DVD Review: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
by Jonathan Baylis
Published: November 28, 2006
I grew up on a healthy dose of Superman. I read the comic books and "Superman: The Movie" was one of my first films.
However, I distinctly remember not enjoying "Superman II" when it came out, while my classmates thought it was the better of the two because of
the battle sequences between Zod and Supes. But there were all these other ridiculous powers like levitation hand beams and giant cellophane S-shields and mind-wiping kisses. This wasn't my Superman! I didn't care what anyone said. I always thought it was a turd of a film.
Over the years I heard bits and pieces about the story behind the sequel. Original director Richard Donner had the film
wrested from his grip by the producers. Brought in was Richard Lester (the Beatles' movies "Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" as
well as the Michael York Musketeers films) who had no affinity for the Superman character or mythos. And he was an American
expatriate to England! What was this? Truth, Justice, and the Expatriate way? I don't bloody think so!
all of the Brando footage shot for the film (because then they'd have to pay him!) Gone were major character
developments between Lois and Clark. In were campy reshoots of the villain sequences and unoriginal, redundant action
scenes. Donner had already shot 80% of the film, but Lester had to put his own stamp on it for the Directors Guild to give
Flash forward 20 some odd years later. I heard about a movement to restore Donner's vision for "Superman II". Donner's cut.
The footage was out there. Somewhere. In vaults. But it was out there. To spark up interest, fans from all corners of the
globe sent in all alternate or extra footage shown on network television to create a fan version of the film, the closest to
Donner's cut ever compiled. I have this copy, dubbed "Superman II: Restored International Cut". It contained the largest
amount of Donner footage ever compiled, with a visual commentary track that told you exactly what was Donner's and what was
Lester's. It wasn't quite enough for fans, but it was enough for Warners to shut this project down for the time being. But they
soon realized there was something to all of this clamoring. They decided to open the vaults and let it happen. And finally... it's here.
I have to admit that, like a schoolboy, my excitement was so high upon receiving this disc, that I closed my office door and
immediately watched it from beginning to end. And it was a completely different movie from what I remembered. And a
hundred times better.
I'm going to try to write this with as few to no spoilers as possible. Let's see how I do. (I mean, you have waited for 25 years, why ruin the experience now?)
Donner's film is clearly superior to Lester's, and I can't really understand why it was spurned. But if I could make a guess
that isn't some sort of bitter shot in the dark, I would say this: One could argue that Donner's film is a mature one and
not really geared towards the kind of young audience that perhaps Warner Bros. would've liked for this film 25 years ago.
Today you've got a darker Batman and Spider-man, but back then, perhaps they just wanted a picture that appealed to that
younger audience. And judging by this cut, that's not what Dick delivered. What he did deliver is a mature Superman
film that I think would've foreshadowed the serious superhero stories that were birthed in the 80s by the likes of Frank
Miller and Alan Moore, who were writing for themselves and not twelve year olds. This version has more drama and more pathos.
The villains are scary and evil and not the comical caricatures in Lester's version. This is the Terrance Stamp Donner
hired, not some campy Batman TV show baddie. There's more at stake here and you feel it. And hearing more of that Williams
score? How can that not get you riled up?
I won't ruin what's been added, but I'll tell you a bit of what's been taken away. That ridiculous Eiffel Tower scene?
Gone! That bit where Lois jumps into Niagra Falls? Drowned. The scenes in the Fortress of Solitude featuring other
Kryptonians? Exploded. And that bring us to Brando. Ah... Brando. Despite the man's pronunciation of "Krip-tinn", this is
one of the greatest actors of all time. He brings so much to the table and creates a rich three-dimensional relationship for
this father and son. It's been worth the wait, people.
Last Tango in Krypton
The film isn't seamless. You've got to look at a couple of scenes through rose-colored glasses. Remember he only shot 80%
of it. I mean, there are scenes where Reeve's hair changes length from shot to shot because he's intercutting a screen test
with shot footage, but I didn't really care. I knew what he was going for.
The DVD includes a few extras, but let's face it, this whole film is basically the longest deleted scene ever! There's an
intro to the film with Donner that looks like it was shot in one take. Could've used another. The commentary by Donner and
writer Tom Mankiewicz is great. Two old chums finally able to save their baby from bondage and show her off to the world.
There's also a featurette called "Superman II: Restoring the Vision" that gives credit where credit is due: to Michael Thau,
the producer of the reconstruction, who did the hands-on work of sifting through tons and tons of footage to bring Donner's cut
back to life. And finally, as if an almost entirely new film wasn't enough, there are, yes, more deleted scenes.
This is the version fans have waited for, for over 25 years and I think it was absolutely worth the fight. Enjoy my compadres, enjoy. Superman's really returned.