November 5, 2008

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

I hold a special place in my heart for Superman II. It was the first great superhero movie, with a solid storyline, the advancement of the relationship between Clark Kent/Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), a moral (and mortal) dilemma for Superman, and formidable villains in the shape of three criminals from the planet Krypton.

So when I saw there was a cut of Superman II by director Richard Donner, I got excited. Donner directed the original Superman and shot most of Superman II before he left the project after clashing with producers (he was replaced by Richard Lester).

I figured that if I loved Superman II the way it had been released, it’s got to be even better if acclaimed director Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon) is releasing Superman II the way he intended.

It’s one thing that I was wrong. It’s another that I was this wrong.

From the opening scene of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, it’s different – a roving aerial shot of Krypton, where it settles on the planet’s council of elders (led by Marlon Brando’s Jor-El) judging and sentencing the rebel group of General Zod (the great Terence Stamp), his female sidekick Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and the mute brute Non (Jack O’Halloran) for planning to overthrow the council.

Okay, I’ll admit – that added scene was cool. But beyond that, the new or altered scenes of Donner’s cut add nothing. The biggest violator is the absurd way Donner has Lois discover Superman’s true identity. It’s almost like a nuisance to Superman that she uncovers him – not the emotional, impactful revelation it should be (and was in the original 1981 release).

Other added, deleted, or altered scenes:
• An early added scene of Lois trying to make Clark save her as Superman (by leaping out of a skyscraper) disrupts her tone in dealing with Clark/Superman for the rest of the film
• Donner cut the “Houston” gag from the astronaut when Zod and company land on the moon, so later mentions by Zod and Ursa of the planet “Hooston” lose their impact
• A new, lengthy, and pointless sequence of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) discovering the Fortress of Solitude at the North Pole
• The great sequence where Zod, Ursa, and Non intimidate some small-town locals (including Ursa arm-wrestling a man) is gone
• The villains now deface the Washington Monument (simply knocking it over) instead of Mount Rushmore (replacing the presidents’ faces with their own)

Throw in a new, overdone, unnecessary musical score and presto: instant tarnishing of a cherished childhood memory.

To be blunt, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut seems like nothing but an exercise in spite. Donner got tossed from the project, and this feels like his “so there” to the film studio that booted him. It’s like he switched or replaced highly effective scenes from the original cut for no purpose other than to put his mark on the film.

In Donner's defense, the added scenes of Brando’s Jor-El do help the picture, and an extended sequence of Zod, Ursa, and Non attacking the White House was cool. But beyond that, nothing added or switched from the original was necessary, and mostly it worsened the film.

If you cherish the original Superman II like I do, fear not: It was recently released on a two-disc special edition DVD, which features a neat little time-capsule special, “The Making of Superman II.”

In closing, all you know to know is…

Watch this:

DO NOT watch this:

Rating: 1 star (out of 5).

Will your kids want to watch it?
I love Superman II so much that I’d make it required viewing for any kids who like superheroes; I’d say kids 8 years old or older, with some parental guidance, would be appropriate. But dear Zod, make sure you show them the original cut, not Donner’s.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Avoid Richard Donner’s cut like Superman avoids Kryptonite skivvies, then convince your FilmMother to watch the original cut if she hasn’t seen it already. I think the Superman/Lois romance, combined with a good balance of humor and action, would make it worth her while. (And your chance for an extra viewing wouldn’t hurt either.)

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
* Director: Richard Donner
* Screenwriters: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
* Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Terence Stamp
* MPAA Rating: PG (action violence, adult situations, mild adult language)


Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>

5 comments:

Kathy B. said...

Oh goodness ~ the boys (now ages 28 and 24) and I have always been such Superman fans (Christopher Reeve especially) we will still call each other when it's on T.V. !
I will let them know to pass on the Donner release.
Love,
K.

Gemma said...

Tell us how you really feel, FilmFather!! :) A 0.5 ? That pretty much says it all. Will definitely skip this one, but may revisit "Superman II," the GOOD VERSION.

Kristin said...

I don't need to watch this Superman movie, anyway, for two reasons: 1) I heard your infuriated reactions as you were watching it and 2) I have my own real Superman at home. :)

rob! said...

Like you, I was soooo excited over the idea of seeing Donner's version of Superman II. And, like you, I was really disappointed.

I chalked it up more to the hodge-podgey-ness this film is--made up of trims and little cuts, even some rehearsal footage. There's just so real way to recreate the film Donner wanted, so I'm less down on this version than you--though I haven't watched it since I bought the DVD.

The one moment that really drove me nuts that you didn't mention was Donner cutting Superman's "General--Would you care to step outside?" line, which was unforgivable--its one of the best movie scenes of all time!!

JLG said...

Hey I'm pretty late commenting this one, but you referenced it today.

I wasn't sure how to feel about Donner's cut. I loved seeing new scenes and witnessing the story as Donner wanted it. But it was kind of sloppy. Especially the scene shot in rehearsal where Clark wheres ladies glasses. I decided not to "accept" it as its own film, but as an anthology of sorts. Therefore I don't give it a rating.

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