Presumed lost to time deep in the vaults of Elstree Studios and buried amongst the pages of the final shooting script from Cannon Films (also to come!) are these few seemingly inconsequential notes that actually form the breakdown of no less than the entire set requirements for Superman IV: The Quest For Peace including cost estimates (In Sterling!)
The year is 1986 and ambitious producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus have invested a considerable sum to secure the rights to the Superman motion picture property from Alexander and Ilya Salkind and and had dedicated the largest budget in the history of their studio to producing this sequel with plans for more to follow.
Unfortunately, as Cannon already had a plethora of films already at various stages in production and was actually in dire financial straits, Superman IV’s original budget of $30 Million plus would steadily erode to approximately half of this during the shoot, where bottom line figures for the sets alone (£5.4 Million – third pic) surely had execs sweating.
Indeed, cutbacks in the finished film are evident where £220,000 was saved replicating sets as established in the previous pictures by filming scenes in the Daily Planet offices on location in an existing office building Milton Keynes, UK and similarly £60,000 saved by utilizing London’s Hippodrome as the interior of the Metro Club.
As further savings were made by shooting entirely in England, epic scenes such as Superman’s arrival on 42nd street would infamously be shot outside Milton Keynes train station rather than New York City and Aldwych Tube Station would become Metropolis Central with minimal dressing.
For some otherworldly environments and cityscapes where battles would take place, however, elaborate sets had to be built. Part of Cannon’s attempt at industry domination was the acquisition of flailing Elstree Studios, resulting in Superman’s controversial relocation from Pinewood and the loss of its much-needed technical facilities. Whereas Pinewood’s backlot had devoted acres and millions to the accurate reproduction of a New York street for Superman II, at Elstree façades of buildings were pinned outside its studio walls with backgrounds intended to be composited in by matte paintings later. This accounts for the visible wobbling and the noticeable rooftops (where the paintings weren’t added). nonetheless, apparently it cost £1.3 million pounds to achieve this (second pic).
Even Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, once housed by the world-famous 007 stage at Pinewood, was completely rebuilt on a smaller scale at Elstree for a bargain £3 Million (Top pic).
Among the more successful sets were Lex Luthor’s Penthouse lair (£150,000, top pic) and the location set of the Kent farmhouse (at £67,000 one questions if a small unit sent out to the original Canadian locale may have been cheaper) not to mention the sets built for scenes ultimately cut from the finished film entirely (US/Russian conference rooms).
Finally, further evidence of cost cutting is exemplified in the simple memo from Associate Producer Graham Easton (dated 11th Sept, Bottom pic) to all parties dropping a sequence involving the construction of a full-size blimp (see the storyboards here) and the costly appearance of the QEII.
While its well-documented on SUPERMANIA just how and why the 1987 release ended the franchise on such a sour note, its evidence such as this, so rare and so fascinating, that offers further proof that in the initial stages at least, this production was intended to be every bit as epic as its predecessors…
Coming soon – The building of a Metropolis…