Friday, June 14, 2013

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

Like I said in my review of the theatrical version of Superman II, Richard Donner was fired before he could complete production of the second film and Richard Lester was brought aboard to finish it. In order to get a director’s credit Lester had to have directed at least 51% of the film, so he rewrote and reshot a good portion of the movie. But what happened to all the footage Donner directed that was never used?

In 2006, in order to celebrate the imminent release of Superman Returns, Richard Donner and a group of dedicated filmmakers pieced together all the discarded footage, created new special effect sequences and re-edited Superman II into the closest approximation of his original vision. This was released on home video as “The Richard Donner Cut”.

The plot is the same – three rogue criminal Kryptonians (Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran) come to Earth to conquer just as Superman (Christopher Reeve) gives up his powers to be with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Most everything else is completely different… and really, really bad.
I can understand that this isn’t the complete version of Donner’s film since he never finished shooting it before getting the axe. But what is presented here is super cheesy and as far as I’m concerned barely watchable. Here’s a list of examples that annoy the shit out of me…

1) The first 8 minutes is a recap of the first film. Eight. Fucking. Minutes. Why? I remember perfectly well what happened in the original and didn’t need Donner to waste time showing me every single important detail before finally moving on to the new elements. This was lazy and used as filler to bring the run time closer to 2 hours.

2) Instead of Lois going to Paris and getting into trouble (a very fun scene cooked up by Lester) we have her throwing herself out of a Daily Planet window to force Clark into giving up his secret identity. This is all at the top of the film instead of later at Niagra Falls, mind you. The whole idea of her noticing out of nowhere that Clark looks like Superman is pulled off in such a hokey way (that zoom to her bugged out eyes is laughable) that I scoff every time I see it. It was more convincing when she noticed that whenever Superman is around Clark disappears, as seen in the theatrical version. And what’s worse is that Lois is fine with the fact that she survived a plummet off a forty story building and lived, aided by Superman without her knowing.
3) The finale ends with the now powerless General Zod and his minions being arrested by the Arctic Police?! Really?! Someone wrote that?!

4) The fact that Superman turned back time at the end of the first film creates a couple of gaping plot holes. In this version the Kryptonians are released from the Phantom Zone by the explosion of the nuclear missile Supes threw into space. Since he turned back time after doing that, doesn’t that mean that there never was a missile for him to dispose of to begin with?

5) Then there’s the fact that whenever Superman is faced with a dilemma that directly affects his emotional state he decides that it’s cool to just rewind time and start over again. So Lois can’t forget her night of lovemaking with her beau, so instead of discussing it like a couple of adults he just flies around the world at the speed of light and erases not only his issues from existence, but the entire world’s as well.
6) This leads us to the other plot hole in regards to Clark returning to the diner to settle the score with the douchebag truck driver that kicked his ass earlier. Since he erased that whoopin’ from the timeline completely it looks like he just walked into the diner, randomly picked a target and laid the smack down on some poor sap that looked shifty eyed. Not really something an overgrown boyscout would do, huh?

7) The special effects that were added to the film to finish the added scenes look worse than what was originally in the film back in 1980. The toppling of the Washington Monument, the missile hurtling through space, the Kryptonians escaping the Phantom Zone, Lois jumping out the window and more. It looks so friggin’ bad I wonder why they even bothered at all. Only the Jor-El material looks like any effort was put into it.

8) Donner had some new footage shot in order to fill out gaps that were missing. Every one of these shots looks horrific. The Clark leaning out the window after Lois jumps is obviously not Christopher Reeve. Some inserts of people’s hands look like they were shot with a crappy digital camera and made to look like older footage. And there’s that hokey ass shot of Clark ripping his shirt open to reveal his Superman suit that is filmed with lighting fit for a lovemaking scene in an old school noir film.
9) The editing is all over the place and screws up the flow. I give Michael Thau credit for trying to make a cohesive movie out of all these bits and pieces of unused footage and mixing them with stock from the Lester cut, but some edits are jarring in the extreme (after Superman saves the child at Niagra Falls) and others allow plot points from the theatrical version that Donner deleted slip in (the random reference to Lois loving orange juice). The takes that were used were probably the worst ones, and all the characterizations were truncated in the extreme. I could give a shit about Lois’s arc because she isn’t given any time to develop, unlike the theatrical cut. Some of the background characters dialogue should have been cut too, because it’s cheesy as all hell (“What a nice man! Of course he’s Jewish!”).

Out of all the changes, the only one that I can say I truly enjoyed were all the scenes involving Marlon Brando’s Jor-El. He was removed from the theatrical version so the Salkinds wouldn’t have to pay him millions of dollars for being in ten minutes of the movie, but he actually has more screen time in this film than the original. The scenes where he discusses issues with Superman are kind of amazing, and the look he throws at Lois when his son decides to abandon his responsibilities for her trifling ass is priceless.
I also kind of liked the scene where Lois threatens to shoot Clark to prove he’s Superman. The bad part is that the scene is made up of footage from the actors’ screen tests so the set looks like ass, the costumes suck and they talk way too fast when compared to the rest of the film. Christopher Reeve’s hairstyle even changes between shots.

I was honestly excited to finally be able to see the version of this movie that could have been. Unfortunately I wish it stayed lost. It’s inferior to the theatrical cut of Superman II in every respect and goes to further prove that Richard Donner has lost his touch in the modern age (read my review of 16 Blocks here). To drive the point home I will only say this – The Richard Donner Cut manages to make General Zod look like a buffoon. ‘Nuff said.

1 out of 5

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