forcing Director Gary Godard to fund the closing scenes of Masters Of The Universe out of his own pocket.

It was a debacle that the Superman series, and essentially Reeve’s career would not recover from.  The Salkinds, meanwhile, incensed by the treatment of their most successful property, immediately renegotiated the rights to move forward with their foray into television with Superboy alongside a little project with the working title of ‘Superman – The New Movie’…

Too True To Be Good…

1987_Superman_IV_Lobby_CardRetro_Superman_IV_Comic_Adaptation_Print_1987_00Retro_Superman_Comic_Poster_Classic_00198800_000Superman_IV_Release_Lobby_Print_1986_0000000SUPERMANIA flies straight into the fortieth anniversary year of Superman: The Movie‘s production with a renewed pledge to bring you the most rare and obscure ephemera from the classic films as exemplified by the scarce promo’s above.

From the top – clipped from the pages of British Screen, the half page ad for Superman IV features a rare behind the scenes still of Christopher Reeve swooping in to Milton Keynes as part of Cannon Films optimistic submissions to BAFTA – A newspaper ad for the comic adaptation of Superman IV from 1987 – A DC Comics trade ad championing Neal Adams return to Superman comics in 1988 and a somewhat premature announcement for Superman V from a brochure given out at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival.

Of course, in an ideal world, all of the above would be true but in fact, sadly none of these images are genuine vintage but are in fact the latest creations of artist and SuperFan Jason Leggett, whose convincing works of nostalgia have been featured on the site many times before.  Look out for more of Jason’s retro designs in the coming weeks…

‘He’s My Cousin…’

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Now that the long-awaited team-up of the Man of Steel with the Maid of Might has finally made its successful screen debut, (albeit on television) SUPERMANIA goes once upon a time-warp to investigate just how & why the opportunity to do this some thirty years earlier on the big screen was lost.

With the latest addition to the collection of a second-draft script (Dated November 1982) produced by Alexander Salkind and written by David Odell, could the mystery of Christopher Reeve’s 11th hour decision to pull out (forcing last-minute script rewrites) be solved?  Would the film have been better received had Superman remained part of the story as originally planned?

By late 1982 filming was concluding on Superman III with the general understanding that this would be the last of a ground-breaking, phenomenally successful movie trilogy.  By part III, the saga was flailing in terms of concept and script quality and its star was also keen to move on to pursue other roles.  Not yet ready to put their cash cow back out to pasture, however, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind (cannily having made the deal for the rights to the entire Superman family back in 1976) decided to mount a spin-off series of pictures based on the adventures of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El.  Supergirl.

With Jaws 2 and Somewhere In Time Director Jeannot Swarzc attached and Dark Crystal screenwriter Odell on script duties, to say nothing of a gargantuan budget for the time and the same talented team of SFX technicians the Salkind’s must have been assured of another blockbuster franchise…

Its surprising for a second draft just how much material made it unchecked into the finished picture – the plot, structure and dialogue in key scenes survived what would have been countless rewrites after Superman’s exit.  So what of his role in the story?  Evidently, the lack of a Superman forced the creation of the Omegahedron, the power source Kara pursues in the movie to save her home Argo City, from destruction.

Keen to capitalise on Reeve’s established audience to springboard their new, unknown star, Superman was supposed to be ready and waiting for Kara’s arrival so he could introduce her to a new world.  As for insights into what made Reeve reject the script – arguably it may still have been to early to return to the part having publicly made his decision to retire but beyond that, the material presented here was, for want of a better word, garbage.

With all the rich story potential this opens up (to say nothing of Supergirl’s comic-book history) it seems incredible Odell produced such a confusing nonsensical mess based around the weak concept of ‘Magic’.  The Superman here is not developed in any way and lacks the charm and warmth we associate with the character .  In fact, Kal-El and Kara are afforded little time together to build any kind of releationship before Superman gets relagated to a bizarre sub-plot, abandoning Earth for- I kid you not – the ‘Planet of the Healers’ not to reappear until the end.  His one big action scene, (the battle with the invisible Shadow Beast shot with Supergirl in the final cut) is played out exactly as in the film ‘Leave this place and do no harm!’ but renders him weak and powerless having been exposed to Selena’s spell.

This, alongside the odd Zoltar character (a confused self-involved artist – not yet the scenery-chewing incarnation he becomes) and Jody (not yet Lucy) Lane and poor Jimmy Olsen showing up in once scene do little to advance proceedings.  Conversely, the Selena character is given a far more sinister background here as the newly-elected leader of an occult sect – but without the desire for the Omegahedron’s power she’s given no more motivation to take over the world than to win the affections of her dimwit gardener and destroy Supergirl in the process.  Its possible the witchcraft illustrated here (including using a severed ear as a communication device!) made the producers nervous about appealing to a family audience so was diluted to the cringeworthy camp which it became.

In short, its not difficult to understand why the movie failed on so many levels and why Reeve was smart enough to turn it down.  Today, as a cult curio if little else, Supergirl has its fans and is fondly remembered but hardly the cinematic titan it was intended.  Had Odell adhered more to the science fiction aspect without fully embracing the fantasy elements (Innerspace/Outerspace? What?) we would surely have gotten a better take (a road the producers of the current Supergirl series have wisely taken) and who knows?  A Super-sequel guest starring the Man of Steel may have been the premiere Super-Hero team-up we deserved…

From the top – Christopher Reeve & Helen Slater meet at a Premiere in 1984, Unpublished poster art by Lawrence Noble, Front cover and select script pages featuring Superman from Odell’s 132 page screenplay…

Toes Pointed…

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

With 50 years in the business, its inevitable that you will have seen Mr. Paul Weston in numerous genre classics and most likely not even realised.

With an impressive (most impressive) resume that boasts seminal pictures like ALIEN, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Return Of The Jedi, Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves and Bond films The Living Daylights, Octopussy and Moonraker to name but a few, it should come as no surprise Paul would also lend his talents and expertise to the big screen adventures of the Man of Steel.

“I worked on Superman’s one, two and three, the veteran stuntman, co-ordinator and second – unit Director revealed to SUPERMANIA this past weekend at MCM Comic-Con –  

“Chris Reeve was just lovely.  He came in and he was so young – just a kid – and he was tall and broad but he had no chest, it was flat.  I remember they made him up a padded suit, like the Batman ones now and he wouldn’t have it, he went straight to the gym.  After a while they brought in Dave Prowse and when he was ready he looked fantastic.

When we had him up in the air the first few times he was learning how to hold himself so he was streamlined.  We found that unless he pointed his toes it didn’t look right but it was hard to do, hold yourself like that.  We’d be down on the ground shouting up at him ‘POINT YOUR TOES CHRIS!’ and when he did he’d got it.  It became so much of a thing on set that when he eventually went home on Concorde, we had the pilot announce over the tannoy ‘Would a Mr. Christopher Reeve remember to keep his toes pointed in flight’.  He loved that.

“Everything you see in the Junkyard battle in Part III that isn’t Chris himself is me.  We worked really hard on that scene.  There were instances where we both had to be in the same shot and they super-imposed his face over mine.  In The Making Of Superman III you can see me on the swing being thrown into the car crusher.

I had Superman belt and a pair of boots – I kept them for years but eventually I just threw them away.  Same with ALIEN, I had a costume, pipes on the back and everything but that was thrown too.  Back then these things had no worth, its all different now.  I heard the ALIEN costume would’ve fetched literally thousands but there you go…” 

Obviously not one for hanging on to souvenirs, very few pictures of Paul on the Superman sets exist so he was kind enough to sign a still of his late friend Chris for SUPERMANIA (top pic) while the remainder of them are borrowed form Paul’s fantastic website – these rare pics show Paul on the Chemical Plant set (second from top), consulting with fellow Stuntman Roy Alon in Calgary for the fire hydrant crash and celebrating in the early days at Pinewood (bottom) with the news of Chris Reeve’s impending fatherhood.

Still very much active in the industry, Paul finds time to attend conventions and give talks on his fascinating career and is always happy to share stories with fans.  Should you wish to catch him he has an upcoming event in December at GATA where he is hosting an evening called ‘My Life In Stunts’ which is sure to be another Super-Occasion…