It doesn’t take tainted synthetic Kryptonite to nearly kill a franchise, all it takes is comedy legend Richard Pryor in Superman III. Richard Lester’s second outing has moments of superhero brilliance, but the over-emphasis on comedy and some plot stumbles punch this entry almost to the bottom of the barrel. But it makes for a hell of a 4K HDR10 disc with an Atmos track that’d make Jor-El proud. Rough movie, great disc - Recommended
It’s long been a problem of major franchises, especially superhero films where the new villain or incoming major star steals the light away from the hero. Batman suffered that with Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito as Catwoman and Penguin respectively, Jim Carrey’s Riddler, Batman’s Nipples etc. While Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando were arguably bigger stars than Christopher Reeve - and even got first billing - their presence didn’t overshadow Superman: The Movie. Superman was the star. However, for Superman III it’s Richard Pryor who turns into the last son of Krypton’s biggest villain - by stealing the entire film.
In all honesty, you can’t fault Pryor for that. It’s what he does. He’s a dynamic presence in any standup show or film and it’s hard to reign him in. Maybe he had shrewd agents and lawyers that mandated a set amount of screen time? Or maybe so much of the Clark in Smallville and Superman material was so thin or slapstick they leaned on the Pryor footage in the final edit because he’s naturally funny? Either way you cut the negative, it’s an uneven film, and the main attraction is often pushed to the background.
This isn’t to say that I think Superman III is a total failure. I grew up with this movie and I still enjoy a lot of it as a middle-aged man. There are chunks that feature some of the best Superman action on film to date - the chemical plant rescue remains a fantastic tension-filled action sequence showcasing Superman’s range of powers. The split personalities of Superman is another excellent sequence exploring his dual personalities in raw form. It’d been something if they could have gone full Bizzaro Superman but this was still very good. And then that final robot villain genuinely gave me nightmares as a kid. It was years before I actually saw the end of the film because I’d leave the room screaming when I was little. Watching it again, it’s still unsettling so I can only imagine what it did to kids who saw it in theaters.
While I have fun with Superman III, I don’t often pull it off the shelf. Truthfully I actually more often will watch Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. I think it had been the better end of a few years since I last sat down to fully look at Superman III and my opinion remains middling. There are a lot of pieces that work beautifully, but those opening credits and other sequences like them are so stupid I end up having to skip them. Lester got a lot of shade for his contributions to the franchise and a lot of it is earned. For every great decision and impeccably executed heroic sequence, there are several confoundingly stupid and unfunny pieces chunked in there.
For another take on Superman III - read my colleague M. Enois Duarte’s 2011 Superman: Motion Picture Anthology Review
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Richard Pryor reprograms Superman III for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as part of the Superman: 5-Film Collection. You can order a single-title version from the UK right now, I’m sure eventually the sequels will be available individually here in the States, these sequel cases all have their own UPC codes so they’ll be for sale eventually. A two-disc release, the 4K disc is a BD-66 disc with the same 1080p BD-50 disc from 2011 coming along for the ride. Similar to the other films in the set, the discs are housed in a two-disc black case with individual trays and are not stacked. The cases are then bundled together in a paper slipcase. The discs load to a static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
Superman III drops the pond for a damned impressive and often beautiful 2160p HDR10 debut. The film is cleaner looking than ever with sharper crystal-clear details and a healthy cinematic grain structure. Even for the complicated optical effects shots, there’s still a notable amount of clean and clear detail to appreciate every spit curl, the bustling streets of Metropolis, and the quaint dressings of Smallville. Hell, even the gaggy-slapstick opening credits look amazing compared to the old Blu-ray offering a genuine night-and-day difference in overall quality.
Evidently, there must have been a different HDR grading team on Superman III than Superman II because colors, contrast, and black levels are damn near perfect. Flesh tones are human without looking hot or too orange. Superman’s suit is the appropriate shade of blue, with his red cape, yellow belt, and accents on the family crest all matching the first film. Skin tones are also healthy and human looking without looking quite so orange-ish as seen in Superman II. Black levels are appreciable with nice shadow delineation for a great sense of image depth and dimension. That soft diffused quality of the first two films is present but not as strongly employed so there are a few blooms but nothing out of the ordinary that didn’t always exist. This transfer also pulls back that slightly muddy-yellow color timing of the old Blu-ray so whites are genuinely crisp as they should appear.
Film elements are in excellent shape without any signs of smoothing or edge enhancement and just looks terrific from top to bottom. It’s wild, but one of my least favorite Superman movies actually rivals the original film as one of the best 4K discs of the franchise
On top of an excellent 4K transfer, Superman III flies in with a terrific Atmos mix. Right from the jump this is an actively engaging sound mix with Ken Thorne’s score, the chaotic street sound effects, and the drips of dialog working in perfect harmony. When we get to Pryor at his new job and the rapid clicky-clacks of keyboards, there’s activity throughout the front, sides, and into the rears. For your average “talky” scene heights work mostly to enhance a spatial atmosphere, so again Pryor’s workstation can sound tight and confined while the Smallville gymnasium and reunion dance can sound big and open. Likewise for key action sequences like Superman carrying the frozen pond over the chemical plant or later when he’s fighting himself in the junkyard, the balance between audio elements and where they’re presented in the soundscape is pretty damned impressive. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 theatrical audio from the 2011 disc is also available as a listening option.
Once again, the same set of solid and interesting bonus features have been brought over. The highlight of the set is the Audio Commentary with Salkind and Spengler giving a bunch of details about the production and their aims for taking the franchise in this direction. After that is the vintage Making-Of which is a solid piece, a bit of EPK talking head in places but it’s at least informative.
4K UHD Blu-ray
While it has some great moments, I can’t help but feel that Superman III is perhaps the weakest cinematic entry. Say what you will about Superman IV, it’s not good, but at least Superman is the star of his own film instead of playing second tier to one of the funniest comedians to ever live. That’s a tough act to follow for any mortal man and Richard Pryor was just too much star power for Kal-El to overcome. When it’s great it’s incredible, but the script definitely needed better focus on what brings an audience to a Superman film. Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds better than ever with an excellent HDR10 transfer and a damned impressive and engaging Atmos audio mix. It’s wild that one of the weakest entries would get some of the best treatment, but there you are. Not a great film but a great disc. Recommended