Monday, December 05, 2016

'Superman' Is No Hero . . . Until The Last Reel


Posted: March 30, 1987

LOS ANGELES — It's a different sort of role for Christopher Reeve. There's nothing super about the movies' Superman in "Street Smart."

As he put it, "I'm interested to see if the audience will accept me as a weasel in the film. I don't think I begin to redeem myself until the last 10 minutes of it."

It feels a little unreal talking to Christopher Reeve. He is so tall, so handsome and so perfectly articulate that you begin to wonder if what is before you in this West Hollywood hotel room might not be a lifelike hologram representation beamed in from the planet Krypton.

A perfect cinema icon as Superman, he has sought in movie after movie to prove he can do other things. In "Somewhere in Time," "Monsignor," ''Deathtrap," and "The Bostonians," he has tried with varying degrees of success to burst out of that red-caped, body-length blue straitjacket. Nevertheless, the public seems to prefer him as the Man of Steel.

"Street Smart" is the latest in the series of roles he has taken to prove his point. And it's certainly true that the young magazine-writer-on-the-make he plays is no Clark Kent.

Consider: as Jonathan Fisher, he fabricates an article about a Times Square pimp, begins palling around with a real pimp whom he meets as a result of the article and allows himself to be intimidated by the pimp into testifying in his behalf, getting him off the hook on a homicide charge. There isn't much to admire about the young journalist until at last he turns on his tormentor and takes his revenge.

"The central character is not likable and definitely not a hero," Reeve said. "But he's like many people in their mid-30s, facing a dilemma of personal ethics vs. ambition. He's sort of lost, just getting along, but he wants to be famous. When he gets his opportunity, he takes it.

"I think there's an interesting parallel between the yuppie reporter and the pimp. In a sense, they're both victims. The reporter is a victim of the magazine he works for and his own ambition. The pimp is a victim of the streets. The movie is almost saying that journalism is pimping. I think that's valid."

Next, Reeve will turn to directing. "I want to direct because I think I have good analytical skills, and I certainly think I have the ability to work with actors, Reeve said. "People who come up through the cutting room or writing are often afraid of them. I'm used to collaborating. I'm used to thinking of them as the key element."

Reeve also hopes to produce. It's a hefty goal but, as the 35-year-old actor explained, "I've now put nearly 20 years into the business. I got my Equity card when I was 17 and started acting when I was 15 at the McCarter Rep in Princeton, N.J."

That's where he grew up. The product of a broken marriage, he felt himself pulled between two homes. "The theater was a third one," he said. "It was stable and non-controversial. It felt like an extended family to me because I was sort of adopted by many of the actors in the company. I needed a secure place to grow up, and the theater provided it."

Although Reeve went through Cornell University to satisfy his parents as an English major and a Music Theory minor (he plays the piano), he still had his eye on acting. He went on to Juilliard - and that, he said, was "a wonderful experience. To be suddenly turned loose in New York and have a whole city to explore - well, I was in clover."

Once out of Juilliard, however, he was just another actor, kicking around New York and hustling for parts. After a couple of false starts he was summoned to London by Alexander and Ilya Salkind to audition for ''Superman."

When they offered him the role, he had some misgivings, but "the gambler in me needed to take the dare that 'Superman' would work as a film in its own right. Besides, that cast - Brando, Hackman, and all those great English actors. I certainly thought they could make a legitimate movie out of it."

There was another, more personal, challenge in playing the part, Reeve recalled. "The physical description was detailed - all those pictures in the comics - but who knows what goes on in the mind of Superman? Well, I worked out two characterizations. I decided Superman would represent the side of me that would be everything in life I'd like to be. And as Clark Kent I'd take all my insecurities and exaggerate them for comic effect.

"That's how I did it, and I changed my view of acting with that. I believe the character plays you, rather than the other way around. Through the reality of you, the character says what he wants to say. That's why the great performers seem to be the characters they play. You don't know where one ends and the other begins."

Superman said what he wanted to say, and audiences listened - and watched - enthralled as America's favorite comic-book hero came to life. They loved him in "Superman." They loved him again in "Superman II." And they liked him in "Superman III."

Puffing visibly with pride, he said, "I'm probably the first actor to play a comic-book character who's maintained a legitimate career."

But it hasn't been easy. None of his movies outside the Superman series has been a hit. In fact, after declaring he was done with it all, he entered into negotiation with Cannon Films and Warner Brothers on "Superman IV" and made part of his price the production of "Street Smart." He also got them to agree to let him write the story for "Superman IV."

"I think this film is more personal than the others," he said. "The focus shifts to the Man of Steel's point-of-view, and we learn how he makes decisions. I wanted to get the fun back into it, but in the right way. I'm used to playing Supie by now."

Besides Christopher Reeve, "Superman IV" features series veterans Gene Hackman as arch-villain Lex Luthor and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Among the newcomers are Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor's punk nephew and Mariel Hemingway as the daughter of the editor and competitor for Superman's affections.

Superman Is Still Flying High Reeve Deserves Credit For The Man Of Steel's Fourth Success

Posted: July 25, 1987

The world is teetering on the brink of nuclear war and only Superman can save it. But the big story is something even more unthinkable: The Daily Planet is going tabloid.

And so, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace offers an amusing exercise in double jeopardy. While the Man of Steel is taking on Lex Luthor, arms dealers and a formidable opponent called Nuclear Man, and guiding missiles into the safety of deep space, Clark Kent has a newsroom nightmare of his own. A new publisher who makes media baron Rupert Murdoch seem like H. L. Mencken is storming through the city room and ordering up headlines that scream. The result: "Superman to Kid: Drop Dead."

Although some sloppy editing has given the plot a wrench instead of a twist toward the end, Superman is very much alive. The hallmark of the Superman films, which were launched with much fanfare in 1978, has been an easygoing, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The mainstay - and his contributions have been consistently underrated - has been Christopher Reeve.

With free-wheeling directors such as Richard Donner and Richard Lester, who made the first three films, there was an anything-goes mood on the set. One might encounter everything from the overpaid solemnity of Marlon Brando as Superman's father to the gleeful camp of Gene Hackman's Luthor. Throughout, the constant has been Reeve. His presence has been a balancing act worthy of a Wallenda.

After the third Superman movie, Reeve swore on everything but a stack of Bibles that he would not return. When Hackman escapes from a prison to mastermind his latest plot in Superman IV, he says, "I had one thing on my mind - the end of Superman." Reeve felt the same way.

But his career away from the series has not taken flight - remember the penance of 1982's Monsignor? - and the prospect of folding a peace message into a pop entertainment with global impact tempted Reeve back.

However, the opportunity to say something we can all agree with doesn't turn Superman IV into a soapbox. And Reeve is the main reason. His Clark Kent is now a genuinely refined statement of klutzy diffidence, and he wears Superman's cape with the grace of long practice.

The best sequence in the film is not a set piece of spectacular action, but a double date in a hotel suite where Superman and Kent romance Lois Lane and Lacy Warfield, daughter of the nefarious publisher.

Director Sidney J. Furie's Superman IV will not supplant the second Superman film, which Lester took over from Donner amid much acrimony and publicity, as the best in the series. But it's good fun and its heart is in the right place.

This time, Superman is everywhere as he elects to rid the world of nuclear arms. Everyone but Lex thinks that this is a capital idea, leaving Hackman to round up some designer genes culled from Superman's hair to create a superhuman rival.

While the supermen slug it out, the circulation wars continue on the streets of Metropolis and Jackie Cooper gets to play an over-my-dead-body editor fending off the excesses of the rampaging publisher. Of course, Superman saves the world, but the real news is that there's still some life in the series.


Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, directed by Sidney J. Furie, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, photography by Ernest Day, music by John Williams, distributed by Warner Bros.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Superman-Clark Kent - Christopher Reeve

Lois Lane - Margot Kidder

Lex Luthor - Gene Hackman

Lenny - Jon Cryer

Lacy Warfield - Mariel Hemingway

Parent's guide: PG.

Showing at: Area theaters.

Superman's Saga: Will It Go Iv Ever? Man Of Steel Continues His Never-ending Battle

Posted: July 27, 1987

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," an action drama starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Mariel Hemingway and Margot Kidder. Directed by Sidney J. Furie. Screenplay by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. Running time: 86 minutes. A Warner Brothers release. At area theaters.

A recurring feature on the old "Saturday Night Live" was a mock panel discussion show called "What If?", in which various experts would discuss such pressing hypothetical questions as "What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly?" and "How would World War II have turned out if Superman was German?"

The makers of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" have gone that query one better. What if, they ask, Superman decided to eradicate all nuclear weapons from the world? The answer, as presented by the movie, turns out to be fairly predictable and a good deal less interesting, come to think of it, than seeing Eleanor Roosevelt defy gravity.

ntil now, as fans of the saga will know, Superman had always avoided involving himself in the political matters of Earth - part of the legacy handed down to him by his Kryptonian forefathers. But, given the crisis that threatens global civilization as the film begins, there's no time for fine points. As the Daily Planet (recently bought and tabloidized by a Rupert Murdoch-type sleaze magnate played by Sam Wanamaker) puts it in a headline, ''Summit Kaput: World at Brink." Nuclear war is close at hand, and Superman (played as always by Christopher Reeve, who has by now perfected the white-bread winking sincerity) gathers up all the world's missiles and hurls it deep into the sun.

Into the breach steps arch-villain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), back in the series after missing out on "Superman III." He not only fills the arms vacuum by restocking the world's nuclear stockpile, but he also creates, through some fancy genetic engineering, a fellow dubbed "Nuclear Man" (Mark Pillow), a blond behemoth equipped with enough solar energy to melt the Man of Steel into ingots.

"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" lasts less than 90 minutes, and it may strike some devotees of the series as a little sketchy. Yes, all the elements we've come to expect are there - lots of flying (none by any First Ladies, sad to say), a couple of knock-down-drag-outs in outer space, a message, and some light comedy with Clark Kent and Margot Kidder's Lois Lane (there's one clever sequence involving a quick-change double date among Lois, Clark, Superman and the publisher's daughter (Mariel Hemingway), who can't see Supe's appeal but has a crush on Clark).

But - and maybe it's precisely because we have seen it all before - it's hard to escape the conclusion that all the originality and excitement have been drained from the series. Which brings up the most terrifying "Whatif?" of all: What if the Superman series never ends?

Parental guide: Rated PG. Suitable for children.

Man Of Steel Continues His Never-ending Battle

Posted: July 27, 1987

A recurring feature on the old "Saturday Night Live" was a mock panel discussion show called "What If?", in which various experts would discuss such pressing hypothetical questions as "What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly?" and "How would World War II have turned out if Superman was German?"

The makers of "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" have gone that query one better. What if, they ask, Superman decided to eradicate all nuclear weapons from the world? The answer, as presented by the movie, turns out to be fairly predictable and a good deal less interesting, come to think of it, than seeing Eleanor Roosevelt defy gravity.

Until now, as fans of the saga will know, Superman had always avoided involving himself in the political matters of Earth - part of the legacy handed down to him by his Kryptonian forefathers. But, given the crisis that threatens global civilization as the film begins, there's no time for fine points. As the Daily Planet (recently bought and tabloidized by a Rupert Murdoch-type sleaze magnate played by Sam Wanamaker) puts it in a headline, ''Summit Kaput: World at Brink." Nuclear war is close at hand, and Superman (played as always by Christopher Reeve, who has by now perfected the white-bread winking sincerity) gathers up all the world's missiles and hurls it deep into the sun.

Into the breach steps arch-villain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), back in the series after missing out on "Superman III." He not only fills the arms vacuum by restocking the world's nuclear stockpile, but he also creates, through some fancy genetic engineering, a fellow dubbed "Nuclear Man" (Mark Pillow), a blond behemoth equipped with enough solar energy to melt the Man of Steel into ingots.

"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" lasts less than 90 minutes, and it may strike some devotees of the series as a little sketchy. Yes, all the elements we've come to expect are there - lots of flying (none by any First Ladies, sad to say), a couple of knock-down-drag-outs in outer space, a message, and some light comedy with Clark Kent and Margot Kidder's Lois Lane (there's one clever sequence involving a quick-change double date among Lois, Clark, Superman and the publisher's daughter (Mariel Hemingway), who can't see Supe's appeal but has a crush on Clark).

But - and maybe it's precisely because we have seen it all before - it's hard to escape the conclusion that all the originality and excitement have been drained from the series. Which brings up the most terrifying "Whatif?" of all: What if the Superman series never ends?

Parental guide: Rated PG. Suitable for children.


An action drama starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Mariel Hemingway and Margot Kidder

At areatheaters

Superman's Greatest Hits Look, Up In The Sky . . . It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's . . .

Posted: March 24, 1988

Years before Christopher Reeve donned cape, trunks and curl - before he was even born - Superman was alive and well and stopping crime in Metropolis and around the galaxy.

Any Baby Boomer worth his or her weight in Hula-Hoops can recall George Reeves, who played the Man of Steel in The Adventures of Superman, which ran on television from 1953 to 1957 and which caught on with yet another generation when it was syndicated in the '60s. Reeves still can be seen confounding evildoers on cable and smaller stations, making it easy to assume that he was the first celluloid version of the superhero.

In fact, Superman's screen origins predate Reeve and Reeves. But until recently, samplings of Superman's early days were difficult to find. Now, as part of Superman's 50th-birthday celebration, Warner Home Video has released a number of rarities on videocassette.

Superman, the creation of Cleveland natives Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, debuted in Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938. (His actual birthday is given as Feb. 29, 1938 - of course, there was no such date on Earth, but maybe on Krypton?) Ten years later, he made his live-action debut in a 15-chapter theatrical serial simply called Superman.

To say that this serial was light years away from Star Wars would be an understatement. A project of noted schlockmeister Sam Katzman (Rock Around the Clock), it was shot on a microscopic budget. Nevertheless, it proved so popular that two years later, Katzman filmed a sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman. Both have recently been released on video and, if only for their historic and camp value, are worth a look.

A former dancer named Kirk Alyn played the Man of Steel in both serials, taking a straightforward, no-nonsense approach. When Alyn frantically changes from his natty three-piece suit to S-emblazoned costume, his voice seems to drop at least an octave to a heroic baritone. You expect to hear him intone, ''Here I come to save the day!" like Mighty Mouse.

The first chapter of Superman begins with the now familiar account of the hero's origins - how he was sent into space by his parents from the dying planet Krypton, how he was reared on Earth by benevolent Ma and Pa Kent and how he journeyed to the big city to assume the identity of Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet. The next 14 chapters are devoted to Supe's battle with the evil Spider Woman, who has spun a web of crime around Metropolis with a deadly reducer ray.

Spider Woman is essentially a one-evil-trick villain, a shortcoming that Katzman remedies in Atom Man vs. Superman. Atom Man actually is Superman's arch nemesis Lex Luthor wearing an oversize helmet with sparkles. Luthor throws all sorts of diabolical curves at the hero. Superman is turned invisible and has to fight one of Luthor's cronies in outer space! Luthor controls a robbery ring across Metropolis! And - Great Caesar's ghost! - Luthor persuades Lois Lane to quit the Daily Planet for a job at a TV station!


But although the action is worth exclaiming, the filmcraft leaves much to be desired. Superman deflecting rapidly fired bullets off his chest is the most elaborate special effect used here. Otherwise, there's a lot of stock footage of floods, tornados and other natural disasters. And when the celebrated strong man flies up, up and away, he turns into a jerky animated figure.

Yet Siegel and Shuster's original theme remains intact in these serials - Superman is seen fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way. And, though budget restrictions make for the chintziest Man of Steel excursions ever produced, they are, surprisingly, often the most fun.

In 1951, George Reeves zoomed onto theater screens in Superman and the Mole Men, which also was filmed for pennies and was used as a pilot for the TV series.

The Mole Men are midgets with fake, fuzzy eyebrows and rubbery bald-head pieces. When they pop out of a freshly tapped oil well to infest a small Western town, the frightened locals want the little creatures strung up, but Superman and Kent, pleading equal rights for Mole Men, want to protect the furry fellows. Amazingly, the film is consistently engaging, and, at only 67 minutes long, it's ideal for kids 10 and under.

Throughout his run as Superman, Reeves, a former boxer and journeyman actor who appeared in Gone With the Wind and From Here to Eternity, interpreted the hero with a punchier style than his predecessor. Rugged, affable and a tad overweight, he was looser and more likable than the arch Alyn. Saying that he modeled his Clark Kent after the newshounds of The Front Page, Reeves once said that he "wished to make Superman a natural extension of Clark's courage, not a Walter Mitty-type fantasy projection."


After Mole Men, Reeves took his Superman from the large to the small screen, and Warner Home Video has released four hour-long volumes of TV's Best Adventures of Superman. Watching these today, one notices a greater emphasis on Kent and his relationship to his alter ego than on the Man of Steel himself. A great deal of time also is spent on the newspaper angle and the adventures of Lois Lane, photographer Jimmy Olsen and editor Perry White.

Plots concerning absent-minded scientists, Midas-minded thugs and crippling Kryptonite formulas were commonplace, and, because of tight budgets, stock footage is used ad infinitum, but exceptions can be found in the episodes entitled "Crime Wave" and "All That Glitters."

"Crime Wave," which appears on Volume 2 of TV's Best Adventures, takes an unusually hard-hitting crime-drama approach, as Superman tracks down the mysterious criminal who is No. 1 on the most-wanted list. The show features a whirlwind montage of screeching police cars, tabloid headlines and Superman bashing a crook with his steel knuckles.

"All That Glitters," showcased on Volume 1, actually was the series finale. It's presented on the tape as it was filmed - in color - which makes for a jarring contrast to the shadowy film noir look of earlier episodes.

Reeves directed this lighthearted episode, in which Jimmy Olsen gets sandbagged (literally) and envisions he has superpowers like his idol. The episode - and, appropriately, the series - ends with this bit of dialogue between Jimmy and Clark:

Jimmy: "Golly, Mr. Kent, you'll never know how wonderful it is to be like Superman."

Clark: "No, Jimmy, I guess I never will."

Each volume of TV's Best Adventures includes a theatrical Superman cartoon from the early 1940s. These 10-minute marvels are the work of Max and Dave Fleischer, the animation geniuses who created the classic Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons of the 1930s. Their Superman adventures are mini-masterpieces, gorgeously colored and meticulously drawn. Although they've been available on video previously in various collections, it's unlikely they've ever been presented in such glorious, pristine quality.

But these are the Supermen of yesterday - for today's generation of superfanatics, the Man of Steel is personified by Christopher Reeve.

Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind originally considered the likes of Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Robert Redford for the lead in their 1978 epic Superman - The Movie. Instead, they settled on the relatively unknown Reeve, whose handsome, chiseled features, strapping physique and good-natured, self-effacing air would become the complete Superman.

Of course, this Superman had luxuries not afforded the others. There was the budget - in excess of $30 million. Top writers, such as Mario Puzo, Robert Benton and David Newman, were recruited to work on the script. The able Richard Donner directed the expensive, eclectic cast, which included Marlon Brando and Margot Kidder, with Gene Hackman as the hammy Lex Luthor. And there were a multitude of elaborate special effects, an eerie, stylized production design and a stirring score by John Williams. It was the first time the superhero got first-class treatment in Hollywood.

Superman - The Movie is a triumphant, witty fantasy true to both its comic book origins and the time in which it was made. It opens with a recap of Superman's otherworldly beginnings on Krypton and then whisks viewers to Middle America for Clark's youth with Ma and Pa Kent. When the film hits Metropolis, contemporary twists are introduced - Lois Lane is a spunky, liberated woman, and Lex Luthor is involved in dastardly real-estate deals.

Superman II, released in 1980, takes a pulpier approach. In this action- packed adventure, Supe wrestles with three superbullies, led by the outrageous General Zod, who destroy midtown Metropolis. Credit must be given to director Richard Lester and his distinctive, satiric style; although many purists detest this entry, others consider it the greatest Superman story ever told.

Superman III (1983) is the most interesting and most disappointing of the modern series. Admirably, Kent develops a personality conflict with his true identity, which leads to an incredible tug of war between Superman's brawn and the reporter's brain. Unfortunately, Richard Pryor's role as a corrupted computer whiz was conceived for one of his lesser comedies.

Last year's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the latest of the big- screen Supermen, and if its critical reception and box-office returns are any indication, it may do more harm to the series than a case of Kryptonite.

Promising story possibilities abound: A media mogul has transformed the Daily Planet into a gossipy tabloid. Nuclear weapons threaten the world. Lex Luthor has called on a glow-in-the-dark gladiator to corral the Man of Steel. Then there are the girl problems.

Yet even with Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman back after sitting out Superman III, most of the prime opportunities are sadly botched. Cannon Films' use of dull, shadowy cinematography and junky special effects has sapped the Man of Steel movies of much of their earlier strength - in some flying sequences, you can see the strings that suspend Superman.

It makes one long for the days of Kirk Alyn.

They're Chilling Children, A Platinum-blond Plague

Posted: April 28, 1995

For a time there in John Carpenter's remake of the great 1960 spooker Village of the Damned, it looks as if the veteran genre director is going to make some sly observation on the whole pro-life/pro-choice debate. After the lovely seaside burg of Midwich, Calif., is inexplicably beset with mass pregnancies, a federal epidemiologist (Kirstie Alley, behaving secretively and puffing on funny-colored cigarettes) offers the expectant mothers the opportunity to abort their fetuses. She also offers each family a $3,000 monthly fee if they carry the children to term.

One man, whose wife and daughter are impregnated, asks if that's $3,000 per family or family member. When Alley's Dr. Verner responds that it's per member, the guy perks up like a cartoon character with dollar signs in its eyes. So much for the abortion option.

But like so many of Carpenter's movies that flirt with social commentary, the issue is quickly dropped in favor of good old horror-movie scares. Although this new Village of the Damned has one or two enjoyably jolting sequences, it's a pallid endeavor compared to director Wolf Rilla's original. Carpenter, working from a screenplay credited to David Himmelstein (and using both the 1960 script and John Wyndham's 1957 novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, as inspiration), does delve a little deeper into the psychological impact these mystery pregnancies have on the women.

And once the brood is born - within minutes of one another, in a barn- turned-maternity ward - Carpenter pokes fun at the whole build-a-better- baby movement. Sitting there on the floor, one tiny tot is spelling his name in letter blocks. Just a few years later, the demonic kids are seen speed-reading through encyclopedias.

The premise of Village of the Damned remains wonderfully scary: that an alien life force has descended on a community, inseminated its women, and spawned a gaggle of evil brainiacs with platinum-blond hair who can read your mind and do funny things with their eyes. (When the telekinetic kiddies will the weak, emotional humans into acts of self-mutilation, their eyes radiate intense beams of light. This special effect, from Industrial Light & Magic, is hardly more impressive than the one employed in the black-and-white original.)

Village of the Damned, vintage '95, is full of sketchy characters and dialogue that works against the story's unsettling suspense. Alley brings all the authority of a beautician to her portrayal of a brilliant medico with a hidden agenda; Linda Kozlowski conveys bland edginess as a widow with an alien in her womb; and Michael Pare appears fleetingly at the film's outset as a jovial, loving husband. Only Mark Hamill, cast as a troubled town minister, has anything really interesting to do.

Well, Christopher Reeve, assuming the role played by George Sanders in the original, does do some pretty hysterical face-scrunching as things careen toward the climactic finale: Determined to block the children from reading his mind, Reeve's character conjures up the mental image of a brick wall. Carpenter does a close-up of Reeve, brows knotted in sweaty concentration, cuts to those nasty kids beaming their flashlight eyes at him, and then cuts away to a shot of a brick wall. Please!


Produced by Michael Preger and Sandy King, directed by John Carpenter, written by David Himmelstein, photography by Gary B. Kibbe, music by John Carpenter and Dave Davies, distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1:35

Alan Chaffee - Christopher Reeve

Susan Verner - Kirstie Alley

Jill McGee - Linda Kozlowski

Rev. George Miller - Mark Hamill

Mara Chaffee - Lindsey Haun

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity)

Showing at: area theaters

The Scares Are Scarce In 'Village Of The Damned'

Posted: April 28, 1995

Although cottony clouds float serenely above the sleepy, coastal town of Midwich, Calif., all is not well.

Midwich, population 2,000. But not for long. That's because this is exactly the kind of whitewashed, picket-fenced, unsuspecting village that terror movies always plague. Scary music please . . . It's the "Village of the Damned."

So when the entire female population - even the local virgin - turns up pregnant after a mysterious six-hour blackout, it's no miracle. In fact, it's a parent's worst nightmare. Except perhaps in the 1960 original version of this film, pregnancy has not been so frightening.

The spawn of this peculiar incubation are creepy, preternaturally intelligent Children from Hell, who somehow scored duds that look borrowed from the Gap Kids Gray Flannel Collection. Snow-blond and evil-eyed, the cherub-faced devils march around town like robotic Stepford children, causing havoc to those who won't bend to their childish wills.

They force the town's grown-ups to do really nasty things, such as thrust hands into boiling water, drip poison into their eyes and jump from cliffs.

As the local preacher man says: "They have the look of man, but not the nature of mankind."

They were born to eliminate their parents and, perhaps, the rest of the human population. (Ho-hum, like we've never heard that one before.) They are emotionless, soulless - kind of like this disappointing movie.

There's nothing worse than an un-scary scary movie. "Damned" is too long on drama, too short on horror and, what is most annoying, too insulting to our intelligence.

Take the unexplained gaps in the plot: The entire female population of the town gets pregnant but only nine kids remain? Or the cheesy special effects: The kids' eyes glow - a lot. And the angry villagers: Has anyone actually seen an angry mob carry burning torches since "Frankenstein," or at least since flashlights were invented?

What was director John Carpenter thinking? He's had better luck with other remakes, including his unsettling "The Thing." Maybe he should stick to making films based on original screenplays, such as his touching "Starman" or the still-sturdy horror classic "Halloween."

The studio could have named this movie the "Village of the Comeback Kids." Stars, such as they are, include Kirstie Alley ("Cheers") as a bitchy, chain-smoking government scientist; Christopher Reeve ("Superman") as a befuddled town doc; and Mark Hamill ("Star Wars' " Luke Skywalker) as the town's minister.


Co-produced by David Chackler, directed by John Carpenter, Music by John Carpenter and Dave Davies, written by David Himmelstein based on the 1960 screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Wolf Rilla and George Barclay, distributed by Universal.

Running Time: 95 minutes

Alan Chaffee - Christopher Reeve

Dr. Susan Verner - Kirstie Alley

Jill McGowan - Linda Kozlowski

Rev. George - Mark Hamill

David - Thomas Dekker

Parents Guide: R.

Showing at: Area theaters

Our movie rating guide:

Reeve Tells Walters About Suicide Thoughts

Posted: September 29, 1995

Superman star Christopher Reeve briefly considered suicide after he was paralyzed in a fall from a horse.

But the thoughts ended when he saw his children, the 42-year-old Reeve told ABC's Barbara Walters in an interview to be aired tonight.

"I could see how much they needed me and wanted me . . . and how lucky we all are and that my brain is on straight," he said in his first interview since he broke his neck in May, leaving him with no movement from his shoulders down. "The thought vanished and has never come back again."

Reeve needs a ventilator to breathe and is learning to get around in an electric wheelchair.

For eight weeks after the accident, he said, "The demons would get me in the middle of the night. In my dreams I'd be whole, riding my horse, playing with my family. We'd be making love, we'd be doing everything. And then suddenly I'd wake up and it's 2 in the morning and I'm lying in bed and I can't move and I'm on a ventilator. Those are the worst times."

He said that he suggested to his wife, Dana Morosini, "Maybe I should just check out."

"And then Dana said to me, 'You're still you and I love you,' " Reeve recalled.


* Tickets for Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers' Oct. 26 show at the Electric Factory with John Eddie opening go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m., but won't be available at Ticketmaster outlets. Fans desperately seeking Grushecky - whose new album, American Babylon (Razor & Tie), is a collaboration of sorts with a producer, guitarist and songwriter named Bruce Springsteen - can pick up $15 ducats at the Theater of Living Arts or Electric Factory Concerts box offices, or through Ticketmaster charge by phone (215-336-2000). There's a four ticket per-person limit, and it's a 21-and-older show.


* Despite the ads, this weekend's season premiere of the reshuffled Saturday Night Live won't include the artist formerly known as Prince, formerly known as the musical guest for the kickoff show. "Personal reasons" is all NBC is saying about the Enigmatic One's cancellation. Blues Traveler will step in, with Central Park West star Mariel Hemingway as guest host.


* Princess Di, invited to a luncheon of The Literary Review in London , told the assembled literati that she felt privileged to be invited to "a highly exclusive gathering of intellects."

"Apparently, some people are wondering what Diana, that notorious illiterate, is doing at a distinguished scholarly occasion such as this," she said at the lunch.

"I've made time between therapy sessions and secret trysts to attempt to reply," she added. Then, to applause and laughter, the princess let loose with a limerick:

"The princess was heard to declare,

Let gossips poke fun if they dare.

My real inspiration

Is Bron's invitation,

Stick that in your tabloids, so there."


* LeRoy Neiman didn't need a brush or a palette for his latest effort: a $6 million donation to Columbia University.

The donation, the largest ever received by the university's School of Arts, will help pay for The LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, Columbia officials said Wednesday. The center, with up to 200 artists, will have studios for lithography, silkscreening, photography and computer art. The painter's gift will also fund a professorship by an internationally recognized artist who will head the center.


* Singer Bobby Brown, husband of Whitney Houston, escaped injury in Boston early Wednesday when a gunman opened fire outside a rundown city bar, but Brown's sister's fiance was killed.

Steven Sealy, 31, of Chamblee, Ga., was shot while sitting in Brown's cream-colored Bentley. Brown, 26, was standing outside the car with a bodyguard. The shooting of Sealy set off a brief gun battle, with more than a dozen shots fired, witnesses said.

The incident took place shortly before 1 a.m. as Brown left the Biarritz Lounge in the city's Roxbury section, a block from where he grew up.

Sealy was shot at least three times in the face and chest. There were bullet holes in the car's windshield and hood.


* Now comes Ivanka Trump, The Donald and Ivana's 13-year old. Ivanka, it is said (by a publicist, of course), wants to be a model. To prepare for the career, Ivanka spent last weekend at Trump's Palm Beach estate, surrounded by photographers, assorted stylists and others expert in building a portfolio.

The Donald says he's very proud of her ambitions but would be ''devastated" if his kid were to get to be more famous than he is.


* The widow of rapper Eazy-E, who died in March of AIDS, has given birth to their second child.

Tomica Woods-Wright had a 7-pound, 5-ounce girl, Daijah Nakia, at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, publicist Norman Winter said Wednesday. The baby is being tested for the AIDS virus.

Eazy-E, whose real name was Eric Wright, co-founded the pioneering ''gangsta" rap group N.W.A. He was 31.

Woods-Wright, 26, and her other child by Wright, 2-year-old Dominick, have tested negative for the AIDS virus.

Misguided Health-care Decision

Posted: May 24, 1996

Is it churlish to raise questions about Christopher Reeve's success in obtaining an additional $10 million in government money for researchers working on spinal-cord injury?

Clearly yes, given that Reeve, of Superman film renown, remains paralyzed from a riding accident last year. Determined to regain his health, Reeve has been campaigning for an expansion of research to benefit the thousands who share his affliction. In a wheelchair, and dependent on a respirator, he is a heroic figure.

With proper support, he optimistically says, scientists can solve the daunting problem of regenerating severed nerves in five or six years. Recently, in a packed Senate hearing room, Reeve said President Clinton had pledged an additional $10 million for research. Key Senators said they would do their part to provide the money.

A happy outcome, in the best tradition of responsive government? Not at all.

Making health-research choices on the basis of celebrity status and exaggerated hopes of breakthroughs is no formula for arriving at wise choices. This is especially so in an era when health research is facing hard times.

If another $10 million a year for research can indeed solve the mystery of nerve regeneration in relatively short order, then two extremely disturbing questions arise: If that's all that's required, why was it lacking until a dramatically injured Hollywood celebrity took up the cause? And if money won't make the difference, then why is precious money being thrown at this problem?

At Horse Show, Actor's Accident Is Taboo Subject Riders Are Aware That What Happened To Christopher Reeve Can Happen To Anybody.

Posted: May 30, 1996

DEVON — Almost exactly a year ago today, actor Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse when it unexpectedly halted in front of a jump at a Virginia competition. Although Reeve was wearing a helmet, he broke his neck, damaged his spinal cord, and is now a quadriplegic.

This week at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, some of the nation's best equestrians make the sport look effortless. The well-postured riders, on their burnished, buffed horses, take difficult jumps with such ease and grace that it is easy to ignore the danger that many say is inherent in the sport.

And Reeve's accident is a taboo subject to many here.

``It was all over TV and the magazines, but I don't think I've ever heard horse people talk about it,'' said Rob Burroughs, a horse groomer at North Run Farms in Buffalo, N.Y. That farm, like many other horse organizations, made the trip to Devon to compete in the horse show, which runs through Sunday.

``Hundreds of people fall off a day,'' Burroughs said, but death or paralysis in the sport is not common. Reeve ``just fell off the wrong way,'' he said.

``I wouldn't think too many people would want to talk about it, but Christopher Reeve is an example of how dangerous this sport can be,'' said Gary Goller, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which performed at the show earlier this week.

Susie Schoellkopf, the owner of SBS Farms in Buffalo, said that the severe nature of Reeve's injuries is an anomaly, and that she does not talk about his accident with her riders.

``We're defensive about it, because it doesn't happen that much,'' she said.

Many of those who spend much of their time around horses say that most are temperamental animals with distinct personalities. Like humans, horses get nervous at big competitions. But unlike their riders, horses lack the cognitive resources to deal with the hubbub of major competitions.

Instead, as people in the horse world put it, horses get ``spooked.'' When frightened, even the best-trained will rear, buck and neigh.

Reeve's accident is widely considered to be a freak occurrence, but, as many riders say, spend enough time riding horses and eventually you'll fall off. To make it in this sport - where the main athletes weigh about 1,500 pounds - you have to be tough as well as good.

Katie Prudent, the owner and rider for Plain Bay Farms in Middleburg, Va., who is trying out for the Olympic equestrian team this year, is living proof.

Six years ago, the horse she was riding fell to its knees after a jump, and she fell off and hit her head. Prudent did not want to discuss the details of the accident, but said she had brain surgery. At another competition a few years later, her horse fell through a jump, and she broke her collar bone.

``I would say almost every rider has broken something,'' she said. ``But at our level, on a percentage basis, you don't see a lot of very serious accidents.''

While walking Brother, an amber-colored American thoroughbred with veins bulging to the size of string beans and nostrils as big as pickles, Burroughs said he once broke a few of his ribs when his horse hit the brakes in front of a jump, sending him sailing.

Patty Foster, a trainer for Rolling Acre Farms in Brookville, Md., said the horse show at Devon is different from other shows, where the rings are surrounded mostly by trees. At Devon, she said, the scene is not as serene: Children run by the exhibit ring, people open umbrellas just a few feet from passing horses, and nearby carnival games and rides create a cacophony that can put even the most docile horse on edge.

In the doorway of the Plain Bay Farm barn at Devon, workers put up a rope to keep the public out. ``Our horses aren't mean, but if they don't know you, they may bite,'' said Rebekah Robinson, a groom with the farm. ``We don't want to be responsible for any little kids getting hurt.''

Amy Grim, a groom for Snooty Fox Farms in Allentown, said someone slammed a window shut in their Devon stable a few days ago, surprising one of the horses. The horse ``freaked,'' she said, and knocked down the stable door with a swift hind-leg kick.

``You never know what's going on in their minds,'' she said.

Christopher Reeve: He Thought Of Ending His Life

Posted: April 29, 1998

NAMES — Christopher Reeve reveals that in the early days after his paralyzing accident three years ago his mother sought to put him out of his misery by getting docs to ``pull the plug'' and that later he thought he should go that way, too.

``At one point, in a moment of real despair,'' writes the actor in his book, Still Me, out Monday, ``my mother told [his father-in-law], `Tomorrow we're going to do it.' '' But, he adds, docs ``told her to calm down, to wait and see what would happen.''

Reeve said his own breakthrough in choosing life came when he told his wife, Dana, ``Maybe we should let me go,'' and she replied: ``I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do because this is your life and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul no matter what. You're still you. And I love you.''

Reeve, 45, notes that he was sustained by those who wrote him more than 400,000 letters. ``The fact that I was in a wheelchair,'' he writes, ``unable to move below my shoulders and dependent on the support of others for almost every aspect of my daily life, had not diminished the fact that I was - and always would be - their Superman.'' He adds that he almost died when he tried an experimental drug and that he even tried a faith healing, ``episodes'' he describes as ``ultimately very depressing.''

LOCALLY CONNECTED * Looks like Patricia Arquette (Nightwatch, Flirting With Disaster) has got the movie role Chrissie in the David Rabe drama In the Boom Boom Room, which will start shooting hereabouts later this year or early next. The play, set in the Philly area, had its first stage performance in 1972 at Villanova.

Erin Murphy, Tabitha Stephens on TV's Bewitched, will be one of the judges of the tailgate-picnic competition Sunday at Winterthur Museum's 20th annual Point-to-Point do in Delaware. It includes steeplechase races, dog-jumping contests, and a carriage parade. For tickets: 302-888-4992. Murphy now lives in Newark, where she runs a Bewitched memorabilia biz and is raising three boys with husband Eric Eden, lead singer of Hey Jupiter.

Channel 10 newsie Ken Matz will be auctioneer at a Sunday do at Bensalem's Congregation Tifereth Israel, 2909 Bristol Rd., at 6:30 p.m.

Lynne Abraham, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, Sharon Pinkenson and Marcy Abramson Shoemaker will panel the discussion ``Characteristics of Successful Women,'' 4 p.m. Tuesday at Montgomery, McCracken, Walter & Rhodes, 123 S. Broad St. Tickets: 215-790-5100.

Christina Pirello, star of the TV's Christina Cooks, is looking for ordinary guests for her show. Entry blanks are in Barnes & Noble stores in Center City, Moorestown, Marlton and Bryn Mawr until May 17. A guest will be picked from each store for the show taped at WHYY-TV.

Ex-TV dancers Arlene Sullivan, Carmen Jimenez, Frank Spagnoula, and Carole Scaldeferri and her husband, Richard Spada, will panel a discussion about teen-TV stardom on the 1950s' Bandstand show, 2 p.m. Saturday at the Atwater Kent Museum, 15 S. Seventh St. Also there, John A. Jackson, author of American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock & Roll Empire. WOGL-AM's Bob Charger will moderate.

COUPLES * The new man in Jennifer Aniston's life is Paul Rudd, her costar in the movie Object of My Affection and Alicia Silverstone's nerdy bro in Clueless. The Friends TV star did an el ditcho on boyfriend of two years, Tate Donovan, apparently for delaying nuptials action. They exchanged Irish Claddagh rings in November 1996, which, according to Donovan then, were ``to let the world know we are taken.'' But close inspection revealed a month ago that Aniston had abandoned the ring, telling inquirers at the time: ``I was not engaged. I just didn't put all my jewelry on this morning.''

Janet Jackson and Rene Elizondo ring choices are for toes. Yes, the two - linked for 13 years - appear close to nups. And, yes, a barefoot nups appears in the offing. She's telling buds to buy baby stuff for the wedding, to take place later this year. He's her manager and a vid director.

Mary McCartney, Paul's daughter, is engaged to her boyfriend, Alister Donald. They got semi-united shortly before the death of Linda McCartney, who reportedly was jubilant over the news and was already planning summer nups. Mary, 27, has been dating the TV producer for three years.

Duo du jour: Brad Pitt and model citzen Caprice Fisher, 27, clothes horse for the new Jockey undies campaign.

THE SKIN GAME * Nudies of Ginger Spice Geri Halliwell will be in the June issue of Penthouse. Mag won't say who took the pix, but they're apparently from the Spicer's soft-porn days, or what she calls her ``glamour modeling'' career.

Alyssa Milano, 25, a Melrose Place TV star, is expected to bring legal action this week against several sites that display and sell nude pix of her and other notables. The action is seen as the first big celeb offensive against the lack of control of their images on the Web. Her lawyer said some of the actress' pix are from a film she dropped dress in, but others are faked. ``This is the tip of the iceberg,'' he added. ``Celebrities are realizing for the first time that the Net is a dangerous force if not corralled.'' One defendant, John F. Lindgren, 21, of Minnesota said that if the suit comes, he'll take down Milano's pix but continue to operate his site, which brings him more than $10,000 a month.

OFFSPRING * Actress Emma Samms gave birth to her second child, Beatrice, March 30. She and husband John Hollaway also have a boy, Cameron, 1 1/2.

Villi Faulaau, 14, whose second-time impregnation of teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau, 36, landed her back in jail, says he'll wait for her ``no matter how long,'' citing their ``deep, spiritual relationship.'' In a Globe interview, the Seattle schoolboy - who was LeTourneau's pupil in the second and sixth grades - detailed their intimacies, noting that once they almost got caught by cops in a van. Insists Faulaau: ``She wasn't taking advantage of me or talking me into something I didn't want to do.''

MARKINGS * Monica Lewinsky's lawyer said he approved her photo shoot Friday with fash fotog Herb Ritts because this client needed a change. ``She was becoming very depressed by this torture that she is going through,'' William Ginsburg said yesterday. ``I thought it would be a good idea. This young lady needs to feel good about herself.'' The ex-White House intern was lensed in the Malibu surf wearing a black cocktail dress. Pix will be in a future issue of Vanity Fair. .

Jeong Kim, who came to the United States from South Korea 23 years ago and worked at a 7-Eleven to pay his way through school, this week sold his six-year-old, Landover, Md., communications firm to Lucent Technologies for $1 bil. Said Kim, 37, who'll pocket $510 mil from the deal: ``People can look at someone like me, they see someone who looks different, who speaks with a funny accent. And maybe they'll say, `If I set my goals high, maybe I can succeed like that.' ''

Reeve Is Honored 1st Bancroft Award Is Presented At Phila. Fete

Posted: September 18, 1999

Hollywood on the Schuylkill it was not, but the cause had more significance than any movie opening or book signing.

Academy Award winner Joe Pesci presented actor and director Christopher Reeve with the first ever Bancroft NeuroHealth Award last night at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Center City.

The award presentation kicked off a three-day conference on brain injury sponsored by Bancroft NeuroHealth of New Jersey.

For the conference, the Haddonfield-based brain injury rehabilitation organization also attracted numerous leaders in the field, including assistant U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Mark L. Rosenberg and Allen I. Bergman, president and CEO of the Brain Injury Association.

However, Reeve, paralyzed from the neck down in an equestrian competition in May 1995, drew the most interest.

During a press conference following the award presentation Reeve said he believed that scientists will soon be able to help those with brain injuries as well as those with paralysis to lead fuller lives.

"For 4,000 years, it was assumed that a spinal cord injury could not be cured," he said. But within the last five years "there have been discoveries in antibodies and stem cells," that show promise for a cure, he added.

Pesci said he and Reeve had not seen each other in 20 years, though they were good friends. In addition to his friendship with Reeve, Pesci was drawn to the event by a daughter who receives services from Bancroft, he said. He did not elaborate on her condition.

"She's doing extremely well," said George W. Niemann, Bancroft CEO.

Reeve, who gained fame in the 1970s and '80s portraying "Superman," said he set a goal for himself to be able to walk by his 50th birthday. "There is reason to believe that there is hope to make that happen," the 46-year-old actor said.

He said the message he wants to convey to others during the conference is, "That all of us have inside of us many more resources than we know, and when we are faced with a tragedy of some kind, we should challenge ourselves to go beyond any level that we have gone before."

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Reeve Shows Superhuman Resolve To Exit Wheelchair

Posted: January 24, 2000

QUOTE "My show was canceled. I was sad."

- Former sitcom star Ellen

DeGeneres, reflecting on her plan

- never realized - to abandon


"Superman" star Christopher Reeve, paralyzed since a 1995 horse-riding accident, remains doggedly optimistic about someday getting out of his wheelchair.

But the star, 47, admits he's had to scale back his expectations a bit.

"I hoped by my 50th birthday I would be able to stand and thank everybody. That probably won't happen that quickly, but within the next to four to five years I shall begin to start the process of recovery," Reeve, in London, told the BBC yesterday.

"I'm going to go forward and get out of this."

The actor, always hooked up to a respirator, also continues to believe he will someday breathe on his own.

"I'm trying to get rid of this breathing hose. I'm now on a program where if I work very, very hard, I may be able to get off this hose within a year," he said. "That would be a gift because, you know, this is not a very nice necktie."

Reeve, a fervent activist and fund-raiser for spinal-injury research, says he works with scientists and rehab specialists several hours a day.

He admitted that his insistence on recovery left many friends and physicians shaking their heads.

"People sort of looked at me as if, you know, 'Poor guy, he's delusional,' " Reeve said.

"The thing is, I have opportunities - to speak up for the disability movement, to push the researchers as far as they can go and to move from acting and directing, which I always wanted to do.

"In a way, some people say breaking my neck was a good career move, but I don't recommend it," he said. "There's other ways to work up."

Legal notes

Eriq LaSalle has asked a judge to sort out the mess left behind after the "ER" star broke his engagement to Angela Johnson, his girlfriend for five years. The actor's lawsuit alleges LaSalle and Johnson bought a house using his money and her name ("for purposes of maintaining his privacy. . .and security"). Now that they're over, Johnson apparently wants cash for half the house's value. LaSalle, according to the Los Angeles Times, would like the court to rule that he "owes his former fiancee nothing."

* An on-line firm has allegedly registered the Internet domain name in hopes of selling it back to John Tesh. But the mellow keyboard artist is having none of it. He's sued, claiming the name "John Tesh" "is a recognized family brand whose ability to promote products and family values has been recognized worldwide." A lawyer for the musician also fretted that the nonofficial site could detract from the star's own site, Kenny Rogers and Brad Pitt recently filed similar lawsuits under a new law prohibiting "cybersquatting" amongst celebrity domain names.

Couple stuff

* The course of true love has never run smooth for Fox News star Kristen Gesswein. First she was dumped by "Today" show host Matt Lauer after a two-year engagement. Then on Jan. 15, a Manhattan priest refused to marry Gesswein and new fiance Stephen Fealy. Her intended, a surgeon, was reportedly distraught over injuries to his hands, and family members were also said to be bickering about the pending union. "There are jitters, and then there are jitters," the pastor explained to the New York Times. So the couple canceled the wedding, but still held the reception. On Thursday, they snuck off to Mexico and got married on the beach there.

* Supermodel Claudia Schiffer, having made magician David Copperfield disappear, is now engaged to art dealer Tim Jeffries. The New York Post says Schiffer is the proud new owner of "a sizable rock," but cautions that Jeffries has been engaged before, most notably to that other pretty girl, Elle Macpherson.

Never mind

* Hey, Mel Gibson. What's this about you pulling down $25 million - a record payday for an actor - to star in "The Patriot," an upcoming historical drama? "I wish," the star told USA Today.

* So there we were in the "12-items-or-less" line. How could we miss the screaming National Enquirer headline: "Celine Dion Pregnant With Twins!" "She's not pregnant and she never has been pregnant," a very patient flack explained to the New York Daily News. "She wishes she was, but it's not true." Dion recently began a two-year sabbatical from the diva business, with the stated intention of having a child and caring for cancer-stricken hubbo Rene Angelil. Send e-mail to

Stem Cells And Frankenstein Rhetoric Scientists And Senators Clash Over A Ban On The Use Of Cells Derived From Fetal And Embryonic Tissues.

Posted: May 07, 2000

How differently scientific experimentation might have been viewed had Mary Shelley not written her often-misunderstood Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and had Robert Louis Stevenson not written The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Despite what their authors may or may not have intended, these two books - and others like them - reflect and even perpetuate fears that persist about the potentially dire consequences of what goes on in science laboratories.

The possibilities of progress through biochemistry - a great hope for humanity - can still be clouded by the same emotions Shelley's and Stevenson's fantasies stirred up years ago. Such emotions are gathering again - this time around the burgeoning area of stem-cell research. Undifferentiated stem cells recovered from harvested fetuses and embryos have remarkable regenerative powers. They're called "undifferentiated" because they haven't become blood, brain, bone or skin cells yet - they are precursor cells with the potential to become almost any of these. Their potential may eventually be farther-reaching than the most optimistic prognosticators are imagining.

Undifferentiated stem cells can be nudged into replicating many kinds of cells in the body. Therapy using such cells someday may be able to ameliorate or eradicate, for instance, life-threatening heart and nerve disorders. People suffering from debilitating spinal injuries or deteriorating conditions - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease - may stand to benefit.

Until recently, the major sources of stem cells have been tissues from embryos and fetuses. (Cells harvested from adults have shown some promise for treatments involving the lungs, brain and spine, but so far they are not as effective in as many applications as are the cells from embryos.) Federally-funded laboratories were banned from using embryonic and fetal tissues during the Reagan administration. And it is true that some labs did procure these tissues from hospitals and abortion and fertility clinics.

But labs no longer have to do that. Cultured lines of stem cells are available from at least two vendors. Problem is, both vendors started these lines from either fetuses or embryos. Demagoguing politicians then say, "Well, then! If cells even came, however remotely, from such sources, their use by federally-funded labs should be banned." Then the Frankenstein rhetoric comes in, the mischaracterization of science - not to mention implications of butchery, cannibalism and women getting pregnant so they can sell their fetuses and embryos.

Scientists find these arguments frustrating. There is hypocrisy and ideological grandstanding in the ban. After all, no such ban exists in the private sector, where labs can get fetal and embryonic tissues any way they please. And the whole point of allowing the use of the cultured lines is to allow scientists to get to the point at which they no longer need to use them.

There is, however, a comfort zone in which both human rights and scientific imperatives can be accommodated. Cooler heads in the debate counsel further fact-finding and dialogue before reaching any final conclusions. When people keep their heads, the reasons for the ban boil down to none. Indeed, once the use of embryonic or fetal tissues is eliminated from the discussion, debate immediately cools.

And that lays bare the real problem: This line of reasearch has been taken hostage by the abortion debate.

On April 26, several prominent researchers and advocates testified in favor of stem-cell research before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education, where a bill is being readied. Proponents claim that both government funding and federal regulation are necessary if research is to continue. Without federal backing, experimentation will certainly proceed, its fruits will be delayed - which may seem unfair to people currently in the early stages, or even the later stages of, say, ALS. Regulation is also crucial: No need to encourage women to become impregnated simply so they can sell their embryos to the highest private bidder.

(The implications and ramifications of stem-cell research are also being tackled in Europe, according to an article in the Feb. 25 issue of Science. In Austria, the right to life cannot by law be applied to embryos. In France, research on embryos is done freely; in England, liberal legislation have been enacted; in Belgium, it's unregulated.)

Christopher Reeve, actor and activist, was one of those addressing Sen. Arlen Specter's subcommittee last week. He told me it was difficult for him to listen to critics likening stem-cell research to medical experiments carried on during the Holocaust. After all, he suffers from paralysis due to spinal injury - and at the hearing, he was seated next to a 35-year-old women afflicted with ALS. He told me that one thing he wished he'd said at the hearing was that in some ways the situation reminded him of Prohibition. "People are going to do it anyway," he said.

What he means is that stem-cell research has long been a reality, and that since it's unlikely to be outlawed, it will continue with or without government supervision. He makes a great deal of sense when he suggests it's the better part of wisdom to take well-thought-out regulatory measures and support them with adequate funding.

After all, we've come a long way since Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde. Why don't we act like it?

David Finkle is a freelance writer in New York. His e-mail address is

Reeve criticizes Bush, Catholic Church

Posted: September 18, 2002

Christopher Reeve said yesterday that the Catholic Church and President Bush had obstructed research that might help free him from his wheelchair. The actor told Britain's Guardian newspaper the Bush administration had caved in on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research after the Catholic Church expressed opposition to cloning.

Reeve, paralyzed seven years ago when he was thrown from his horse, said he was "angry and disappointed" that Bush had hampered developments in stem-cell research that might have led to human trials aimed at rebuilding the nervous systems of quadriplegics. Reeve is backing a bill in Congress that would support therapeutic cloning while punishing those who carried out reproductive cloning.

In response, Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, "Bush has placed no restrictions on stem-cell research but has limited funding. Mr. Reeve's Paralysis Foundation has millions of dollars to spend on research and is spending most of it on other avenues because they are more promising. His research has shown adult bone marrow stem cells can produce an ample supply of nerve cells for therapies."

Tonight at 10 on ABC, Christopher Reeve: Courageous Steps shows the Superman star moving his right wrist, left fingers and both legs - developments that few in the scientific community predicted. The documentary, directed by Reeve's 22-year-old son, Matthew, and narrated by Reeve, shows his intensive exercise regimen and life in New York with his family over a yearlong period.

But his regained motion and sensation (he can feel a pinprick on the majority of his body) falls short of his widely quoted pledge to walk by his 50th birthday on Sept. 25. "I feel that we've lost almost four years of significant progress," he said.

Name game

It's been Angelina Jolie on movie billboards, but now it's official. A Los Angeles County judge granted a petition by the actress, whose legal name was Angelina Jolie Voight, to drop her last name. The actress, who won a supporting-actress Oscar in 2000 for Girl, Interrupted, has been publicly feuding with her father, Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, and in July filed for divorce from actor Billy Bob Thornton after two years of marriage.

Jolie, 27, also petitioned to legally change the name of her infant son to Maddox Chivan Thornton Jolie. The child, whose given name was Rath Vibol, was recently adopted in Cambodia.

Baby Gates

It's back to diapers for Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Their third child, Phoebe Adelle, was born Saturday in suburban Bellevue, Wash. The couple have a 6-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and a 3-year-old son, Rory.

Otis Redding in bronze

The late Otis Redding, the soul singer best known for "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," has been honored in his hometown of Macon, Ga., with a 7-foot bronze statue that shows him sitting on a dock, playing his guitar. Redding's widow, Zelma Redding, attended the unveiling on the banks of the Ocmulgee River Sunday. "Today, he would say, 'I finally got all the respect I deserved,' " she said. Redding was killed in a plane crash on Dec. 10, 1967, on the way to a concert in Wisconsin. A tribute concert will be held in Macon on Dec. 7, the 35th anniversary of the hit song's recording.

All Courtney

You've really gotta love Courtney Love if you tune into MTV2 this weekend. For 24 straight hours, the rock diva will be in control of the music network. She'll play the videos she likes, invite her friends over for an on-camera gabfest, and do whatever else she pleases. Love won't even need to stay awake the entire 24 hours; an MTV spokesman says when she sleeps, the network will probably show snippets of her dozing.

The former lead singer of Hole and the widow of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain will take over the MTV studios in Times Square for 24 Hours of Love at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Star salesmen

Is that Tom Hanks' wife, Rita Wilson, selling jewelry on the Home Shopping Network? The actress is right alongside new pitchwomen Lauren Hutton and Stephanie Seymour. Network veterans like Suzanne Somers are being joined by big stars on the once-lowly sales channel for - you guessed it - money. "In four hours you can sell a quarter of a million dollars," raves Joel Warren, whose mid-priced Warren Tricomi hair-care line sold out during its first show a few months ago. "We could do a million dollars in four or five hours. That's huge! You couldn't have those returns in retail!"

On second thought

Because of the positive response at last week's Toronto International Film Festival, Miramax will release the year-old The Quiet American in December. It had looked as if Phillip Noyce's movie would not be shown in the United States after a test audience objected to a scene about American-sponsored terrorism aimed at convincing the world that communists had to be stopped. The director has softened some scenes in the film, which is based on Graham Greene's novel about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It stars Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser.

No show

Curly-top Justin Guarini, who came in second on Fox's American Idol contest, has decided not to fight a traffic ticket from a March accident in Bethlehem, Pa. Guarini, 23, of Doylestown, had been scheduled to appear today in Northampton County Court but decided it wasn't worth a trip from Los Angeles, where he's recording music, his lawyer said.

"Flying across the country is a little extreme for a traffic ticket," said attorney Douglas C. Roger Jr., who is also the singer's uncle. Guarini was cited by police for following too closely in a March 12 traffic accident. The offense carries a $25 fine and $75 in court costs.

Contact Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or

Inquirer wire services contributed to this column.

'Death With Dignity,' Jill? Ask Christopher Reeve

Posted: July 26, 2004

COLUMNIST Jill Porter says everyone should have the "privilege" of "dying with dignity" by committing suicide.

We live in a disposable, self-centered society. If something is broken, we throw it away; if things are difficult, we blame others and look for the fastest fix. Euthanasia is just another symptom of a world that continually devalues human life and suffering.

I work in a home for incurable cancer where our patients are cared for with dignity, love and respect. We try to make their last days peaceful, and we treat death as a natural part of life. We do not prolong their lives, but make their last days as comfortable as possible.

Think of Morrie Schwartz, Christopher Reeve or Anne Frank. What if they had decided to throw in the towel and end their seemingly hopeless lives? Instead, they have inspired millions, not to mention those close to them, by their perseverance and hope. While I sympathize with the Wallaces' feelings of despair, the answer is not making it easier for others to turn to suicide in the midst of fear and hopelessness.

Instead, we should aim to give those facing suffering and disease care that is dignified. We should allow them to live their last moments in peace, rather than torment.

Anne Marie McKnight, Philadelphia

Thanks, Jim

I want to thank Councilman James Kenney for all his hard work and dedication in getting the mayor to see the light and open the Philadelphia Core Scholarship Program to all children in the city.

Elaine Brown, Philadelphia

Charity begins at home

I applaud President Bush for his stand against giving more aid to U.N. family planning. Let the European and other countries pick up the slack. When there is not one starving or sick legal American in this country, then we can aid other nations.

Thomas M. Regan, Narberth

Take-out Berger

The top news on July 20 was the admission by Sandy Berger, a John Kerry adviser and national security chief under President Clinton, that he took documents pertinent to the 9/11 commission hearings. Why did the Daily News bury the story on Page 27? Had it been a Bush official, it would have been on the front page for a week.

Lon Levin, Philadelphia

The little engine that can

Re the letter from Charles T. Gondos Jr., supposedly of Roxborough in support of our losing Engine 39:

Before we accept this cut with an "oh-well-that's-the-way-the-cookie-crumbles" attitude, we should think about the fact that if it's icy or there's a traffic problem at Green and Main, that engine won't be available to us.

The engine in Chestnut Hill can't cross the Bells Mill bridge and would have to go all the way down to Walnut Lane to get to us, costing tons of time even on a good day with no traffic issues. The engine at Shawmont and Ridge hopefully won't be on a call or stuck in traffic on Ridge. (After all, Ridge is never snarled with traffic, right?)

Engine 39 is the most centrally located engine in Roxborough. Without an independent study, it makes no sense to close it, especially when you takes into consideration all of the new construction in our area.

Our neighborhood keeps adding population, not losing it.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia

George W. 'Girly-Man'

By Arnold Schwarzenegger's standards, I guess George W. Bush is a "girly-man" since he didn't have the guts to defend himself in front of the NAACP convention.

Michael Taylor, Philadelphia

Man of iron will dies of heart failure INFECTION TIED TO PARALYSIS BLAMED

Posted: October 12, 2004

CHRISTOPHER REEVE leaves the world with an enduring example of courage, though not because he starred in "Superman" movies of the 1980s.

It is no particular act of bravery, after all, to face bullets when you are bulletproof. It's what Reeve did when he was confronted, cruelly and suddenly, with human vulnerability that gave us all a lesson in heroism.

In 1995, on a spring day in Virginia, Reeve was thrown from his mount during a riding competition. He fractured his neck, damaged his spinal cord and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

When the strapping, vigorously athletic Reeve awoke from a four-day coma to face his paralysis, he was (he later admitted) stricken with a deep depression, and consumed by the impulse to end his own life. Those feelings faded during hospital visits from his three children - his youngest boy, Will, was only a toddler.

"I could see how much they needed me and wanted me," Reeve told Barbara Walters. So he fought for his life, then for a life with dignity - a fight that ended early yesterday when he died of heart failure linked to an infection that is common to victims of paralysis.

His family was by his side. It was for their sake, Reeve said, that he initially endured the confinements and humiliations of his injury. As time went on, however, he came to see that the intersection of his celebrity and his condition made him an ideal spokesman for physically challenged and for such causes as stem-cell research.

Reeve realized he had a responsibility. To live. To improve. To raise awareness, money.

"I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life," Reeve once said. "I don't mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery."

A bit daunting? Physicians who examined Reeve in the early days of his recovery said he had virtually no chance of achieving the slightest physical autonomy. Reeve defied them, enduring months of painful therapy, and achieving the ability to breathe for a time on his own, and even to use his index finger.

These small things had enormous implications for Reeve - he could act again, direct, and make public appearances. And he did. Reeve was an honored guest at Democratic political conventions, making an appeal to ease federal restrictions on stem-cell research in the hope that it could successfully treat spinal cord injuries. Sen. John Kerry has made such research a part of his platform in his presidential bid, and in his last days Reeve had campaigned actively for Kerry.

Reeve also appeared at the Academy Awards, urging actors and filmmakers to use their influence as entertainers and storytellers to tackle tough issues. He received a standing ovation. It was an unlikely moment on the Oscar stage for Reeve, who as an actor was rarely given the kind of roles that merited award consideration.

Reeve, who graduated from Cornell in 1974, was tall, broad-shouldered and handsome, and predictably landed one of his first acting jobs on a soap opera - "Love of Life." He was cast as a bad guy, and probably had to work overtime to keep his inherent likability from showing through. Affable, friendly, supernaturally good-looking - those are the attributes that led producers to pluck Reeve from a pool of 200 unknowns who competed for the lead role in the blockbuster "Superman" project.

Reeve had the title role but received third billing when the movie was released in 1979 - behind Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando as Superman's father. Reeve made three more Superman movies, none memorable, and had a small role in the Oscar-winning "Remains of the Day." Most of his work in the '80s and '90s was unremarkable.

Two exceptions: "Street Smart," as an unprincipled journalist in the movie that made Morgan Freeman a star, and "Somewhere in Time," a romantic fantasy/melodrama that has built a formidible cult following. INSITE (International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts) still meets annually at the Midwestern resort hotel where the movie is set.

By the mid-1990s, when he suffered his accident, he was spending more time riding than acting. He was happily married to Dana Reeve, and a devoted father to son Will. (Reeve has two children, Exton and Alexandra, from a previous relationship).

Acting was no longer much of a challenge, and Reeve may have been the sort of man who needed one to show his mettle. Fate gave him that chance. And so he will be remembered not as the man of steel, but as a fellow with an iron will. *

Exploiting stem-cell issue for political gain is outrageous

Posted: October 18, 2004

After the second presidential debate, in which John Kerry used the word "plan" 24 times, I said on television that Kerry has a plan for everything except curing psoriasis. I should have known there is no parodying Kerry's pandering. Days later, the Kerry campaign announced a plan - nay, a promise - to cure paralysis: Vote for Kerry.

John Edwards last Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa, said: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Deliberately raising for personal gain false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

Where does one begin to deconstruct this outrage? First, the inability of the spinal cord to regenerate is one of the great mysteries of biology. The answer could take a generation. To imply, as Edwards did, that it is imminent if you elect the right politicians is scandalous.

Second, if the cure for spinal-cord injury comes, we have no idea where it will come from. Stem-cell research is just one line of inquiry, and a very speculative one at that. For 30 years I have heard promises of miracle cures for paralysis (including my own, suffered as a medical student). The last fad was fetal-tissue transplants. They were thought to be "a sure thing." Nothing came of it.

As a doctor by training, I have tried in my counseling of the newly spinal-cord injured to place the chance of cure in abeyance and to encourage them to make a life with the hands they are dealt. The enemies of this advice are the snake-oil salesmen who promise miracles. I never expected a candidate for vice president to be one of them.

Third, the implication that Christopher Reeve was prevented from getting out of his wheelchair by Bush stem-cell policies is a travesty.

Bush is the first president to approve federal funding for stem-cell research. There are 22 lines of stem cells available, up from one just two years ago. As the head of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, wrote, there are 3,500 stem-cell shipments waiting for anyone who wants them.

Edwards and Kerry talk of a "ban" on stem-cell research. There is no ban. You want to study stem cells? You acquire them from the companies that have them and apply to the National Institutes of Health for federal funding.

In an Aug. 7 radio address, Kerry referred four times to the "ban" on stem-cell research instituted by Bush. Then, Christopher Reeve was alive, so not available for posthumous exploitation. But Ronald Reagan was, having recently died of Alzheimer's.

So what does Kerry do? He begins his radio address by claiming a stem-cell "ban" is blocking an Alzheimer's cure.

This is an outright lie. The President's Council on Bioethics, on which I sit, had one of the foremost experts on Alzheimer's, Dennis Selkoe from Harvard, discuss the most promising approaches to Alzheimer's. Selkoe reported remarkable progress in biochemically clearing the "plaque" deposits in the brain that lead to Alzheimer's. He ended his presentation without the phrase "stem cells" having crossed his lips.

So much for the miracle cure. Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem-cell researcher at NIH, has admitted publicly that stem cells as an Alzheimer's cure are a fiction, but that "people need a fairy tale." Kerry and Edwards certainly do. They are shamelessly exploiting this issue, having no doubt been told by their pollsters that stem cells will play well politically for them.

Politicians have long promised a chicken in every pot. It is part of the game. It is one thing to promise ethanol subsidies here, dairy price controls there. But to exploit the desperate hopes of desperate people with the promise of Christ-like cures is beyond the pale.

There is no apologizing for Edwards' remark. It is too revealing. There is absolutely nothing the man will not say to get elected.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post

Charles Krauthammer ( appears regularly.

Notables in Washington, Hollywood join to commemorate life of Reeve

Posted: October 31, 2004

More than 900 people gathered Friday to commemorate the life of actor and real-life hero Christopher Reeve, who died Oct. 10 at the age of 52. The service, at the Juilliard School, where Reeve first trained as an actor and returned to receive an honorary doctorate in 1997, included a performance by Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, singing "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha.

Attendees included Sen. Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Democratic presidential candidate; actresses Glenn Close, Mary Tyler Moore and Susan Sarandon; television hosts Larry King and Katie Couric; and director Mike Nichols.

"His courage and inspiration will live on," Clinton said of Reeve, who devoted much of his life to helping to find a cure for paralysis after a horse riding accident rendered him a quadriplegic in 1995.

Other speakers included Reeve's wife, Dana; his Juilliard roommate and lifelong friend, Robin Williams; and actress Meryl Streep. Reeve's three children, Matthew, Alexandra and Will, had prepared a 20-minute film about life with their father, and Reeve's brother, Benjamin, planned to share memories of their childhood.

The memorial closed with the cast of Broadway's The Lion King performing "Circle of Life."

Cannibal prequel in the works

* While the latest flicks made from Thomas Harris' Hannibal books left much to be desired (face it: Hannibal was dreadful, while the Red Dragon remake of Manhunter was redundant, at best), the books continue to sizzle. And soon, there will be a new one. Behind the Mask, due out next year, is a prequel that will show just how mild-mannered Dr. Hannibal Lecter became evil Hannibal the cannibal. Publisher Bantam Dell whets our appetite: "Millions of readers in 25 languages have wondered how Dr. Lecter developed his particular appetite for evil. This novel will satisfy their curiosity." Bon appetit!

Moss on sale

* Painter Lucian Freud, who is known for his brutally realistic portraits of very mortal-looking men and women, may have gotten his eye for capturing gross human imperfections from grandpa, Sigmund Freud. The 81-year-old British artist's sitters have ranged from his friends to Queen Elizabeth II, as well as that other revered public figure, Kate Moss. That last portrait, a near-life-size nude of a pregnant Moss titled Naked Portrait 2002, is expected to fetch $6.4 mil when it is auctioned Feb. 9 in London, according to Christie's auction house.

While we've all seen Moss' waif-like cuteness in countless glossy mags, we imagine that Freud's take on the supermodel will be a tad different. After all, he is quoted as saying he likes to do nudes because "one of the most exciting things is seeing through the skin, to the blood and veins and markings." Yikes!

Jolie with the refugees

* While some celebs' pronouncements on things political make us cranky, others' acts on behalf of the needy return our faith in celebdom. The latest act is from Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie, a U.N. goodwill ambassador who visited Sudan last week to see refugees who had fled from the war-torn western Darfur region.

About 70,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million forced to leave their homes since February 2003, when two rebel groups took up arms against the government and pro-government ethnic Arab Sudanese. Those refugees are now being urged to return home.

Jolie said continued violence would make return dangerous. "This is the worst situation I have seen," said Jolie, who has visited 20 countries as a goodwill ambassador. "The fact is, it is just one of the worst things that has happened on the planet to a people."

Contact "Newsmakers" at 215-854-5797 or

This column contains information from Inquirer wire services.

A superhero we've never seen Richard Donner's cut of "Superman II" is finally out.

Posted: December 01, 2006

How can you have a director's cut of a movie that has never been seen? Well, not only was Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut never released, it also was made before Richard Lester's Superman II.

This DVD version, starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, owes its existence to the Internet. For years, fans have been posting on Web sites material from Donner's footage, such as photo stills and storyboards. There was even a petition sent to Warner Brothers seeking a Donner cut. The studio realized a "new" movie was available (at relatively little cost), and is releasing this with Bryan Singer's Superman Returns and the four other Reeve Superman films (including Lester's Superman II).

Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler planned to make Superman and its sequel simultaneously beginning in March 1977. Christopher Reeve's first day on the set was to film a scene with Marlon Brando as his father for Superman II. The second film was to feature Superman and Lois Lane revealing (and reveling in) their love, oblivious to how three Kryptonian villains banished in the first film by Brando come to Earth and conquer it.

But the relationship between Donner and the producers deteriorated as the film fell behind schedule and over budget, costing millions. All parties agreed to finish the first film and then complete the sequel later - but Donner finished all of Superman II's scenes with Brando and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Donner said he had completed about 70 percent of the second film.

After Superman opened, the producers let Donner go and hired Lester to not only complete Superman II, but also to film new scenes, ostensibly so Donner wouldn't get a director's credit. And for financial reasons, Brando's part as Superman's father also was cut. Lester's Superman II opened in the summer of 1981, with about 30 percent to 40 percent of Donner's footage included with Lester's new material.

Donner associate Michael Thau has taken all of Donner's footage for the sequel, including Brando's, and kept in necessary scenes from Lester to complete this film, which includes a scene cobbled together from Reeve and Margot Kidder's screen tests. Thau oversaw the project, but Donner was by his side, giving input.

An accompanying documentary, "Restoring the Vision," shows how the six tons of material filmed 30 years ago was pieced together. What's missing are interviews with cast members, who were upset when Donner was taken off the project back in 1979.

The commentary by Donner and writer Tom Mankiewicz (credited as "creative consultant") is incredibly bitter, saying "criminal," "stupid" and "grow up" when discussing what the producers and Lester did to their vision of the film.

Brando's restored footage is quite heavy, especially where he sacrifices himself to save Superman.

So how does this version compare to Lester's? Some of it is darker, but overall it's smarter. Lester tried to get laughs by having the villains fight with good 'ol boys speaking in twanging accents, and his scene in which Lois discovers that Kent is Superman is very lame.

Among the best parts of the Donner cut are a dazzling opening and the moment at the end when Lois and Superman realize they can't be together; Reeve and Kidder are convincing in showing their heartache. These sequences show Donner and writer Mankiewicz at their best, in making a comic-book movie that was sophisticated and real.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

With Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando and Margot Kidder.

Price: $24.98

Parent's Guide: PG (violence, some sexuality)

The extras: *** Audio commentary by director Richard Donner and writer Tom Mankiewicz; a documentary on restoring this version; deleted scenes.

Embryos, stem cells, slippery slopes

Posted: January 15, 2007

When President Bush announced in August 2001 his restrictive funding decision for federal embryonic stem cell research, he was widely attacked for an unwarranted intrusion of religion into scientific research. His solicitousness for a 200-cell organism - the early embryo that Bush declared should not be destroyed to produce a harvest of stem cells - was roundly denounced as reactionary and antiscientific. And cruel, to boot. It was preventing the cure for thousands of people with hopeless and terrible diseases, from diabetes to spinal cord injury. As John Edwards put it most starkly and egregiously in 2004: If John Kerry becomes president, Christopher Reeve will walk again.

This kind of stem cell advocacy did not just shamefully inflate its promise. It tended to misrepresent the basis for putting restrictions on embryonic research, insisting that it was nothing more than political enforcement of the religious fundamentalist belief that life begins at conception.

This has always been a tendentious characterization of the argument for restricting stem cell research that relies on the destruction of embryos. I have long supported legal abortion. And I don't believe that life - meaning the attributes and protections of personhood - begins at conception. Yet many secularly inclined people like me have great trepidation about the inherent dangers of wanton and unrestricted manipulation - to the point of dismemberment - of human embryos.

You don't need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of good. Once we have taken the position of many stem cell advocates that embryos are discardable tissue with no more intrinsic value than a hangnail or an appendix, then all barriers are down. What is to prevent us from producing not just tissues and organs, but human-like organisms for preservation as a source of future body parts on demand?

South Korea enthusiastically embraced unrestricted stem cell research. The subsequent greatly heralded breakthroughs - accompanied by lamentations that America was falling behind - were eventually exposed as a swamp of deception, fraud and coercion.

The slope is very slippery. Which is why, even though I disagreed with where the president drew the line - I would have permitted the use of fertility-clinic embryos that are discarded and going to die anyway - I applauded his insistence that some line must be drawn, that human embryos are not nothing, and that societal values, not just the scientific imperative, should determine how they are treated.

The Senate will soon vote on a House-approved bill to erase Bush's line. But future generations may nonetheless thank Bush for standing athwart history, if only for a few years. It gave technology enough time to catch up and rescue us from the moral dilemmas of embryonic destruction.

It has just been reported that stem cells with enormous potential can be harvested from amniotic fluid.

This would be a revolutionary finding. Amniotic fluid surrounds the baby in the womb during pregnancy. It is routinely drawn out by needle in amniocentesis. The procedure carries little risk, and is done for legitimate medical purposes that have nothing to do with stem cells. If it nonetheless yields a harvest of stem cells, we have just stumbled upon an endless supply.

And not just endless, but uncontroversial. No embryos are destroyed. The cells are just floating there, as if waiting for science to discover them.

Even better, amniotic fluid might prove to yield an ideal stem cell - not as primitive as embryonic stem cells and therefore less likely to grow uncontrollably into tumors, but also not as developed as adult stem cells and therefore more "pluripotential" in the kinds of tissues it can produce.

If it is proved that these are the Goldilocks of stem cells, history will record the amniotic breakthrough as the turning point in the evolution of stem cell research from a narrow, difficult, delicate and morally dubious enterprise into an uncontroversial one with raw material produced unproblematically every day.

It will have turned out that Bush's unpopular policy held the line, however arbitrary and temporary, against the wanton trampling of the human embryo just long enough for a morally neutral alternative to emerge. And it did force the country to at least ponder the moral cost of turning one potential human being into replacement parts for another. Who will be holding the line next time, when another Faustus promises medical nirvana if he is permitted to transgress just one moral boundary?

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.

Charles Krauthammer ( appears regularly.