Saturday, January 20, 2007

Superman III (1983)

Superman III is a 1983 movie that was the third of four movies based upon the long-running DC Comics superhero produced between 1978-1987. Christopher Reeve, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, and Margot Kidder are joined by new cast members Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, and Richard Pryor. The film was the last Reeve/Superman film produced by Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind. It was followed by Supergirl in 1984 and the non-Salkind sequel Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in 1987. The film was less successful than the first two Superman movies, both financially and critically. Many fans of the series complained that there was too much emphasis on comedy, the villains were too weak, and that Christopher Reeve essentially played second fiddle to Richard Pryor. However, others enjoyed the movie and it brought Pryor to an even wider audience. Following the release of this movie his status in the movie industry was such that he signed a deal with Columbia Pictures worth US$40,000,000.

Superman III (1983)

The total domestic box office gross for Superman III was $59,950,623. Thus, it was considered a major financial disappointment, since the first two movies each grossed over $100 million domestically. Besides a considerably poor feedback from the audience themselves, what also likely hurt the box office performance was the fact that Superman III was released during the same summer as the Star Wars sequel Return of the Jedi and the James Bond films Octopussy and Never Say Never Again.

Another problem may have been that the trailer seemed to spoil much of the movie itself. In July 1983, ITV showed the Royal Premiere of Superman III. This show included interviews with actors in the film who had flown to London for the United Kingdom and European premiere. Some clips from the film were shown, including where Superman is flying Gus to the coal mine and explaining how he used the acid to destroy the supercomputer, thus revealing the ending of the film.

A frequent criticism of Superman III is the inclusion of comedian Richard Pryor, who wound up getting the second biggest role in the movie behind Christopher Reeve. Many suspected that Pryor (who was riding off of the heels of smash hits like Stir Crazy and The Toy) helped himself into getting into Superman III after appearing on The Tonight Show and telling Johnny Carson about how much he enjoyed watching Superman II.Audiences also saw Robert Vaughn's villainous Ross Webster as an uninspired fill-in for the Lex Luthor of Gene Hackman, who sat out Superman III due to his problems with the Salkinds. Hackman along with Margot Kidder, (Lois Lane) was upset with the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard Donner, and Hackman retaliated by refusing to reprise the role of Lex Luthor entirely (though he would later be persuaded to come back for Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in 1987 with which the Salkinds had no connection). The Salkinds retaliated against Kidder by severely reducing her role in Superman III.

In his commentary for the 2006 DVD release of Superman III, Ilya Salkind denied any ill will between Margot Kidder and his production team, and refutes the claim her part was cut for retailiation. Instead, he says, the creative team decided to pursue a different direction for a love interest for Superman, believing the Lois & Clark relationship had played out in the first two films (but could be revisited in the future). With the choice to give a more prominent role to Lana Lang, Lois' part was reduced for story reasons. Salkind also denied the reports about Gene Hackman being upset with him, stating he didn't return due to prior commitments.

Fans also placed most of the blame on director Richard Lester, Richard Lester made a number of popular comedies in the 1960s - including The Beatles' classic A Hard Day's Night (1964) and other hits such as The Knack (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) and Petulia (1968). His grounding is in comedy and this is an approach that dooms Superman III . Lester broke tradition by having Superman III opening up with a prolonged slapstick sequence (often compared with silent comedy) with difficult-to-read titles over it (the first two movies opened up in outerspace with big and bold credits). Fans believed that Lester, unlike Donner, had virtually little, if any, knowledge or, more importantly, respect for the Superman legacy and legend. In fact, Richard Donner was supposedly fired because he wouldn't follow the Salkinds' vision of Superman being campy (a la the Batman television series starring Adam West). Superman III is commonly seen as more or less a goofy farce than a grandiose adventure picture like the first two movies. Another problem is the screenplay, written by David and Leslie Newman. When Richard Donner was hired to direct the first two films he found the Newman scripts so distasteful that he hired Tom Mankiewicz for heavy rewrites. Since Donner and Mankiewicz were no longer attached to the franchise, the Salkinds were finally able to bring their "vision" of Superman to the screen and once again hired the Newmans for writing duties.

Film critic Leonard Maltin said of Superman III that it was an "appalling sequel that trashed everything that Superman was about for the sake of cheap laughs and a co-starring role for Richard Pryor." Fans generally agree though that the only redeeming and sincere moments in Superman III were the scenes involving Clark Kent and his childhood sweetheart Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole), who for all intents and purposes, replaced Lois Lane as the love interest in this movie, and the climactic junkyard fight between Clark Kent and the "Evil Superman." Despite Christopher Reeve's best efforts to portray an intense and violently unstable Man of Steel, "Evil Superman's" acts of assorted mischief (staying near Lana in a suggestive manner and arriving late at a rescue, straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, blowing out the Olympic torch, getting drunk and flicking peanuts) gave the movie an even more camp touch though it has failed to become better received in the same way the Adam West Batman film is looked on favorably.

Superman III is sometimes praised for the performance of Reeve, playing a corrupted version of the Man of Steel, and a spectacular junkyard battle between this newly darkened Superman and Clark Kent.

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