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Whatever it is, it is expensive. Superman has cost about $35 million, according to Salkind, or roughly four times its original budget. This strained the considerable ingenuity of Ilya's father Alexander, who finds the backers and has veto power on major decisions. The project has gone through three infusions of scriptwriters, two directors and a change of location from Rome to London, after many sets had been constructed in Italy. At one time a money shortage almost caused production to stop. Marlon Brando had walked off with his $3.7 million for playing Superman's father, but Stamp was told that he could not be paid on time. Tempers were frayed, and Donner and Spengler stopped speaking to each other. With the film in the can and a potential fortune in sight, the old bonds have been renewed. Donner, for his part, is only afraid that there has been too much public buildup. Says he: "It's like a comedian getting up before a houseful of other comedians and saying I'm going to tell you the funniest joke in the world.' "
He may be right, but it is at least a joke that nearly everyone has heard. Superman, along with Lois Lane, Cub Reporter Jimmy Olsen and Editor Perry White, comes close to being a mythological figure, not only in the U.S. but around the world. "You can't mess about with a myth," says Designer John Barry, who also did the sets for Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. "Too many fans would be at your throat."
Though some cinematic liberties are taken, the movie mostly follows the story line laid out in Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster's Comic books, starting 40 years ago.
The planet Krypton is about to explode, and Superman's father Jor-El (Brando) sends his infant son in a spaceship to the distant earth. His touchdown nearly kills a Midwest farm couple, the Kents, as they are driving through wheatfields in their truck. Because little Superman has a denser molecular structure, he shows his powers at once. His landing has blown one of the Rents' tires, and the superboy helps out his new, adoptive father by lifting up the whole rear of the rig for the wheel change. At school, Clark, as he is called, can kick a football into the next county. When he is 18, he discovers a magic crystal that Jor-El had put in his crib and is able to talk with the spirit of his dead father, who reveals to him that his mission is to battle evil.
And where is there greater evil than in Metropolis, the image of Manhattan right down to the grit on the sidewalks? Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) lands a job on the Daily Planet, where he can keep a watch on crime and corruption, and then, with cape on and horn-rimmed glasses off, swoop down on crooks everywhere. The city is agog, and Planet Reporter Lois Lane is assigned to find out all about the flying miracle worker. As played by Margot Kidder, Lois is not the starchy spinster of the comics and the TV serial of the '50s. She is feisty and gutsy and reckless enough to need Superman' constant attention.