From Big Screen to Small Screen: Earthquake and Superman

Written by Kevin McCorry

When most films are released theatrically, they are seen in their intended entirety, with every violent act, sexual innuendo, and foul four-letter word, and when such films later appear on network television edited for violence, language, or sexual situations, they are somewhat shorter. However, some films, when shown on television two to three years after theatrical release, are longer than they were theatrically.

The 123-minute-long 1974 disaster film, Earthquake, premiered on American network television in early 1977 as a 3-hour-long, prime-time event, and commercials did not account for the full difference in running time. A substantial amount of footage not part of the theatrical release was added to the television version. Profanity had been cut, but the remainder of the theatrical release's footage was almost entirely retained.

Earthquake tells the story of several lives shattered by a violent earthquake that rumbles through Los Angeles. Among those affected are architectural engineer Stuart Graff (Charlton Heston), Graff's spoiled wife, Remy (Ava Gardner), from whom Graff is increasingly estranged, Graff's mistress, Denise Marshall (Genevieve Bujold) and her son, Corry, Remy's father and Graff's employer, Sam Royce (Lorne Greene), maverick, principled policeman Lew Slade (George Kennedy), daredevil motorcyclist Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree), seismologist Dr. Stockle (Barry Sullivan), vulnerable Rosa Amici (Victoria Principal), and lustful, crazed supermarket-
manager-turned-National-Guard-Sergeant Jody (Marjoe Gortner).

People who remember Earthquake by its much-hyped Sensurround theatre showing, or by its home video release, may be surprised to learn how much more material was included in the television broadcast.

The television Earthquake opens with a view of the San Andreas Fault as seen from a helicopter, as a narrator talks about plate tectonics and of the certainty within a century- or tomorrow- of a major earthquake at one or both of the critical points where the fault is locked, north of San Francisco and east of Los Angeles. The title sequence, identical to the theatrical version's, beginning with a panoramic perspective of Los Angeles' skyline and panning over the streets and along the upscale suburbs, then commences.

The remainder of the footage unique to the television Earthquake transpires largely on an aeroplane going from New York to Los Angeles, on which a young architect named Tony (Sam Chew) and his wife, Kathie (Debralee Scott), are travelling for a meeting with Stuart Graff, for whom Tony is a prospective employee. There is also additional interplay between Marjoe Gortner and Victoria Principal's characters, the psychotic, perverted supermarket manager, Jody, and his targeted victim, sexy Rosa Amici. Rosa is a regular customer at Jody's supermarket, and he has allowed credit to her for some purchases, which she naively thinks is from the goodness of his heart.

Aside from removed profanity, the film on TV runs almost identically to its theatrical counterpart until the scene immediately after the second pre-shock, on the Hollywood Reservoir Dam, when the caretaker and the inspector are discussing the significance of a crack which they have discovered to have been formed by the second tremor. The film cuts to a visualization of the dam that is different from that in the theatrical version. Then, an aeroplane is shown. Aboard it are Tony and Kathie. Tony is reading an architectural magazine, and Kathie is fussing about Tony's hero-worship of Stuart Graff, to which Tony replies that their future depends upon Graff and a Los Angeles contract. Kathie occupies herself with playing cards and decides to attempt a future prediction of her husband's fortunes, and is stunned to discover that, "It is dangerous to travel at this time. Possibility of death." Kathie looks at her husband, who, engrossed in his magazine, did not hear her statement of the death possibility. A view of an ace card symbol montages with the seismograph reading in Dr. Stockle's lab, and footage from the theatrical version resumes, with Stockle, Walter Russell, and Dr. Johnson going into Stockle's office to discuss what must be done now that the second pre-shock indicates the probability of a major earthquake.

A large portion of the added footage comes after Rosa Amici parts from her brother, Sal, and Sal's friend, daredevil motorcyclist Miles Quade, who wanted her to act as a human billboard for Miles' motorcycle stunt, which he is slated to perform for a promoter from Las Vegas. She says that she is going to a movie. In the theatrical version, she goes directly to see a Clint Eastwood film at the Royal Theatre, whereas on television, she states that before going to see a movie, she is, "...going home to change into some fresh duds." A lengthy scene transpires at Rosa's apartment, to where Jody, having just heard his summons to report for National Guard duty, has followed Rosa to tell her that he must go away but that he will be back to, "...take care of (her)." This he tells her after gazing lustfully at her through her window as she is changing from one Miles Quade promotional shirt to another. He knocks on her door and says that he followed her home to be sure that she is safe, because the second tremor has caused some fires in the area and probable commotion among the less inhibited citizens.

Rosa is a naive yet brash and sassily sensual girl, who has always been sheltered and protected by her older brother, Sal, and does not rebuff Jody's advances, strange and obsessive as they are. She is, in fact, flattered by his attention. He does not force himself upon her at this point, but the intimation is that he plans to do so. After Jody leaves her, Rosa walks to the theatre and is en route gazed-upon and whistled-at by a motor-biker. Jody encounters some fire trucks that are arriving to douse a blaze triggered by the second tremor, and two men are watching the firemen watering the fire, and one of them says, "We're going to get more of these (fires) from the aftershocks." "Oh, I hope not," replies the second man. Jody ascends the steps to his apartment building, where he is verbally attacked, accused of sexual perversion, by Buck, Sandy, and Ralph, three insolent, hippie cohabitants of the building. The theatrical version cuts to this Jody-taunting scene immediately after Rosa leaves Sal and Miles to announce she is going to a movie. And the words fired at Jody by Buck, Sandy, and Ralph are far more coarse in the theatrical version, naturally.

In the prelude to "the Big One", Graff and Remy confront one another over Remy's attempt through her father to end Graff's affair with Denise and are walking out of the Royce Building and into the street, Rosa is at the Royal Theatre watching High Plains Drifter, Corry is riding his bike along a wooden bridge over a concrete basin for transport of water, and Miles is about to perform his motorcycle act for the Vegas promoter. All this is the same in the two versions, aside from the elimination of profanity during the argument between Graff and Remy. After Denise, on an afternoon walk, meanders past some houses on stilts and hears a sudden chorus of dogs and the fluttering away of birds from the trees, the television version cuts to the aeroplane, which is about to land at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Tony and Kathie are fastening their seat belts for the landing. Then, theatrical version footage resumes on the television movie, with a shot of the men at the dam talking about the possible cause of the crack and an increase in water level, before the scene changes to Rosa in the theatre and the major earthquake's commencement.

Footage of the earthquake is identical in both versions until the part in which panicky people in the Royce Building attempt to flee a top floor by taking an elevator (a no-no during a quake!) and the elevator's wires snap, dropping the carriage dozens of stories, and of course killing all those persons inside. In the theatrical version, the blood of the victims of the fallen elevator is shown splattering on the screen, but this is removed on television. The theatrical Earthquake then cuts to a rapid shot of LAX and an out-of-control aeroplane seemingly heading directly toward the LAX tower. Nothing more is ever seen of the aeroplane in the 123-minute theatre version. In the television one, however, a substantial scene on the aeroplane is shown, as it hits the runway during the earthquake and is violently jolted. Tony and his wife are terrified as panic strikes their fellow passengers. The pilot decides to abandon the landing and attempt an emergency take-off. The aeroplane ascends off of the crumbling runway, its wheels narrowly missing a fissure. The Captain sets a course for San Francisco, and everyone aboard prays for the people of the quake-stricken Los Angeles. Footage from the theatrical version resumes with shots of a bar where Lew Slade is struggling to prevent falling debris from injuring the customers and where Walter Matthau, in a cameo as a boozer, is guzzling on his liquor, oblivious to the earthquake and the devastation and panic around him.

Los Angeles is in ruins, and the scenes of Royce and Graff bringing occupants of the Royce Building across a chasm between floors on a office chair tethered by a fire hose, of Royce succumbing to phosgene gas and having a heart attack, of Denise rescuing a fallen, head-injured Corry, aided by Miles and Sal, of Slade searching through rubble for survivors, and of Rosa being arrested by the National Guard because she shoplifted a doughnut, are all intact in the television version, combined with extended, unique-to-television footage in which two of Jody's three tormentors are looting a pawn shop and are caught in the act by a bitter, elderly woman whose husband, the shopkeeper, is dead. She points a gun at them and lectures them against robbing the dead, then lets them have a suitcase full of stolen jewelry that her husband was "fencing", in fact ordering them to take it. They and their soul-mate (the third hippie) are later arrested by the National Guard and brought to Jody with the jewels in their possession, a scene which is in the theatrical Earthquake but which is re-dubbed on television as the three tell to Jody that an old lady gave the jewelry to them. Jody's table-turning accusation that Buck, Sandy, and Ralph are perverts who like to dress in women's jewels is cut from the television movie, but he machine-guns them in cold blood just the same. Rosa, who has been detained and "released" into Jody's custody, observes Jody's murder of the trio, and finally realises that her captor is a psychopath. She resists his slimy advances until Slade comes along and rescues her from his by-this-point violent clutches.

Another scene on the television version not in the theatrical, comes after the dam breaks, floods the lower areas of the city, sends torrents through the storm drains, and kills Graff, Remy, and several others. Tony is flying to Honolulu with Kathie and decides on hearing a report on the Los Angeles situation that he will fly back to California and help in rebuilding Los Angeles, affirming that the ruined city needs all available architects, and that his place is there. Kathie insists that he bring her with him. And he agrees.

Another notable example of this unusual extending of films for television, is the 1978 spectacular, Superman, which was broadcast on the ABC network in late 1981 in two 2-hour parts, on Sunday and Monday evening. At 4 hours in total, the television Superman was extended significantly from the theatrical release of 142 minutes.

Hailed by audiences and critics as the most impressive version of the tale of the "Last Son of Krypton", Superman begins with the prelude to the explosion of the planet Krypton and Kryptonian scientist Jor-El's futile attempt to warn his people about the imminent destruction of their world. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) decides to send his only son, an infant, through space to Earth in a space vessel that looks like a distant star, with many, spindly projections, as he and his wife, Lara (Susannah York), face their doom with their people on the doomed Krypton. Jor-El's son, Kal-El, arrives on Earth five years later, the crash-landing of his spaceship being discovered by a childless couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter), who raise Kal-El as their own son, until he reaches his late teens, when Jonathan dies and Kal-El/Clark Kent is "called" north by a crystal to commune with the recorded "spirit" of Jor-El in a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. The adult Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) leaves the Fortress of Solitude as Superman, becomes a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper in Metropolis, and meets publisher Perry White (Jackie Cooper), photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Kent/Superman and Lane develop a rapport, after Superman flies into action to save Lane from a crashed helicopter on the Daily Planet roof. Superman's heroics win the stunned hearts of the world. A villain named Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) plans to use an altered-trajectory military missile to trigger a massive California earthquake that will, he hopes, submerge the West Coast into the Pacific and immensely increase the development value of land that he has purchased on the other side of the San Andreas Fault. Luthor endeavours to prevent Superman's interference with his scheme by exposing Superman to a meteoric remnant of Krypton, which neutralises Superman's powers and makes the Man of Steel weak and faint. But Luthor has three handicaps: overweening belief in his own supposedly infallible genius, an oafish assistant named Otis (Ned Beatty), and a fickle girl-friend, Eve Teschmacker (Valerie Perrine). Superman is able to prevail over Luthor, to save California from total disaster by sealing the San Andreas Fault and stopping the quake, and to resurrect Lois Lane, a victim of the quake, by turning back time (and defying his Krypton father's dictum against interfering with human history) and taking her to safety before the quake can claim her as its victim. Such is the full plot of Superman as per its 1978 theatrical release.

Unlike Earthquake, Superman, when appearing on television, was so different from its theatrical and home video version as to be almost a remake. Though the story was the same, nearly every scene was noticeably different in perspective and dialogue, evidently shot as alternate takes during production of the theatrical film, which apparently was infinitely more ambitious than most works of the fantasy genre; the producers seem to have intended their film to be adapted for mediums of distribution beyond the theatrical, and so planned in advance to utilise their surplus footage by offering a varying version for television. The sheer amount of footage that was filmed would, if entirely incorporated into the theatrical release, have resulted in a more than 3-hour-long film, and though in the 1990s such lengthy opuses as The English Patient and Titanic have been critical and box office successes, in the seventies, optimal film length, particularly for family fare, was just over two hours. So, footage was streamlined as much as possible, and material removed was retained for television.

To mention the differences in every scene would be a formidable task indeed, and without immediate reference to the television version, which this writer does not have, to do so would be impossible. So, only the more distinct differences and additions will be addressed from memory.

After Jor-El prosecutes the treacherous trio, Zod, Ursa, and Non, and the three are pronounced guilty by a jury of elders, they are "scooped up" by the two-dimensional square of the Phantom Zone. In the scene immediately following this, Jor-El and the other Kryptonian elders discuss the effectiveness of the Phantom Zone as a means of permanent exile, before the conversation changes to Jor-El's controversial predictions of doom for the planet. The earlier part of this conversation is only in the television version.

Jor-El promises his peers that neither he nor his wife, Lara, will leave Krypton. While he is preparing the vessel that will transport their only son, Kal-El, through space to Earth, Jor-El tells Lara about the advantages their son will have on the terrestrial planet with a yellow sun. As seen only on television, Jor-El's use of power registers on the Kryptonian grid, and the elder played by Trevor Howard orders a sentry to investigate Jor-El's activities and to stop him if he is attempting a launch. The sentry is shown levitating and moving swiftly through the snow-white corridors of Krypton's capital city. To accentuate the tension generated by the prospect of Jor-El being stopped by the sentry from launching Kal-El's vessel, the television version cuts repeatedly to a perspective of the sentry's eyes as he views his progress through the corridors leading to Jor-El's laboratory. The sentry is about to reach Jor-El when Krypton begins to break apart and Jor-El's predictions of doom from an unstable red sun are verified. The sentry is killed by collapsing walls and ceiling- and Kal-El's ship successfully launches away from Krypton. The scenes of Krypton's cataclysmic end are far more extensive on television.

Kal-El's space vehicle crashes in a prairie in the mid-American frontier, and Jonathan and Martha Kent discover it and its occupant child. In the theatrical Superman, Kal-El emerges naked from the ship's remains, but the television version avoids this nudity by replacing the scene with one in which Kal-El has a red cloth garbed around his middle when he stops out of his downed ship.

The jump to Clark Kent's teenage years is just as abrupt on television, but more dialogue is included between Clark, Lana, and Brad on the football field. Brad tells Lana that Clark is weird and that she should stay away from him- and Clark overhears their conversation and approaches Lana while Brad is bragging to his buddies, and she invites Clark to come with her and Brad and the others to listen to some records, but Brad quashes Lana's invitation to Clark by reminding Clark of the cleaning-up chore left to him by their team coach. Clark, left alone to his work, collects the discarded uniforms and disposes of trash in a flash, then runs to intercept the group that left him, and as he is running and out-speeding a train, a young girl in the train is watching his amazing feat of feet through her pair of binoculars. The young girl is not identified in the theatrical version, but on television, the girl turns to her mother and tells about what she has witnessed, and her mother scolds her, Lois Lane, for supposedly letting her imagination run riot!

Jonathan Kent dies, and the scene of the funeral is extended on television with more camera pans. Also lengthened are the parts in which Clark is drawn into the barn to find the green crystal that "calls to him", Clark's trek northward, Clark's "conversation" with his Krypton father via recordings in the Fortress of Solitude, and the scene at the Daily Planet wherein Clark meets Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane. Olsen brings Clark the towel that White ordered him to obtain to dry Kent's pants from the deluge of champagne that Clark had released onto himself after trying to open a bottle of it for Lois Lane, directs Clark to his assigned seat in the sprawling reporter work area, and is corrected by Kent after he speaks Kent's name incorrectly.

After Otis is followed by a federal agent to the tunnel leading to Lex Luthor's underground lair and Luthor kills the agent by mechanically throwing him into the path of a train, Luthor and Eve Teschmacker have an extended conversation on television about criminal ethics. In the television Superman, Luthor has a piano, on which he enjoys playing morbid tunes, and a pit at the bottom of an elevator shaft, in which his hoard of lions await their regular feeding, and Luthor is not averse to sometimes providing his "babies" with human meat.

The two-part television movie is separated at the climactic point where Lois Lane is clinging for dear life to her purse strap, the only thing preventing her from falling from the top of the Daily Planet roof after her helicopter crashes onto the rim of the top of the skyscraper, and Clark is about to change to Superman for the first time in Metropolis to save Lane. Part two opens with a repeat of the credit sequence, a protracted recap of the first part, with extensive scenes of Krypton's demise, Clark's coming of age, his introduction to his Daily Planet colleagues, Luthor's first scene, and the helicopter crash. Superman saves Lane, of course, and performs his other heroic feats on television as he does in the theatre movie.

Luthor's scheme to reprogramme the trajectory of one of the XL-101 warheads is extended in the television Superman. In both versions, Luthor places a provocatively dressed Miss Teschmacker in a position of seeming unconsciousness in the middle of the road near a wrecked remote-control car to entice the soldiers in the missile-carrying convoy out of their vehicle to try to help the ample Teschmacker with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As Larry Hagman, in the role of the convoy leader, takes charge and gallantly performs the mouth-to-mouth procedure himself, there is more banter between the soldiers in the television version.

Luthor hears that Otis botched the mission to alter the programmed trajectory of the missile while the convoy soldiers were distracted by Teschmacker and by Luthor's arrival in an ambulance dressed as a medic, and the second missile has to be intercepted and reprogrammed, again with more extensive conversation on television between Luthor and Otis disguised as mobile home moving men and the soldiers in the convoy transporting missile two.

Lois is in California on an investigation into possible real estate fraud, and her conversation with an Indian Chief about a mysterious developer (Luthor) buying large portions of desert land on the eastern side of the San Andreas Fault is substantially longer on television.

When Luthor contacts Superman and with a threat to poison-gas the population of Metropolis summons the Man of Steel to visit him at his underground operations base, Superman has to pass through Luthor's machine gun turrets, huge blow-torch, and ice-firing mechanism to reach the metal door to the villain's den. These weaponry defences are only seen in the television version; in the theatrical cut, Superman tunnels underground and proceeds directly to the metal door.

In both versions, Superman is immobilised by a chunk of Kryptonite placed around his neck by Luthor and thrown into Luthor's deep-water pool and Luthor responds to Superman's accusation that he does not care where the missile that Otis reprogrammed is headed, by saying that he in fact does know the destination: Hackensack, New Jersey, where Miss Teschmacker's mother lives. When Luthor and Otis have gone to Luthor's audio-visual room to monitor the progress of the missiles to targets, Teschmacker frees Superman from the Kryptonite and from the pool after asking Superman to promise to save the life of her mother in Hackensack first, which he does. Superman diverts the New-Jersey-bound missile into space but is too late to stop the San Andreas strike of missile two.

The earthquake occurs in the television version with more scenes of children in peril on a school bus, of the passengers on a train that is nearing a breech in the rails caused by the quake, and of workers at a hydroelectric dam where Jimmy Olsen, on assignment with Lane, is snapshooting pictures.

Superman returns to Luthor's lair in Metropolis, where Luthor has tied Miss Teschmacker onto a pulley and is about to lower her into the lion pit as punishment for betraying him, while he nonchalantly plays his piano. Superman arrives on site, frees Teschmacker, and collects Luthor and Otis to fly them to prison. This scene is only in the television version. The theatrical Superman jumps from Superman leaving Lane and Olsen in California to the prison warden responding to alarms as Superman, carrying Luthor and Otis, flies onto the prison grounds to give the criminal pair to the warden for incarceration.

Superman image (c) Warner Bros.
Earthquake image (c) Universal Pictures

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