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)