Christopher Reeve will always be the definitive Superman. Always. Let's just get that out of the way. And while I'm cautiously optimistic about Bryan Singer's upcoming Superman Returns, Superman and Superman II will always remain my favorites. And since so much has been said about these great (but none-the-less flawed) films, I'd like to reflect upon the bastard children of the franchise...
I thought I would put my newfound screenwriting expertise to good use and examine a lost treasure of bad cinema:
I'll get to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace another day. For now, let's just look at Superman III. So much could have worked in this movie. And so much didn't. From the flimsy, comedic script of David and Leslie Newman to the poorly conceived villains, Superman III failed to live up to the high standards of the first two movies. In this examination, I will attempt - through my brilliant expertise - to not only pinpoint the failings of the movie, but also try to understand why it failed. I will also offer my solutions and present to you all how I would have solved the problem. But today, before we get into a critical analysis of the entire film, let's first look to the trailer, to see if we can find any hint of the awfulness that was to come.
Also, please note, I have nothing but love and admiration for Richard Pryor, Christopher Reeve, and Superman. And director Richard Lester (who directed A Hard Day's Night, among other things). I do this with love and affection.
Let's start by examining the trailer...
* Nice start - the familiar strains of that John Williams theme is guaranteed to get audiences excited. The enthusiastic build, the triumphant march playing over the quaint Warner Bros. logo`sucks you right in. So far so good.
* "When it's time for adventure...it's time for Superman." Whoosh. Reddish, cloudy sky, the red/blue/yellow blur streaking across the top, exploding into the silver S-shield. A little cheesy, but hey. Still cool.
* "Alexander Salkind presents Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in Superman III." Christopher Reeve gets top billing. Cool. Uh oh. Cheesy card-board cut-out Superman just shattered the S-shield. Terrible effect. Not a good sign.
* "This time...Richard Pryor has come to Metropolis." Okay. Stop right there. First off, the clip they show is Richard Pryor arriving in Smallville. To further drive home the point that we're in rural Smallville, Clark is even wearing his red, Smallville sweater draped over his shoulders. So, they're lying to us. And they make it sound like it's gonna be an Abbot & Costello-type movie where Pryor plays himself, like it's a buddy movie with him and Superman. More deception. Oy. And hilarity is already ensuing as bumbling Clark Kent opens the car door into bumbling Richard Pryor! It's a comedy.
* "...and he's got something to sell." Looks like Pryor is selling a lot of alcohol. Hm. Are they trying to tell us something? Like, 'you're gonna need a lot of liquer to enjoy this movie.'
* "He's the best con man..." Shot of Pryor dressed as a General, looking comical. So, he's the villain, then? Is that what they're saying? Also, anyone with any passing familiarity with this movie knows that in the actual movie, he's a TERRIBLE con man. So, another lie.
* "...and the world's greatest computer genius." Really? The world's greatest computer genius? He doesn't look it. More lies? Although, I am willing to cut them a little slack here since obviously, the makers of this movie knew very little about computers and what they could actually do. Those were heady days, 1983.
* "But then, he falls..." Okay, we're taking things a little too literally here as the corresponding clip is of Richard Pryor falling off a building. Actually, he's skiing off a building, but c'mon. Who made this trailer?
Editor dude: 'Well, the voiceover says he falls - quick, I need a shot of Richard Pryor falling!'
* "...for a scheme to turn the ultimate computer into the ultimate weapon." Oh. He falls for an evil SCHEME. So why am I still watching Richard Pryor falling off a building? And if he's "the best con man," how could he fall for a scheme? Is there a better best con man in the movie? This trailer makes no sense! And where is Superman? Isn't this a trailer for a Superman movie?
* Shot of Richard Pryor telling Robert Vaughn that he can make the computer do "anything that you tell me to tell it to do." So, Robert Vaughn is in this movie, too. You wouldn't have known it from the trailer. Is he the real bad guy? I thought the trailer implied that Richard Pryor was the bad guy. Well, first it implied that he was coming to Metropolis when he was in Smallville, then it implied that he was the best con man, but he falls for someone else's scheme, then...
we're over a minute into the trailer and still no Superman! This trailer kind of sucks so far.
* "A machine so powerful..." Back to the computer. Maybe the computer is the villain. A shot of a giant super-computer thing. And Richard Pryor is really happy to see it. "Baby...it's daddy!" Somethin' weird is going on between Richard Pryor and that computer. Seriously, where the hell is Superman?
* "It can control the Earth..." Shot of a satelite in space firing a laser beam toward earth...which messes up the city's traffic lights? And apparently, everyone in the world does exactly what the traffic signals tell them to do...because they're idiots. I don't think Richard Lester or the Newmans understand how traffic lights really work. I hope this computer can do more than cause a traffic jam of dumb people. Oh, a car hit a fire hydrant. HEY! SUPERMAN! It's Superman! In the trailer! He's doing something! He's...ripping off the sunroof to a car filled with water! He saved a dude. Now, not to nitpick here, but this is a scene from the opening credit sequence, having nothing to do with the computer...so, once again, the trailer is lying to us. Just wanted to point that out. But, hey! Finally, we get to see Superman in his own trailer!
* "...change the weather..." Shot of a hurricane or something. Somewhere. There's a bamboo hut being blown over in a monsoon, it looks like. And now Robert Vaughn is toasting Richard Pryor. He says he's a genius, so I guess I'm supposed to believe him. If the only thing I knew about this movie was what I saw in this trailer, I'd be pretty confused right now. What the hell is Robert Vaughn doing here?! I wish they would show more Superman.
* "...and reprogram Superman." Hey. Superman! Okay, it looks like the computer has a little diagnostic of Superman...and, oh! Hot blonde on the Statue of Liberty! Aaaand...evil Superman. "I hope you don't expect me to save you, because I don't do that anymore." Damn! That computer totally reprogrammed Superman! Now it's lookin' good. Now I'm intrigued. Note: In the actual movie, it's the imperfect kryptonite (akin to the comic book's red kryptonite) that actually turns Superman evil. Again, the trailer LIES. But things are looking like something's gonna happen with badass Superman. And he is totally gonna bang that blonde.
* Okay, a little montage here. Angry Superman, he's...looks like he's flipping a switch and...DAMN! He's totally crushing Clark Kent! How can this be?! Now I totally need to see this movie! And now he looks a little cleaned up and...missiles, okay....and Superman, he looks like he's good again and...more missiles and...what the-? A space shuttle looking thing? And it's gonna hit Superman! Is he gonna die? Oh no! He totally died! Wait. Robert Vaughn again. "He didn't die." Oh, he didn't die. I guess those missiles didn't kill Superman after all. Well, so much for dramatic tension. Vaughn's still talking. "I ask you to kill Superman and you're telling me you couldn't even do that one, simple thing." Funny line. Richard Pryor is totally scared.
* Superman again! Yeah! "All right, Webster, the game's over." Webster? Is that Richard Pryor? Robert Vaughn? Emmanuel Lewis? Who the hell is Webster? (Note: It's Robert Vaughn)
Oh no! Kryptonite! It's a green beam! The computer totally has a kryptonite beam!
* Back to the voiceover: "But only the man who pulled the switch on Superman..." I assume they're referring to Richard Pryor here. Who looks a little uncomfortable. He's sort of a sucky bad guy. Shot is of Pryor saying "I'm not with them, Superman. Superman responds: "Could've fooled me, mister." Oh, SNAP! The Man of Steel totally owns you. Or pwned you. Is that how you say it on the internet?
* "...can pull the plug on super-machine." Okay, so I guess it's up to Richard Pryor to save the day? Let's look at this sentence as a whole. "Only the man who pulled the switch on Superman...can pull the plug on super-machine." Does this even really make sense? Did he pull the Kryptonite switch on Superman? Cuz it looked like he didn't want to hurt Superman...um, and now Robert Vaughn tells him: "You're going to go down in history as the man who killed Superman." But Richard Pryor doesn't look happy about it, he's shaking his head, saying "No." What kind of mixed messages are we getting from this trailer?! I don't know. I just don't know anymore.
* Okay, Superman's in trouble here...and now he holds out his hand, but clearly post-production wasn't done yet because there's no sfx to go with it, and....now the computer blows up. They just showed the climax to the entire movie. Right there. Well at least we don't now what happens after...oh, there's Superman pulling Richard Pryor out of the rubble...so, now we know what happens after. And cue cheesy, 70's-esque "put it there, brother" black-guy/white-guy handshake in 3,2...Handshake! Oh, they even gave it some soul. And Pryor says, "Thank you, brother." Wow. When did Superman III turn into a blaxploitation flick? I almost hear Isaac Hayes singing, "Can you dig it?"
* And now Superman is flying a scared Richard Pryor over the trees, laughing at him - hysterical! It's a comedy again! And then another cheesy graphic and color headshots, mostly of the folks we haven't even seen in the trailer!
* Voiceover: "Superman III. This time is going to be the best time of all."
"This time is going to be the best time of all." I think that pretty much sums it all up perfectly.
So that's the trailer. Gotta say, it's not looking too good for the movie itself. Which we'll get to another time.
To Be Continued...