Saturday, May 24, 2014

on Superman III

hello there

well, it's been a seasonally wet and cold day here today as Spring wrestles with the idea of turning towards Summer as an emotion. perfect, then, for rather watching films inside. we watched a few and one of them, as you can perhaps guess from the title of this post, was Superman III.

every now and then a film comes along that no one seems to care much for. usually you can understand why. not once in the last 31 years, however, have i understood why people are so dismissive and negative towards this film. with that, then, a defence of the film.

if you've seen it, didn't like it and wish to have no more to do with it, bye. for everyone else, happy reading.

*** SPOILERS FOR A 1983 FILM AFTER THIS ***

so you have been warned, then. i am going to take it as a given that anyone reading this has seen the film, and thus will just be referencing and highlighting why i think it's an ace film.

in running time sequence, not importance, here we go......


the opening sequence

for some reason this gets slammed a lot. why? the thing i can recall most people saying is that it is "slapstick". as if funny and entertaining was a bad thing. it is not.

yes, it's all co-incidental and contrived, but it plays out very well indeed as the credits all roll over the screen. each sequence is fun, and for those insisting on a "serious" element, well, there's always that bit where Supes resuces someone from drowning.



as a light-hearted "average day in the life of Superman" sequence it's class. if they shoved Will Ferrell in a Superman outfit and did this it would be celebrated and hailed as "comic genius", which makes it odd that the films can't do the same thing.

when making a comment on that show, the name of which escapes me, where it is basically a full day, or if you like twenty four hours of the life of his character, son of Donald Sutherland says that they "thought about showing him in a bathroom, brushing teeth and eating" to account for the things he is not shown onscreen doing. i really don't get the digs at Superman III for showing off, in a fun way, what a Superman does with his morning.


refinery / chemical plant rescue

if you are reading this, have seen the film and did not care for it and are reading this, i suspect there's a good chance you are going "oh i forgot about this bit".

this is an epic, well stage, brilliant shot set piece of note. sure, it was ham-fistedly shoved into the plot as an action set piece, but so? if contrived action sequences are a bad thing, then you go right ahead and kiss goodbye to the ass of any other action / superhero film you care to name.



a particularly interesting element of this sequence is the dynamics of the Supes character. more than once he is seen and shown to be knacking the people for the incident, and for not getting the heck out of it. it is far from some high drama charged tragedy, for sure, but it is not as one dimensional as Supes sees trouble, Supes flies in, Supes saves everyone, Supes flies off.

the frozen lake resolution is boss, too.



yeah, so it's not on the massive scale of city / world destruction from the first two films. also it is not Supes vs some diabolical plot from a master criminal, or him fighting naughty Kryptonians. it's Superman just doing his thing, saving lives, using his power for goods. kind of, like, you know, what the point of the character is.

Richard Pryor / Robert Vaughn

a thing that people seem to get hung up on with this film is the "no Lex Luthor" element. as if, say, Superman IV and Superman Returns were excellent as a consequence of having Lex in them. had they thrown Lex into this one, what would they have had him do? i cannot think of much they could have done with him after his failed ambition to be ruler of Australia.

it's interesting to note, is it not, that in recent animated films the presentation of Lex Luthor has borrowed quite a lot from the character of Ross Webster, played by Battle Beyond The Stars legend Robert Vaughn.

in no brilliant or outstanding way, i admit, Vaughn's character and performance was very much pre-empting the face of 80s evil - corporate greed. by the end of the decade we were throwing Oscars at Michael Douglas for playing a character not at all far off from what Vaughn did here.

as for Richard Pryor, well, where to begin? yes i know he didn't like the film, i know he says he only did it for the money. this does not stop him being ace in it.



Pryor was/is usually more associated with his outrageous, offensive and exceptionally funny stand up stuff, and his more adults only comedy films. in Superman III he is stripped of vulgarity and foul language, not even allowed the most obscure of innuendo. in entirely family friendly fare he still manages to be as funny as usual, and is engaging and interesting as his character. that's the hallmark of talent.

those who say they "don't like" Richard Pryor in this santised role basically don't actually like him anyway, clearly it was only the swearing that was of interest for them. that Pryor claims not to have liked the script and did it only for money makes no difference - the same was true of Burt Reynolds in his Oscar nominated (and he should have won) role in Boogie Nights.

watch him in the film for what it is and what he does, and enjoy.

the combine harvester rescue

"oh yeah, i had forgotten about that too", i hear you say.

yeah, sure, another contrived plot twist to allow for a stunning action sequence. if such things offend you, why is it that you watch superhero and action films?



ok, so you know that in a Superman film they're not going to show a ten year old boy get twatted off a combine harvester. the trick with a sequence like this, then, is creating tension and drama anyway. which is what they very much do with this scene.

it is funny and entertaining

it has Richard Pyror in it, so you were expecting it to be all serious and that?

Superman III does a superb job of being funny and witty on a frequent basis without ever dipping into a sense of p!sstake or parody. it also does not distract from the plot of the film. a neat trick, that is. refer to, say, Batman & Robin for an example of how that does not work. 

i enjoyed the "all serious and grown up" adaptation of Supes that was Man of Steel. i don't see why, or anyone else for that matter, cannot simply enjoy a lighter interpretation of it all.

go find a copy of the film, sit back and simply enjoy once more things like this



that hat, man. awesome and epic that hat is.


far too ahead of its time

every now and then a film gets celebrated for being "ahead of its time". sometimes it counts against it. James Bond, oddly, is the best example of this. 1985's A View To A Kill portrayed a world where computers and silicone chips generated the greatest wealth and were essential to life on earth. 1989's Licence To Kill showed a dirty, gritty Bond, soaked in dark realism. both were unfairly slammed for that.

back in 1983, computers got as powerful as the Commodore 64 and the most powerful thing you could do with it was play Donkey Kong. so Superman III presenting a world which could be controlled, and indeed corrupted, by computers made little sense.

there's that bit where computers call on all the oil ships in the world to go and stand in the middle of the ocean. most do, because the computer said to do so. only one salty sea dog rejects what the computers say, relying on common sense more than what a machine tells him.



think about that in the light of how many stories one hears of people crashing into rivers, walls and what have you with thee reason "GPS told me to" being given. once, in one of those rare power blackouts South Africa has, i purchased items in a shop that had the prices of R20, R30 and R50. i kid you not, the lady without her computer till had to use a calculator three times to add them amounts up.

we live in a world where chaos is all too easy to be caused due to the widespread reliance, "dumbing down" if you like, created by relying on computers. it seems only the older generation recalls a time before machines did it all and you simply got on with sorting things out in other ways. good call, Superman III, good call.

bad Superman

these days there is a call for heroes to be less than perfect. things like X Men and, in particular, The Dark Knight work because the hero is a deeply flawed character.

Superman III did not present this with any particular elegance or genius, but it did have a good go at it. it works best in particular with the "drunk Supes" sequence.



in the more celebrated and better reviewed Superman films Supes is one dimensional, is he not? it's all clear cut that he is good and will always be so. yet he has the power to be as ruthless as he likes, arguably take over the world, just as Zod did in the highly praised II. what was the problem with, as a plot device, showing him indulge in a darker side? yeah, yeah, sure, if we had super-duper powers we would all only use them for good, saving kittens off of trees and stopping the Japanese from spearing whales. of course. we would not ever get up to mischief and mayhem.

the above, of course, led to one of the strongest parts of the film.

Superman vs Clark Kent 

never mind that this is a class action sequence, the moral ambiguities and psychology behind it are damned impressive. in an effort to choose between good and evil we see bad Superman take on his good persona, Clark Kent. interesting how that's illustrated, isn't it? rather than having a "clean" Supes outfit vs the "dirty" Supes outfit of bad Superman.




again, i am not going to pretend this is the best acted, most dramatic thing in the history of all cinema, but it's nowhere near as bad as some of those who dismiss the film make out. it's very good.

Supes lives a double life. Supes has to keen his true identity hidden. Supes is in a position where he has universal love, yet at heart he is all alone in the universe, aware that everyone, bar three (four if you count that Supergirl one), like him is dead. there is, i would suggest, margin for bipolar disorder and the potential to be schizophrenic in this character.

the film does not go off on some dramatic interpretation of that, not when fisticuffs is what people go to see an action film for, but that's exactly what is at the heart of this whole sequence.



also the fight, watching it again, is pretty brutal and a touch harrowing for both a 1983 family hero film and for a PG certificate film.

could it have been better acted, better presented? almost certainly. but that doesn't mean it's bad for what it is. i would urge you reading this that have been dismissive of the film to watch it once more just to look at those parts again, if nothing else.


super computer

a computer is built to be as powerful and intelligent as possible. its purpose is to create weapons. the computer reaches as level of intelligence that sees it become "self-aware", ensuring the preservation of its own life is paramount. it also works out that the most efficient way to defend itself is to harvest humans, making them into cyborgs and unleashing them on human attackers.



in 1984 with The Terminator that premise was considered genius. in 1983's Superman III it was considered as being silly. go figure.

yes, it was the early 80s, so how impressive and powerful a computer was became all about how big the machine was. but give them a break and just appreciate the vision they had with this one.

it's a damned good story with a happy ending

it has some complex elements as i have, probably poorly, highlighted here, but the basics are it's a story of good vs evil where, blimey, good wins. why exactly is this a bad thing in a superhero film?



that's some pretty convincing blue screen acting from Richard Pryor right there, is it not?

perhaps i am somewhat biased as i have nothing but fond memories of the movie. i remember Mum & Dad taking us off to the cinema to see it - can't remember if it was Torquay, Blackpool or maybe it was even somewhere with a bit more pizzazz, like Stockton or Redcar. it was, however, a dingy, grotty little cinema, back in a time when few even had a video machine at home so cinemas could be as run down as they liked, for one had little choice but to use their services.

i also remember having a comic book adaptation of the film. i sat in the front room of Grandma & Grandad's, at the school house, and read it from cover to cover. took about two hours, i think. man, i loved that comic of the film.

but, then again, maybe i would not have such quite fond memories of Superman III if it were not in fact all that good to start with.

just as critics get lazy in knocking things - Bowie's Tin Machine is a good example, as discussed on the blog here before - so too fans can find themselves assuming things are bad because "everyone says they are". both of these are the fate which has befallen Superman III, and it should not have happened. it is, for me at least, a really good, fun film.

so go watch and enjoy. but yeah, alas, do skip IV. it doesn't work out so well, that one.



be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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