Today would’ve been Christopher Reeve’s 61st birthday. Here at SUPERMANIA we mark the occasion celebrating his life with a lookback to how he nurtured the image that made him famous the world over in the words of personal trainer David Prowse.
Put together in unusual circumstances having both fought to secure the role of Superman– Prowse (rejected on the basis that audiences would not accept anyone but an American in the cape) was instead hired to transfer his admittedly ideal physique (top pic) to the ideal actor for the part. To his credit, Prowse embraced the assignment and the eventual result would speak for itself.
Shown above are pages from a vintage special STARLOG publication dedicated to the ‘Hollywood Musclemen’ of the late 1970’s. Despite its Disco-era title it is in fact a fairly credible piece of pre- Muscle & Fitness/Men’s Health literature with great interviews & pictorials, especially on the part of Prowse who gets excellent coverage and thorough retrospective of his career to that point.
However Prowse observations and program for the burgeoning Man Of Steel remain the most compelling, with the exclusive full workout routine and basic diet requirements highlighted (based around the consumption of Neutramint!) although probably quaint/obsolete by today’s standards.
Openly regarding the training as a necessary evil possibly appealing to his method-actor perfectionism (DeNiro style) rather than any burning desire to maintain personal fitness, Reeve’s dogged determination to meet audience expectations was summed up early on when he stated simply – “I put up a Superman poster up on the wall and said – That’s what I must work up to…”
Happy Birthday ‘Toph.
What could be more exciting for a Superman Movie fan than seeing the name of its most beloved Director on a comic-book cover? Inviting him to co-write an epic story arc across 5 issues maybe? DC Comics certainly thought so and the result, while reassuringly cinematic, is still a solid addition to the Superman literary archive.
Further to SUPERMANIA’s historic posts of recommended comic reading for fans of the Superman Movies, 2008’s Last Son, although chock-full of affectionate nods to the original films reads more like a sequel to Superman Returns or closer still, an alternate universe take on last years Man Of Steel movie. In fact, Steel writer David Goyer should owe Geoff Johns a hefty portion of his story credit – for as evidenced here, he did it both first, and better.
The Last Son of the title is actually the spawn of General Zod & Ursa, who have sent the little tyke to Earth to pave the way for their subsequent escape from the Phantom Zone along with all its other unsavory captives in a bid for World domination. Or indeed reformation – into New Krypton (sound familiar yet?). Naturally, Superman is present to have first contact with the child and their scenes of bonding having discovered they are both from Krypton represent Johns at his best, inviting the reader to care about the characters and consequently, their fate.
Having rescued the child from a top-secret military installation (once government paranoia about alien invasion leads to his abduction) and from the hands of Lex Luthor (who unleashes Bizarro in another violent kidnap attempt) Superman, as Clark Kent, seeks to adopt the boy along with wife Lois who renames him (in what must be Donner’s touch) Christopher. For a brief moment the future looks bright until the inevitable arrival of his real parents and touching scenes between Lois, Clark & Chris give way to citywide carnage.
While the battle between the warring Kryptonians is rendered beautifully by Adam Kubert (whose cityscapes have amazing realism), the conclusion (which sees Superman himself relegated to the Phantom Zone) is a marked drop in momentum as he enlists the help of inmate Mon-El to assist his escape. In a grand finale (originally published in Action Comics Annual #11) with the unlikely assistance of Lex Luthor, the world is purged of the villains by once again by opening the Phantom Zone, (where Superman defeats Zod by punching him clean into it as opposed to snapping his neck in desperation, bottom pic) but Chris is also pulled into the singularity in an effort to close it, leaving our hero devastated.
Heralded by Variety as “An entertaining read that’s hard to put down”, the collected volume released later that year featured yet another Superman Movie connection, giving silver screen Jimmy Olsen Marc McClure the opportunity to share his unwavering enthusiasm for the series (second pic down, click for larger version) and its director and star with a definitive opening line.
Overall, Last Son is a grand, affectionate, and mature read tailored specifically for fans of the character represented at his purest. Its not perfect (the dialogue about Chris being abused is clunky and uncomfortable and while Kubert nails the environments, his characters are scratchy and in some instances, plain ugly) and one longs for this to be the first of the Johns/Frank team that would mesh so well in future. Donner’s presence is also certainly felt throughout with heart and even in dialogue between Jor-El and Supes (some almost verbatim from S:TM, third pic) ultimately leading to further collaborations between Donner, DC & Johns-
But that’s a post for the future…
SUPERMANIA forges ahead with its commitment to bring you the best rare behind the scenes photographs documenting the making of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
For pivotal scenes originally conceived and scripted as taking place in the heart of New York City (doubling unchanged as it had previously for fictional Metropolis) featuring hundreds of extras, the confinement of location shooting to UK shores imposed creative challenges for Production Designer John Graysmark.
One can only imagine then, the bemusement of all involved when the key sequence of Superman’s arrival and subsequent parade to the UN would eventually be shot outside Milton Keynes train station on a cold week in November 1986.
While the Americanisation of the new town (only 16 years old at the time of filming) by the crew was convincing enough to fool commuters (one was allegedly found waiting for a ride in a prop yellowcab) its star was less than impressed with the ambition of the production having invested time and effort in the story and second unit direction.
Years later in his Autobiography ‘Still Me’ Christopher Reeve would recount;
“We were hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street. Dick Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere. Even if the story had been brilliant, I don’t think that we could ever have lived up to the audience’s expectations with this approach.”
From the top, Still insistent on doing his own live flying stunts in a setup that would never pass today’s health & safety standards, Reeve dangles by his loins hauled halfway up one of the world’s largest industrial cranes – Preparing to rehearse the stroll across ‘UN Plaza’ and shooting with the flying crane clearly visible in the foreground and reflected on the building (something Effects artist Harrison Ellenshaw was supposed to erase with the addition of a matte backdrop) – and finally the entrance to Wembley Conference Centre doubling as the UN Entrance…
(Top three pics courtesy Alexei Lambley-Steel of A Tribute to Christopher Reeve)