Look up! He’s back…
It’s almost 20 years since the last Superman stormed the silver screen. What prompted Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns?
IN A NEW ORBIT What’s in store for Superman? Will he fly high?
It is a bird! It is a plane! It is Spiderman! No, no, the X-Men! Hellboy? Constantine? The Hulk? Wait I’ve got it, it is Batman! Or maybe Krrish or maybe it is a plane after all. The sky is crowded with grown men and women flying about in tights and capes all ready to save the world after they have resolved big time issues about their split personalities and their need to wear masks and sundry things that would keep psychiatrists and cultural commentators busy from now to eternity.
In this time of the conflicted superhero, with their dark worlds and darker motivations is there place for the Man of Steel, Superman? The honest to goodness nice guy with sculpted body was a hero to an innocent America. The bad guys were straightforward in their wickedness. When the Superman comics came out, they were pure escapist fare from the horrors of Depression and the War.
The 1978 movie by Richard Donner, starring Christopher Reeve echoed the goodness, the bright colours and the hope that everything will be right. The film was a humungous hit and spawned three sequels. Parts II (1980) and III (1983) were directed by Richard Lester, while part IV (1987) was directed by Sidney J. Furie with Christopher Reeve credited for the story.
In the twenty years that followed, the world has changed. America’s image has taken a beating. Celluloid is overrun by angst-ridden superheroes and there does not seem to be space for Superman in the new age.
So what prompted Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns? Does the world need him? Long time love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) does not think so and goes on to write a column about how the world does not need Superman and wins a Pulitzer for it as well. (Wish it were that easy!) The world is managing fine without him till old friend Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey leaps into Gene Hackman’s role with teeth gnashing, scenery chewing gusto) is out on parole and back to doing what he likes best – world domination.
So Superman, played again by till-now unknown Brandon Routh flies in and does his thing i.e. save the world. The saga of Superman’s return to the big screen after these many years is worthy of a story in itself. Brett Ratner was supposed to direct, as was McG who left the project because of creative differences. Tim Burton was also involved at a point of time and the film Superman Lives already had publicity material done. Ratner took over the reins for X-Men III, and Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies finally sat firm on the director’s chair.
Singer, a huge fan of Superman, says his love for the character helped him direct the X-Men movies. Superman Returns is incredibly respectful to Donner’s work from using design elements to John Williams’ Oscar nominated score. Marlon Brando who famously wished his cameo of Superman’s father Jor-El be represented as a green glowing floating bagel, and refused to learn his lines – reading them instead of the baby superman’s diaper, makes an appearance in the film. Singer used stock footage that Donner had shot but could not use due to a lawsuit.
If the director was a case of musical chairs, the casting was even more so. Nicholas Cage, a huge comic book fan, wanted to play the lead. James Caviezel was also in the running but became too famous after playing Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
Hayden Christensen was rejected, as it would not be too appropriate for Darth Vader to play Superman. Others considered included Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser and Ashton Kutcher. One of the reasons for Ratner leaving the project was because he could not come to an agreement with the studio executives on whom to cast as Superman. Johnny Depp was considered for Lex Luthor, Anthony Hopkins for Jor-El and Claire Daines and Keira Knightley for Lois.
The effects by default are top-notch as Singer says: “The progress made in the visual effects arena is just astounding. As opposed to a superhero like Spider-Man, Superman’s hair and face are exposed therefore his performance and personality are exposed even in flight.” Shooting the entire film digitally using the Genesis camera system upped the ante that much more. And then if you thought it was all CGI, Superman’s costume is shiny not because of some software, but because it is made up shiny little Superman symbols. Is that rocking or what?
So there you have it, whether the world needs him or not, the studio executives feel the need for Superman. And our job as viewer is to look up at the sky to marvel and wonder if the final shot would be of Superman flying off into space like the other three films!
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