The Secret of the Turkish Superman

Turns out this Superman has an even secreter identity…

Further Reading:

Tombs, Pete. “Dracula in Istanbul.” Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema around the World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998. Print.


Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. And a national icon who fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice…

…and the Turkish way.

This looks like a job… for Deja View.

When Richard Donner adapted “Superman” for the big screen 1978, “verisimilitude” was his mantra. He wanted audiences to really believe a man could fly, and to that end his team employed state-of-the-art visual effects.

Now the problem with state-of-the-art effects is that they’re virtually impossible for low budget movies to imitate. But Turkish filmmaker Kunt Tulgar wasn’t about to let that stop him.

“Süpermen Dönüyor” — or “Superman Returns” — tells the story of Tayfun, an alien from the doomed planet Krypton sent to Earth as an infant. Raised by foster parents, he uses his remarkable powers to fight crime as Superman while maintaining an alter ego as a newspaperman. And when a scientist discovers a powerful Kryptonian meteor that can transmute metal into gold and destroy living things, a sinister rival wants it for himself and becomes Superman’s most powerful foe.

“Süpermen Dönüyor” was made during the heyday of “Yeşilçam.” Yeşilçam, meaning “Green Pine,” is simply the name of the Istanbul street where most Turkish movie companies had their offices. But it also refers to a particular, lawless era in Turkey’s film industry between the 1950s and ‘80s when it cranked out as many as 300 movies a year. It was, at its peak, the third most productive film industry in the world.

Films were written, shot, edited, and released all in less than two months. Their budgets were almost nothing, raw film stock was rarer than gold, and filmmakers worked under every possible hardship.

So when Kunt Tulgar saw Richard Donner’s big-budget “Superman” in Paris and set out to adapt it, he had his work cut out for him.

And of course what we get is an understandably cut-rate Superman film, which is immediately apparent. Instead of an elaborate introduction on Krypton, we’re treated to a starfield of Christmas tree ornaments before immediately joining the fully grown Tayfun on Earth the day he learns his true origin and sets out on his own.

But you can’t cut every corner. When Donner made his film he knew that people go to a Superman movie to watch him fly! And that presented a real problem for Tulgar because expensive bluescreen effects and wirework were out of the question! And he might have been out of luck were it not for an unlikely stuntman…

Tulgar: “I call my daughter. I say, ‘Give me your Barbie—Ken.’ I take it, I give it to my wife, and my wife, she makes the costumes for Superman.”

Then he improvised a rear-projection screen from a homemade frame and tracing paper.

Tulgar: “There’s the projector, okay. And inside here is the Superman. We start the projector. The film is like this, it’s moving, you know? And Superman flies.”

But here’s the real secret of “Süpermen Dönüyor” — the one that almost nobody knows: “Süpermen Dönüyor” isn’t a Superman movie at all.

It’s a Captain Marvel movie.

Tulgar: “ ‘The Adventures of Captain Marvel.’ ‘Shazam!’”

Rather than try to remake the Hollywood blockbuster and run into a budgetary brick wall at every expensive set piece, Tulgar instead adapted a childhood favorite. “The Adventures of Captain Marvel” was a theatrical serial from 1941, a time when superhero movies were in their infancy and their budgets were nearly as low as Tulgar’s was now.

The plot elements are identical, from the lens-based alchemy-slash-destructo-ray device… to the death traps… Even the heroes’ powers sound awfully familiar…

Superman: “The wisdom of Solomon, the might of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.”

And yet while nearly every story beat comes from “Captain Marvel,” its heart is still Superman’s. Ultimately “Süpermen Dönüyor” is remarkably faithful to the Superman mythology. And it’s exactly the kind of story you might expect to see in a classic comic book or TV episode. So for Man of Steel enthusiasts and fans of the unusual, I highly recommend it.

Star Tayfun Demir was serving in the military when the film was shot, and he didn’t actually have leave to go away for a week to make it. He just kind of did it anyway, and he was fairly confident he’d get away with it.

Tulgar: “After one week, he [returns to the] military. The captain, he says, ‘Where are you?’ He says, ‘I was in another city. My father was… accident.’ Like this. ‘Oh come on man, don’t tell me that. You were shooting the film, Superman.’ Everybody knows.”

Deja View: The Secret of the Turkish Superman

2 Responses to “The Secret of the Turkish Superman

  • Ardan Tüzünsoy
    3 years ago

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to explain what went on behind the scenes of these landmark movies. Unfortunately most of the Western audiences, even my fellow citizens in Turkey, can never go past the “Haha look at the cardboard sets!” reaction and see the creativity, heart and drive these people displayed to make these films, despite impossible odds.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Ardan! I agree with you about the way most people see this films.

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