9/12/2010

On Superman 3

Superman 3 is probably my favorite of all the Superman movies.

Why is this important?

I'm not sure. But, I've been thinking a lot about Superman lately. My kids love Superman. My youngest inherited my oldest's Superman action figure, the one that looks like Brandon Routh from Superman Returns. I recently watched that with a friend and thoroughly enjoyed it. But we'll get to that in another post, perhaps.

Superman was the first comic I ever really read. When I was 9 or so, my mother got this anthology out of the library for me. I learned all about Superman as a cultural entity by watching how the mythology evolved as writers looked to push their universe further and further.

My favorite era is the sixties, when things just got plain wacky. The style was incredibly light-hearted back then, and the plots usually dealt with Superman's power being mutated in crazy and crazier ways. Red kryptonite transformed him into strange creatures. The lost city of Kandor showed up. He had a Super Horse and a Super monkey.

Then, when I became an adult, he died. Some boring creature of brute force killed him, and I didn't really understand why. Because, of course he came back to life, but not without some weird mystery where four different people pretended they were his second coming.

Now my kids like Superman. The other week, I got a book out the library for them, a 2002 fact book all that captures the 21st century Superman, as depicted in the comics. Of course, there's also Smallville, but again, more on that later perhaps.

So, last week we read this book together and they were both captured by Superman and all the colors. I delighted in talking to them about this hero that's been with me my whole life, in one form or another.

Okay, I'll talk a minute about Superman Returns. When I first watched it, I was not that impressed. But, on my second viewing, the theme of a man watching his child being raised by another man hit home for me. Minute's up.

My friend and I enjoyed the film so much we decided to watch more. I picked Superman 3 to start off with, because I hadn't seen it since I first watched it back in the early eighties. I remembered not liking it, or at least hearing from the conventional wisdom that it wasn't very good.

Superman 3 opens with Richard Pryor standing in a welfare line. After being told he can't get any more checks because he can't hold a job, he asks a man for a light. After being handed a matchbook, he has a revelation that he can make money as a computer programmer! Triumphant music then gives way to a whimsical tune that plays while a very odd opening to a Superman movie takes place.

A series of unfortunate events befall the denizens of one street in Metropolis. The credits roll on the bottom half of the screen while the action unfolds above. There's no sight of anything Superman related at all, but the pratfalls are amusing.

Then Clark Kent shows up, and helps out once, but generally there's not much of a connection to Superman. But, somehow that's what makes this film so great.

I'm perfectly willing to accept this being a strange Richard Pryor and Superman hybrid because it's in the same era of the 1960's comics, when anything goes. Pryor advances so quickly so fast and suddenly has a check for $85,000 because he tricked the computer. Suddenly, he can do anything!

And he's put to evil uses by the CEO, and absolutely none of it makes sense. Because, things in Clark's world are moving so slowly. The two timelines are not compatible at all, but it doesn't matter because the whole thing is entertaining. I laughed at the whole thing.

I googled it when I was done, and realized that Richard Lester was the director. He also made the Beatles' Hard Days Night. That seemed to explain it all, and once I knew that, I was hooked.

Of course, Clark's story is also fascinating. He goes to his high school reunion in Smallville, and comes back into contact with Lana Lang. It's unclear if they dated in this version of the mythology, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is that Richard Pryor uses a TRS-80 to make a version of kryptonite that released Superman's selfishness.




We're all divided between our good and our bad. In Superman 3, a silly comedy dared to explore what happens when someone suddenly loses their way. Superman becomes a total jerk, but Lana's son tells him he's just in a slump. Seeing this magnificent icon acting like an ordinary human is fascinating to me. Christoper Reeve seems like a totally different person, and there we are watching what powerful people can do if they want to.

They're talking about making another Superman movie, and as I understand it, Christopher Nolan is now shepherding the process along. I hope that he can update the film version of Superman in some way that really takes the tale's basic elements and turns them on their end in some way. I'd hope this wouldn't be violent, but thoughtful.

In the meantime, we'll be watching the original Superman with Christopher Reeve next. And then, I've convinced my friend that next we'll watch the Richard Donner cut of Superman 2, which is supposed to be a very different film. I'm not entirely sure why I'm back in the Kryptonian fold but I shall embrace it.

One final thought. In the early mornings of September 12, 2001, I sat at a control booth at WVTF Public Radio monitoring things just in case anything else happened in the night. They didn't have a way at the time to automate their process, so I was asked to do an overnight. I felt so incredibly honored.

Of course, there wasn't really that much to do. I watched the footage over and over again and when I got bored I began to write. I wrote about how much I wished there really was a Superman to save us from such horrible things.

Somewhere in all of this is a lesson about why we need heroes, and how that need should perhaps create within us a sense that we should strive for our best to make a better world, even if we don't necessarily know how. We don't know how because we're all divided between what we have to do for ourselves and what we think we should do for society.

So, Superman 3 was a lot of fun and gave me a set of ideas to think about for a while. When our civilization is long gone, will future archaeologists think we worshipped Superman?

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