Head of Production for Cannon Films between 1982 and 1988, the late Michael J. Kagan – Executive producer of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – gave his final thoughts on the movie in an interview with SFX magazine last year…
“We got off to a bad start on Superman IV. First of all we were meant to film at Pinewood Studios, which is where the previous three movies had been done. But Cannon had just bought EMI at that point. Elstree Studios was a part of EMI so we had to move the whole production there. Pinewood, however, were very upset about this. We had begun building a stage especially for Superman IV at Pinewood and that had to be cancelled. And they called me and gave me hell for it. They said ‘you will have to do all sorts of special effects on this movie which we are prepared for because we have done it three times already. But at Elstree you will not have that.’
Now I was a foreigner in London and I did not know what some of the things they were talking about even were. All I could do was say ‘We can get that done at Elstree’ but this was my first time dealing with any of this. Special effects were much more difficult to create back then…”
“The problems began with the script. The director, Sidney J. Furie, was a good choice and we had a great cast – I mean we even got Gene Hackman back – but the script was lacklustre. Anything you read about the shoot being tense or full of fighting or anything – none of that is true. There were some conflicts on Superman IV, sure, but nothing major. Sidney Furie could sometimes get a little overheated, and he would get into arguments with the actors, but otherwise the film was a friendly affair. Despite the problems with the budget and the effects everyone wanted Superman IV to work.”
“Christopher Reeve was quite a nice guy- he wanted to pilot his own plane over to London but the insurance company wouldn’t allow it – I remember that being quite a funny discussion. He was quite a modest celebrity – he was not into extravagance or anything. He believed in Superman IV and worked very hard on it. This is the problem – if it had been shot today it would’ve been a better movie. Today we could have made Superman fly, believably with blue screen and computers. But back then it took forever to do these visual effects and it did not look very good. Cannon was used to doing their lower budgeted movies and they simply took on more than they could handle. We set up a company in America for post-production effects where they were going to take out wires and everything. Well, right away that cost $3 million to do and Cannon was not prepared for these costs – which were essential for making it look good – so we could not do a lot of flying sequences. Then, most famously we had to make Milton Keynes look like New York, and I don’t think we convinced that many people. If I were to do it again, I would have insisted we at least had more time to develop the script.”
“Superman IV was a huge commitment for Cannon –I had done some other projects for Golan and Globus by that time and the intention was always to move on to bigger and better things. Unfortunately we took on too many other movies at that time and Superman got rushed along and lost in the pack. It deserved a lot more time and care. No-one wanted to make a bad movie – I look at the sequel, and many other Cannon productions and wish we could have slowed down and spent more time getting things right. Golan was a good man, and he remains my friend, but he had no control over himself. He loved the cinema and he would green-light movie after movie – giving work to a lot of people in the process – but the flip-side of it is that there was never enough money or time for things to be done properly. That was what hurt Superman IV…”
From the top – Excerpt from the UK TV show ‘Think it…Do it!’ (aired on BBC1 13/3/87) Hosted by Johnny Ball as he tours the Metropolis Street set at Elstree Studios before talking to storyboard artist Martin Asbury, Aerial shots of Elstree Studios of the site circa 1986 (illustrating where various scenes in the movie were staged) and bottom, the late Michael J. Kagan. Thanks to Superfan Tim Partridge for the vintage Elstree shots – For more on these sets go here and see them under construction here…
6 Replies to ““A Bad Start…””
Superman IV, Cannon films and there ongoing problems at the tail end of the 80’s has always a really fascinating read. Sadly, myself and many other fans will never see the final Superman film of the terrific Chris Reeve Era the way he truly meant it to be. Would have been something though, that’s for sure.
Great stuff as always, . . thanks Martin
Great post. What issue of SFX magazine is this from?
It never ceases to amaze me the stuff you dig up. I’d kill for a shred of your collection.
Thanks for the notices, gents 🙂
This was from an SFX Superhero special which wasn’t on shelves for too long – it was big and expensive and had Garfield’s Spider-Man on the cover but that’s all I remember from it…