Superman III (1983) (part 2 of 6)
Several students at the “Archibald Data Processing School” have witnessed the mayhem from a window. Inside, we see a small chalkboard and students hard at work on several computer terminals, and Gus Gorman is among them. A female student whose face isn’t shown asks the instructor a question, and her line is clumsily looped in. “Excuse me, but what if, uh, you want to program two bilateral coordinates at the same time?” The teacher calls this “impossible” but Gus nervously raises his hand. “Sir?” He shows the commands on his screen and types a few keys. Of course, this computer is one of the first personal models ever made and it’s hard to be impressed by flashing green text. [Editor’s Note: And as a programmer, I have to step in here and point out that Gus is programming in BASIC, and his entire program is nothing but PRINT statements. Actually, they’re mostly empty PRINT statements, meaning Gus has just written a very complex program that will display… absolutely nothing. —Albert]
Nevertheless, it does the trick for the teacher, who exclaims, “Good Lord, how did you do that?” A bewildered Gus says, “I don’t know! I just did it!” Ha ha! Those crazy black people! One minute they’re mooching welfare, the next they’re programming wizards. You never know what they’ll do next.
Before the bad taste can fester in our mouths, we cut to offices of the Daily Planet. Jimmy Olsen identifies a picture of Robert “Teenage Caveman” Vaughn as “Ross Webster! This is just after he received the award for Humanitarian of the Year!” Lois Lane sees the picture and coos, “Ooh, he is good looking!” Well in a puffy, owns a beach house, and makes six figures a year sort of way, I guess.
The Chief himself, Mr. Perry White is there, and he’s pissed that Jimmy only got one picture of Ross, but got fifteen of his assistant Miss Ambrosia, including the mandatory close-up of her breasts. Mr. White wants to know who she is, and Jimmy struggles to come up with an answer. “She’s Webster’s—” Lois mischievously says, “He said ‘Webster’s’. Let just leave it at that.” [?]
Mr. White then goes on to chew Jimmy out for not getting a picture of Superman saving the man who was drowning in his car. Jimmy then turns into Peter Brady and his voice cracks as he whines, “Chief, I didn’t have my camera with me!” Mr. White lectures, “A photographer eats with his camera, a photographer sleeps with his camera!” Lois quips, “I’m glad I’m a writer,” in a poor imitation of a punch line. The script was one of the weaker aspects of the original, so turning the later movies into comedies (with the inherent focus on dialogue) was pretty much the deathblow to the series.
An office flunky pushes in a raffle cage surrounded by brightly colored signs. She tells Mr. White it’s time to pick the winning “Jingo” numbers and explains that “the first prize is an all-expenses paid trip to South America!” Mr. White grouses as he picks a ball, opens it, and tells the flunky “Fifty-three”. Clark comes in to pitch a story and is interrupted by her yelling “Fifty-three!!” out the door. Reeve has said he based his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby. I always thought Mark Wahlberg did the greatest disservice to Grant’s memory, but Reeve gives Marky Mark a run for his money with this performance.
“Mr. White,” Clark says. “I hate to bother you, but I promised these people I’d call them back this morning. What do you think?” Mr. White doesn’t go for the idea he’s proposing, but Clark assures him it’s a “terrific story.” Lois gets all nosy, so Mr. White explains that Clark’s been invited to his high school reunion. That’s right, a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper is trying to convince his editor to let him write a feature on his high school reunion.
Clark says, “Well, it’s practically an American institution! Isn’t that so, Jimmy?” Jimmy says he doesn’t know because “most of the people I went to high school with are still in high school!” I haven’t read the comic book, so I don’t know how old he’s supposed to be, but the actor who plays him is twenty-six here. Stranger still is how, in the following year, Jimmy would be in Midvale palling around with Supergirl.
Clark goes on about the story, saying it’ll be about how “the typical small town has changed in the last fifteen years!” He says he even found his old high school sweater, which he pulls out, revealing that it’s bright red with a yellow “S” on the chest. The WB show Smallville is guilty of dropping these kinds of anvils on a weekly basis, and it’s equally annoying here.
Lois gets that look of half-recognition in her eyes and he hurriedly clarifies that the “S” stands for “Smallville”. Mr. White finally agrees and tells Clark to take Jimmy with him. He then says, “It isn’t easy for me to lose one of my best reporters but you deserve the vacation… Lois!” Clark gets his constipated chameleon look. This confused me at first, because I thought Mr. White had given Lois the assignment to go to Clark’s reunion, but as it turns out, she’s taking a vacation to Bermuda instead. She rubs this all up in Clark’s face and pulls out a bikini top, ick. And that will be the most we’ll see of Margot Kidder. She was very vocal about her disapproval of the producers replacing director Richard Donner with Richard Lester, and in retaliation she only got about five minutes of screen time.
Clark says he’s heading off to Smallville, but is bummed out when Mr. White just ignores him. I see his feelings are hurt at not being one of Mr. White’s “best” reporters. Aww, do we have Superself-esteem issues? Then Mr. White struggles to open a Jingo ball and yells, “Couldn’t we get a computer to do this?” I hear they said the same thing about this screenplay.
Cut to rows of numbers flashing on a computer screen. See how smooth that scene transition was? See, see? Gus has apparently gotten a job at Webscoe Industries, the company owned by Ross Webster. The mail clerk hands him his paycheck and he balks at the figure. A coworker asks if it’s his “first paycheck” and Gus yells that it’s his “first rip-off, man! I was supposed to get $225 a week, right? This says $143.80! How I’m supposed to live on that?” His coworker tells him that there’s this little thing called income tax and Social Security deductions, and he’ll get that money when he’s sixty-five. Gus says he prefers to have the money now, while he can “still get down”.
As the two walk to the cafeteria, the coworker explains that his pay is actually “more like $143.80 and one half cents. There are always fractions left over in big corporations, but they round it down to the lowest whole number.” Gus asks where the money goes, and the coworker says, “They’re just floating around out there! The computers know where!” Sure, that sounds accurate. Anyway, the coworker asks him “How many sugars?” and Gus, deep in thought and formulating a plan, yells, “One and a half!” Hah!
Later that night, Gus is at his computer working late. Beating the megacorporation’s computer security seems to be as easy as typing “Override All Security” and using a cigar-sized stylus on the screen. Anyway, Gus hacks into the system to retrieve all those half cents that are “floating around out there” and channel them into his paycheck. If this sounds familiar, it’s because years later in the far superior comedy Office Space, the beleaguered heroes would use this same scheme as their revenge on corporate America. Every time they’d explain their plan, they’d say, “You know, like in Superman III!” to the expected blank stares.
Back in the B plot, Jimmy and Clark travel to Smallville. Trailways Bus gets a nice product placement here, explaining their eventual buyout by Greyhound. Clark notices emergency vehicles rushing past them, and soon the bus is pulled over. A patrolman explains to the driver that a chemical plant is on fire and they’ll have to turn back or wait it out. He komically says, “The fire is spreading like wild… fire.”
Jimmy sneaks off the bus and Clark follows. They both crouch behind a police car and Jimmy tells Clark to create a distraction. Clark wants to know what he’s up to and Jimmy tells him to “remember what the chief said! A photographer always goes after a story!” Well, no, that’s not what the chief said, or even close to what the chief said. And this may be a major fire, but you’re a good ways away from Metropolis. Unless it’s a very slow news day, I don’t think it’ll exactly make the front page.
Clark says it is too dangerous, causing Jimmy to hilariously go all Dirty Harry on him. “Danger? Goes with the territory, Mr. Kent!” And so does stupidity. This isn’t Somalia, and he’s risking his life for pictures that won’t even have a story to go with them. Jimmy scampers after a fire truck, so I guess Clark didn’t need to worry about creating a distraction after all.
There’s a cop standing not more than three feet away who just watches Jimmy run into the chemical plant, and as he’s looking away, Clark hops into the back seat of his patrol cruiser and pops out as Superman. There’s another cop sitting in the front seat who almost turns around before getting a “Nah, it couldn’t be” look on his face and going back to whatever he was doing. And I have nothing to say. You won, movie, okay? Uncle! I’m saying uncle!
Superman lands and the fire marshall yells, “My God, Superman, it’s a nightmare! Everything in there is either explosive, or flammable, or worse!” Right on cue, a group of employees inside the plant find themselves caught between two fires. “My God, they’re trapped!” the marshall helpfully notes. So Superman takes off, giving us another good look at his wires. They just didn’t care, did they?
Among the chaos, Jimmy climbs up a fire truck’s ladder to get a better shot. Meanwhile, Superman wrenches a huge aluminum tube from the ground and rescues all the employees by turning it into a chute for them all to slide to safety. He then rushes into a laboratory where a scientist tells him to “Go on, look after the others! I cannot leave here!” The scientist motions to a room full of liquid-filled beakers. “Concentrated beltric [sic] acid. That stuff heats up over 180 degrees, we’ve got a crisis on our hands that will make this fire look like a Sunday school picnic!” Well, at least he didn’t say it would make it look like a “firecracker”.
As it turns out, beltric acid is a normal acid at room temperature, but if it gets hot it will create a cloud of smoke that will “eat through anything, steel, concrete, anything!” Superman leaves to get help and the scientist watches the beakers of Sierra Mist bubble ominously. Although, I’m not really sure why the scientist has to stay and watch the beakers. Unless that old myth about how a watched pot never boils is actually true, after all.
An explosion blows out the back wall of the lab, and things go code red (literally) as the beakers all turn pink. Outside, a tanker explodes, throwing Jimmy off the ladder and he falls down, down, down into a ring of fire and breaks his leg. Unfortunately, before Darwinism can finish its work, Superman appears and flies him to an ambulance.
Suddenly, all the firemen yell that “the pump house” has died. Their hoses go dry and one fireman says that the nearest water supply is five miles away. Time for a terminally cheesy effect. Superman flies to a lake and uses his Superbreath to freeze the top of it, then picks up a big chunk of ice. I mean, even ignoring the blurry blue screen work, the image of a Ken doll in a cape pushing the least convincing matte painting outside of an Ator movie is the very definition of why many people can’t stand comic book movies. Superman drops the world’s largest toenail over the factory. The heat melts it, rain begins to fall, and the fire quickly gets put out. Yay, Superman.