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Vol 1, Issue #5
"Stand By For Mars!"
April 2006
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Christopher Reeve starred in four Superman movies. In the following pages, Ryan Brennan provides an examination of each of these movies. Click on the title:

Superman (1978)
Superman II (1980)
Superman III (1983)
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)

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Superman III (1983)
Directed by Richard Lester

Superman III (1983) was announced in the end titles for Superman II (1980). But once again quite a bit of time elapsed before it showed up at theaters. When it did unspool it proved to be an extremely weak entry in the series.

Richard Lester, the director of Superman II, once again helmed. Lester's forte has always been physical comedy, especially naturalistic, bungling action as seen in his pictures The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers as well as the Beatles' films.

This film opens with a carefully choreographed Rube Goldberg series of elaborate slapstick accidents. It's funny on its own but seems somehow out of place in a Superman movie.

We are introduced to everyman Gus Gorman, played by Richard Pryor. This is a star turn for the comic actor and one feels that it took some effort to shoehorn him into this picture. The role isn't anything particularly special and, with exceptions, really doesn't feature the type of comedy evident in his best films. Since this is a comedy, moments are found for Pryor to cut up, such as when he appears as an ersatz Patton or when he tries to describe the awe and wonder of Superman averting a disaster. Regardless, while Pryor's charm and warmth come through, this role is really beneath him.

Gus has been out of work for some time and his unemployment benefits are at an end. Although he is unable to keep any kind of job for more than a day or two, he gets the idea that he can learn how to work in the computer industry as a programmer. Suprisingly, he is adept at computer programming, able to make intuitive leaps that result in brilliant achievements. However, he is disappointed in his paycheck and resolves to embezzle all the fractions of pennies that don't make it onto employees' paychecks.

His activity doesn't escape the notice of his employer, Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn). Probably most famous as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn's polished urbanity made him perfect to play villains, especially a Donald Trump type before there was a Trump. But the villain is just a rich guy and really pretty small potatoes. Both Vaughn's and Pryor's roles are reminiscent of certain episodes of the TV show in which the villains or some other character more or less took the spotlight for that episode. That's fine with a TV series that runs a couple of dozen shows every season. But in a movie series that pops up only every three years or so the focus needs to be on the main character.

Webster doesn't want to punish Gus for his theft. Instead, he wants Gus to manipulate the computer-controlled Vulcan weather satellite to control the weather. Seeking a nondescript location to cover their tracks, Webster chooses Smallville.

As it so happens, Clark Kent is in Smallville attending his high school reunion with plans of doing a newspaper story for The Daily Planet. Here he sees Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole) again, his old crush and, with Lois away on a three-week vacation, the field is clear for a romance to develop.

But Gus and Webster activate their plan to control the weather. The satellite is repositioned by Gus and devastating climatic changes occur. In one such instance Superman inverts a tornado to end its destructiveness.

The news reaches Webster, his business partner sister (Annie Ross) and girlfriend/psychic advisor Lorelei (Pamela Stephenson) while they are skiing -- at the snow covered chalet and ski run high atop Webster's business building (in an attempt to inject some James Bond villain extravagance). It is here that Webster concocts a plan to produce artificial Kryptonite and use it to keep Superman out of his way.

Gus uses his computer to retrieve information from space and discovers the elements of Kryptonite. Unfortunately, there is .57 of an unknown trace element. Gus plugs in a substitute figuring the missing element is so inconsequential that it can't make any difference. But it does. When Superman is given the faux-Kryptonite during a ceremony in Smallville it doesn't produce the reaction we saw in the second film. The Man of Steel seems unaffected by the green crystal.

Later, visiting Lana's home as Superman, the last son of Krypton's behavior becomes something less than gallant. He makes suggestive remarks and seems uninterested when told that a truck is about to fall off a bridge. This is the effect of his exposure to the faux-Kryptonite. He snaps out it but arrives too late to save the truck. Superman's altered state is conveyed with a 5 o'clock shadow and a costume with darker, muted colors.

Superman always seems to stay pretty close to home but now he roams the world like some mischievous thug, playing pranks -- righting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, blowing out the Olympic torch -- and creating mayhem. Superman loses sight of his mission and his true self.

The door is now open for Webster's biggest scheme yet. He plans to use the Vulcan satellite again to corner the market on oil. Gus' ingenuity will shut down all oil pumps in the world and send every oil tanker to a preset location so that Webster, somewhat like Auric Goldfinger, can cause the value of oil to skyrocket.

One tanker captain refuses to follow orders which makes it necessary to find a way of bringing him in line. Lorelei, who pretends to be dumb but reads Kant in private, is enlisted to woo the Man of Steel and enlist him in a scheme to disable the tanker. With her strong physical charms it is easy to bend this baser Superman to her will.

After an uncharacteristic drinking spree in a bar, Superman splits into himself and Clark Kent. In an abandoned wrecking yard, he battles himself. Since there are no witnesses to this titanic struggle it must be taken as purely imaginary. His Good and Evil sides go at it and Clark triumphs.

By this time, Gus and Webster have moved on to their next scheme. Gus has created a super computer built inside a mountain. As Superman approaches, the computer wields an array of missiles and other devices against him. At one point the battle is depicted as a video arcade game. The massive computer increases its power by sapping energy from across America, plunging the entire county into a blackout. As Superman arrives to shut it down, the machine produces a Kryptonite ray, this time with the correct missing element.

Suffice it to say, Superman prevails and good old Gus is redeemed. Lois returns from her vacation. Clark Kent's absence from The Daily Planet is never explained. There's not even a rumor that he was with Lois even though he was gone the entire time she was away.

Needless to say, this was an extremely disappointing installment in the series. David and Leslie Newman take the writing credits. Perhaps this film gives us a better idea of what the first two films might have been like minus the tempering hand of Tom Mankiewicz. And despite the simplistic treatment, the use of oil and computers as plot points give this film a bit of contemporary interest.

Pamela Stephenson, other than displaying some spectacular cleavage, is totally wasted, typical of how she was misused in films. Stephenson was the very funny comedienne from New Zealand who helped make the British comedy show Not the Nine O'Clock News a hit along with fellow cast members Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, and Griff Rhys Jones. She also a regular during the very funny 1984 - 1985 season of Saturday Night Live, the year of the all-pro cast: Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Rich Hall, Martin Short, and Harry Shearer. Although married to comic Billy Connolly, she has left show business and works as a psychologist.

This Warner Bros. DVD is another stripped down edition. The trailer included is of some interest because it features a few special effects shots before they were finalized.

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