Superman III 4.23: Sure, the Picnic

As students of the cinema will readily appreciate, the difference, auteur-wise, between the Donner-directed Superman movies and the Lester-directed Superman movies is that Richard Donner gave a shit and Richard Lester clearly did not.

That’s why the flying scenes in Superman III are so disappointing. In the original movie, Donner was willing to spend untold months and millions perfecting the technology, while Lester figured you could just put a shot of Christopher Reeve holding his arms out on top of a picture of the landscape, problem solved.

But if you really want to see the full extent of Lester’s that’ll-do pragmatism, just look at the pathetic little patch of weeds that he chose as the location of the film’s picnic scene.

I mean, look at this mess. Who found this empty little patch of scrub and sadness and decided this was a picturesque location for a semi-romantic scene? It’s no wonder the dog instantly runs off camera, fleeing the movie in hopes of a better life. Once again, the movie has the opportunity to demonstrate the idyllic small-town pleasures of life in Smallville, and it does not take that opportunity, because according to this movie, Smallville sucks.

I mean, that is the number one topic of conversation that comes up whenever Clark and Lana have a scene together.

Over the course of this pity picnic, Lana explains that she’d like to have a man in her life — for Ricky’s sake, if nothing else — but every acceptable man in Smallville is married, or not interested in her. She’s being pestered by Brad, and she knows that she’s not going to find what she wants in Smallville. She’d like to move to Metropolis, but she’s staying in this town because she’s afraid of taking the risk.

Really, considering how much of this movie takes place in Smallville, it’s amazing that we really only get to know three people who live here, and they’re all miserable. The mayor is a blowhard, the other kids bully Ricky, and according to the style file of Gus Gorman, they don’t know how to dress. Nobody even sticks around after the prom to help clean up the potato salad. There is not a single good thing that you could say about this weed-riddled hellscape.

And, of course, as soon as you take your eyes off Ricky for a hot second to eat some dog food and repair your shitty car, he instantly falls over and knocks himself unconscious, right in the path of an oncoming multinational wheat concern.

I mean, honestly. The kid’s spent his entire life in Kansas, and he can’t successfully navigate a wheat field. Maybe we could tie a balloon to him or something. I just don’t know what to do.

But here come the combine harvesters, although it’s clear from this shot that they’re very far away from anywhere Ricky might have reached under his own power. They’ll be a lot closer in a minute, because, as I said, Richard Lester does not sweat the small stuff.

Fortunately, here comes — oh, dear. Well, I did tell you about the flying.

And then there’s a shot where you can clearly see the wires…

And Superman stops the combine just inches away from Ricky’s tiny helpless body.

Naturally, the kid driving the machinery is horrified; he had no idea that there was a child in his path. And Superman gives him a look, which indicates, how dare you try to harvest grain products by driving a noisy machine in a straight line that is very easy for pedestrians to predict and avoid.

Concerned, the driver says, “Gosh! Is he all right?” And Superman says no, he’s not all right, he’s fucking Ricky, this is like the third near-fatal accident of the day.

And it’s a shame, because Annette O’Toole is here, and she’s really trying to do something productive for the movie. She’s giving a genuine performance of a winsome, listless and easily distracted woman stuck in a depressing life, who’s suddenly meeting a celebrity alien while she’s fixing her car.

It feels like O’Toole is the only person who actually showed up to work this morning, but she’s got mostly lousy material. She doesn’t even get a “save my baby” moment, which I bet she would have nailed.

And the scene ends with Clark finding the lost dog in the open drainage ditch that’s ten yards away from where they were having their picnic, because seriously, fuck Smallville.

Why is there only half of a soundtrack album?
4.24: The Moroder Mystery


That’s a Massey Ferguson 750 combine, by the way. I just happen to know stuff like that because I’m super into farm machinery.

I don’t know the name of the kid who’s driving it, though, which is weird, because he has a speaking line. There was a lot of that in Swamp Thing as well, but I thought that was because those guys were local South Carolina degens who were paid in beer and razor blades. I’m not sure when people started paying attention to actually populating the credits with a complete list of actors appearing in the movie, but it clearly has not happened yet.

Why is there only half of a soundtrack album?
4.24: The Moroder Mystery


— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Superman III 4.23: Sure, the Picnic

  1. I watched this movie several months ago, but I’m just now noticing the red sweater with the ‘S’ over Clark’s back. I see what they did there….

    Liked by 5 people

  2. This scene epitomizes the difficulty I have with this version of Clark Kent. Unlike the “Smallville” TV series, where Clark Kent is the real (and basically only) persona of Kal-El, this Clark is a total phony, a mask worn by Superman. He’s clumsy, awkward and oblivious, things that we know Superman isn’t, and yet Clark is played so convincingly by Reeve that it seems to leave no room for deception. It makes it hard for me to relate to any scene that features Clark because we know it’s all just a shameless act to hide Superman’s real identity. Now, this concept of Clark as a bumbling naif is taken straight from the comics, so I’m not blaming Reeve or the writers for his portrayal. And on a surface level, it’s always fun to watch Reeve klutz his way through a scene as nerdy Clark. But when you step outside the humor of the moment, it usually feels like a waste of time since Kent is not a real person.

    Now, this scene seems to reveal something earnest behind the Clark persona. Is he sincerely trying to woo Lana? There’s real chemistry between her and Clark here. He suggests that she move to Metropolis, and when she asks what she would do when she got there, he says to call him. They’re having a good moment until she notices her leaky oil pan and Superman notices Ricky taking a nap in front of some combines. Then the moment is lost. Do we get more moments like this in the movie, where we can see a hint of Superman/Clark having a real “human” desire, a relateable motive? My memory of the movie is a bit fuzzy now, but it feels like we don’t.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. The real problem is they’re trying to do a romance in a series where Romance was sealed in a wooden crate labeled “LOIS LANE” and “CANNOT USE AGAIN” and thrust into a shadowy Indiana Jones style warehouse.

      Lana’s supposed to be a love interest, they cast a good actress who can generate real chemistry, but nothing’s allowed to really develop. It’s like watching the walk through of a fight scene–all the bits are done in order, but without the necessary levels of passion and commitment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not helping that this romance with Lana would matter since Clark is only visiting Smallville and Lana’s not going anywhere.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Marvel Comics understood that the heroic and secret identities could be different while still real. Spider-Man is the best example. Peter Parker is able to cut loose when he’s in costume but he has still has the Parker luck when out of costume. That is how I would depict Superman/Clark. Superman is when he can, well, show off and openly use his powers. Clark is the normal guy who might actually mistake pate for dog food — not as part of a bit but because he’s a normal guy.

      But if Clark is just an act, there is little tension.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Someone commented here that in the novelization, Clark really doesn’t know that it’s dog food. I just looked it up (I found the book in my library! Last time I looked, it wasn’t there), and I can confirm that he really thinks it’s paté until Lana tells him different. However he is genuinely embarrassed by this, and doesn’t proceed to eat more of it like an insane person as he does in the movie. Clark is actually worried that it hurt Lana’s impression of him (and let’s be honest, you don’t exactly want to smooch someone after you’ve seen them put dog food in their mouth).

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I am going to have to re-read this novelization from the start – it’s a wild ride – but just glancing at the picnic scene to get a sense of what Clark is thinking here, it’s clear that he is torn between his interest in Lana and his vow to remain celibate as a do-gooder. Unfortunately this inner conflict is invisible on the screen. Some excerpts from the picnic, pp. 105-107:

      And yet something told him that his love-suit with this girl was hopeless, that other responsibilities, higher ones, would intervene at the crucial moment. He knew it was true, knew that his inescapable destiny was to fly faster than a speeding bullet.


      Was it fair to lead Lana on? Can someone able to jump six thousand miles in the air ever expect to lead a normal married life?


      “Call me,” said Clark, unable to stop himself from playing with her emotions. Did he have some sort of male-ego game going? Did he have to feel women were his for the asking, even though he’d sworn to avoid intimacy with them? It troubled him to think this was so, for it meant that Lana Lang didn’t really matter — all that mattered was that the divine female form of Earth could be swayed toward him.

      But Lana is special, said another voice inside him. She’s so like you, so modest, so unassuming. You’re perfectly matched and you do care for her.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I suppose it may be stating the obvious, but this was a movie franchise based from a comic book. Loopy plots, conveniently manufactured perils, and sledgehammer moralizing were fairly commonplace – – and previous to Superman, the only big screen superhero successes were 1966’s Batman and 1951’s Superman & The Mole Men, aimed primarily at kids. Granted, the ‘front office’ was starting to understand that the comics weren’t just for adolescents, but movie execs didn’t like taking risks with studio money.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m not sure if our summer vacation out west in a camper included Kansas, but don’t they put fences around the wheat fields so things like this don’t happen?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And frankly, Rickie grew up here! Knowing “do not run through a wheat field during HARVEST SEASON” should be something you absorb with your baby formula!

      Granted, I think he was chasing his dog? Who clearly wants out of this arrangement; but still.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. If memory serves, Clark heard the dog yipping and whining next to Timmy, prompting him to use his x-ray vision or something and see them in danger.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Fencing is kind of optional when you’re using your land to grow. It’s expensive to install. It needs maintenance. And it gets in the way if you’re trying to move equipment across the road to the other field. It’s different if you have livestock and you want to contain them.

      As a side note, places like Colorado are open range states. If you build a house in an area with cattle, the burden is on you to build a fence to keep them out. The owner of the cattle does not have to build a fence to keep them in.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is the first Superman I actually got to see in the Cinema, so even with all it’s faults, I don’t think i cared much. Only adults over analyze things and see only the bad, for me, it was a fun movie and this was one of the better scenes in it, especially between Reeve and O’toole who worked great together… who cares for the cinematography of things, just adults!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Am I the only one who looked at the screencap of the combine driver at the end of the post and thought, “Wanna bet that’s also his ‘O’ face?”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is just to announce that I have found the insane novelization to this insane movie: “Superman III” by William Kotzwinkle, author of the novelization of “E.T. The Extraterrestrial”. This is not a drill. I will be typing up some passages from the book as opportunities present themselves. You have been warned.

    I’ve already missed several great opportunities, such as when Lois Lane is described this way at the beginning of the book: “Like all newswomen she had the veneer of a mass-produced coffee table, and did not like anybody getting ahead of her” (p34).

    As you can see, passages from the book will sometimes shed light on the nature and motivations of the characters in the movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. One more passage that I want to share from the book, since Danny has done a good job explaining just how hapless and weak little Ricky is, and how it seems like a miracle he’s survived this long without superhuman intervention. Apparently Superman agrees that something needs to be done, for the following life-changing event is casually related as part of his rescue of Ricky from the thresher (pp. 109-111):

    He gave the frail youth a moment then, soaring with him, high into the firmament, showing the boy Earth’s sublime form. At the same time, the grand musculature of his own form sent intense pulsations of power into Ricky, putting grace, elasticity, and physical prowess into the boy’s frail anatomy, so that he could successfully defend against his cruel friends in future, and in fact, beat them up if he so desired. All this happened in the space of an instant, as Ricky’s cry of joy rang in the sky. And then they were back on Earth, beside Lana Lang’s car.


    “I’m sorry,” said Superman, in a kindly voice. “I’m in a real hurry.” He turned to Ricky, whose body now contained a special vibration, to shape its muscle and increase its speed. “See you around, pal.”


    1. “At the same time, the grand musculature of his own form sent intense pulsations of power into Ricky, putting grace, elasticity, and physical prowess into the boy’s frail anatomy…”

      Um, wtf? I don’t even . . . I can’t . . . What???

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! 🤮 After seeing that wording I propose that some, if not all, of the book was written by an early AI. It has that level of disjointed inappropriateness. …or a lot of people working on this book were stoned on joints


      2. Yes, Superman can apparently vibrate people so they get stronger by holding them in his muscular arms. This book is a trip and a half, which still makes it a half-trip less than “Last Son of Krypton” (the novel by Elliot Maggin that came out alongside the 1978 movie but which has nothing to do with the movie). Btw, Superman III’s opening scene with the flaming penguins is much more complex in the novelization and takes up the first six pages of the book.

        P.S.: I promise I checked the passages carefully for typos before posting. Any grammatical dubiousness, e.g. in the first sentence of the first passage, is totally on the author.


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