Note: Before going any further, I recommend you read the Agony Booth recap of Superman IV which can be found right here.
With the new Superman movie coming out next year, now seems as good a time as any to take a look at a relic from the last time the Man of Steel graced the silver screen.
In 2006, Superman Returns was released, and as part of the marketing blitz surrounding it, when it hit DVD, all of the previous movies were given deluxe DVD treatments. The first film got a nice four-disc set; the second not only got one special edition for itself, but also one for the vaunted (though still a little flawed) Richard Donner Cut. Hell, even the third and fourth films got a little lovin’!
Today, we’ll be examining the deluxe edition granted to the fourth film in the series. The lineup of extras? Well, a commentary track, the trailer, and thirty minutes worth of deleted scenes. Hey, considering how bad this movie is, that’s pretty goddamned deluxe in my book!
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The DVD is far better than the film deserves.
I get a kick out of the obligatory back-of-the-cover quote, which is a splendid bit of Video Box Idiocy™. The quote from Janet Maslin’s review for the New York Times is funny as hell. Evidently, the best quote they could find was “Christopher Reeve is still giving this character his all.” With the money and creative input he was given, I certainly hope so!
Having said that, there’s something even more amusing to be found. The initial VHS release by Warner Bros. had a little red band at the top of the cover (as did all of their releases until around 1992) that listed the movie as a “family classic”. I suppose it was either that or “action-adventure”, but neither one really fits.
The movie itself, as has been documented on this site, is awful. Cheesy, illogical, cheap, it’s no shock the film aspect of the franchise went into hibernation for almost twenty years after this. The best thing I can say in its favor is that it doesn’t last as long as the third one, and this is coming from a guy who enjoys cheesy Cannon films.
I think everything that can be said about the actual movie has been said, so let’s get on with the DVD, starting with the trailer. I can safely say that this is a true case of truth in advertising, as it makes the film look exactly as crappy as it really is.
Audio Commentary with Co-Writer Mark Rosenthal:
This is a decent, sort of spotty track, as Rosenthal definitely had a less than enjoyable time making the movie, though he does provide some decent notes. It’s not talk, talk, talk all the way through, though. Hey, would you want to talk about this movie for 89 minutes straight? My limit is about two minutes and change, personally.
One technical bit: at times, the sound mix on the commentary is a little too low, and the sound from the film bleeds through a little too much. Oddly appropriate given the movie, I think.
There’s a lot of talk about the deleted scenes throughout, but since I’ll be talking about that separately, I won’t get into it much in this section. For now, I’ll just say that a lot of the plot holes and confusing moments are cleared up by the deleted scenes. This does not make the movie any better. If they were put back in, you would have a 135-minute piece of shit as opposed to an 89-minute piece of shit. You can polish a turd all you like, but it still came out of an asshole.
The genesis of the script was the basic question “If Superman is all-powerful, why doesn’t he make the world change and basically take over the lives of everyone on the planet?” Not that unique of an idea, really. It’s been done better elsewhere.
Rosenthal accurately describes the film as “a wonderful funhouse of bad special effects”. Can’t argue with him there; the f/x work in this movie is almost as funny as the stuff you would find in a legit comedy like Ghostbusters. We can thank the huge cuts in the budget for that one.
Rosenthal speculates that Seth Green took his cues from Jon Cryer in this film while playing Scott Evil in the Austin Powers films. I really hope that’s not true. Seth can’t have standards that low. Can he?
The action scenes were given short shrift in the filming process, apparently to make room for the Sam Wanamaker/Mariel Hemingway subplot. Yes, Cannon “Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Michael Dudikoff put our kids through college” Pictures decided the action scenes in a superhero movie weren’t a priority.
Unsurprisingly, even the screenwriter has no idea how Lex is able to steal that strand of Superman’s hair, given that it’s strong enough to support a 1,000 pound weight.
The chemistry between Clark and Lacy was supposed to evoke some of those old Cary Grant comedies. With all due respect to Christopher Reeve, as good as he was, he was no Cary Grant. For that matter, Mariel Hemingway is no Katherine Hepburn.
To be fair, it is sort of an interesting idea to have the two main female characters attracted to Clark and Superman, respectively. Kind of makes you wonder why they made a Superman movie rather than a screwball comedy where that sort of plot element would actually have a place.
Of course, Christopher Reeve is spoken about on the track and as you would expect. Rosenthal is very warm in his praise.
Rosenthal feels the whole Clark revealing himself to Lois and then making her forget the whole damn thing was decent, but the flying f/x did it in. You know, as opposed to everything else about the scene.
The U.N. scene where Superman makes his speech was actually a municipal auditorium in England.
Casting Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man was a cost-cutting decision (no shit). Rosenthal alludes to the original concept being some sort of special effects creature (I’m guessing), but given the budget, a muscular guy with a blonde mullet was cheaper.
Even cheaper would have been to go with the original concept and have Reeve play both parts, but like I said, budget cuts. The idea was also that he could change shape and become larger.
The farcical nature of the romantic subplot was intentional. I’m gonna say that again; they chose to make this aspect of the movie cheesy and stupid. Christ, at least the f/x stuff can be put off on budget cuts!
The double date scene that comes out of it is, according to the screenwriter, not entirely unsuccessful. Given the pacing problems he constantly references throughout, I would say he’s being overly kind.
Nuclear Man targeting Lacy is explained in the deleted scenes section. Not well, mind you, but it’s better than nothing!
The finale was also supposed to give Lex something to do, in the form of him getting the entire city evacuated by way of a false nuclear strike scare and going on a shopping spree... Yeah.
Like I said, a solid enough track.
As has been documented, the initial cut of the movie was 135 minutes, and after some judicious cutting, it ended up at just under 90 minutes when it was finally released to theaters. Of those forty deleted minutes, 31 made it to this DVD, making for fifteen scenes. They’re in pretty rough shape, and the f/x work for the most part is unfinished, but let’s just get to the jewels of this set.
This takes place right after Clark hits the baseball into space, and during this, there’s what must have been a temp voiceover track (I hope) of a guy doing a really horrid Brando impression (he sounds more like Mr. Burns with a slight lisp than one of our finest actors) over stock footage from the first film, as Kal-El is sent to Earth while Krypton blows up real good.
“Yeah, I had this horrible dream I was working for Cannon on another... Oh crap!”
This is followed by Lois waking Clark up to tell him to get his butt to the office, as well as a bit of stupidity as Clark’s efforts to get the paper are hampered by an oblivious neighbor’s dog. The joke is that she thinks the dog and Clark are best friends or something, and the scene ends as she snarls, “Heel, Godzilla! Heel!”