Superman III 4.31: The Other Worst Scene

It was never going to be funny, of course. “Funny” is not the issue; we’ve moved beyond “funny” as a concept.

And yeah, it was always going to be offensive, and insulting to the audience, and generally off-putting. That is a matter of grim inevitability.

But at least it would have made some kind of motherfucking sense.

Listen up!

Gus would have said.

I’m here to tell you that God has given us
the greatest goddamn gift in the world:
nuclear power!

That’s what it says in the script, and somewhere in the endless multiverse, that’s the scene that people saw.

But if we don’t protect it, it’s our ass!

he would have continued.

And democracy’s ass!
And the free world’s ass!

So yeah, it would still involve talking about people’s asses. We’re not going to get around that; an infinite number of universes isn’t enough to contain a variant of this scene that avoids the ass entirely.

Here’s the thing: remember the chemical plant fire at the beginning of the movie? In the script, that was supposed to be a forest fire, which endangered a nuclear power plant.

The production scouted a location in a forest north of Edmonton, which they planned to use… but they weren’t sure how they were going to get all the people and equipment there, and they weren’t confident that they could control the fire.

So they found an oil refinery outside of Calgary, and they said, well, how about Superman saves an oil refinery instead?

Which is fine, but the stakes aren’t very high; the whole idea of the nuclear power plant was that it could endanger millions of people, if Superman didn’t keep it from melting down. That’s the drama of the situation.

So they decided, okay, it’s a chemical plant, and it’s full of dangerous chemicals that we have to keep in lockup. That technically counts as a dramatic action sequence. Problem solved.

But you can’t just abandon a blazing nuclear power plant without some kind of consequences, as they discovered when it came time to shoot Gus’ hilarious Patton speech.

It says in the script:

You people want to be able
to go to church on Sunday
and sit in the Super Bowl, don’t you?

But what about the
peacetime uses of nuclear power?
You all want some Ay-rabs in white robes
tellin’ you you got to pay through the nose
for their Cadillac limousines so you can get
enough juice to light up your Christmas tree??!

Not to mention the nice clean air
so the great American bald eagle can fly
without coughin’ himself to death!

Now, last week, half of this great nation
almost bit the bullet, nuclear-power-wise.
Wasn’t anything the military could do about it —
we were busy protecting our borders
at the time it happened.
So I say, thank the Good Lord
above for Superman!

That’s why Gus is dressed up as a general in this scene, because “nuclear power” sounds like something that the military would be interested in. It’s still a stretch — nuclear power and nuclear warheads are different things — but if you squint, you can see what they were trying to do here.

But that relatively sane version of the scene wasn’t possible to shoot, because in the movie, Superman saved a chemical factory instead of a nuclear power plant.

That’s why the actual scene in the movie goes like this:

Gus:  Now, listen up! I just came in directly from the Pentagon, and you better believe there’s a damn good reason that I did! Because God has given us one of the greatest gifts in the world! Chemicals!

Which does not make any fucking sense.

Gus:  Now, you people, you like to go sit in church on Sunday, dontcha? You like to sit and watch the Superbowl! Sit on what? You sit on molded — plastic — seats! Molded to your well-fed behinds! Now, I don’t have to tell ya that America leads the world in high-grade plastics! We cannot afford a chemical plastics gap!

And so on.

It’s especially bizarre, because there aren’t many clues to help the audience connect General Gus’ obsession with “molded plastic” to the fire rescue sequence earlier in the film. It would help if he said “acid” or “fire”, which would help to jog the memory, but he doesn’t.

And then he says,

Gus:  Last week, half of this great nation of ours almost bit the bullet, if it wasn’t for this man here!

Which, again, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s related to the line in the script: “Now, last week, half of this great nation almost bit the bullet, nuclear-power-wise.”

A nuclear power accident could conceivably endanger “half this great nation” if it’s real serious and the wind is right, but that crummy chemical plant fire was clearly not a “half of this great nation”-size problem. So what is he talking about?

And then it gets even worse.

Here’s what happens in the script:

(There, glowing and gleaming
against the velvet background,
is a small statue in the shape of the
nuclear plant cooling tower we saw earlier.
We recognize its green glow immediately
as the Kryptonite we saw before.)

So that’s why Superman accepts something that’s glowing green — because it’s a replica of the nuclear plant cooling tower. And that makes sense, in a way, because it’s related to the disaster that Gus has been yelling about. There’s a clear thread from the nuclear power plant sequence to Gus showing up as a general, talking about nuclear power, and then giving Superman a figurine of the cooling tower.

It’s not funny, per se, but at least the audience would have some kind of fighting chance to figure out what the hell is happening on the screen in front of us.

But in the film, Gus Gorman dresses up in funny clothes, makes an impenetrable speech about molded plastic, and then celebrates Superman’s heroism by handing him what can only be described as a chunk of Kryptonite cleverly disguised in the shape of a chunk of Kryptonite.

So what can you even say? It just barely misses being the worst scene in the movie because it doesn’t involve bowling, but it’s a near thing. I suppose we dodged a bullet; if they’d set this scene at the bowling alley, it might have broken cinema completely, and everybody would just stay home and watch TV for the rest of our lives.

4.32: The Game… and How to Play It


— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Superman III 4.31: The Other Worst Scene

  1. Now that you mention it, I always did wonder what in the wide world of sports the fake general was babbling about and why Superman didn’t wonder why the trophy was shaped like a chunk of Kryptonite.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. And why is kryptonite sometimes like movie magma–not dangerous until you actually touch it? But only sometimes? You’d think Superman would at least be saying “Man, I don’t feel so good” before being handed an enormous chunk of the stuff. But it isn’t until he actually comes into physical contact that he seems to realize not all is on the up and up.

      Perhaps he was mesmerized by Gus’s whackadoo word salad and off his game.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. From the standpoint of logical writing, this really is the worst part of the movie. Even besides the change from using a nuclear power plant to a chemical plant, the villains’ scheme of getting Superman to accept a kryptonite gift in front of an adoring crowd makes little sense. Things would not have gone well for Gus and Vera if they succeeded in exposing Supes to actual green K.

    On a movie production level, it’s like they stopped even trying to make sense. Gus describes the rock as “a small token of our appreciation”. He gives no justification or explanation for it beyond that. He doesn’t even say, “This is a prototype of a new synthetic material that can used to make Coca-Cola bottles 50% cheaper!” He just hands a rock to him for no reason.

    Kotzwinkle fails to offer any insight in his novelization of this scene. I don’t think he has any clue what is going on either. Superman seems to recognize the rock as kryptonite but apparently doesn’t see anything sinister in this “general” handing it to him. He just looks at it, notices that it isn’t doing anything to him, and says thanks for it (pp. 151-152):

    Gus handed the wooden box to Superman. The Man of Steel opened it and found himself staring down at a mounted piece of glowing green Kryptonite. The ugly burnt shape spoke to him with a dark tongue hidden inside it somewhere, a tongue of evil and doom. It staggered him as its dark radiance poured forth; but the open air dissipated it, for he recovered his composure a moment later. “Thanks, General. It’s… swell.”

    Liked by 5 people

    1. If memory serves, in the comic book version of the movie, Superman is startled when he recognises it as Kryptonite but when nothing happens to him, he doesn’t worry about it.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Oh man, I’ve never seen the comic book version, I feel like I’m missing out!

        I am pretty sure I have a copy somewhere…

        Liked by 3 people

  3. It always amazes me that Danny is able to put more thought into this daily(-ish) than the filmmakers did during the entire time of filming. I was totally flummoxed by this scene, too, and am glad that at least it made a little more sense in the script.

    I also hate how it makes Superman look like a complete chump by accepting the kryptonite. You’d think that if you’re going to make synthetic kryptonite you could also disguise it by using food coloring or something to make it a different color, say red. Then you can hand Superman a red “trophy” without being worried that he’d recognize it as kryptonite and hastily leave or chuck it into space. But maybe the whole concept of red kryptonite is just too silly for this serious-minded film.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Asses and improv. are a dangerous combination. See also, Eddie Murphy going on about Butt Pie, Butt Cake and Chunky Asses in The Golden Child.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Red Kryptonite is a thing in the Superman mythos. Exposure to Red Kryptonite has unpredictable, wacky (and often nonsensical) effects. It can give Superman the head of a giant ant or a lion. It can make him fat, or small, or a giant. It can cause personality changes. Each exposure has different unique effects, limited only by the imagination of the writer. The transformations last only for a limited time, usually ranging from 24-72 hours depending on the story.

    Superman’s behavior after exposure to Gus’s synthetic Kryptonite wouldn’t be too far off from a Red K story in comics form.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Red K would have made sense, that much is true.

      But if there’s one thing Richard Lester hates, it’s making sense. And if there’s one thing the Salkinds hate (other than “not making more money”) it’s taking the time to rethink the idea so it actually works.

      Needless to say, that combination is deadly.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I always assumed Gus accidentally invented Red Kryptonite but for some reason, the movie could not use it for legal reasons or maybe they thought no one would know what it was if it were red instead of green. Of course, there is the possibility that the script writer had never read Superman comic books before and was unaware of it.

      Liked by 6 people

  6. I guess the producers expected that since they paid 4 million dollars for a comedian to be in the movie, that automatically made it a funny movie. What could go wrong?

    Liked by 6 people

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