I rented and watched Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut last night from Netflix. It was really cool to watch how the film was originally intended, though I have a lot of mixed feelings about the things that have changed.
If you don’t know the backstory, basically what happened is that Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously, and they were going to be one epic movie arc story, flowing together pretty nicely. Somewhere along the way though, the producers decided to cut Richard Donner and hire another director to finish Superman II. The second director got credits for directing the film, even though he pretty much re-filmed a few scenes and the work was maybe 20% his or so. I could be botching up the details, but that’s how I remember things. Anyway, it’s Lester’s cut that was the theatrical version and the one that we’ve seen all our lives, until now of course.
The difference between the two films is amazing. Donner’s focuses a lot more on the character driven parts of the story, covers the plot holes, and focuses on the romance between Superman / Clark Kent and Lois Lane quite a bit. In short, it becomes a real personal movie again.
There were still parts that I didn’t like though, both about Donner’s restoration and how they edited the movie. It certainly felt choppy in areas, and it seemed like they in some ways they were trying to make it seem to have a bit more of a modern style. Some scenes would jump quickly without warning to another one, and we would be treated to three stories at once developing at the same time, instead of extending one scene and letting it play out. Plus, there was a lot of film cut out from the theatrical version that made some new inconsistencies, and kind of made it feel like we were being hurried along (an example being when the super villians show up in Houston — their encounters with the police and townspeople are extremely brief, and things move rapidly so that they can meet the President of the US). I don’t know if they were removed because they were Lester’s shots or they just didn’t like it in there anymore, who knows. The additional, lengthened stuff though (the fight scenes in Metropolis had a lot of extra trivial stuff, and the new Phantom Zone scenes were really killer) was nice, the only part I didn’t like was the added musical score when the drama or action could have held it’s own. I noticed a few parts where the audio was re-dubbed as well to change the dialogue. The most obvious one was where Superman showed up again after being restored, outside of the Daily Planet building, and says “Haven’t you ever heard of freedom of the press?” A really bad pun. The original was much better, where he simply says, “Would you care to step outside, General?” or something to that effect.
Superman coming back was a real minor annoyance for me in the original theatrical version. We are never treated to how it happens. All we see is he walks to the North Pole to his Fortress of Solitude, and finds the green crystal. Then we cut and never know what happens (or how). Superman is back, and that is all. It was a bit frustrating to a young geek like me who was really interested in the science fiction of the movie. Well, if that bothered you too, then this is the major area where The Richard Donner Cut really shines. In this version, the story is expanded greatly, and explains everything in a great story of personal drama and sci-fi. Really cool stuff. You’ve got to see this movie if only for those scenes.
Superman’s father also plays a large, large part in this cut, something I didn’t realize he had been removed almost completely from the theatrical one for some reason. It wasn’t until I was watching comparisions of the two cuts in a featurette, that I realized just how much he had been removed, and how integral his father was to the storyline. Good stuff.
Another classic moment was the very opening scenes of Donner’s cut at the Daily Planet. I won’t go into detail as to what happens, but it really gives Lois Lane some credit for finally seeing things, and adds some humor. That’s another thing I remember reading once, was that Margot Kidder (the actress who played Lois) was cut a lot from the movie for some reason or another. She definately makes much more of an appearance in this one.
Overall, I’m still undecided as to which version I like the most. If I had my way, I think the only thing I would have changed is not removed so much stuff from the theatrical version, and would have left the audio dubbing and rescoring alone. Both of those really bothered me. There are a lot of good lines in the theatrical versions that were cut unnecessarily, and I can understand if Donner wanted to get as much as his vision back in. I would have been more interested though in an editorial cut that took the good from both of them, but I’m glad we got to see this one all the same. It’s a hard choice if you had to pick between the two. If I did, I would probably cut my own version and put some things back in the way they were. The parts that mattered the most in Donner’s cut were the beginning and the middle (I didn’t like Donner’s ending at all), and of course all the scenes with Jor-El. I’m pretty nostalgic though (just look at my DVD collection), and I think in the end I would choose the original theatrical version, if only because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I don’t know. A mashup between the two is what I would really enjoy, and I’ll probably make one sometime just for me.
Great stuff, though. Check it out for all the cool new scenes. It’s really enjoyable. I’m glad that Richard Donner got to do this cut, as well. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I made almost an entire movie, and then someone came along and changed it around and took credit. I can understand that being a sore spot for him. One thing I’ve certainly learned from this movie though is that it can change quite a lot by the editing being done. It’s amazing they had that much extra film to begin with, enough to completely reshape the overall feel. Interesting stuff.