Superman In Milton Keynes

Almost three decades ago, a couple of cheapskate film producers believed they could whisk the quintessential American superhero to Buckinghamshire and people wouldn’t notice. Now Daimler AG is following their example. 


Back in the late 1970s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were the undisputed moguls of Israeli cinema, thanks mainly to the success of their Lemon Popsicle series of raunchy comedies. By the early 1980s, they wanted to enter the big leagues, which meant entering the US market, big time. Golan/Globus invested serious amounts of money in order to pay for their way into Hollywood, namely by investing in big, prestigious movie projects – most prominently the fourth entry of the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman franchise.

But when it came to actual production of Superman IV, a number of issues came up, almost all of which were of the monetary kind. Golan/Globus’ previous intended breakthrough movies had in the meantime proven to be box office disasters. The rights to the Superman character themselves had been far from cheap, as had been the cheque handed to actor Christopher Reeve, who took some serious persuasion to reprise his defining role, as he was reluctant to remain typecast for the rest of his career (an occurrence known as Sean Connery Syndrome among cognoscenti).

So with all that money already spent and none earned, Golan/Globus had to come up with a way to finance their epic Superman adventure on a shoestring. This lead to the radical (some might argue: moronic) decision not to film the sequences set in Superman’s hometown, Metropolis, in New York City, as had been done for Supermen I-III. Instead, the producers didn’t do the second best thing, not even the 38th best. They decided to bring Superman to Milton Keynes.

With shopping centres and commuter train stations standing in for the UN general assembly and metropolitan avenues, the production process must have felt like a fall from grace for this once-proud franchise. Whether the crew were served spam for lunch is unknown, but would fit the picture.

In the end, neither the pull of Christopher Reeve’s, Gene Hackman’s nor Superman’s names were strong enough to draw in the crowds to watch the resultant embarrassment of a blockbuster. Despite hitherto unknown attractions, such as oxygen and gravity in space.

All this may be little more than an absurd footnote in filmmaking history, with little or no automotive relevance. But then there was Daimler AG’s release of this video promoting its new Mercedes-Maybach S600 limousine, which strangely evokes memories of Clark Kent’s Buckinghamshire days:

The Superman In Milton Keynes undertones of this video are subtle and, in some cases, in reverse, but present.

Like Superman by the mid-80s, the Maybach brand has an air of tarnished pride about it, and like the son of Krypton in the wake of Richard Lester’s bizzare Superman III, the German marque is facing an uphill struggle against public perception as a fading star.

In a strange coincidence, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche also appears to be resorting to methods not totally unlike the duo of Israeli producers by trying to reanimate a struggling property in cheapskate fashion.

This is exemplified by this frankly barmy video.

In order to explain, let’s, first of all, look at its protagonists: the M-M S600 is supposedly aimed at captains of industry, so why do these two gentlemen look and dress like middle-rank accountants? As this new Maybach also has to overcome the hurdle of not being a Bentley, Rolls-Royce or even Lagonda, one would imagine it could actually do with a bit of an extra boost in the glamour and elegance department.

Yet, in a surprisingly humble move, Daimler has decided to be astonishingly honest about the underlying character of its super luxury limousine and the people it is aimed at. George Clooney certainly wouldn’t disembark his Riva boat to take a seat in the back of a Maybach S600 in order to be driven around Lake Como. No, the Maybach 3.0Beta is actually aimed at the stressed CEO of a German producer of white goods, who may or may not be called Lothar. Lothar buys his suits through the internet, as he’s found some hard-wearing ones there that don’t wrinkle. He hasn’t heard of Saville Row or the Via Montenapoleone. Once, while watching Formular 1 on television, he’s wondered why the-Ferrari boss, Luca di Montezemolo unbuttoned the button-down collar of his shirt.

Lothar likes to take a quick nap between meetings with the different suppliers, during which he discusses the advantages of resin fans in comparison with metal ones. He’s delighted with the advances in resin technology, which now provides him with fans 80% as sturdy as metal ones, but a third cheaper.


He also appreciates the Mercedes-Maybach S600’s reading tables, which are ideally shaped for the sheets of cost estimates he has to juggle with, rather than tumblers. Which is just as well, as he keeps a thermos flask with coffee prepared by his secretary with him. He’d hate to spill anything onto the S600’s soft leather. It was just so expensive, after all.

To Lothar and his companion, it doesn’t matter that their trip doesn’t take them to the Scala of Milan or the Place Vendome in Paris, but rather to the Frankfurt fair grounds, which is where Daimler decided to film this video. All the elegance Lothar needs he finds in the copious amounts of stitched leather he is surrounded with and act as all the proof of the tastefulness of his choice of car he could ever want.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 14.32.32

Where Superman IV was the cheapskate imitation of a blockbuster, this video acts as a cheapskate promotion for a semi-decadent product. Where Daimler went too far with the Maybach 2.0’s presentation – sending the car in a glass case over the Atlantic by Queen Elizabeth II and then by helicopter to Wall Street for its unveiling – it now makes do with less than the bare essentials for what is supposed to be a finger-lickingly aspirational product. Some might call this unpretentious, others inappropriately tight-fisted.

The only filmic element of that is conveying even a remote sense of lush opulence is the greasy music, which actually only serves to highlight the clumsy, technocratic interpretation of elegance that permeates this video.

Even when accompanied by the most swooning of string soundtracks, Frankfurt’s barren Europaviertel and Milton Keynes aren’t Manhattan. And the Mercedes-Maybach S600 is no Rolls-Royce.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

7 thoughts on “Superman In Milton Keynes”

  1. I do agree that it’s a strangely low-key presentation. Sitting in the back of his car, Lothar looks like a guy who still remembers his early roots. He looks like someone who can’t wait to get into jeans on a Saturday morning.. This isn’t what we want. Where is the smugness, the chiselled arrogance, the flash of Swiss Watch? Lothar’s still fiddlng clumsily with that remote as though he can’t believe his luck. I quite like Lothar. This is all most un-Daimler and the intended effect is further undermined by the fact that, to my eyes, the rear accommodation appears to be comprised of two oversized baby seats.

    1. I’ve just realised that the wedding and funeral suit I bought 15 years ago is a German made 3 piece that looks just like Lothar’s. But even I could manage to look more at ease in the plumped up seat that he does.

    2. Compared with the Maybach 62’s megalomaniacal presentation, this video is almost endearing in its own, clumsy way. What is jarring is that this obviously wasn’t intended and that the modesty is a result of incompetence, rather than humility.

      Lothar’s actually a decent bloke, but wouldn’t he be doing just fine in the back of an S500 L?

  2. Kris. I’ve now looked at this in more detail and I wonder if you are missing something. Mercedes are offering us more than a Superman lifestyle, this is a Nietzschean lifecycle. Lothar is, as we have agreed, a good man at heart. But he’s a good man who has done bad things. That job lot of 250 faulty Chinese fridges he offloaded back in ‘03 for example and the way that the court case involving the electrocution was hushed up. The guilt has stayed with him. So, when he has an unannounced visit from a certain Herzog von Hades he is not really surprised. Suddenly everything seems to move so slowly. Powerless he walks with his nemesis out of his office to where the Duke’s chauffeur, Herr Charon, is waiting. In a dream they drive off and, as an endless darkness falls, Lothar accepts his fate without complaint. His eyes close and he thinks to himself, Milton Keynes or Hell, what is the difference and, if this is my end, then where better to meet it than here, in the comfort of the new Mercedes-Maybach S600? Phone now for a test drive.

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