Saturday, August 21, 2010

Superman : The Electric Earthquake (1942)

The Superman animated cartoons, commonly but somewhat erroneously known as the "Fleischer Superman cartoons" were a series of seventeen animated Technicolor short films released by Paramount Pictures and based upon the comic book character Superman. The first eight shorts were produced by Fleischer Studios from 1941 to 1942, while the final nine were produced by Famous Studios, a successor company to Fleischer Studios, from 1942 to 1943. Superman was the final animated series initiated under Fleischer Studios, before Famous Studios officially took over production in May 1942. Although all entries are in the public domain, ancillary rights (as well as the original 35mm master elements) are owned today by Warner Bros. Animation. Warner has owned Superman publisher DC Comics since 1969.

The first eight cartoons were produced by Fleischer Studios (the name by which the cartoons are commonly known). In 1942, Fleischer Studios was dissolved and reorganized as Famous Studios, which produced the final nine shorts. These cartoons are seen as some of the finest, and certainly the most lavishly budgeted, animated cartoons produced during The Golden Age of American animation. In 1994, the series was voted #33 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field. By mid-1941, brothers Max and Dave Fleischer had recently finished their first animated feature film, Gulliver's Travels, and were deep into production on their second, Mister Bug Goes to Town. They were reluctant to commit themselves to another major project at the time when they were approached by their distributor, and owner since May 1941, Paramount Pictures. Paramount was interested in cashing in on the phenomenal popularity of the new Superman comic books by producing a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the character. The Fleischers hoped to discourage Paramount from committing to the series, so they informed the studio that the cost of producing such a series of cartoons would be about $100,000 per short—an amazingly high figure, about six times the typical budget of a six-minute Fleischer Popeye the Sailor cartoon during the 1940s. To their surprise, Paramount agreed to a budget of $50,000 - half the requested sum, but still three times the cost of the average Fleischer short - , and the Fleischers were committed to the project. The first cartoon in the series, simply titled Superman, was released on September 26, 1941, and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. It lost to Lend a Paw, a Pluto cartoon from Walt Disney Productions and RKO Pictures. The voice of Superman for the series was initially provided by Bud Collyer, who also performed the lead character's voice during the Superman radio series. Joan Alexander was the voice of Lois Lane, a role she also portrayed on radio alongside Collyer. Music for the series was composed by Sammy Timberg, the Fleischers' long-time musical collaborator. Rotoscoping, the process of tracing animation drawings from live-action footage, was used extensively to lend realism to the human characters and Superman. Many of Superman's actions, however, could not be rotoscoped (flying, lifting very large objects, and so on). In these cases, the Fleischer lead animators, many of whom were not trained in figure drawing, animated roughly and depended upon their assistants, many of whom were inexperienced with animation but were trained in figure drawing, to keep Superman "on model" during his action sequences. The Fleischer cartoons were also responsible for Superman being able to fly. When they started work on the series, Superman could only leap from place to place (hence "Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" in the opening). But they deemed it as "silly looking" after seeing it animated and decided to have him fly instead.

The Electric Earthquake:
Electric Earthquake is the seventh of the seventeen animated Technicolor short films based upon the DC Comics character of Superman, originally created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This animated short was created by the Fleischer Studios. The story runs about eight minutes and covers Superman's adventures in stopping a madman from destroying Manhattan with electronically-induced earthquakes. It was originally released 15 May 1942. This is the first of the films to make it clear that the action is taking place in New York City. The story begins with a view of the city, lowering to a view of the ground underneath. Deep under the docks, several large wires are connected to the bedrock. Following the wires away from the coast along the ocean floor, it is shown that they all converge in a strange underwater capsule. An elevator-like object emerges from the top and rises to an abandoned fishing house infested with rats. A man exits the elevator and heads toward the city in a motorboat.

Later, at the Daily Planet, a Native American man warns Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Perry White that they must run a report of his demands; namely, that Manhattan belongs to his people and if the city does not give the island back, clearing it of its population, terrible things will happen. The Planet crew judges him to be crazy, and his threats to be empty... at least, everyone but Lois, who follows him to his motorboat. Hiding in the back, Lois is taken to the deserted fishing house on the water and sees his elevator. The man catches her watching him in the elevator's reflection, and calmly invites her to follow him, promising an amazing story. Lois follows. The elevator lowers into the underwater capsule, and the man offers her a seat, then pushes a button which pins her arms and legs to the chair. Stepping up to the controls, he starts up his earthquake machine, sending a powerful surge of electricity through one of the wires and into the bedrock under the city. The large explosion causes the entire city to shake, and runs a large crack through the Daily Planet building. Clark takes advantage of the commotion to change into his Superman costume. In one leap, Superman dives into the ocean and notices the several wires embedded in the rock. He pulls one of them out only to have it explode in his face, flinging him the ground and piling him with bedrock. He pushes the rock away and pulls at a few more, only to have the wires writhe with electric current and wind around him. At one point, Superman comes up for air only to have one of the wires wind around his neck and pull him down. Finally, Superman follows the wires to the underwater capsule and pulls them out from its base, causing explosions which destroy the machine. As water fills the capsule, the villain takes the elevator to the surface, leaving Lois trapped as the water in the capsule slowly rises. Superman spots the elevator and catches the villain at the top, but is told that Lois is trapped, and darts back down to save her. The villain, meanwhile, loads the elevator with dynamite and sends it down after him. Superman, however, saves Lois in time, and captures the villain as he is making a getaway in his motorboat.


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