Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
More Trivia from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Take a successful movie franchise, add most of the original cast, a strong story, and a tie-in to the 50-year anniversary of an enduring fictional American icon, and you'd think you have a blockbuster.
"Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", released July 24, 1987 in the States, proves that everything can look great in the pre-production phase and you can still end up with Razzie material.
Superman IV was the first film in the Superman series not produced by the father-son Salkind team. After "Superman III" and "Supergirl", the Salkinds sold their license to make Superman movies to the Cannon Group.
Cannon brought on Sidney Furie to direct. And their first obstacle was convincing Christopher Reeve that he had to don the tights one more time. Reeve had a pet project, "Street Smarts", which he was looking to get made. Cannon provided him that opportunity, lots of $, and the chance to contribute to the Superman IV screenplay, and suddenly they had Reeve in their pocket. Reeve encouraged Gene Hackman to return as Lex Luthor, a role he hadn't played since 1980's "Superman II", and, with the Salkinds out of the picture, convinced Margot Kidder to return as a star, rather than a cameo as in 1983's Superman III", as Lois Lane.
Originally budgeted at $36 million, everything looked like it was in place to reinvigorate the ailing Superman franchise. But Cannon was not a stable company and, while Superman IV was already in production, they cut the film's budget in half, which put extraordinary burdens on the special effects teams. People left the production midway through the film over salary disputes. And, most importantly, the flying apparatus created for 1978's Superman, and owned by the Salkinds, was not used in Superman IV. Instead, special effects scenes used blue screen technology, which presented unique problems to the Superman franchise from its inception. Because Superman wears bright blue, which does not meld with the blue screen very well, the costume looks almost blue-green in places (this problem existed as far back as the first film and was rectified for that film on it's DVD Special Edition release).
The Superman IV story was intended as a grand epic and a return to the themes of the first two Superman films. Unfortunately, even ignoring the special effects problems, the story suffers from overly slick directing and a hack-up editing job.
Action Comics #1 featured the first appearance of Superman in 1938, which made 1988 the 50th anniversary of the Man of Steel. Superman IV, with its Summer 1987 release date, was intended to start off a year of celebration of the landmark. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. had a Superman exhibit, Superman: Many Lives, Many Worlds, which included one of the few original copies of Action #1, the original Mario Puzo script that would turn into Superman and Superman II, Jimmy Olsen's bowtie from the 50's Adventures of Superman, and, as proof of the high hopes for Superman IV, the original costume of Superman IV villain Nuclear Man, played by Mark Pillow.
About two weeks prior to the film's nationwide release, a special premiere was held. Audience reaction to the film was not mixed -- it was a disappointment.
This is where things in the Superman IV story get a little blurry. Someone or someones, whether it was the editor, Mr. Furie, or Cannon management, freaked out over the premiere and, with only two weeks to release, cut 45 minutes out of the film's theatrical running time and pieced the film back together into an 89 minute running time, making it the shortest of the 5 Super films. These essential 45 minutes, only bits of which have been seen over the years in stills, killed any chance for Superman IV to be anything but a mess. The storyline did not flow, people knew people in the film they'd never met (because they'd met in the cut footage), and entire scenes were moved from one point in the film to another. However unhappy the premiere audience may have been with the film as originally cut, the new cut just didn't make logical sense.
Nonetheless, Superman IV is an important film in the Superman series, and an often overlooked one, because there are some great character moments between Superman, Clark, Lois, and Lex.
The fancy, over-the-top, blue neon credits were owned by the Salkinds and unavailable (or too expensive). Much cheaper flying credits over a changing image of the Earth below immediately distinguished this film from the rest of the series. As the film's release approached, the Salkinds wanted credit for creating the film series and a credit was eventually agreed upon for them: Superman motion picture series initiated by ...
The film opens in outer space where Russian cosmonauts are docked in a space station with one cosmonaut outside the station engaged in some type of work on the station, all the while singing Frank Sinatra tunes to himself. Suddenly, and without warning, space debris strikes the space station, sending the cosmonaut hurtling away and the space station flipping over and over. This looks like what it turns out to be: a job for Superman.
Superman steadies the space station, then flies after the cosmonaut, returning him to the safety of the space station. Superman can even speak Russian, telling the cosmonaut in fluent Russian that he'll be safer singing inside.
But Supes is busy and can't stay for accolades. He zooms back toward Earth, landing in Clark Kent's hometown, Smallville. The Kent farm is on the market and an old family friend of Clark's parents, Mr. Hornsby, is meeting Clark to discuss the sale. Clark has one problem before handing over the farm to Mr. Hornsby -- what to do with the spaceship that brought him to Earth and remains hidden in the Kent barn. Uncovering his space cradle, he finds yet another green crystal and this time, his biological mother Lara (voiced by original Lara Suzannah York) tells him that this crystal is the ship's energy module "all that is left of" Krypton. Foreshadowing a need for Kryptonian energy later in the film, Lara tells him that the energy module can be used only once. Clark removes the crystal and the ship disappears. It is unclear whether Clark makes it disappear with some as yet unseen super power or whether the removal of the crystal causes the ship to disappear.
Mr. Hornsby arrives and tells Clark that there's an offer to buy the farm sight unseen, but Clark is reticent to sell to anyone but a real farmer. Mr. Hornsby recalls what a joker Jonathan Kent used to be when he sees Clark's baby crib. Pointing to the damage on the crib, Hornsby relates that Jonathan told him that "little Clark must've had a bad dream and kicked it." Clark gives Hornsby his old baseball glove for Hornsby's grandchildren and Hornsby goads Clark into taking one of Hornsby's pitches. Clark strikes out, then tells Hornsby that he remains steadfast in his refusal to sell his family home to anyone who isn't going to use it as a farm. "You be careful when you go back to Metropolis, Clark. It's a long, long way from where you were born," Hornsby says as he leaves. Once Hornsby is out of sight, Clark grabs the bat and ball and swings and connects: the ball flies out of Earth's orbit (and yes, it should've burnt up as it flew out of Earth's orbit but no, it didn't).
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is working on a chain gang in Florida. With Otis and Ms. Teschmacher severely missed, Lex escapes with the help of his nephew, Lenny Luthor, an 80's valley-boy, played by Jon Cryer, who did the 80's valley boy thing much better in Pretty in Pink.
"Lenny you pathetic product of the public school system. Your uncle Lex has had only one thing on his mind since he's been incarcerated -- destroy Superman" Lex tells Lenny as they split the scene.
Back in Metropolis, Clark just misses getting on the same train as Lois. The train conductor collapses and Lois realizes something is wrong when the train doesn't stop at the next stop, but just goes faster and faster. Her cries for help (hey Lois, pull the emergency brake cord!) are answered by Superman, who kicks his leg into the third rail and slows the train to a halt. But there's no time to chat with Lois when the Daily Planet beckons.
Arriving at the office last, Clark is surprised to find the office empty. Everyone is in a staff meeting where they are introduced to the Planet's new owner, sleazy tabloid mongul David Warfield and his daughter, Lacey, a spoiled rich girl with an eye for Clark Kent.
Lacey uses her position at the Planet to get Clark Kent. She assigns him a story on "young Metropolis" which will require that he and she play yuppie super-couple. Lois interrupts Lacey and Clark's meeting with a letter sent to the Planet for Superman. Little Jeremy wants Superman to disarm the world. While Lois disregards the letter, and Lacey plots to turn the little boy's request into a news item ("The whole world will be wondering what Superman's reply is ..."), Clark is troubled.
He flies off to the Fortress of Solitude where his biological Mom puts him in touch with some of the great minds of Krypton, who advise him NOT to interfere with human progress. Later, in Clark's apartment, he's surprised when Lois shows up wondering why he didn't meet her for the Journalism award dinner as he'd promised. Clark asks Lois if they can get "some air" and, grabbing Lois, Clark jumps off the side of his building. Lois is caught by Superman in glasses, where they go on a whirwind flying tour of the world. Returning to Clark's balcony, Superman confides in Lois that he doesn't always know what to do. "You'll do the right thing. You always have," Lois says.
"You don't even know my name," Superman says.
"Kal-El," Lois replies.
"You remember, don't you?", he asks about her lost memories of Superman II.
"I remember everything."
"Never set one of them above the rest. Love all humanity instead. That's not fair," Superman laments before he uses his super-memory-altering-kiss to make Lois forget once again.
The next day, Superman appears to have his answer. Finding Jeremy and Jimmy Olsen, he asks them to accompany him to the UN Building. Lois and Lacey arrive. Superman enters the General Assembly and requests permission to address them.
"For years," he says, "I've lived among you as ... a visitor. I've felt great joy in your magnificent accomplishments ... but I have also seen the folly of your wars. As of today, I'm not a visitor anymore, because the Earth is my home too. I can't stand idly by ... and watch us stumble into the madness of possible nuclear destruction. And so I've come to a decision. I'm going to do what our governments have been unwilling or unable to do. Effective immediately, I'm going to rid our planet of all nuclear weapons."
And so he does, eventually collecting hundreds of missiles in Earth orbit in a giant shopping bag which he hurls into the sun.
Lex Luthor now has a plan. Kill Superman. Rearm the world.
Affiliating with three nuclear arms dealers, Lex (who earlier in the film had broken into the Metropolis Museum and stolen a strand of Superman's hair) creates a "genetic stew" that, when mixed in with the mighty power of Earth's sun, will create a Nuclear Man capable of ridding the world of Superman once and for all.
Lois arranges to interview Superman on his peace mission at Lacey's penthouse and Lacey insists Clark be there too. As Clark switches back and forth between Clark and Supey so they can be in the same place at the same time, Lex Luthor makes his presence known by appearing on the Times Square Jumbotron (but only visible to Superman). Lex says he is going to blow up the top of the Empire State Building. Superman makes his excuses to Lois and flies off.
After reacquainting with Luthor ("It's a known fact you hate children and animals. What are you doing back in Metropolis?"), Luthor introduces Supes to Nuclear Man and the battle royale ensues. The special effects are extremely inconsistent throughout their battle. Superman looks impressive plugging up Mt. Vesuvious after Nuclear Man makes it erupt. But then he looks just ridiculous frozen by Nuclear Man's super-breath into an ice cube.
The climax of their battle takes place back in Metropolis as Nuclear Man grabs the Statue of Liberty and drops it onto downtown Metropolis. As Supey catches the Statue and flies it back toward its base on Liberty Island, Nuclear Man strikes, his "claws" cutting into Superman's normally invulnerable skin. Barely having the strength to return the Statue, Superman then collapses where he is kicked out of view by Nuclear Man, with the famous red cape fluttering down onto lady Liberty's torch.
The headline of the Planet: "Superman Dead?" Lois has had it, she tells off the Warfields and grabs Superman's cape, which David purchased "cheap", and runs off to Clark's apartment. Clark is sick with nuclear poisoning that he passes off to Lois as the flu, but Lois speaks to Clark as if she's speaking to Superman and leaves the cape with Clark. Does she know the secret?
Clark is motivated by Lois' pep talk and uses the Kryptonian energy module from the beginning of the film to re-power himself.
Meanwhile, Nuclear Man spots Lacey Warfield's picture on the cover of the Daily Planet and decides she's the chick for him so he flies off to the Daily Planet building. Superman appears. Nuclear Man wants "the woman" and Superman seems to know which woman he is talking about, which he shouldn't (see discussion of Nuclear Man I, below, for an explanation).
Superman traps Nuclear Man in a dark elevator, and Nukes needs the sun for power, so he deactivates in the dark. Flying the elevator to the dark side of the Moon, Supes drops the elevator, flies over to the American flag and straightens it out. Just then, Nuclear Man, repowered as the Moon shifts in orbit, jumps the Man of Steel and engages him in a wrestling match, ultimately burying him in the Moon.
Nuclear Man flies to Earth and grabs Lacey. Superman recovers and uses the Moon itself to eclipse the sun, creating worldwide darkness. Nuclear Man collapses in space, Lacey can breathe in space at his side somehow, and Superman grabs Lacey and returns her to Earth. Returning to Nuclear Man's lifeless body, Superman drops him into a nuclear reactor where his energy is absorbed by the plant. The energy rush brightens the lights of the world.
Perry White purchases the Daily Planet back from David Warfield, turning him into a minority shareholder. The Daily Planet is back as a great metropolitan newspaper.
Finally, Superman gives a press conference where he explains that he was wrong in thinking it was his place to disarm the world, that it is up to the people themselves to fight for peace and freedom. He flies off to capture Lex and Lenny. Then he makes his standard fly-off into space, smiling for the camera one last time as the end credits roll.
Kryptonite, Lex Luthor, General Zod, Ursa, Non, Ross Webster, Gus Gorman, Nuclear Man. None of these baddies did what this 1987 film succeeded in doing...
...Killing the Superman franchise.
I like Superman IV, not as a film in its entirety, but for the occasional moments that demonstrate how well Reeve knows Superman. Reeve is in top form, notwithstanding being 37 when the film was made, and the film is worth a rental for the UN speech alone. Superman's proactive involvement in world affairs seemed somewhat irrelevant to movie reviewers in 1987 who saw that we'd already won the Cold War. But much of Superman's dialogue is appropros to current 2003 world events, giving the film an entirely new perspective.
It is unfortunate that the 45 minutes of added footage has never turned up and been re-edited into the film. The inconsistent special effects might have been more tolerable with a coherent story.
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