SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT
In the realm of Superman cinema, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT ($25) is a fascinating curiosity; but by no means is representative of what SUPERMAN II would have ultimately been, had director Richard Donner not been replaced on the project by the filmís producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind. SUPERMAN II was in production simultaneously with SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and Richard Donner had roughly seventy percent of the second film in the can at the point of his termination. When Richard Lester was brought on board as the new director, much of Donnerís footage was either re-shot, or the filmís scenario so changed, so that his footage became superfluous to the plot of the revised motion picture. Additionally, the producers did not wish to pay Marlon Brando for his services on the second film, so all previously filmed sequences featuring Jor-El were either eliminated or replaced with other actors- that is, where necessary. Lester also filmed all the additional material required to complete the film, whether it was as laid out by Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, or as part of the revised scenario.
Assembled by Michael Thau from the footage shot by Donner, along with screen tests and necessary sequences from the completed Richard Lester film, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT gives fans a rough idea of what might have been, had the producers stayed the course. Since the fan sites will detail the minutia of the differences between the completed theatrical version of SUPERMAN II and THE RICHARD DONNER CUT, I wonít bother. The general differences include the restored Marlon Brando footage, which more closely ties together the father/son story arc between Jor-El and Kal-El, as well as making the three Kryptonian criminals even more menacing and deadly. Additionally, the camp elements of the Richard Lester version are eliminated in THE RICHARD DONNER CUT. Finally, the envisioned ending for THE RICHARD DONNER CUT had already been utilized for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, but Donner and Mankiewicz left the production of SUPERMAN II before a new ending could be devised- therefore, the plot device used for the ending of this cut is identical to the first film.
Now, as I stated above, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT is a curiosity and only represents a competed motion picture in the most general sense- there are continuity issues, logical gaps and other problems. Therefore, comparing the two versions with the intention of saying which is the better movie is really moot; as there is only one truly compete version of SUPERMAN II. I personally liked where Richard Donner was going with his vision, the Jor-El / Kal-El story arc would have intensified the Superman movie mythology, but again, this "Original Directorís Cut" isnít representative of what SUPERMAN II would have ultimately become had Donner completed the film.
Because of the basic framework set down by Donner and Mankiewicz, Richard Lesterís version of SUPERMAN II was and still is a great movieÖ Of course, without the Donner and Mankiewicz imprint, we all know what SUPERMAN III turned into. The basic premise of both versions of SUPERMAN II finds Superman (Christopher Reeve) facing off against General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran)- the three Kryptonian criminals, who were exiled into the Phantom Zone by Jor El at the start of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. The love story between Superman and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is also significant to the storyline of both versions. And again, Gene Hackman adds the right level of comic book villainy to the role of Lex Luthor. The cast of SUPERMAN II also features Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Clifton James, E.G. Marshall and Marc McClure.
Warner Home Video has made SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Image sharpness and detail is inconsistent, depending on the footage in question, as are the colors. All things considered, the presentation looks pretty nice, some sequences are great, others arenít quite as attractive. Nothing looks bad, but one must remember much of this footage hasnít seen the light of day in decades, so it doesnít always appear quite polished. Also, many special effects sequences had to be completed for this version, and are rather well done on a limited budget. All in all, fans will be pleased with the video presentation.
SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT comes with a pretty solid Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The sound design is relatively effective, and much has been done with the decades old recordings to bring them up to snuff and work them into a modern mix. Sound effects are consistent with a movie that is past the twenty-five year mark, but they still work well enough. Musical cues appear to have been taken from John Williams work on the first film, as well as some of Ken Thorneís reworked music from the theatrical version of SUPERMAN II. Dialogue is surprisingly good and easy to understand, but not always quite perfect. No other language tracks have been included on the DVD, but English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice extra features. Director Richard Donner is on hand to provide an Introduction to the reassembled "Original Directorís Cut" of SUPERMAN II. Director Richard Donner and Creative Consultant Tom Mankiewicz also provide a fairly insightful running Audio Commentary, which is a must listen for fans. Superman II: Restoring the Vision is an interesting program that gives fans a glimpse into the process of creating this cut of the movie. Some Deleted Scenes close out the supplemental materials.
SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT is something that fans have been clamoring to see for decades. While it is finally available, I want to reiterate that this DVD is a fascinating curiosity and does not represent what SUPERMAN II would have ultimately been, had Donner been given the opportunity to complete the film at the time of its original production. From what can be seen here, Donnerís vision would have ultimately yielded a superior SUPERMAN II and paved the way for a franchise that would have flown in a different and more successful direction. If you are a fan, SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT is a must have. Recommended.
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