Superman III 4.12: Mission: Smallville

So obviously there isn’t an actual news story in Clark Kent going back to Kansas for his high school reunion. How could there be?

This is a man whose entire life is newsworthy. Just the fact that he exists is a civilization-stunner on its own, upending everything that we know about aviation and muscle mass, among other things. He’s constantly monitoring the world around him to detect the slightest hint of calamity, and then dives straight towards it for a photogenic rescue, full of human interest. He is everybody’s favorite news story, twenty-four hours a day.

So where is the news angle on a brightly-decorated high school gymnasium in a state that, for Superman, is literally flyover country? The only headline that I see in this room is Hayseeds, Appleknockers Have Pleasant Rube Reunion, and that’s not going to make much of a dent in newsstand sales in Metropolis.

And I know that there isn’t a compelling news story here, because there isn’t a compelling movie storyline that motivates it. As I’ve mentioned before, the Newmans wrote the script on the “wouldn’t it be nice if” principle, which is not the correct method.

What Clark accomplishes in this particular story thread is that he re-establishes friendly relations with a local girl that might turn mildly romantic but decidedly doesn’t, then goes on a picnic with her, and takes her kid bowling. When he writes up this barn-burner of a tale, it’ll include the passage: “Old relationships suddenly seem very much the same. The prettiest girl in the school is still the prettiest girl in the school.” Meanwhile, people in Metropolis are tripping over flaming penguins and inventing ransomware.

So this “story” has to be a false flag of some kind, an excuse to get Clark Kent out of the city to engage in important undercover work. I mean, it’s in a movie; it has to mean something. But what?

It’s a bit of a stretch to posit that Superman wants to return to his roots, and revisit his idyllic childhood in Smallville. From what I saw in the first movie, Clark’s childhood was terrible. He had to hide his powers, and never do anything fun. He was scorned by the boys and pitied by the girls; in the one scene that involved other kids, we saw Lana get into Brad’s car and drive away as the boys laughed, leaving him alone and humiliated. Later that day, his adopted father died of a heart attack, and he had to help his mother with the damn wheat crop until it was time to walk to the North Pole and discover his destiny.

And anyway, this trip doesn’t reconnect him to the simple life and give him a chance to enjoy some peace and quiet, because he still has to put on the monkey suit and rescue people. There’s always a fire or a bridge accident or some dumb kid getting tangled up in the farm machinery. Besides, if he wanted to see Smallville, he could fly there any time he wants; the only reason he had to take a bus this time is because he’s making a big deal out of Clark killing time in this nowhere town.

So here’s how I figure it: there’s something in Smallville that Clark needs to find or fix. It’s not something that he could just fly in and take care of; he needs to spend a few days on site to monitor the situation.

My first thought is that maybe there’s something that he left behind, some remnant of Kryptonian tech that fell off the back of his spaceship when it crashed into the wheat field. It’s lain dormant for decades, but in the last few days it activated somehow, and he needs to find it before it eats somebody.

That’s why he goes on a picnic in this desolate overgrown patch of weeds, next to a field that is currently being noisily combine harvested. He needs an excuse to go out into the outskirts and scan for trouble.

But then there’s the bowling sequence: one of the most complex scenes in the movie, which we will return to more than once during our time with this film. For some reason that is not explicitly spelled out in the movie, Clark feels the need to assist Lana’s terrible son, Little Ricky, at an awkward social moment when he runs the risk of bonding with a helpful father figure. Clark separates the two, and then secretly uses Ricky’s ball to destroy other people’s property. There is no explanation in Heaven or Earth for why Clark does this.

I mean, the kid is clearly hopeless. He can’t bowl, he can’t fix his mom’s car, and he can’t even run around in a wheat field without knocking himself unconscious, and what else is there to even do in Kansas in 1983?

So the fact that Superman — the most powerful magical creature in existence — takes an interest in Little Ricky’s emotional development just doesn’t make logical sense. Even if you were fond of Lana Lang, you wouldn’t take an interest in Ricky. The kid’s a blank slate with a bowl cut.

My theory is that Clark suspects that Ricky has made contact with the alien tech, probably by tripping over it. Clark is concerned that Ricky may have Kryptonian nanomachines in his blood, turning him into some kind of sonic superweapon who can alter the course of human history with the sound of his annoying voice. As we will see, that turns out to be exactly the case.

I mean, I’m willing to consider alternative explanations, if there are any, but I think everyone would agree that Clark must have some deeper reason to spend time in Smallville. I mean, it’s not possible for him to have a shallower one.

Tomorrow:
4.13: The Girl Who Waited


Footnotes:

There’s a cute reference in the reunion scene to The Goon Show, the 1950s British radio comedy sensation that you should look into if you haven’t already, because it’s one of the funniest shows ever made. The tiny old woman who greets Clark at the reunion is named Minnie Bannister — actually just “Miss Bannister” in the dialogue — which is the name of one of Spike Milligan’s recurring characters in The Goon Show. Richard Lester has a connection to the Goon troupe, having directed the 1959 short film The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, featuring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.

Minnie Bannister is played by Enid Saunders, in her first credited role. She went on to play a bunch of minor characters in the 1980s, most of which were variations on “Old Woman” and “Deaf Old Lady”. Coincidentally, she’s got two credits in 1987 — a film called Home is Where the Hart Is, and an episode of MacGyver — where her character was named Minnie.

The D.J. at the reunion was played by Kevin Harrison Cork, in his only film role. Kevin is now involved with a live interactive D&D show called The D20 Initiative, where he plays the Dungeon Master. His bio on the D20 site says, “He has published books, acted Shakespeare professionally, helped Superman dance, helped GenXers invest for retirement, been interviewed on national TV and in international magazines, ran AOL forums, taught 700 Boomers how to take Instagram selfies and terrorized children as the Green Goblin.”

Tomorrow:
4.13: The Girl Who Waited

Chapters

— Danny Horn

11 thoughts on “Superman III 4.12: Mission: Smallville

  1. The moment Clark and Lana spot each other from across the school gym is so pure. A brief moment just before the scene turns screwball, which is also fun. Swapping the plates and the records while walking around with a spoonful of potato salad feels very much like something out of a 1940s comedy.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Television gave some compelling reasons to return to Smallville, not the least being John Haymes Newton, Gerard Christopher and Tom Welling. (Was it only my fading memory of the Superboy series, or were there episodes set in Smallville, not just in the Florida college town?)
    I trust that Smallville and Superboy will be discussed in their turn?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There were several episodes of “Superboy / The Adventures of Superboy” set in Smallville. If I remember correctly, two in the first season, one in the second, two in the third, and two in the fourth. Pa Kent appeared in two more episodes in season 1 that were not set in Smallville (he was visiting Clark at college).

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I liked the 1980’s Superboy show but it’s probably nostalgia.
      Wiki says there were four eps set in Smallville, but I don’t think I was watching during the final season and saw those two.

      Like

  3. Smallville is a pocket universe: that’s the only reason I can come up with for a young, no-handle-on-his-powers-yet Clark not accidentally blowing it up. Even as an adult with his own ice fortress, I think Clark uses it as a physically existing memory palace, where everything he knows about humanity is stored, waiting like insects in amber for him to visit and reminisce.

    After all, as you point out, he CAN go there any time he pleases; his mom still lives there, after all. It’s not like the most earthshaking event in the history of humanity occurred there when a “meteorite” bore an alien god to terra firma, right? (Seriously, NOBODY in that town ever talks about the time a giant meteor landed in the Kents’ field and they immediately had a mysterious toddler hanging around their house. I guess they’re too busy chatting about the new Prang-E-Way that went up over to the interstate and what Madge Simpson was thinking when she bought that new skirt.)

    So adult Lana and by default Little Ricky have to be re-incorporated by Superman into how he remembers Smallville. Not how it actually functions as a real place where time passes and people change (which is what reunions normally slam into your face like a–meteor striking a field) but how he needs it to function, a perpetual motion machine that goes nowhere but maintains a critical, private balance in his head.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I just think all of the Smallville stuff in this movie is so charming. Reeve and O’Toole are adorable together, and it’s the closest any Superman sequel has ever come to recapturing the romcom feel of the first movie.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah, I agree with you and Scott about the fun romcom-ness of Clark and Lana in the early scenes, and I’ve got a post coming up with love for early Lana. I think they blow it later on in the movie, for interesting reasons. At least, interesting to me; you know how that works.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Danny’s version is just so much more interesting than what they actually showed. Personally I’m all for Kansas, but you need to DO something with Kansas like Danny suggests. Give Richard Pryor superpowers and have a secret alien threat in Smallville and you actually have a superhero movie.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Charles Kuralt’s cornball “On the Road” feature was a big deal in 1983, and I always assumed that, because Superman had taken the stakes out of all the real news stories, all news outlets in his universe were turning into extensions of its soft-focus small-town nostalgia. Not that such a thing would really make much sense- surely newspapers would just go out of business if there wasn’t much chance that any disasters in the big world would have an effect on their readers- but at least you can understand how someone might think it would happen that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Tell us you hate children without saying you hate children. 🙂

    I agree that it’s likely to be a sorta nostalgia piece: Small-town boy who moved to the big city comes home again. Has he grown too much to fit in? Or can he still find love and human connection in the wheat fields where he once frolicked?

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I agree with Danny’s recommendation of The Goon Show. If you’re a fan of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove or of Monty Python–or even if you’re not–check out the videos on YouTube.
    I didn’t know about the in-joke with Miss Bannister or even the connection between Lester and The Goon Show. Thanks for that bit of trivia, Danny.

    Liked by 2 people

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