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'Don't expect me to save you, I don't do that anymore.'
– Superman, Superman III.
Superman III is the first Superman film in which Christopher Reeve has top billing. This is certainly well-earned, as Christopher Reeve plays three roles, Clark Kent, Superman and Naughtyman, a version of Superman corrupted by synthetic Kryptonite who, although not evil or a threat to humanity, certainly becomes a pest and menace.
Just as Superman II had been a sequel to Act I: Krypton of Superman, Superman III was in many ways a sequel to Act II: Smallville, complete with the return of characters Brad and Lana Lang (now played by different actors) and even child actor Aaron Smolinski. Curiously, the film did not include Clark's adopted mother Martha Kent, played by Phyllis Thaxter in Superman, or mention his adopted father Jonathan Kent at all, something which would have felt natural for a film where an important part of the plot is Clark's homecoming.
Unemployed layabout Augustus 'Gus' Gorman seeks work by learning how to use a computer, and discovers he has a special aptitude for them and an ability to get them to do what they aren't supposed to. With Lois Lane heading off to Bermuda, Clark Kent returns to Smallville to attend a high school reunion. On the way, he and photographer friend Jimmy Olsen investigate a chemical plant fire which threatens to release a cloud of extremely dangerous acid that could destroy the east coast of America. Superman rescues the chemical plant workers and puts out the fire, but Jimmy is injured attempting to take photographs. At the reunion, Clark meets up with his childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang.
Gus Gorman, meanwhile, steals $85,000 from Ross Webster, head of Webscoe Industries with the computer, but gives himself away. Ross Webster blackmails him into destroying Columbia's coffee crop, which he does from Webscoe's small Smallville office to prevent his actions being traced back to Ross Webster. Gus Gorman programmes the Vulcan weather satellite to create a violent storm in Columbia, but Superman saves the day. Ross Webster is annoyed and swears vengeance, while his sister Vera Webster suggests that they try to gain control of the world's oil supply.
Clark Kent spends a lot of time with Lana, and when her son Ricky is endangered, changes into Superman to saves him from a combine harvester. Meanwhile, Gus Gorman uses the Vulcan satellite to analyse Krypton's remains in order to make synthetic Kryptonite. Lana phones Clark in tears, saying that Ricky told his friends that Superman was going to visit him on his birthday, and Clark agrees to ask Superman to attend Ricky's birthday party in Smallville. There, Gus Gorman gives him the synthetic Kryptonite. This does not kill him, but corrupts him into becoming Naughtyman, an arrogant, unshaven, angry, selfish shadow of Superman who becomes a worldwide menace and has a darker costume. Taking advantage of this, Gus Gorman agrees to allow Ross Webster control of the world's oil in exchange for the construction of a supercomputer that Gus had designed. Naughtyman is also seduced by Webster's girlfriend Lorelei Ambrosia.
After a chance-encounter with Lana and Ricky, Naughtyman crashes into a junkyard and divides into two halves; good, represented by Clark Kent, and evil, represented by Naughtyman. After appearing to have the upper hand, Naughtyman is defeated and Clark again becomes a clean, shiny Superman, fighting for truth and justice.
Superman flies to the Webster headquarters and learns that the Websters, with Lorelei and Gus, have travelled to the Grand Canyon, where the supercomputer has been constructed. Ross Webster uses the supercomputer, which can find any opponent's weakness, to fight Superman. The computer hits Superman with a kryptonite beam, but Superman is saved by Gus Gorman before fleeing. The computer rebels and acts independently, converting Vera Webster into a robot, which attacks Lorelei. Superman returns with some acid, which he uses to destroy the supercomputer.
Back in Metropolis, Lois Lane returns to work in the Daily Planet with an exciting headliner story, only to discover that Clark's childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang, has moved to Metropolis and is now Perry White's new secretary.
|Kal-El - Superman / Clark Kent||Christopher Reeve|
|Gus Gorman||Richard Pryor|
|Lana Lang||Annette O'Toole|
|Ross Webster||Robert Vaughn1|
|Vera Webster||Annie Ross|
|Lorelei Ambrosia||Pamela Stephenson2|
|Perry White||Jackie Cooper|
|Jimmy Olsen||Marc McClure|
|Brad Wilson||Gavan O'Herlihy|
|Lois Lane||Margot Kidder|
|Minnie Bannister||Enid Saunders|
|Tanker Captain||Robert Beatty3|
|Wife with grapefruit up her nose||Sandra Dickinson4|
|Boy at Photo Booth||Aaron Smolinski|
|Brain Surgeon (Television version only)||Frank Oz5|
The Making Of Superman III
The end credits of Superman II promised that Superman III would be coming soon, although at the time it was unknown what the story for Superman III would be. An early treatment considered Superman battling two of the most popular villains from the Superman comic books. These would be Brainiac, an alien android, and Mr Mxyzptlk, a magical imp from a different dimension. Superman would be assisted by potential love interest Supergirl. This treatment was rejected. Soon after it was learnt that Richard Pryor had announced that he would be interested in appearing in a Superman film when he had appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in America. Although not well known outside America, within the United States he was a very famous comedian. Executive producer Alexander Salkind, who had previously hired Marlon Brando for his famous, bankable name, felt that having such a big name involved would generate interest in the film. Richard Pryor was signed up, with the plot of the film written around him. Once Richard Pryor became involved, it was inevitable that Superman III would have more comic, slapstick elements than previous Superman films.
The same experienced team behind Superman and Superman II reassembled to make the film, including the same special effects team. Director Richard Lester had worked on Superman as liaison between director Richard Donner and the producers and had finished directing Superman II. The script was written by David and Leslie Newman, who were two of the three writers, with Richard Benton, who had originally re-written Mario Puzo's original script for Superman, before their work was re-written by Tom Mankiewicz. They had also re-written Mario Puzo's script of Superman II with Richard Benton before their work was initially re-written by Tom Mankiewicz only for them to re-write Tom Mankiewicz's re-write of their re-write. This was to be the first film which the Newman's originated the whole story for.
Richard 'Dick' Lester, whose early work was heavily influenced by the Goon Show6, followed his approach of bringing humour to the role. This was something that had worked well in his previous films including A Hard Day's Night, Help! and The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. It was felt that his comic experience would work well with the casting of Richard Pryor in a starring role.
Although toned down from Superman II, there is still product placement in this film, including from an American Airline, a different cigarette company and a chicken-based fast food restaurant, a hot drink dispensing company and soft drinks beverage. The computer game-like ending was also deliberate, as computer company Atari were at the time owned by Warners, and there were plans to release a similar Superman III game for their console. Sadly this game was never released.
Superman III is a confident film that dared to be different and take a step away from the previous Superman films. It is the only Superman film without nuclear weapons, Lex Luther, the Fortress of Solitude and Lois Lane as the love interest, yet for all its originality, it is criticised for over-the-top humour and a slapstick approach. This is rather curious, as the previous Superman films both had elements of slapstick humour, especially with the character of Otis. Brad getting trolleyed at the end of Superman III is similar to Rocky's fate in Superman II. Clark Kent is also not as clumsy in this film as he had appeared in the previous two films.
The film's opening sequence, in which a tangled web of inter-related events unfolds to wreak havoc on a normal, busy day in Metropolis, is marred in the cinematic version of the film through having the credits blur half the screen and distract the audience's attention from what is going on. As in the Metropolis Battle sequence in Superman II, we see someone roller-skating and a row of phone boxes fall over. The whole slapstick opening is very well executed and harkens back to an earlier era of filmmaking, yet sadly the time in which audiences appreciated the art of slapstick had passed by the time Superman III was released.
Superman has always been a character who reacts rather than drives the plot forward. If people are in danger, Superman then saves them. If a dastardly plan is unfolding, Superman reacts to confound the villain's knavish tricks. With the Superman films reliant on a villain-driven plot, Superman III suffers from having five opponents, which diffuses the tension that having one villain can create. The evil characters in the film are well drawn, but given little to do overall. Vera Webster, her brother's scheming sister, is given the least to do and has little impact until she turns into a robot with hilarious hairstyle at the end. Lorelei Ambrosia, Webster's assistant, is better served - at first glance she appears to be an attractive bimbo but is in fact much cleverer than those around her suspect. Ross Webster is a charming but greedy businessman who, although intelligent, is not as clever as his younger sister Vera, who grew up in his shadow. Of the 'villains', Gus Gorman, is not evil but a bumbling computer genius who makes a few wrong decisions. The film does have enjoyable dialogue between them, such as the Gus Gorman and Lorelei exchange, 'Hey, man', 'That's only his last name. He likes to be called "Superman".'
Gus Gorman's character is given dominance, to the detriment of the others and many have argued that this impacts on the amount of screentime that Christopher Reeve has. In Superman III, Superman himself becomes a villain. Christopher Reeve's acting dominates this film with a confidence, with his initially subtle transformation into Naughtyman very impressive and the fight between Clark and Superman one of the greatest moments in the Superman series.
The Smallville scenes are effective and well done, despite no reference to Clark's adopted human parents. Lana Lang, Clark's childhood sweetheart, is more suited for Clark than Lois is. She is a mother, a strong, independent woman who makes the most of life. When with an unreliable car, she admirably studies car mechanics and fixes the problems, rather than screaming for help and complaining as Lois did when her car broke down in Superman. That Clark would have feelings for Lana seems natural and understandable. The song that summarises Clark's view of her is 'Earth Angel', an appropriate song for Kal-El's love of a human woman, which Clark even plays on a piano to her. There are some minor quibbles. First of all, the small, rural Smallville seems to have developed into a city, Superman is even given the key to the 'City of Smallville'. It also seems strange that Clark, who in previous films panicked if his glasses were taken off for fear people would spot his similarity to Superman, now proudly wears his red Smallville sweater complete with a yellow S in the same manner as his Superman cape.
The plot, in which computers control the world, is strong, prophetic science fiction for 1983, before the internet. It is strange, however, that only one oil tanker captain questions their computer-given orders or is contacted by their companies. It is also impressive that the Vulcan satellite is able to use its laser probe to lock on instantly to Krypton, which is many lightyears away in another galaxy. Another odd point is that Superman, when engulfed by an invisible shield bubble projected by the supercomputer, struggles to breathe, despite surviving in space and on the moon with no ill effects. The biggest question is why Ross Webster decides to antagonise Superman by trying to kill him with the supercomputer. At that moment in the film, as far as he was aware, Superman is still the corrupted Naughtyman who Lorelei has wrapped around her finger and who stranded an oil tanker because she asked him to. Ross Webster could attempt to take advantage of having the most powerful force on the planet at his beck and call, but instead decides to invite Superman to the Grand Canyon on the off chance that Gus Gorman's invention can kill him. Why? Is Webster jealous of Lorelei's affection for Superman?
That said, the special effects and especially the flying in this film are the best Christopher Reeve performed, with only the flying ballet sequence in Supergirl superior, and the film is highly enjoyable, lighthearted entertainment at its best.
Gus Gorman - Heroic villain or a good man led astray?
One of the most criticised aspects of Superman III is the character of Gus Gorman, played by famous American comedian Richard Pryor. This is a shame as Gus Gorman is one of the few characters in the Superman series to develop. Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen remain the same in the beginning and end of every film they appear in, but Gus Gorman evolves and undergoes a journey of self-discovery. When we first see him, he sees himself as a bum, an unemployed tramp, yet by the end of the film he has gained his self-confidence and considers himself to be a superman.
Gus Gorman is someone who goes with the flow, rarely making his own decisions but instead doing whatever others ask of him. The overriding Gus Gorman trait is that of victimisation. The only major character in the Superman films who is not white, it is never revealed what he had undergone to feel constantly persecuted. A man who uses his yo-yo as a security blanket, at the start of Superman III he considers himself unfairly suffering a cruel system that denies him his benefit. He reveals he was a victim not only at school but also in his previous attempts to find work. As a delivery man he was robbed and he felt outnumbered when working in a fast food restaurant. He goes into computing because of an advert seen on a matchbox. When he does find a job with computers at Webco Industries he feels that he has been unfairly deceived out of his full wage, and it his attempt to regain his half cent that he was swindled out of that begins his descent into becoming a warped computer genius. When he is given the chance to build a computer to his own design, his first reaction is to build a highly defensive machine that can eliminate any potential threat. Although an odd choice of features when designing a computer, Gus simply wishes to create a place where he can feel safe and secure.
Gus Gorman is someone who is so used to being inconsequential, he does not seem to realise that his actions can have consequences. After he programmes the Vulcan satellite to wreak havoc in Columbia7, he rejoices that Superman manages to save the day and undo the damage he has done, yet still reverts to his fear of being made the scapegoat, imploring his boss Ross Webster that Superman's rescue is not his fault. Similarly, when Superman did not die after being given synthesised Kryptonite, Gus Gorman beseeches his boss that this too is not his fault.
It is only when Gus sees other people as victims and observes the consequences of his actions first hand that Gus realises what he is doing. When his actions prevent people from getting petrol, leading to fights at petrol stations, he feels the first pangs of guilt. Yet it is when he sees Superman suffering at the hands of his super-computer, the baby designed to make him feel secure, that he fully comprehends what he is doing. Intimately knowing the tortures of victimisation, Gus rescues Superman, sacrificing his computer in the process. Having saved Superman and making a positive difference to the world, for the first time we see him truly happy. Gus then begins making his own decisions. He declines Superman's offer of a lift and does not accept a job offer given, but instead marches off, tall and proud, having gained his self-confidence.
There is no denying, though, that Gus Gorman does inexplicably ski off a skyscraper for no apparent reason in a silly scene that cannot be justified. Largely as a consequence of this, the character of Gus Gorman has been persecuted as much in real life by Superman fans as his fictional character has felt maltreated in the film.
Film's Release and Reception
Superman III was released in 1983 and was a minor financial success, although not as successful as the first two films or as had been anticipated. It had faced stiff competition in cinemas from Return of the Jedi and Bond films Never Say Never Again and Octopussy. Many critics felt that Superman III lacked the reverence and epic feeling of the first two Superman films and relied too heavily on slapstick, especially in the opening sequence, and rated it poorly. The inclusion of comedian Richard Pryor as a main character has also been criticised, although the battle between Clark Kent and Superman is often acknowledged as one of the series' highlights.
After making Superman III, both Richard Lester and Christopher Reeve informed the Salkinds that they wanted to go on to other challenges. The Salkinds then decided that for their next project they would adapt Supergirl for cinemas.
As with other Superman films, other versions were made. The television edition is 16 minutes longer than the official version and contains many scenes that are not included as deleted scenes on the Deluxe Edition release of Superman III. The film opens with the traditional John Williams theme with the credits sequence in space before opening with an unblurred and longer slapstick day-in-Metropolis sequence in which Superman rescues a baby catapulted off a see-saw. Later, Gus' description of Superman saving Columbia is longer and more detailed. Frank Oz appears as a surgeon performing a delicate operation before the supercomputer drains all electrical power and there is a brief scene in which Vera Webster cannot get to sleep at night because of the noise that Superman and Lorelei are making in the room next door.
Sadly only the inferior, shorter cinematic version is available at the moment. After the 2001 Director's Cut of Superman and 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, the full version of Superman III is long overdue.
Superman's powers and abilities seen or reported in either the cinematic or television version of Superman III include:
- Incredible Strength – including the ability to lift and carry a frozen lake, slam dunk a giant boulder into space, throw and burst tyres, punch a hole in side of oil tanker, crush coal into a diamond and stop a combine harvester.
- Invulnerability – Superman is fireproof and able to withstand a car crusher, heavy electromagnet falling on him as well as a barrage of rockets and missiles.
- Ice breath – can freeze a lake in seconds.
- X-Ray vision – with which he can diagnose broken legs.
- Piano playing
- Sneeze powerfully enough to propel a bowling ball
- Super hearing
- Ability to change clothes whilst running.
- Laser vision – according to Gus Gorman, he can dry floods like hand dryer machines in men's rooms. He can also use his laser vision to weld metal, such as oil tankers, and distort mirrors.
- Turn tornado upside down.
- Super-slurp flood water.
- Super-spit water to create a lake in a volcano crater.
- Superbreath – used to extinguish Olympic flame and also force oil back inside an oil tanker.
- Deflect ray-beams emitting from a cybotic Vera Webster.
- Change the angle of lean on the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- Super flicking – flicks peanuts so hard that they smash bottles.
- Super kick people unconscious.
- Transform into Naughtyman when given synthetic Kryptonite.
- Alliterative names – Gus Gorman, Lana Lang, Lois Lane.
- Crystals – These play a less prominent part in Superman III than previous films. Crystals seen include:
- Forget it ever happened – Superman, when Naughtyman, is seduced by Lorelei Ambrosia. After he once again is restored to being Superman he remembers exactly where Lorelei lives and travels there directly, but later denies all knowledge of having seen Lorelei before.
- Incompetent henchmen –
- Gus Gorman reveals that he stole the money from Webscoe Industries by turning up to work in a flashy sports car.
- In a twist in the format, the boss, Ross Webster, is the only one of the four villains who does not know how to operate the supercomputer.
- Inviting the enemy into the lair and revealing the cunning plan –
- Lorelei invites Superman, when Naughtyman, into her lair and, judging from the noises heard in Vera Webster's room next door, Lorelei certainly reveals something...
- Vera Webster leaves a message inviting Superman to come to the Grand Canyon, home of the Webscoe Supercomputer, which they plan to use to kill him.
- Spelling bee – Lois Lane travels to Bermuda (in the Atlantic Ocean) and then writes about Corruption in the Caribbean. Did she confuse Bermuda with Barbados?
Famous landmarks that appear in the film include:
- New York skyline (as Metropolis skyline)
- The Tower of Pisa – Superman, when Naughtyman, straightens it and then restores it to its original angle.
- The Statue Of Liberty – Superman, when Naughtyman, is seduced by Lorelei Ambrosia on top of the crown.
- The Grand Canyon – Gus Gorman's super-computer is constructed in the Grand Canyon.
The coal-mine scenes were filmed in Battersea Power Station, although the fact that it is Battersea Power Station is not visible on screen.
- Gus Gorman, at the end of his film, rips open his shirt, expecting to see the Superman logo, just like Clark Kent does when changing into Superman. Gus would not know that Superman sometimes is in disguise and does not wear his costume full time.
- Lana Lang actress Annette O'Toole would return to the fictional town of Smallville by having a recurring role in television series Smallville as Martha Kent.
- Aaron Smolinski, the boy at the photo booth, had been the young Clark Kent toddler in Superman.
- In the 1950 film serial Atom Man versus Superman, Lex Luthor had attempted to create a synthetic kryptonite, only to discover it is composed of an unknown element.
- In 1956 television Superman actor George Reeves8 had appeared as Superman in an episode of I Love Lucy, in which he visits Lucy's son, known as 'Little Ricky', on his birthday. In Superman III Lana's son is known as 'Little Ricky' and is visited by Superman on his birthday.
- The Vulcan space satellite shares the same name as Spock in Star Trek's home world.
- As well as moments for Superman fans, there are some tributes for Richard Lester fans to pick up on:
- The elderly lady that Clark talks to, Minnie Bannister, is named after a Spike Milligan character.
- At the Smallville reunion the music includes the Beatles' version of 'Roll Over Beethoven'.
William Kotzwinkle, who had previously written the bestselling novelisation of ET: The Extraterrestrial, wrote the novelisation. The front cover was the same picture as the promotional poster, showing Superman carrying Gus Gorman over the Grand Canyon. The novelisation is short, only 158 pages long, and contains 8 additional pages of black and white photographs. These were mainly stills from the film, but also included a promotional photograph of Pamela Stephenson.
The novelisation follows the film quite closely in terms of what happens. There are, however, some minor differences, such as Ross Webster's company Webscoe is referred to as Webcoe throughout. The laboratory researcher who works for Webscoe is described as 'the mad scientist' and the people who Superman rescues from the chemical plant mutter when rescued about lawsuits against the plant's owners.
One of the nicest touches unique to the novelisation is that Superman's father, Jor-El, who does not appear in the film, briefly appears; Kal-El remembers his father giving him advice.
The emphasis of the characters is also slightly changed. Gus Gorman is portrayed as more manipulative than in the film, someone who wishes to take advantage of the Websters and, when the time is right, do away with them and seduce Loreli. Ross Webster is described as someone who used to vindictively perform electric-shock experiments on his sister Vera when they were children. Clark Kent, too, is described as someone who, whenever he is laughed at or mocked, represses and stores up his inhuman anger, and it is this repressed anger within the normal Clark Kent that is unleashed by the synthetic Kryptonite, resulting in his changing character and becoming Naughtyman.
The novelisation remains enjoyable, especially for children to read.
|The Christopher Reeve Era Superman Films|