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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.79%
Worth A Look78.95%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 5.26%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
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by Marc Kandel

"Flawed, Fascinating, and still Fun."
4 stars

The Superman II Donner Cut is a collection of new and old scenes reshuffled and re-cut to give us an ďideaĒ of what Richard Donnerís original vision for the film would have been before the Salkinds yanked the rug out from under him and Richard Lester decided to yuk it up on the WBís dime. It's the biggest case of the ďSupposedtasĒ disease Iíve ever seen. Is it worth your time and money? Oh yes, every fractured second and stretched cent of it.

For those who donít know the long and checkered production history of the original Superman films, a quick recap, which can take the place of the Superman II Synopsis, as I make the assumption that anyone interested in the Donner Cut has already seen Superman II and simply wants to take things to the next levelÖ

Richard Donner films two Superman movies simultaneously only to discover that his producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind balk at the immense costs of the project and fire him, despite the first and virtually all of the second already being in the can. Superman goes on to be the greatest superhero movie ever created, while Superman II is helmed by Richard Lester, utilizing much of Donnerís footage, supplemented and in some cases replaced by Lesterís own scenes which add more than a dollop of slapstick humor to the mix while excising not only all of the Marlon Brando scenes, but at least several plot points that one might think were key to a cohesive storyline.

Superman II becomes every bit the success Superman was, and nobody gives a shit about plot and nuance when they can enjoy people lobbing buses at each other and witness a Metropolis citizenís ice cream cone comically hitting him in the face due to Kryptonian gale force super breath sweeping across the city. Debate continues as to which is the better film, though it is obvious that the sequel chooses spectacle over story. Fans are left to wonder what would have happened had Donner been able to helm the second film, intrigued by Donnerís and other cast membersí interviews where it is hinted that far more serious, emotionally rich story exists, rotting away in studio warehouses never to see the light of day.

Decades later as DVDís and rampant George Lucas revisions and manipulative re-releases allow studios to realize that there is much profit to be made on the small as well as big screen by revisiting the classics and bulking them up with extras and alternative scenes, Warner Brothers, spurred by an enormous Superman Movie Fan Campaign, gives Donner an unprecedented opportunity to revisit and reconstruct Superman II, giving the world a peek at the film that might have been. The results are, at a glance, distressing; an out of sync, awkward collection of sequences making for a rather incomplete, scattered narrative. But before hope gives over to despair, a closer look will reveal the inclusion of completely new scenes that flesh out much of the Kryptonian storyline and Love Story plots, wonderful new performances by Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando, Donnerís original ending, and a staggering offering of new effects and story twists.

The main questions:
Completely fulfilling? No. Donnerís understandable though emotional refusal to include Lesterís sequences makes for a choppy narrative that clumsily gallops from scene to scene, to the detriment of the finished product. There are even moments where the directorís attempts to give us something new replace his very own original shots with different camera angles- it's a kindly attempt to keep things fresh that only ends up further illustrating why final cuts are final cuts- a case of fixing something that isnít broken. Worse, this version creates more questions than it answers as this cut hinges on a completely different ending to the first Superman, is rife with continuity problems for both films, and most intrusively, completely changes the motivation for Superman to relinquish his power for Lois Lane:

Lesterís version gives the logical impression that Clark must give up his power in order to be physically intimate with Lois (or any human), his responsibility to the people of Earth being a secondary concern. Donnerís version focuses on Jor Elís insistence that for Clark to have a personal life over a life pledged to the service of humanity, he must give up his powers, and Superman makes love to Lois before rather than after the power drain, with no physical ramifications (unless you count Superman Returns). The Lester argument is by far the more compelling one, as a fully powered Superman would super-hump Lois into apricot gelatin, regardless of any attempt at restraint, a thesis I term The Brodie Bruce Theory of Kryptonian/Human Meta-Coitus. Allowing a fully powered Superman physical intimacy with humans makes relinquishing his power academic, considering he can put in a full day of reporting and world saving and still make plenty of cuddle time for an individual.

Worth watching? Absolutely. Itís fun, plain and simple. All will delight at the never before seen sequences between the Family El, Lois and Clark, Lex and the Kryptonians. There are enchanting, riveting new performances to be found from Reeve (who will always get top billing from me), Brando, Hackman and Kidder, and there are fresh twists and added depth to aspects of the original story, particularly the Lane/Kent/Superman triangle, and the power removal/renewal sequences. Itís painful to consider all of these wonderful scenes mouldering in cans all these years, only to be stapled together so many years later in a less than complete project.

Worth Owning? Comic and Film Fans/Completionists- Yes. Casual viewers expecting a new Superman film- No.

The Best Superman ever? Nope. The first film still takes the crown any way you slice it.

Better than the theatrical version? I must, with much regret, fall on the side of No: the theatrical version is, for all its myriad flaws, a complete film whereas this is a rather choppy experiment that does not look, sound, or flow as a completed movie should and has far too many loose ends to elicit complete satisfaction from the viewer. If taken together, the only segment that does surpass and completely trounces the theatrical cut is the inclusion of the scene showing exactly how Clark regains his powers at a terrible cost to his Kryptonian heritage- an excruciating, frustrating omission from the theatrical version. The other divergences simply get from point A to point B through differing yet parallel routes.

Does the Donner Cut expose Richard Lester as a miserable hack? Shockingly, no. Thatís Superman IIIís job. Donnerís cut is so extreme in its attempt to minimize or erase Lesterís fingerprints that one may even miss a few of Lesterís bridge scenes which would have made for a smooth flow from one moment to another.

This cut unintentionally enables one to imagine Lester cobbling together the best film he can under the thumb of the Salkindís edict of no Brando footage, while working within the continuity of the first film alongside Donnerís completed shots for the second. This does not excuse the endless parade of distracting sight gags and the Super Cellophane attack in the Fortress Of Solitude- though I for one find the latter very cool and perfectly acceptable if we are to believe that Superman does possess some home security devices, so glaringly absent in Superman Returns (Die-hard nitpickers will rejoice at a deleted scene where Donner does show the Fortress possessing an anti-intruder device akin to a Kryptonian bug zapper, but will froth at the mouth at the same moment due to the fact that the scene is inexplicably not included in the running cut).

We also lose Lesterís intriguing insight into why Lois finds out Supermanís identity- his version having Clark purposefully reveal himself to her (though I loathe the Pink Polar bear carpet gag) versus Donnerís Lois tricking Clark (I prefer Donnerís version as it reveals Lois not to be a perpetual dumbass after all, and damn clever right from the opening credits to boot). Donnerís scene (taken from a screen test rather than actual film footage) is also undercut by the fact that the scene is by design, unfinished. Rather than a discussion on ďwhat do we do now?Ē There is an alarmingly abrupt cut to Clark simply flying Lois to the Fortress, as if exposing his identity should prompt immediate reward, no matter what the means.

Does it account for some of the continuity glitches in SuperJeebus Returns? HAHAHAHAHAHAAHno. In fact, it makes it thoroughly impossible for Returns to exist within the continuity of the original films at all, but who gives a shit?

Neither cut bothers to explain how Kryptonians can breathe and talk in the vacuum of space.

Letís hope Warner Bros. takes a cue from olí Boss Lucas and releases ďThe Definitive Superman IIĒ a year or two down the line with the effects even further cleaned up, and at least some inclusion of the Lester scenes, if only to aid in the realization of a complete film, if not a glimpse of ďwhat ifĒ. Re-shoots are impossible of course, but there is potential for a merging that might allow all parties to walk away happy.

Both films are what they are, advantages and drawbacks present in each, but the opportunity to see Donnerís intended version, a cinematic first, should not be missed- make no mistake, tharís gold in them thar hills- its unrefined and raw, but it still shines. Pretend 4 stars means 3 1/2 and see this piece of history immediately.

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originally posted: 12/23/06 04:15:04
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User Comments

12/11/12 Linda Richard Lesters cut was better. 2 stars
3/12/11 David Chan the one & only original Richard Donner's project. should have kept him. much better. 5 stars
10/12/09 CrowEater888 Even incomplete it is much better than the theatrical release. 5 stars
10/01/07 Andrew Kercher Much better than theatrical film. Romance corny. "Turns back" premise for Superman Returns. 4 stars
1/16/07 Brian Mckay A VAST improvement over the cheesy theatrical version. Suffers from minor continuity errors 4 stars
12/26/06 johnnyfog Terrence Stamp looks like he's having more fun this time! Otherwise its a novelty for fans 4 stars
12/06/06 David Pollastrini far superior to Richard Lester's version 5 stars
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  28-Nov-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Nov-2006



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