Archive | June, 2013

The History of Superman on Film – Part III: The First Reboot and the Last Chance

28 Jun

For The History of Superman on Film – Part I: The Early Years, click here.

For The History of Superman on Film – Part II: The Flops and the Wilderness Years, click here.

After the dismal failures of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, the franchise had been snuffed out quicker than a Lex Luthor heist.  Multiple attempts at resurrecting the character had failed, for a variety of reasons, until the Warner Bros.’ project Superman Returns was green-lit.  X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer had been signed to helm the new movie.  The hopes of Superman fans across the globe rested on his shoulders.  Would he be able to bear the Superman-esque burden, or fail like his predecessors? 

The First Reboot: Superman Returns

With Warner Bros.’ blessing to not only direct Superman Returns, but develop it, Bryan Singer called on some old friends to help him out.  Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris wrote X2, and Singer brought them on board to help write the screenplay for this project.  Six drafts later (and with references to Superman lamenting his absence from Earth on September 11 removed) Singer had a screenplay he was confident in.

During the whole process, there was only one person he had in mind for Lex Luthor – old friend Kevin Spacey, who he directed in The Usual Suspects.  Despite Claire Danes and Keri Russell being considered for the role of Lois Lane, Spacey recommended Kate Bosworth, with whom he had worked on Beyond the Sea.  Singer took up the recommendation.

No matter how the other casting shaped up, the only casting decision anyone cared about was of course that for the titular role.  Singer was a fan of Richard Donner’s original Superman, and decided to follow his approach of casting a relative unknown as the Man of Steel.  A huge worldwide casting call went out, with auditions taking place in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.  The winning candidate was someone who had not only been on McG’s original radar, but had auditioned for – and missed out on – the role of Clark Kent in the TV series Smallville: Christopher Reeve lookalike Brandon Routh.

"Oh my god, this is embarrassing... We're wearing the same outfit."

“Oh my god, this is embarrassing… We’re wearing the same outfit.”

Things were looking positive for the franchise, possibly for the first time ever.  A proven director was taking the helm without any fear for his job or undue studio interference; the studio, in conjunction with Legendary Pictures, had opened the coffers to finance the film; and there weren’t any distractions from the cast, who all wanted to be there and see the film’s success.

When the film screened in 2006, it topped the US box office, and broke Warner Bros.’ record for five-day earnings.  It appeared that the studio’s optimism was well founded.  However despite the early successes, and the generally positive critical reviews, box office receipts declined almost immediately.  This was no doubt partly due to other blockbusters that were released, such as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but also due to a lukewarm reception by fans.

The film was far from a commercial failure; it grossed over $200 million domestically, and almost as much again worldwide, ranking it the 6th and 9th highest earning films of the year in the US and global markets respectively.  But for a film with a $209 million budget and high hopes, this was a disappointment to Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. had always planned a sequel to Superman Returns (Superman Returns AgainSuperman Stays?) using the same team, and even announced a release date of mid-2009.  However, after seeing the returns on the film, the studio had doubts.

The expectations of Singer, Routh and the other main players were that the sequel would go ahead.  Dougherty and Harris had begun developing the screenplay, and Singer dropped out of directing a remake of Logan’s Run, a project he had wanted to undertake for some time.  Ultimately, however, Warner Bros. pulled the plug.

Man of Steel: The last chance?

The superhero movie has never been more lucrative.  The Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films shattered all kinds of box office records, with last year’s Avengers shattering them again.  If ever there was a time for Superman to make a successful return to the silver screen, it is now.

And Warner Bros. know it.

The influence of the past mistakes of the franchise, as well as present successes in the market, can be seen all over the development of the project.  Whether this is a sensible case of learning from past mistakes or an overly cautious approach that will hamstring the film remains to be seen.

This is approximately the amount of money The Dark Knight earned in its first weekend.

This is approximately the amount of money The Dark Knight earned in its first weekend.

Seeking a full reboot of the franchise with no connections to any films of the past (as was the case in Superman Returns), Warner Bros. invited some of America’s best creative in 2008, including writers from the comic book industry, to pitch ideas about how to revive Superman’s film legacy.  The response was enthusiastic, with universal agreement that it could be done, and that audiences would be willing to forgive any past sins.  It gave the studio hope, although they couldn’t find a story that they could settle on.

Unrelated to Warner Bros.’ search, David S. Goyer (writer of both the Dark Knight and Blade trilogies) had been toying with an idea for a Superman story out of his own interest.  He brought up his idea with director Christopher Nolan when they were developing the story for The Dark Knight Rises in 2010.  Nolan liked the idea and pitched it to Warner Bros.  Warner Bros. liked the idea too, and no doubt liked even more the idea of working with the team who had produced The Dark Knight.  The studio promptly hired Nolan and Goyer to develop the story.

Goyer and Nolan wanted to do the same thing with Superman as they did with Batman – sever all ties to the previous incarnations and start fresh.  This meant that Bryan Singer, who was already unimpressed that the studio didn’t consider his film a success, was not considered to stay on.  Neither was Brandon Routh.

Goyer first asked Guillermo del Toro, with whom he worked on Blade II, to direct, but del Toro was unavailable.  Ben Affleck, Robert Zemeckis, Darren Aronofsky and others were approached, but eventually Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) was signed, at which point Nolan removed himself from the project to focus on The Dark Knight Rises and allow Snyder full control of the film.

To find his Man of Steel, Snyder avoided the large scale screen call that went out for Superman and Superman Returns, instead approaching actors he was interested in.  As a result, he found his Superman relatively quickly.  Interestingly, the actor he chose had unsuccessfully auditioned for the role in Superman Returns.  Not only that, he narrowly missed out on being cast as the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins and was on the short list to play 007 in Casino Royale.  This time, however, Henry Cavill would not miss out, becoming the first non-American to ever play Superman on screen.

Also of interest, the actress who won the role of Lois Lane had previously auditioned for the part for Superman Returns and the failed Superman: Fly-By when it was under the helm of Brett Ratner.  For Amy Adams, third time was a charm, as she beat out the likes of Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams and Jessica Biel for the opportunity to play Superman’s love interest.

Other stars signed on to the project – Kevin Costner, Dianne Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El – giving the film an ensemble cast to compete with the Dark Knight trilogy.

The casting isn’t the only parallel between Man of Steel and its successful DC film counterpart.  Of course there is Nolan and Goyer’s involvement, as well as that of composer Hans Zimmer, but also subtler equivalencies such as a British actor in the protagonist role and even the fact that Man of Steel and The Dark Knight are the first films about Batman and Superman respectively to not mention the superheroes’ names in the title.  It is, however, the promise of another similarity between the franchises that fans are reserving their judgment on, and upon which the success of Man of Steel will ultimately rest.

Will this be it for Superman on film, or the long awaited beginning of a franchise the fans have always wanted?

Will this be it for Superman on film, or the long awaited beginning of a franchise the fans have always wanted?

The marketing campaign has consistently given the same message about this second Superman reboot in under a decade: this time it will be grittier, more realistic, more down to Earth.  This is a new approach for this son of Krypton, as the focus has always been on his otherworldly abilities, not his acceptance in a frequently intolerable world.  Warner Bros. hopes that this is the formula to finally give Superman the platform from which he can soar to new heights.

From the trailers and interviews given prior to its release, there is one other aspect to Man of Steel that has been hinted at and, if true, will indicate a new direction for Superman on film.  Such a factor is one that has not been borrowed from the Dark Knight trilogy, but the other comic book adaptation that has raised the bar for action blockbusters – The Avengers.

Snyder has hinted that Man of Steel will make reference to other superheroes and a broader DC universe.  Could this be the first step in setting up an Avengers like collaboration between DC heroes?  The idea of a Justice League of America movie has been floated about Hollywood before, but with The Avengers grossing over $1.5 billion worldwide, the idea must seem more enticing than ever.  With the Dark Knight series having concluded the DC slate is clean, allowing the stage to be set for a DC super team to hit the big screen.

"Yo Avengers - what are you looking at?"

“Yo Avengers – what are you looking at?”

Of course before any of that the first – and most crucial – milestone must be met: Man of Steel must deliver on the promise that America’s favourite hero has always held, and captivate audiences like never before.  Anything less will be a failure.

The Future?

The story of Superman on film has in many ways been a reflection of the stories they have depicted on screen.  Superman depicted a new hero, the likes of which had never been seen before.  The film – and its protagonist – had challenges along the way, but ultimately captivated the world and was all but universally loved.

By the time Superman III hit cinemas, the on screen action was a farce, which reflected the off screen production and the box office results.  It was only to be outdone by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a weak and distilled facsimile of its predecessors depicting a poorer clone of Kal-El.  And Superman Returns showed our hero returning after a prolonged absence, but couldn’t soar.

Fittingly, Man of Steel wrests with Superman’s battle to fit in, to be accepted.  Like Jor-El sending his only child across space to survive, all that Warner Bros. asks is for their creation to be accepted and thrive.  Whilst the fate of the world doesn’t rest upon it, the fate of Superman on film surely does.

The History of Superman on Film: Part II – The Flops and the Wilderness Years

25 Jun

This is Part II of Hesaidwhatnow?’s look at the History of Superman on Film.  For Part I click here.

Despite the difficulties of casting dramas, an overly long screenplay, and a clash between director Richard Donner and producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind, Superman: The Movie and Superman II were huge hits.  The Salkinds had fired Donner and promoted Richard Lester to director, giving them total control of the franchise – but would Superman III be better for it?

The Flops: Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

With all ties to Richard Donner cut, the Salkinds were free to produce the type of Superman film they had always wanted to do when they set out to add Superman III to the franchise.

Ilya wrote a treatment for the film and hired David and Leslie Newman to draft the screenplay.  Richard Lester was again engaged to direct, although this time without having Donner’s shadow cast over him, or his footage to work around.  Finally, Ilya saw Richard Prior on an episode of The Tonight Show and immediately wanted to involve him in the project, eventually signing him on to play August “Gus” Gorman, the no-good computer programmer blackmailed into helping plot against Superman.

Every one of those decisions, in some way, contributed to the least successful film in the franchise to that point.

With Donner dumped from the franchise, Gene Hackman again refused to participate in the film, taking with him some of the gravitas that his presence lent the first two movies.  Margot Kidder had also voiced her disapproval of Donner’s firing, and as a result found her role in the third instalment reduced to little more than a cameo, much to the displeasure of many Lois Lane fans.

After reading the Newmans’ screenplay for the first two films, Donner brought in Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite it, as he was concerned that the tone of the films was too campy.  Without Donner and Mankiewicz there to amend the screenplay for Superman III, it remained firmly rooted in slapstick and campness, a contrast to the more serious tone of its predecessors that critics and audiences loved so much.

This wasn’t helped by Lester’s approach to direction.  As Christopher Reeve once said, “Lester was always looking for a gag – sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top.”  This, of course, wasn’t helped by the fact that Pryor had been cast in the movie in the first place.  Whilst an extremely funny man who has made some great movies, his involvement in the Superman franchise was almost universally lambasted, and he became somewhat of a touchstone for all that was wrong with the film.

Superman III was far less successful than its predecessors, grossing less than $60 million domestically and barely passing $70 million worldwide.  As a result, the Salkinds decided that the franchise had run its course, and so their involvement ended.  It looked as though Superman would hang up his red boots and cape and enjoy retirement in his Fortress of Solitude.

Superman carrying Richard Prior over the Grand Canyon?  We probably could have guessed how this movie would do...

Superman carrying Richard Prior over the Grand Canyon? We probably could have guessed how this movie would do…

 

The studios, however, had a different opinion.  Still seeing Superman as a lucrative character, Canon Films and Warner Bros. took over production.  Their first step in bringing a fourth film to life was ensuring that they had Reeve on board to reprise his role.  Reeve was reluctant.  He was still displeased with Superman III, and saw the farcical treatment of one of America’s great characters in that film as disrespectful to fans.  The studios assured him that any new instalments would return to the tone of the original films, but Reeve was still doubtful.

Then taking a leaf out of Brando’s book, the studios made Reeve an offer he couldn’t refuse.  They said that if he reprieved his role as Superman, they would finance any other project of his choosing, as well as allow him the chance to direct a fifth film in the franchise if one was made.  Reeve signed on.

With Reeve on board and the Salkinds out, other cast members signed on quickly, with Gene Hackman even reprising his role as Lex Luthor.  Fresh blood was introduced with Sidney J Furie directing and the screenplay being written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal.  Things were looking positive.

Sadly though, the studios did not inject the movie with the same resources as were given to the initial trilogy.  Canon Films had a long list of movies in development, and did not have the money to finance them all.  As a result, the budget for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was slashed to $17 million, a third of the budget given the first two films, and less than half that of Superman III.

With the reduced budget, everyone involved in the project had to cut corners.  The plot of the film centred around Nuclear Man, an evil Superman clone created by Lex Luthor.  Konner and Rosenthal wanted Reeve to play Nuclear Man, envisioning the stunning effect of Superman battling his clone.  This would, however, involve costly special effects and was ruled out by the studios, the antagonist’s role instead being cast to Mark Pillow.  (With a name like that how could he possibly have beaten the Man of Steel?)

Furie also had to cut corners as director.  Location shoots were all but out of the question and even sets and costumes were toned back.  The result was unsurprisingly another flop – even worse than Superman IV – with the box office receipts not even breaking even with the paltry budget.

Fear me!  For I am the ultimate villain!  I am...Mark Pillow!!!

Fear me! For I am the ultimate villain! I am…Mark Pillow!!!

This time there would be no others lining up to resuscitate the franchise.  Like the character in first film, the Superman franchise was banished to the wilderness, seemingly with no chance of return.

But as with any iconic character, there were those who couldn’t bear to see their idol disappear so meekly.  Superman wouldn’t abandon those that needed him forever; he would just take a long time to return.

1988 – 2006: The Wildnerness Years

After the disasters that were Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the idea of successful comic book adaptations had all but died.  That is until DC’s other tent pole character showed up on screen and proved that it could be done.  And then some.

Batman was a huge hit in 1989.  It turned a $35 million budget into a domestic box office grossing of a $250 million, with millions more earned through world-wide box office receipts and astronomical merchandising sales.  (The merchandise sales were so high that Jack Nicholson’s fee for playing the Joker, which included a percentage of such sales as well as box office receipts, was a staggering $60 million which, until very recently, was the highest ever salary received for a single movie.  No wonder the Joker was always smiling.)

Its sequel, Batman Returns, was also a success, pocketing another $160 million domestically.  With those sorts of numbers floating around, Warner Bros. were keen for another gravy train, and in 1993 obtained sole rights to the Superman franchise.

Inspired by Burton’s gritty take on the Caped Crusader, Warner Bros. wanted a reimagining of Superman as well.  Producer Jon Peters hired comic book nut Kevin Smith (writer of Mallrats, Clerks and Dogma) to draft the screenplay.  What Smith came up with was Superman Lives, a dark tale that put Superman in a black suit called the ‘Eradicator’ and pitted him against notable villains Brainiac and Doomsday.

When it came to finding a director, Warner Bros. couldn’t look past the man that inspired them to pursue the project in the first place.  Tim Burton was keen and signed on board, leaving the Batman franchise to be taken over by others (unfortunately we all know how well that turned out).

Smith had envisioned his friend and many time work colleague Ben Affleck to star as Superman, but Burton had other ideas, much to Smith’s displeasure.  He decided on Nicolas Cage, who was more than happy to take on the role being the huge fan that he was.  (How much of a fan of Superman is Cage?  He named his son Kal-El – Superman’s Kryptonian birth name.  Yowsers.)

The industry is undecided as to whether this photo is genuine or not, but the prospect of Nicolas Cage as Superman was real enough.  I'm scared too...

The industry is undecided as to whether this photo is genuine or not, but the prospect of Nicolas Cage as Superman was real enough. I’m scared too…

Burton wasn’t a fan of Smith’s screenplay, however, and brought in Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Arachnophobia) to rewrite it.  Smith was obviously furious.  The result of Strick’s effort was an odd story in which Superman now squared off against a bizarre hybrid of Braniac and Lex Luthor called Lexiac.  Warner Bros. didn’t like it at all, scrapped it, hired Dan Gilroy to have a go, didn’t like his version either, and scrapped it too.

At that point Warner Bros. decided to drop the project all together and instead focus on, of all things, Wild Wild West.  Now it was Burton who was furious, having a year of his career wasted.  To think – in that time he could have easily squeezed in a movie starring Johnny Depp.

Jon Peters didn’t give up quite as easily, and tried to see if he could pick up momentum again to get the film going. Interestingly – and potentially somewhat controversially – he turned to the star of Wild Wild West, Will Smith.  Smith saw the potential controversy of having an African American play a traditionally white character and declined, adding in a quote attributed to him that, “You can’t be messing with white people’s heroes in Hollywood.”  Will Smith instead got to taste the superhero life in Hancock, just as Nicolas Cage starred in Ghostrider and its sequel.

As the new century turned over, both of DC’s tent pole characters were struggling on film.  Superman had not been seen for over a decade, and the Batman films seemed destined for the same banishment after the disastrous Batman and Robin (Bat-nipples?  Seriously?)

Not to be deterred, Warner Bros. saw an opportunity to correct both problems at once, by squaring the heroes off against each other in a Batman vs. Superman double whammy.  Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) produced a screenplay in which the characters were pals – with Bruce Wayne even being best man at Superman’s wedding – before a growing difference in their values saw them clash.  Initially McG (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator Salvation) was set to direct, and later Wolfgang Peterson (Troy, A Perfect Storm).  Eventually, however, that concept got scrapped.

When Batman Begins showed that rebooting a franchise could be done, momentum for another Superman film started anew.  J.J. Abrams (Armageddon, Lost) had created a screenplay called Superman: Flyby.  It was a true reboot – an origin story showing not only Superman’s birth, but his death and ultimate resurrection after a stop in a Kryptonian heaven.

The project gained real impetus, with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: Last Stand) on board to direct, but as always, the search for the actor to step into the red boots of the Man of Steel was the number one goal.  The studio was high on Josh Hartnett after his successful turns in Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour, seeing him as the next big thing.  They offered him a huge salary to sign up for a trilogy of Superman films, with some reports suggesting the figure was as much as $100 million.  Despite the jaw-dropping money, Hartnett turned down the offer, worried that he would be forever typecast, and would be unable to pursue other interests until the trilogy was completed.

Other actors were considered, including David Boreanaz (TV’s Bones and Angel), Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher, and Anakin Skywalker himself, Hayden Christensen.  When Ratner left the project, McG came back on board, and he wanted to take a leaf out of the original film’s book at hire a relative unknown.  Included on the list of actors he considered were TV actors Jason Behr (Roswell), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural), and Henry Cavill (The Tudors) – the latter a name that would come up again.

Before an actor was found to play Superman, McG pulled out of the project again, this time because Warner Bros. wanted to film in Australia, and McG didn’t want to leave the US.  Bryan Singer was approached as his replacement – a sound choice given the success of the comic book adaptations he had recently directed: X-Men and X2.

It was during the filming of X2 in 2003 that Singer had actually come up with an idea for a Superman film story.  It involved Superman returning to Earth after a five year absence, and he pitched this idea to the studio in 2004 as an alternative to Abrams’ Superman: Fly-By screenplay, which he saw as too great a departure from the Superman tale the world knew and loved.  It was well received, and Warner Bros. signed him on to direct and develop Superman Returns, leaving Ratner to take over the helm of X-Men: Last Stand.

Singer was locked in, and the project was given a 2006 release date and a hefty budget to work with.  Warner Bros. waited with hope to see whether Superman Returns would see Superman reclaim not only his mantle as Earth’s hero, but as a box office hero as well.

Log back in to Hesaidwhatnow? to read the third and final part of The History of Superman on Film, which looks at Superman Returns and Man of Steel.

The History of Superman on Film – Part I: The Early Years

20 Jun

This month, the latest cinematic reincarnation of Superman hits our screens with the release of Man of Steel.  With an estimated budget of $225 million, some of the biggest names in Hollywood behind it, and a current climate of staggering success for superhero movies, all involved in this latest adaptation are hoping for big things.

What many people don’t realise, however, is that the world’s most famous superhero has had a tumultuous history on film, with far more failures than successes.  Firings, feuds, projects that failed to launch – to date most plans for Superman on screen have been as successful as a Lex Luthor heist.  Can Man of Steel buck the trend?

Hesaidwhatnow? presents an examination of Superman on film that is as epic as it’s subject matter.  So epic in fact that this is just Part I – a look at the early years.  Log back in for further instalments that look at the flops, the lost years, Superman Returns, and of course, Man of Steel.

The early years: Superman and Superman II

Despite being a wildly successful comic, a popular TV series, and a household name in many parts of the world, a movie adaptation of Superman didn’t hit the big screen until 1978.  The film was immensely successful, earning over $134 million domestically at the box office – the second highest grossing film of the year behind Grease – as well as almost universal critical acclaim, but it wasn’t without a host of difficulties leading up to its release, and certainly not afterwards.

The film had its origins in 1973, when producer Ilya Salkind first developed the idea of bringing the superhero to life on the silver screen.  It was a difficult process.  DC Comics, who owned Superman, wanted input on the casting of their star character before allowing him to be sold.  When Salkind produced a list of Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman and Mohammed Ali (seriously), DC was satisfied and sold the film rights to the franchise to him, his father Alexander, and their partner Pierre Spangler.

Float like a butterfly vs faster than a speeding bullet: Ali was actually on the first list of names to play Superman.

Float like a butterfly vs faster than a speeding bullet: Ali was actually on the first list of names to play Superman, which is almost as crazy as this comic cover.

Before any casting was finalised, however, Salkind and his partners set about signing a director and a screenwriter, with a view to having two movies filmed at the same time so as to keep production costs down.  Indicative of what was to come, this wasn’t easy.  Ilya Salkind hired Alfred Bester to write a treatment, but Alexander didn’t think he was famous enough, and so brought in Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame to write the screenplay on a Superman sized $600,000 salary.

The search for a director bordered on disaster, with negotiations breaking down with seemingly everyone in Hollywood.  Francis Ford Coppola turned down the opportunity, as did George Lucas who was committed to Star Wars, and most famously Sam Peckinpah was removed from consideration when he produced a gun at a meeting.  He was politely rejected faster than a speeding bullet.

Ilya was keen to hire a young director by the name of Steven Spielberg, but Alexander first wanted to see how his “big fish” movie panned out.  Of course Jaws panned out very well indeed, but by the time Alexander was convinced, Spielberg was unavailable, as he had Close Encounters of the Third Kind to work on.  By this point, it looked as though the project had died before it had begun.

In 1975 things began to pick up – or so it seemed.  Salkind had hired Guy Hamilton to direct, Puzo had finalised the screenplay for both films, and in a big coup, Marlon Brando had signed on to play Superman’s father, Jor-El.  Brando’s engagement, however, was a mixed blessing.

Brando’s salary paid him $3.7 million plus 11.75% of box office receipts, a hefty chunk of money for what amounted to essentially an extended cameo.  It didn’t end there.  Brando’s contract stipulated that all his scenes had to be shot within twelve days, and he refused to learn any of his lines.  (Cue cards had to be made on set for each of Brando’s scenes, and in one instance, his dialogue was written on baby Superman’s nappy!)  Most bizarrely of all, Salkind once revealed that during an early meeting on the role, Brando suggested Jor-El could be a talking suitcase or a floating bagel.  Even for a movie about a super-powered alien wearing underpants on the outside of his trousers, that suggestion raised a few eyebrows.

"Kal-El, I am your father. Um... Line!!!"

“Kal-El, I am your father.
Um…
Line!!!”

There were also problems with Puzo’s screenplay.  It came in at 500 pages for both films – far too long given that the average screenplay is around 100 to 120 pages.  Subsequently the Salkinds hired Robert Benton and David Newman to rewrite the screenplay, however Benton became too busy to afford any time to the project, and had his wife, Leslie, do the rewrites instead.  Just in case five writers weren’t enough, George MacDonald Fraser was also hired to work on the project.

The end result was unsurprisingly a mess.  The screenplay had been trimmed by 100 pages, but was still far too long.  Not only that, it had now taken on a decidedly camp tone, and was a jumble of confused ideas.

Nonetheless pre-production began.  Reflective of the project to date, even this was a disaster.  Set construction started in Italy, but Brando couldn’t film there as a warrant for his arrest on sexual obscenity charges had been issued against him for his involvement in Last Tango in Paris.  So at great cost, production was moved to England, only for the producers to learn that their director, Hamilton, was a tax exile and couldn’t enter the country.  Faced with the prospect of losing more money relocating a second time, the Salkinds released Hamilton and hired Richard Donner to direct the movies instead.

Donner’s hiring was a blessing.  He recognised the screenplay for what it was – a huge problem – and decided to scrap it entirely.  He hired yet another writer, Tom Mankiewicz, to redraft the screenplay, his two goals to reduce it to a manageable length and to eliminate the campness of the previous iteration.

With a new script, a new director, Gene Hackman on board as Lex Luthor, and Brando convinced that being a suitcase or a bagel was not the best option for Jor-El, there was only major task outstanding: the casting of Superman himself.

Like dating, all of the actors that the producers wanted for the role weren’t interested, and those that did want the part didn’t interest the producers.  The list of actors that Salkind approached was long, and included Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, James Caan, Nick Nolte, James Brolin, Christopher Walken, Warren Beatty, and John Voight.  They all turned the role down (“There’s no way I’m getting into that silly suit,” Caan supposedly told Salkind).  Paul Newman’s rejection cut even deeper – he not only rejected the offer to play Superman, but earlier had turned down Lex Luthor and Jor-El as well (even though he was offered $4 million for each role).

Meanwhile other actors that hadn’t been approached were lobbying hard to be considered.  Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly had an otherworldly physique, but didn’t have the acting chops.  Neil Diamond didn’t have the acting chops or an otherworldly physique (nor, it would seem, a realistic understanding of his place in the entertainment industry).  One actor who had a claim to both and was desperate for the part was Sylvester Stallone.

Superman was Stallone’s childhood hero, and he did everything he could to land the gig.  Just as his case was gaining momentum, however, Stallone faced a roadblock he did not see coming.  As part of his seemingly endless contractual rights, Brando had casting approval.  When he heard that Stallone was in the running, he vetoed the actor from being considered, just as he allegedly vetoed Burt Reynolds from playing Sonny in The Godfather.  Stallone was furious, particularly after hearing Brando commenting that he saw the role of Jor-El as nothing more than a paycheck, whereas he would treat the role of Superman as sacred.

Eventually Donner and Salkind decided on getting a complete unknown for the role of Superman.  The casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, suggested a young actor named Christopher Reeve.  Donner didn’t like the suggestion, as Reeve was too young and thin for the role.  The search continued ever more desperately, with over 200 hopefuls auditioning.  Things got so desperate, in fact, that Salkind’s wife’s dentist screen tested.  It was as painful as you might imagine.

Having exhausted all other options, Donner succumbed and allowed Reeve to screen test.  Reeve blew him away.  Still, the actor was too thin to play a superhero, and Donner asked him to wear a muscle suit.  Reeve refused, and instead began an intense training regime under the supervision of David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars.  As a result, Reeve’s weight increased from 77kgs to 96kgs.  Finally, Superman: The Movie was ready to take flight.

Filming began in March 1977.  As two movies were being filmed at the same time, it was expected to take seven to eight months.  Instead the filming dragged on for 19 long months, during which tensions between Donner and the Salkinds grew exponentially.  The Salkinds were concerned that the filming was taking too long, and that the budget was forever expanding.  Donner retorted that he was never given a budget or a schedule, and wanted to be left alone to do his job.

Tensions grew to the point that the parties refused to talk to each other.  The Salkinds then hired Richard Lester as co-producer so that he could mediate between the Salkinds and their director.  (Interestingly Lester had worked as director of the Salkinds produced The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and had sued them for unpaid fees.  He allegedly took on the role of mediator so that he could finally get the money he was owed.)

Ilya Salkind admitted that Lester was there not only as mediator, but as a safety net to take over directing duties should the need arise to replace Donner.  This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

As the schedule stretched out, the Salkinds ordered Donner to focus on finalising the first film and forget about the sequel, even though Donner had filmed roughly three quarters of the footage he needed for Superman II.

Eventually the film was completed and it was released in December 1978.  It was a huge success, grossing over $300 million worldwide, being nominated for three Academy Awards, and receiving positive reviews, particularly for Reeve’s performance and the ground breaking special effects.  It was therefore a no brainer to decide to finish the sequel.

The original Man of Steel

The original Man of Steel

Like everything that came before it, Superman II was mired in problems.  As a surprise to no one, the Salkinds did not bring Donner back to finish filming the second instalment, instead promoting Lester to the directing role.  The first problem with that decision was that in order to be credited as the director of a film, a director must shoot at least 51% of the footage featured in the cinematic release of the movie.  Donner had already shot three quarters of the footage needed, meaning that in order to obtain the directing credit, Lester had to reshoot many sequences already captured by Donner.

Also, Gene Hackman was disappointed in Donner’s firing, and in protest refused to be involved in any reshooting.  Therefore all footage of Hackman in Superman II was footage filmed by Donner during the original production.  Other scenes involving Lex Luthor had to be filmed using a body double.

After paying Brando a staggering $19 million (including his percentage of the gross box office receipts) for his appearance in the first film, the producers decided not to use any footage of Brando in the sequel, even though the scenes Donner had filmed of Jor-El contained important plot points.  This was because Brando was suing the Salkinds for $50 million, what he saw as his share of unpaid box office profits.  (Mario Puzo also reportedly sued the Salkinds for unpaid fees.  There seems to be a trend here.)

In 2006 Richard Donner released a version of Superman II using footage

In 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD and Blu-Ray containing all the footage Donner had shot, including the scenes involving Brando.

Other problems with the use of two directors can be seen in the final cut of the film.  Both Reeve and Margot Kidder look noticeably different, depending on whether Donner or Lester directed the footage.  Reeve continued to gain muscle for his role and so looks bulkier in the scenes filmed by Lester.  Kidder, on the other hand, grew gaunter between 1977 and 1979, and this is reflected on screen as well.  Also Lester’s scenes tended towards slapstick, a markedly different tone from Donner’s.

Despite all the problems, Superman II was as big a success as the original, and few people noticed the differences.

With several hundred million dollars in their coffers as a result of the films, it came as no surprise that the Salkinds continued the franchise.  Sadly, the product deteriorated quickly from there.

Click here for The History of Superman on Film – Part II

12 of Shakespeare’s Best Insults

18 Jun

There are few things in life better than watching a douchebag get shot down with a killer insult.  One of those things is being the person who delivers the insult.

Even better is cutting someone down with a Shakespearean insult.

Shakespeare was the master of the sly slur, the pithy insult, and the all out brutal audio assault.  And so, to help you achieve your dreams of peerless insult passing, Hesaidwhatnow? presents twelve of the best Shakespearean insults.

12. “Thou sodden-witted lord!  Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.”

Troilus and Cressida

A way better option that the classic, “You’re stupid,” this zinger from Thersites to Ajax will let your target know what you think of them.  Unless they’re really thick.

11. “They lie deadly that tell you you have good faces.”

Coriolanus

If you have a “You’re stupid,” insult up your sleeve, you need a “You’re ugly,” insult too, right?

10.  “More of your conversation would infect my brain.”

Coriolanus

A perfect little quip to silence anyone battering you with inane chatter.  As handy for a night out with drunk people as for a meeting with the boss.

9. “Thou crusty batch of nature.”

 Troilus and Cressida

Like Voltron and Captain Planet, when these five words combine they become a devastating weapon that will rip heart out of any enemy.

Forget the environment - go insult someone!

Forget the environment – go insult someone!

8. “Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch”

“This sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horse-back-breaker, this huge hill of flesh.”

Henry IV, Part I

Let’s see: in this demoralising rant, Hal calls his friend Falstaff stupid twice, a son of a whore, a coward, and fat in four different ways.  Imagine the insults he saves for his enemies!

7. “You starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish – O for breath to utter what is like thee! – you tailor’s yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck.”

Henry IV, Part I

Not to be outdone, an outraged Falstaff gives as good as he gets, insulting Hal so variously that he needs to take a breath halfway through to continue crafting his curses.  Perhaps if he wasn’t four types of fat he wouldn’t run out of breath so easily…

6. “You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.”

Macbeth

In the context of the play, this is not meant so much as an insult to the three witches being described, but a means of notifying the audience of how ugly and therefore scary they are.  However, out of context it makes a great insult.  I recommend using it when your girlfriend and her friends are about to embark on a girls’ night out.  You’ll have to sleep on the couch, but it will be worth it.

5. “Thine face is not worth sunburning.”

Henry V

Short, sharp, and cuttingly to the point – you’re so ugly that not even the sun can be bothered disfiguring you more.

4. “I shall cut out your tongue.”

“’Tis no matter.  I shall speak as much wit as thou afterwards.”

Troilus and Cressida

Up to their usual tricks, Ajax slurs Thersites, who in turn quickly insults Ajax right back with this sharp rejoinder.  Checkmate.

3. “Methinks thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

Not even Thersites could manufacture a comeback to that.

 

"Yo mama is so fatteth..."  Oh yes, that is good!

“Yo mama is so fatteth…” Oh yes, that is good!

2. “I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets.”

As You Like It

Evidence that the ages old trick of prefacing a negative comment with, “No offence, but…” is, in fact, an ages old trick.  Here, Rosalind essentially tells Phebe that she should accept Silvius’ courtship because she’s not exactly a catch, and a better opportunity is unlikely to present itself.  No introductory words soften that blow.

1. “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thous deniest the least syllable of thy addition.”

Wow.  This is the answer that Oswald receives when he asks Kent, “What dost thou know me for?”  I bet he wishes he could take back the question.

Ah Shakespeare – he truly was the greatest wordsmith of all time.

How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in ’80s Movies – Part I

17 Jun

 

As you know, I love looking into which actors were almost – and in some cases, actually were – cast in movies (see: How Your Favourite Film Could Have Looked – Near Casting Choices in Blockbuster Movies).  Whether actors passed on roles, didn’t quite make the cut, had scheduling conflicts, or missed out when production got delayed, so many films could have turned out completely differently.

Today, I’m looking at the glory of the ’80s film.  I’ll start with a classic.

The Karate Kid

When you think Ralph Macchio, you think Karate Kid.  That’s mostly because he’s never done anything else (well, there was Karate Kid II and Karate Kid III), but also because he pulled off being such a lovable wiener turned karate champion like no one else could.  He also pulled off being 15 when he was in fact 22 at the time of filming, which is equally as impressive.  But the role of Daniel Larusso was offered to, and turned down by, Charlie Sheen.  I can’t picture that at all.  For one thing, he wouldn’t have been so doubtful about ‘winning’.

Also, Pat Morita almost didn’t play Larusso’s mentor/love interest Mr Miyagi.  He was initially turned down as the producers had issued a directive that no comedians be given a role, but after blowing the casting directors away with his audition, he earned the part as well as an Oscar nomination.  Okinawa was proud.

Feel good, Danielsan?

Feel good, Danielsan?

Wall Street

Someone who actually did win an Oscar, alongside Charlie Sheen no less, was Michael Douglas.  He played Gordon Gecko en route to the award in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.  He wasn’t the first choice however.  That was Richard Gere.  Gere turned it down, and Douglas greedily took the part because, well, greed is good.

Interestingly, Tom Cruise petitioned hard for the part of Bud Fox, but Charlie Sheen was always the first choice for the role.  Not that the ’80s was a tough time for Cruise; not only did he get to later work with Oliver Stone in Born on the Fourth of July, but he also starred in one of the most iconic films of the decade…

Top Gun

This movie is so ’80s that I can’t every type ‘Top Gun’ without hearing the musky tones of the immortal Kenny Loggins throatily singing Highway to the Dangerzone.  (Sidenote: this song was intended for Toto to perform, making Top Gun an amazing near casting choice for both the film and its song!  Awesome!)

I also can’t help but see Tom Cruise swaggering in a white shirt, leather jacket, and aviation sunnies.  But he almost didn’t land the role of cocky pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell.

That role was offered to Matthew Modine who, thinking his star was on the rise and the movie would be a flop, turned it down.  Top Gun went on to be the highest grossing film in 1986 and launched Cruise into superstardom, leaving Modine saying, “I feel the need – the need to get a new agent!”

Also, it is rumoured that Val Kilmer didn’t want to be in the film, but was contractually obliged to.  No wonder ‘Iceman’ was such a cold bastard.

Kenneth Clark Loggins.  A god of the '80s.

Kenneth Clark Loggins. A god of the ’80s.

Footloose

Speaking of Tom Cruise (and Kenny Loggins – that guy is an ’80s movie hit making machine!), he almost landed the role of dancing rebel Ren McCormack in Footloose on the strength of his famous underwear scene in Risky Business.  However, he had a scheduling conflict, so the casting directors looked to Rob Lowe.  After three auditions, they finally decided he was their man.  That is until he was prevented from playing the role after injuring his knee (probably from having to do so many auditions).

In the end, of course, it was Kevin Bacon who ended up sticking it to the man through song.  Still, the thought of missing on the opportunity to see Cruise dancing up a storm fills me with lament.

Blade Runner

One of the great sci-fi films of all time, Blade Runner starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, but it was Dustin Hoffman who was slated to play the jaded Replicant hunter.  Although a talented actor, the 5’5½” Hoffman is not the person who springs to mind for such an action packed role.  As it turns out, he felt the same, and asked for several changes to the script to make it less physically demanding and the character less of a “macho man”.  Eventually the studio gave up on Hoffman, and after looking at a whole host of other options, settled on Ford.  Not a bad option.  After all, the guy is Han Solo and Indiana Jones – that’s hard to top.

Back to the Future

Probably one of the most famous near casting choices ever was for Marty McFly in the great Back to the Future trilogy.  There was a wide casting call, and one of the young men that auditioned was Johnny Depp.  He missed out, and went on to play Officer Tom Hanson on 21 Jump Street.

 

(Sidenote II: Depp initially turned down playing Hanson, and the role was instead given to Jeff Yagher. But the network wasn’t happy with him, and after three weeks of production booted him out.  Executive Producer Patrick Hasburgh tried his luck and offered it to Depp again, who accepted the second time around.  Imagine being cast in a role, shooting it for weeks, and then getting the can.  That would never happen, surely?  Well…)

The number one pick to play McFly was Michael J. Fox.  Unfortunately for both Fox and the studio, Fox’s commitments to Family Ties were so onerous at the time that he couldn’t take time out to shoot the movie and he had to decline the role.  Eric Stoltz was then cast and production began.  But it didn’t go smoothly.  Great Scott!

Stoltz allegedly didn’t get along with anyone, disagreed with the tone of the film, and was far too intense for director Robert Zemeckis’ liking.  So, after four weeks of filming, Stoltz get politely shown the door.

See - I'm not making it up.  This is heavy!

See – I’m not making it up. This is heavy!

Zemeckis tried Fox again, and this time around was successful.  Not without a few difficulties though.  In order to accommodate Family Ties, the film was shot from 6pm to 6am, with outdoor scenes completed on the weekends.  Also, re-shooting Stoltz’s scenes cost an extra $3 million, a lot when you consider that the total budget for the film ended up being $19 million.  I’m sure the studio didn’t complain; Back to the Future was the biggest grossing film of 1985, raking in over $350 million.  Would it have been as successful without Michael J. Fox at the helm?  Hell no, and I don’t need to take a trip in a DeLorean to know that.

What other big roles in ’80s movies were almost given to different actors?   Log back on to Hesaidwhatnow? later for Part II and find out.  Here’s a clue: it may involve cops, ghosts, and taking a day off school…

Funny Sports Photos – Part 1

16 Jun

Sports are great.  Men and women at the peak of human condition, mesmerising all who watch with skill, speed, strength, and grace.  As they capture our imaginations, others wait poised with cameras, hoping to capture those magical sports moments that become the stuff of legend and make them immortal.

Luckily that also means that chances are someone will capture those moments where athletes make fools of themselves in front of the world.  In what I hope to be the first of many articles on the topic, here are ten of the funniest sports photos ever taken.

The Kiss

epicsport8

I know soccer players have enthusiastic post-goal celebrations, but a man pash is perhaps a bit over the top.  Although it is nice to see opposition players getting on so well.  That caress of the bosom looks so tender and loving…

Rhythm  Gymnastics Isn’t Weird At All

epicsport26

It’s been a while since I’ve gone bowling, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t textbook technique.

In Your Face!

epicsport6

It’s a good job this guy wore a helmet, otherwise he could’ve got hurt.  But seriously though, how hard is it to not let yourself get hit in the head with a baseball?

Touche

thumbs_timed-022

Quite hard apparently.

And the Winner Is…

thumbs_timed-023

…not this guy.  He could have at least waited until he got back to the team hotel before trashing everything.  Meanwhile the guy in the background is obviously wondering whether he’s about to get fired.

Permission For Launch

epicsport18

I’m really hoping that what’s happening here is one of the greatest divebombs of all time.

No Sweat

epicsport17

You know things are desperate when you resort to playing defence like this.  It might not be a foul, but it is foul.  I can’t quite tell whether Yao Ming is shocked or in the throws of ecstasy – all I know is that this is the most unique defensive tactic I’ve ever seen.

You’ve Picked the Wrong Man

funny-basketball-picture

I stand corrected.

A Bit of a Stretch

epicsport7

“Handball?  Handball?!?  I can’t even reach that far!!!”

A Headache

epicsport5

I’m not a professional hurdler, but I would have thought it would have been easier to go over the hurdle.

Creative Ways to Beat the Economic Crisis

15 Jun

In these tough economic times, people are having to be more and more creative to make ends meet.  However some are more creative than others.

Natalie Dylan, a 22 year old from San Diego, was looking for a way to raise money to pay for a university degree.  Her solution?  Auctioning her virginity.  Yep, she picked up the phone and called the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada (“the Classy State”) who were accepting online bids for the unique prize.

An actual sign outside the Moonlite Bunny Ranch

And how much does it cost to have a bite at the cherry so to speak?  The winning bid was a staggering $5.4 million.  Financial crisis my ass.  For that sort of money she’d better cook a damn good breakfast the next morning.  I’d be stealing robes and bath soaps from her house as well.

Natalie said that she got the idea after watching her sister raise money for her own university degree.  Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking but no, Natalie’s sister didn’t do anything as crazy as auctioning her virginity.  She simply became a prostitute for three weeks.  Mr and Mrs Dylan must be so proud.

A Danish woman has come up with an even more bizarre way to beat her economic blues.  The unnamed 61 year old entered a Nordea Bank branch in Svendborg, Denmark, and handed over 2000 Kroner of Swedish bills.  The bank teller then exchanged the money for 1400 Danish Kroner.  Nothing unusual about that… except that the bills the woman handed over were from the game Monopoly.  Wow.  Here’s hoping banks worldwide adopt a similar policy.

The bank’s manager, Ulrik Feveile, was quoted as saying that, “As long as humans are involved, mistakes will happen”.  I think that even if a monkey was working at the bank that day it would not have made that particular error.

Mr Feveile defended his employee, calling him an “inexperienced” bank teller as though that absolved him from accepting as legal tender a small piece of funny coloured paper with ‘Monopoly’ and ‘Parker Brothers Games’ written on it.  Any more “inexperienced” and he’ll start taking money made from chocolate.  I reckon if I turned up with a sack full of dirty laundry he’d accept it as long as it had a big green dollar sign painted on the side.

Having evidently rolled a double and feeling lucky, the woman returned to the same branch the next day and tried the scam again, only to get caught by the bank teller (who presumably was more “experienced” than his colleague) and promptly arrested.  She was sent directly to jail and was not allowed to pass Go.

The woman has reportedly told authorities that she was forced into the counterfeit operation by a third party.  Police are currently on the look out for a man with a large white moustache wearing a top hat, tails and a monocle.  A stake out is planned on the corner of Mayfair and Park Lane.

Do not approach this man – he is considered armed and dangerous.

The real victim of this crime?  The poor bastard who went to the ATM to withdraw cash and instead received Monopoly money.  The only thing worse than that would be coming second in a beauty contest.

As for the woman, she was charged for theft with bail set at $20,000 Kronor.  Rumour has it that to raise bail she has contacted the Moonlite Bunny Ranch to auction her virginity.