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I am going to do what your governments have been unable to do. I will rid our planet of all nuclear weapons.
– Superman, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is perhaps best viewed as a noble failure. This was a film with so much potential if it had been made correctly despite its often clichéd plot. The true tragedy is that the film, originally 134 minutes long1, was inexplicably edited to only 89 minutes, making it the shortest Superman film to date. Removing 45 minutes from the film resulted in obvious gaps; Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is often incomprehensible or difficult to follow, with many plot threads never explained or resolved.
The sections marked like [this] were edited out of the final film.
After the death of his human mother, Clark Kent puts the Kent farm up for sale, wishing to sell only to someone wishing to buy a farm. Meanwhile relationships between America and the USSR are disintegrating, with the threat of nuclear war raised. With the help of his nephew Lenny, Lex Luthor escapes from prison. The Daily Planet is taken over by crooked businessman David Warfield and his daughter Lacy, who wish to turn the respected broadsheet into a sleazy tabloid.
Jeremy, a schoolboy worried by the nuclear crisis, writes a letter to Superman via the Daily Planet asking him to destroy the world's nuclear weapons. Lex steals one of Superman's hairs from the Superman museum and plans to make a Nuclear Man. Lacy, attracted to Clark, asks him to write a series on Metropolis' night life, so she can spend time with him. [Superman visits Jeremy at school and says he is forbidden to interfere in world affairs. Lex tests his Prototype Nuclear Man and encourages him to attend the opening of a nightclub. Clark and Lacy are also attending, as part of the night life series. Prototype Nuclear Man sees and falls in love with Lacy, but accidentally scares one of the club's customers. Superman reacts to her scream and is attacked by Prototype Nuclear Man. Superman defends himself and Prototype Nuclear Man is accidentally cremated, with his remains collected by Lenny.]
Jeremy is brought to Metropolis, interviewed and says that he wishes that Superman had said 'Yes' to his appeal. Superman consults the voices of the Elders at the Fortress of Solitude, flies with Lois around America for a bit, and then decides to disregard the Elders and rid the world of nuclear weapons anyway. He announces his intention at the United Nations. Shortly after, both America and Russia begin a series of nuclear missile tests. Fortunately Superman captures the missiles and sends them into the Sun.
Lex arranges a gathering of nuclear arms dealers and proposes that he helps them sell their products if they let him place his new improved version of Nuclear Man on a rocket so he can be brought to life in the Sun, where he would become even more powerful. They do so, and Nuclear Man is created, a powerful monster that needs sunlight in order to function. Meanwhile, Clark is talked into appearing in a double-date; Superman dating Lois, Clark dating Lacy. After trying to be in two places at once, Superman hears Lex threaten to blow up the Empire State Building, makes his excuses and leaves. Arriving in Lex's lair, he is introduced to Nuclear Man. Superman and Nuclear Man's epic fight takes place all around the world, with Nuclear Man attacking various world-famous landmarks. Nuclear Man's actions put innocent people in danger; fortunately Superman manages to save the landmarks and spectators. When he prevents the people of Metropolis from being crushed by the Statue of Liberty, he is fatally scratched by Nuclear Man's atomic fingernails.
[Lex, with the help of his arms-dealing comrades, tells the West that nuclear disarmament is a Communist plot, and tells the USSR the reverse, convincing both sides to buy nuclear weapons from him and prepare for nuclear war. Clark, ill at home, starts to age.] After a visit from Lois, Clark decides to use the crystal module to restore his health. Lex fires the arms dealers, threatening them with Nuclear Man. Meanwhile Nuclear Man [destroys all the money that Lex has collected,] sees a photo of Lacy Warfield [remembers falling in love with her when he was Prototype Nuclear Man] and goes to find her. He kidnaps Lacy from the Daily Planet building [and takes her to Lex's lair while he flies around the world emitting a nuclear signal, hoping to provoke a nuclear attack that would kill everyone on Earth except himself and Lacy, and so Lex runs away]. The rejuvenated Superman shows up and rescues Lacy [and uses her to distract Nuclear Man shortly before America and Russia launch missiles at each other].
Nuclear Man chases after Superman and Lacy and confronts Superman in a busy Metropolis street, attacking several bystanders. Superman tricks Nuclear Man into going into a lift, which he closes, blocking the solar-powered Nuclear Man off from sunlight, and transports Nuclear Man to the Moon. Sadly the doors of the lift are a crack open, enough to recharge Nuclear Man, and a fight occurs on the Moon. Nuclear Man wins, returns to Earth and abducts Lacy again, this time carrying her into space. Superman, meanwhile, pushes the Moon to create a total eclipse. Nuclear Man hangs useless while he and Lacy fall back to Earth. Superman rescues Lacy, locks Nuclear Man in a nuclear power station, recaptures Lex and sends Lenny to a boys' school. Meanwhile, Perry White reveals that he has bought back control of the Daily Planet from the Warfield group. [Lacy announces that she wishes to try to become a better person and live a more natural life, and Clark offers to sell her his farm.] At a press conference Superman announces that the world was rescued from nuclear war, and that he wishes that the people of Earth could see the world as he does. [He then takes Jeremy up into space and asks him to describe the Earth; Jeremy says that from space he can see no borders between countries, the point that Superman had hoped to make.]
|Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent||Christopher Reeve|
|Lex Luthor||Gene Hackman|
|Lacy Warfield||Mariel Hemingway|
|Nuclear Man||Mark Pillow2|
|Lois Lane||Margot Kidder|
|Perry White||Jackie Cooper|
|Jimmy Olsen||Marc McClure|
|David Warfield||Sam Wanamaker|
|Jean-Pierre Dubois||Jim Broadbent3|
|Harry Howler||William Hootkins4|
|General Romoff||Stanley Lebor|
|Lara (voice)||Susannah York|
|American President||Robert Beatty5|
|Prototype Nuclear Man (deleted scenes only)||Clive Mantle|
|Lenny Luthor||Jon Cryer|
Making Of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
After the disappointing performance of Superman III and Supergirl, the Salkinds sold the film rights to the Superman films to Golan-Globus, then owners of Cannon Films. Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were businessmen whose approach to filmmaking was the opposite of the Salkinds. Rather than big-budget spectacles, their philosophy was low-budget filmmaking to maximise profits. They were hoping to turn Cannon Films into a major film studio and hoped that by signing a proven successful film series like Superman, they would be able to break into the big league with minimum risk.
Christopher Reeve agreed to reprise his role as Superman in exchange for Golan-Globus producing one of his projects, Street Smart, allowing him creative input and even the possibility of directing the sequel, with it automatically assumed that Superman IV would prove successful.
Richard Donner was asked to direct, but chose not to. As the financially unsuccessful Superman III had been directed by Richard Lester, Golan-Globus turned to the experienced Sidney J Furie, who had directed Cliff Richard and the Shadows' films The Young Ones and Wonderful Life, war films Purple Hearts and the Top Gun-inspired Iron Eagle, as well as the excellent espionage thriller The Ipcress File.
Although initially the project was met with enthusiasm, it was soon apparent that Golan-Globus were in the middle of a financial crisis. The budget was slashed from the projected $35million to under $20million – less than Marlon Brando had been paid for his 13 days' filming on Superman. As a result the film was made as cheaply as possible. The first cost-cutting measure was firing the experienced special effects team that had worked on the Superman series, resulting in the film being made with poor, sub-standard special effects. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace appeared on screen as obviously inferior to Superman in terms of the quality of its effects, despite being made a decade later. Where the earlier film made audiences believe a man could fly, audiences for Superman IV: The Quest For Peace had trouble following the plot.
When Golan-Globus made Superman IV they always intended to make a sequel. During the production of Superman IV, when it began to look possible that not enough funds would be available later to make the sequel, the producers planned to hold onto several scenes filmed for Superman IV and cut them out of that film, in order to have them ready to build the proposed Superman V around. How this would have worked is unknown as it seems likely that any film made this way would have to have a near-identical plot to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. The film was released with these numerous key scenes omitted. Consequently, the film suffered artistically and was a commercial failure. Shortly after Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was released and before this proposed Superman V project was finalised, Golan-Globus went bankrupt.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace can perhaps be summed up as being an attempt to create something magical by mixing together the best ingredients of the previous Superman films, but instead making an incomprehensible mess. Inspired by the original Superman film, we have Lex and nuclear missiles, a Superman and Lois flying around America sequence, crystals and the Fortress of Solitude. From Superman II we have Lex escaping from prison, a powerful villain destroying historic landmarks, a supervillain versus Superman fight, Lois knowing who Superman really is, something dangerous and nuclear in a lift being taken into space and Superman using his laser vision to cook dinner. Elements taken from Superman III include the corrupt family businessman with an attractive, blonde assistant, the return to Smallville, the alternative love interest for Clark, and a young bullied boy whom Superman has fatherly feelings for and visits when asked. The script had also included a clone of Superman, envisioned as being played by Christopher Reeve, similar to the Naughtyman versus Clark Kent battle from Superman III. However, as that would have cost too much special effects-wise, a different man was cast. Lex emphasises that Nuclear Man has Superman's muscle structure, yet Lex actor Gene Hackman, not Christopher Reeve, bizarrely provides the voice for Nuclear Man, making the whole 'clone of Superman' plot redundant.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace sees the return of Lex Luthor. He is first seen outside in a heavy labour camp. Lex, a man who had escaped from a high security prison before, is only guarded by two guards, in another cost-cutting measure. Initially, Lex was sentenced to life plus 25 years for his attempted nuclear attack on Hackensack and California, before helping General Zod conquer the Earth. It is a mystery how, after creating Nuclear Man who caused havoc worldwide, and illegal arms dealing in nuclear weapons (and, in a deleted scene, almost causing a nuclear war), Lex now only has 20 years left of his sentence to serve at the end of the film. The scenes of Lex Luthor are effective and well done; sadly, however, Gene Hackman does not share as much screen time with Christopher Reeve as the actors merit.
The characters of David Warfield and his daughter are effective additions. The name 'Warfield' reminds the audience of the nuclear cold war plot of the film. There is a parallel drawn between David Warfield and Lex Luthor, as they are the only men who profit from the threat of war. While Superman fights to save the planet from the war engineered by Lex Luthor, Perry White fights to save the Daily Planet from Warfield's takeover. That Lacy Warfield, Warfield's own daughter, sees the error of his ways shows how greed for its own sake is unfulfilling. Although the film sadly does not feature Lana Lang, Lacy Warfield is a worthy love interest for Clark Kent; even Lois encourages Clark to pursue Lacy, proving that the Clark/Lois chemistry in the film series sadly never worked as well as that seen between Lois and Superman.
As a character, Nuclear Man is limited, but he is perhaps best viewed not as a man but as a monster. Although he lacks the sophistication and menace of General Zod, Nuclear Man is in essence a throwback to the era of B-Movies. He roars like 1950s nuclear monsters The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or Godzilla, destroys famous landmarks in the same way as monsters in creature-features often did, such as the octopus in 1955's It Came From Beneath The Sea or the Ymir on the Colosseum in 20 Million Miles To Earth. Like King Kong, Nuclear Man kidnaps and runs off with the blonde heroine, taking her to the Empire State Building, Lex Luthor's headquarters. It is true that he lacks his own personality, his motives are ill-defined and sadly his scenes are the ones most ravaged by cost-cutting the special-effects budget; however, he remains an interesting addition to the Superman saga.
There are curious moments, such as Clark refusing to sell the Kent farm to be developed into a shopping centre, which seems an unlikely fate for a farm in the middle of nowhere, close to a small rural village accessed only by a dirt road and no decent transport links. There are questions asked by this film which are not answered. Why did the Kents put the young Clark in a baby's crib as a child when, at the time they found him, he was walking and easily old enough to sleep in a bed? If there is a Superman museum, why was Superman's cape not sold to that rather than the Daily Planet? Perhaps most tellingly, how exactly does Lacy survive in the vacuum of space6 when kidnapped by Nuclear Man?
There is no denying that Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is the Superman film that has most dated, both in terms of special effects and the cold war plot7. The cutting of important scenes has left the film in desperate need of a Director's Cut release restoring the film as originally envisioned, ideally with the poor special effects improved to the standard they should originally have been made to.
Superman's powers and abilities seen or reported in this film include:
- X-Ray vision
- Super hearing
- Laser vision – used to destroy Clark's childhood spaceship, cook duck and slice through a mountain
- Ability to hit a ball into space
- Ability to stop a subway train by standing on the live rail and draining the electricity
- A single strand of his hair can effortlessly hold a 1,000lb weight
- Can instantly change costume when jumping off an apartment building
- Telekinesis – used to ring a doorbell from other side of room and lower people unwillingly lifted into the air
- Repair the Great Wall of China using only his eyes
- Break out of a block of ice
- Super strength – can lift a mountain top in order to plug a volcano
- Ice breath – can freeze lava and cool down cars in danger of exploding
- Speak Russian and Italian
- Know who is referred to in sentence 'where is the woman?' without any context or helpful hints
- Survive in space and on the Moon with no ill-effects
- Push the Moon in order to create a total eclipse
Alliterative names – Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lenny Luthor
Inviting the enemy into the lair and revealing the cunning plan – Lex does just that by broadcasting to Superman from Times Square and introducing him to Nuclear Man
Space Race – unlike in Superman II where there is a joint Moon mission, the USSR has a Russian-only satellite
The remains of Kal-El's crystal spacecraft that brought him to Earth as a baby is seen
The glowing green crystal, now named the Crystal Module, appears. Superman is told it can only be used once, and is used to restore Superman's health
The Fortress of Solitude, Superman's crystal palace, appears briefly, complete with crystal controls
Incompetent henchmen –
Lenny Luthor is described as the Dutch Elm Disease in the Luthor family tree
Prototype Nuclear Man, although deleted from the film, flew indoors and hit his head on the ceiling
Nuclear weapons –
The plot of the film has Superman disarm the world of nuclear missiles
Lex Luthor uses a nuclear missile to send his genetic experiment into the Sun, creating Nuclear Man
Lex Luthor sells nuclear missiles to both America and Russia, claiming that Superman is only disarming one side
Nuclear Man, in a deleted scene, is mistaken for a nuclear missile and almost causes both America and Russia to launch their weapons at each other
- New York Skyline (as Metropolis skyline)
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Times Square
- Empire State Building – the location of Lex's hideout
- Great Wall of China
- Mount Etna
- The Moon8
- Statue of Liberty –
Jeremy's classmates at JFK High were asked to write a 2,000 word essay on the statue
Nuclear Man lifts, carries and drops the statue on to bystanders in Metropolis, before the statue is rescued by Superman who returns it to its rightful place
Superman is attacked and wounded whilst carrying the statue, with his cape falling down next to it
Superman gets changed in a phone booth for the one and only time in the Christopher Reeve era, something frequently seen in the earlier film serials, television series and cartoons
Superman's X-Ray vision is similarly portrayed to how it is seen in the Superman serials
Like in Superman, Superman gives a speech about transport safety statistics
Lois knows Superman's name is Kal-El, yet Superman never told her, confirmed by the end of Superman II where she says I don't know what to call you
Lois attempts to learn French, just like in Superman II
Nuclear Man lights Lex's cigar with his finger in an identical fashion to how Selena lights Nigel's cigarette in Supergirl
Superman's speech to Lex, 'See you in 20', is very prophetic. In fact it would be 19 years before Superman and Lex Luthor would again appear in a film, Superman Returns of 2006
The novelisation of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was written by BB Hiller and known simply as Superman IV. It is quite short, 140 pages and 32 short chapters long, obviously aimed at a young readership. However it has the advantage of containing the whole story of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and so is far more coherent than the film, even if simplistic. The front cover is sadly dull, showing a picture of Superman standing on the Moon next to an American flag9, with a cartoon above of Superman holding a cake with the logo 'Superman's Fiftieth Birthday'. The front cover also promises in bold '8 pages of movie photos'. These eight pages, however, are ordinary paper rather than photographic plates, and so the black and white pictures printed on them are so dark it is hard to see what the photos are of.
The novelisation follows the story of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace closely with little additions or deviation. Instead of the voice of Superman's mother Lara, Kal-El hears his father Jor-El, talking to him through the Crystal Module. Strangely, in an out-of-character moment, when Superman kills Prototype Nuclear Man by hitting him into an electricity pylon, he boasts 'Home run!'. Although the Superman novelisation is aimed at the youngest audience, and so the least challenging read of any Superman or Supergirl novelisation, it is still worth reading if you wish to clarify exactly what is happening in the film Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
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