Superman II : The Richard Donner Cut (DVD)

The fists are shaking in the air. The jaw is robust and raw with grit. The attitude? Quite simply, pissed off. Having now seen what Richard Donner would have done with “Superman II”, I can honestly say there’s a couple of folks I’d love to see as merely heads-on-sticks.


Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando

The fists are shaking in the air. The jaw is robust and raw with grit. The attitude? Quite simply, pissed off. Having now seen what Richard Donner would have done with “Superman II”, I can honestly say there’s a couple of folks I’d love to see as merely heads-on-sticks.

For the first time in over thirty years, DVD gives us “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut”, a film many – especially the aforesaid director – thought would never see the light of day. Thanks to a mass of fan petitioning – and, of course, the power of DVD – Warner, and the other powers-that-be, have decided to give ‘em what they – we – want.

For those not in the know, “Superman” and “Superman II” were filmed simultaneously –not back to back, but together. In other words, when Richard ‘Dick’ Donner would shoot a scene in ‘The Daily Planet’ for “Superman”, he’d shoot whatever needed to be shot for “Superman II” in the same location. Quite a juggle.

When the budget for the films’ started to spiral out of control, Donner was ordered to suspend work on “Superman II” – which he had completely about 70% off – and finish the first film. Donner expected to return to work on “Superman II” once the first film was in the can – but alas, that wasn’t to be.

Donner was let go.

The producers had decided to cut Marlon Brando – who had filmed his scenes – from “Superman II” altogether, because it would mean they wouldn’t have to pay the actor his staggering fee. They also decided on a few other cost-cutting exercises – including dumping Donner, who according to the producers was one costly element that needed to be eliminated. Believing that he worked too leisurely, and would ultimately hurt the bank, the moneymen replaced him – needless to say, Donner was shocked, flabbergasted, and as hurt as a poodle under a car tyre – with a second-rater.

Richard Lester was bought in to finish the film. His “Superman II”, as it was released, was average to say the least. Brando was gone, but so was the storyline. In many ways, it was incomprehensible – sure, not “Superman IV” incomprehensible, but still a mess.

Thanks to some insanely hard work from the restoration troops, “Superman II” is available to view as it should’ve been from the get-go – Well, not entirely as it would’ve been (because many of the special effects sequences weren’t finished and some of the scenes were shot by Lester), but good enough. Scratch that. Great…enough.

Donner’s film is a totally different film. It really is. From the storyline to the tone to the performances to the pacing…. It just plays different, and works a hell of a lot better than the condensed “Superman II” that we know. It also has some real heart, something sorely missing from the Lester version.

Among some of the changes – a more detailed introduction which explains how Zod, Non and Ursula escaped the Phantom Zone, the original ending (which involved Superman turning back time – something they ended up using for the first film), a spectacular third-act battle between hero and villains in the Metropolis streets, and, most importantly, the reincorporation of Marlon Brando’s scenes as Superman’s pop, Jor-El.

* SPOILER WARNING *

The most wonderful ‘new’ moments are those between Superman/Clark and Lois Lane, though. At the start of the film, Lois realises that Clark is indeed Superman, so she proceeds to try everything she can – like jumping out a window, and ultimately shooting him in his indestructible chest – to get him to expose himself to her. There’s a joyous little sequence (which is actually the screen test because the sequence was never filmed for the movie) in which Clark eventually does come clean with Lois, and as a consequence, they admit their true feelings for one another. This ultimately leads Clark – with Lois in tow – to the Fortress of Solitude, where he proceeds to talk Jor-El (Brando in another of his restored scenes) into letting him become ‘human’.

The finale – incorporating the ‘turn back the time’ element – is also quite touching. Knowing they can’t be together, a weepy Lois agrees to let Superman turn back the clock so that the next day, everything will be back to how it was…before she knew his secret identity. It’s actually quite touching. Kidder is especially excellent in the scenes (Donner says in the commentary that the waterworks were real – she didn’t need anything to help her cry).

* END SPOILER *

I don’t want to say too much more about Donner’s film, it’s too good to spoil. I’m inclined to say that if it had been completely finished – and it’s not far from it – it would’ve been just as good a film as the original.

Director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz provide an insightful and very honest – Donner is understandably and obviously rather hurt still, by what happened way back when, and isn’t afraid to let it rip. For instance, he refuses to name ‘Richard Lester’ by name but sours at watching one of “his” scenes– commentary for the film, that’s worth listening to once you watch the film with its soundtrack.

Other extras include an introduction to the film by Donner, a featurette about how the restored version came about, and an option to view the ‘new’ scenes on their own.

This is one of the most joyous DVD releases of the year. “Superman II” will never be the same again – and for once, that’s a good thing.

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris