But then something interesting happened. An Italian production company led by Alexander Salkind and his son Ilya bought the rights from Warner Brothers to make Superman: The Movie! Reportedly, Warners was so nervous about this prospect that they put up no money, meaning they would reap profit if the film succeeded and suffer no loss should it fail. It succeeded, thanks, in no small part, to the choice of Dick Donner as director. The second film, Superman II (around half of which was directed by Donner) was an even bigger success and led to a third, completely Donner-Free film called Superman III. This campy, silly comedy was closer to the Salkind vision and, while not a Box Office failure, certainly paled in comparison to the successes of the first and second films.
The Salkinds then directed their attention and intentions toward Supergirl, the camp, corn and cheese of which made Superman III seem like Wuthering Heights! Warner Brothers, owner of DC Comics and all the related Superheroes, even passed on distributing that one. Sigh.
So, the Super Series died on the Vine... or did it? Maybe the absence of the Salkinds might allow a different company to bring the series back to its roots. Maybe a small company can make something truly great once again. So History repeated itself and a small, this time Israeli, B-Movie house, Golan-Globus' Cannon Films, bought the rights to the Superman franchise and began pre-production for Warner Bros. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!
How could they lose? They were given a cool 40 million bucks by Warners, Star Christopher Reeve agreed to not only come back, but write the story that the new screenplay would be based on. With the Salkinds gone, estranged supporting cast members Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder returned to reprise their roles and series favorites Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure joined them. Throw in the flavors of the month in the form of Jon Cryer and Mariel Hemingway and the cast rounds out quite nicely.
But one look at Superman IV will tell you that this experiment didn't succeed. In fact, the end result is just short of terrible, making even Superman III and Supergirl look better by comparison. The reasons for this are many-fold, but they start right there on the toilet seat of Cannon themselves. Cannon was a slipping studio to begin with and their successes were dubious at best. Their catalogue to date had included such films as Exterminator 2, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, King Solomon's Mines, Bolero and American Ninja. Next in the pipeline: Masters of the Universe!
Their prospects weren't what you'd call great, either, even as they strove to become a Major Studio. Cannon more than halved the 40 million dollar budget down to 17 million, reportedly spreading the remaining moneys around to other films they were working on. Boy does this show, too. The opening credits look like something from a hastily thrown together TV Special. As the film unwinds we see more flaws than the budget saw dollars.
The flying scenes (one of the biggest draws of 1978's Superman) are unconvincing and are often matted in to a static, still photo background. You can actually see him flying away from Metropolis (really New York) and there's a boat in the harbor with waves and foam and all that flying out behind it... TOTALLY STATIC and FROZEN IN TIME. It looked like a Kodak Commercial! The Outer Space scenes are painful to watch, particularly the sequence set on the moon, during which the blackness of "Outer Space" is obviously a dusty black velvet curtain (that wrinkles toward the dirt-encrusted bottom) and (even in the weightlessness of space) Superman and his super-rival are obviously suspended by well-lit wires.
This is only a microcosm of the crap-bag special effects to be smelled in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This is especially surprising because this film was released almost a decade after Superman: The Movie but seems to have the technology of a film shot a decade prior.
Superman IV is almost 100% crap in spite of the fact that Reeve REALLY does his best and most earnest effort here. Reeve is as watchable here as ever, and still makes for a very fine Superman and a very fine Clark Kent! This is in spite of the fact that the gray strands of his super-hair are as visible as the moon-based flight wires. The film just didn't cut it. The real sin is that Cannon ripped off so much of the budget in their bid to be a big-time movie house and after this they STILL went bankrupt. Jerks!
The story here promised to be a return to form, which is shocking considering the vast number of bad ideas that went into this thing. We begin with the venerable-cum-vulnerable Daily Planet being purchased and reformatted into a Tabloid that even Tabloids would condemn as being full of horse crap. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Hackman) is sprung from a prison chain gang by his idiot nephew "Lenny" (Cryer) in a slapstick sequence that could make any Superman fan a "crier".
In a painful sub-plot Lacy Warfield (played by Hemingway), the wicked daughter of the evil Tabloid owner, falls in love with Clark Kent while her rival Lois Lane (Kidder) remains doe-eyed about Superman. But Clark, as Superman, still belongs to the world and soon, swayed by the overly cutesy letter from an elementary school kid, he begins to rid the planet of all Nuclear Weapons. He makes this announcement from what looks like a rural Southern City's performance art center stage, though it purports in the story to be the United Nations building.
Ever the Poet of Justice, Lex Luthor hatches a plan to clone Superman to create a nasty, nuclear villain. Clearly Hackman never read a Bizarro comic. To this end Luthor clips a piece of Superman's hair (note: not one of the gray ones) featured in a museum exhibit holding up a huge weight to show how strong it is. Amazing that it's strong enough to hoist such a great weight, but it can't stand up to Lex Luthor's scissors. What can I say? The man has a way with hair.
An amazing way with hair.
Here's an example... in Lex Luthor's advancing years the poor guy apparently gets some male pattern baldness, showing us his bald-spot every time the poor man turns around... Uh... WAIT A MINUTE! Isn't Lex Luthor COMPLETELY BALD? So... Lex CHOSE a wig with a receding hairline and a bald spot in the back? Or he managed to grow his hair back in places? Or he was shaving it the whole time and was just tired of it? That's a bad movie for you. A BAD, BAD movie.
But hell, his idiotic plan bears fruit! Rotten fruit! Rotten, Rotten fruit. You know who I mean? Seen any images from this Super-Turkey?
Nuclear Man is the one you're thinking of. Conceptually, he wasn't a bad idea. The theme was that he would be a complete clone of Superman with extra, nuclear powers. Originally, they even wanted Reeve to play both parts. But instead they got this walking Sunscreen Ad named "Mark Pillow" with teased blonde hair and a stupid leather costume with a big silly Sun (or is it Sunflower) as his chest emblem. I hate him! It's even goofier noting that the voice that comes out of Nukie's mouth is that of Gene Hackman. I guess they needed to add coolness to him somehow.
Bah! Nuclear Man! Hate that guy.
With him involved some of the lamest and saddest chase and fight scenes in Super-History are montaged across the screen. Again, you've got to see to believe that Moon Fight.
Cryer (who also had a way with his multi-colored hair) was bad in it... but he was made worse by the Execution of the character. TERRIBLE! Even Hackman couldn't save it. Everyone seems to be trying, but you could have cast Shakespeare's own King's Men and they couldn't keep this thing floating (without a rewrite that is).
The Director, Sidney J. Furie, who is pretty bad should certainly share in the culpability of this Comic Book Crime. However, it's almost universally agreed that there was only so much that Furie could do with what he was given. It's widely agreed that all this wasn't Sidney J. Furie's fault, so much as it was the budget.
The faults with Superman IV were indeed primarily budgetary. The Salkinds weren't involved, the jerks at the Cannon Group (and their creative Enron-esque accountants) were. They must PAY! Their no-account accounting assassinated the film's budget. And it shows. Horrid movie. Horrid!
Folks... it's Cannon. They just didn't care.
The recent Deluxe DVD release(s) of this film (coinciding with the release of Superman Returns on DVD) cleans up a lot of the more subtle insults (like Reeve's gray hair and the flight wires), but the included extras also shed a lot of light on the background of this movie. It's often stated that were enough scenes deleted from the final cut to make a whole movie in its own right. This is damn near true, however I can attest to the fact that it's not footage most people would want to see. Primarily it revolves around a failed first attempt at Nuclear Man (played by Clive Mantle) that looks like a cross between Bizarro and Peter Murphy from Bauhaus. One might believe that just about anything would be better than Nuclear Man, but this cartoonish goof-fest is so lame it actually causes headaches. From his adolescent attraction to Hemmingway's character to his irritating bumbling, I shed no tears in noting why these (and the other lame scenes) were cut. Without them, however, the film has even more plot holes and makes even less sense. That's not to say that with them this film would have been a paragon of Sense and Sensibility, but hell and DAMN this film stretches logic and patience.
Watching the film with the Commentary track (by Mark Rosenthal) is more sad than funny. The co-writer seems to hate the movie. He repeatedly speaks of what they had PLANNED versus what actually made it. To be honest, if "the Rosenthal" is to be believed, and I think he is, then the film could've and should've been pretty good. Dated and hard to sustain coolness for... but "pretty good" nonetheless. Even he agrees that Furie's directing wasn't the main problem. One look at the credit sequence (which less looks like a sweeping thrill ride than the intro to a '70s-produced live-action Saturday Morning show) will attest to that.
It's depressing to call this film absolutely terrible. I hate to say this, but even with Chris Reeve's good intentions and fine acting, I think this film is a DOG! Golan-Globus were then and always had been, a B-Movie house, but they were TRYING to gain legitimacy. Sadly, this was the last time we were to see Reeve as Superman. Predictably, with this on Golan-Globus' list of decrepit credits, their legacy hasn't fared nearly as well as Reeve's. To me, he'll still always be Superman... The Cannon Group? Kryptonite. It's lamentable to note how poorly this film worked both on the screen and at the box office. It's a real shame too, as Reeve's story idea (though admittedly a bit preachy) is filled with good intentions and some very positive messages. They're buried there and their presence, coupled with the earnestness of Reeve and the rest of the little cast that could make this a hard movie to hate. Unlike fellow DC-Quatro DOG Batman & Robin, which is a sink hole of malicious darkness from which all creatures great and small should flee, there is no Evil Intent in this movie (though some of the slapstick wears a lot thin). This is a well intentioned work, steeped in positivity. It's mainly the budget that shot this one down. So "hate"? Nah. It's also an impossible movie to truly love, because folks, it's really, really, really quite bad. See you in the next reel... lest it be flung into the sun to rid your planet of my toxic reviews.
The Cannon... is filled with KRYPTONITE!
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