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Superman III 4.17: The Great Indoors

White, black, gray, silver, transparent and stainless steel, in every combination and everywhere: this is the non-traditional design sense of villainous corporate recluse Ross Webster. He likes his ornamentation any way he can get it: in swoops, angles, circles, puddles or piled up in heaps. When Ross Webster decorates someplace, it stays decorated.

So I don’t know what to do with this lunatic set. There’s so much of it, and it makes so little sense.

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Superman III 4.16: The Man from The Man from UNCLE

The first thing that you notice about Ross Webster, as a Superman villain, is how chill he is. Well, technically, the first thing that you notice is that he’s the guy from the old spy show, and then you notice how chill he is.

And as a predatory corporate raider in 1983, he has reason to be chill. He’s only a couple years into the Reagan administration, an era when concepts like “I want to control all of the oil” were back in vogue as acceptable topics of conversation.

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Superman 1.67: The Gauntlet

Hey gang, it’s time for another round of What Did Mankiewicz Do, the fascinating behind-the-scenes game where we look at old drafts of the Superman: The Movie script, and figure out how script doctor and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz solved its many glaring problems.

So far, we’ve seen how Mankiewicz made the Kents more appealing, took the corny sci-fi cliches out of the Jor-El/Lara scene, and made Lex Luthor stop chewing Kleenex all the time. Now we’ve arrived at the largest and most important structural change that Mankiewicz made to the script: taking three Lex Luthor/Superman confrontations spaced out through the second half of the film, and compressing them down into just one climactic face-off between the hero and the villain.

Now, you would think that having the hero and the villain only share one scene together in the whole movie would be a bad idea, but that’s because you haven’t seen the volcano sequence yet. In this movie, it was the right call. Allow me to explain.

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Superman 1.48: Feed the Babies

Now, if it were entirely up to me, I’d probably stop writing about this Lex Luthor scene at some point, rather than natter on endlessly about it, but I can’t help it; there are larger market forces at play.

Richard Donner ended this scene with Luthor and his sidekick Otis saying in unison, “What more could anyone ask?” But, as it turned out, people did want to ask for more — specifically, the Salkinds, who wanted more money from television sales. TV networks wanted to air Superman, and they were happy to have as much of it as possible, to fill up programming time and justify more commercial breaks. They were willing to pay by the minute, so the Salkinds prepared what’s now called the Extended Cut, taking a 143-minute movie and stretching it out to 188 minutes.

Most of the extra material is just useless filler — slightly longer scenes, extra reaction shots, second-unit footage — all the stuff that was properly cut out the first time, and adds nothing to the experience except making things take longer. But there are a handful of actual deleted scenes, like Krypton’s tinfoil science cop, who exploded before accomplishing anything.

There’s also another two minutes of this introductory Luthor scene, which aren’t necessary but offer several items of interest. If you don’t mind, I’m going to give you the whole scene, and then we can discuss it.

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Superman 1.43: The Training

And then, for about four minutes, it becomes a cop movie.

As we’ve been going through Superman: The Movie, I’ve been tracking the film’s swift pivots in tone, as it transforms itself from sci-fi space opera to tragic teen drama to screwball comedy, with a detour into the psychedelic mindscapes of the Fortress of Solitude. The film is essentially a montage of different styles, and once we get to Metropolis, that process doesn’t stop.

People talk about the Krypton / Smallville / Metropolis sections as if that explains everything, but Richard Donner keeps on juxtaposing different styles through the entire movie. This moment is a perfect example, because over the next four minutes, the film is going to walk us through a gradual transition that takes us from the last scene’s classic romantic comedy meet-shoot and leads us down into the depths of the underworld, and the brutal murder of a central figure in the sequence.

Naturally, this dark ritual of summoning begins with a quaint musical comedy street-sweeper, who shouts, “Hi, Otis!”

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