Superman II The Richard Donner Cut - The Hero Who Could Have Been
| For those of you who do not know the history of Superman II, let me summarize. Back before the sequels to Pirates and Back to the Future, it wasnít common for two films to be shot back to back. However, Warner was so sure Superman the Movie would be a success that they had director Richard Donner work on a sequel at the same time. He shot both movies simultaneously.
However, when the first film was released, and it was a huge success, the producers tired of working with Donner and they brought in another director, Richard Lester, to reshoot much of Superman II. Not only did he reshoot scenes, he rewrote much of the plot. Terrorists on the Eiffel Tower? Not in the original script. Crazy Superman powers like throwing an inflated cellophane superman-S at villans? Never in the original draft. That mind altering super-kiss at the end of the film. It was supposed to end differently.
Well, now, after over 20 years, Donnerís original vision, or as much of it as could be salvaged, is finally available to see. As a man who spent his childhood watching the Superman films, especially I & II, over and over I have mixed emotions. Much of what Donnerís team has done improve the film dramatically but there are little bits of me that will always be emotionally tied to the version I saw as a child.
Superman II by Donner is a much more cohesive film. Overall, the two films feel much more interconnected. The film starts with a brief recap of the first film and shows Superman sending the first of Lexís two nuclear missiles into space. This is now what releases our Phantom Zone villains. Itís no longer the Paris terrorists. Also, at the end, Superman turns the world back one more time to erase Loisí memory and re-prison the super-baddies.
Okay, the Earth spinning backwards/reversing time thing always bugged me too. Even though I loved the films, even as a child I knew physics doesnít work that way. But physics doesnít allow a man to fly either so I got over it. A kiss doesnít erase memories. I donít care how amazing it is. Therefore we end up with a story that fits together better.
I also love that Lois isnít an idiot in this version. She figures out that Clark is Superman and goes through numerous tests to prove it like the good journalist she is supposed to be. The scene of the reveal, while only done in screen test as that was the only version ever shot, is powerful, funny and romantic. If it had been shot properly it could have been a killer scene.
Also gone are all the silly powers that the Kryptonians exhibited in the theatrical version. Donner kept his characters truer to logic and to their roots. The story doesnít deviate as much from the main plot so it feels tighter as well. Everything about this version just feels better put together.
Finally, there is Brando. Originally intended to be in the second film, the producers cut him out to save money. Much of his scenes were shot and now they are available. Itís a powerful addition to the story and well worth it.
There are moments missing that I do miss. One scene I loved was Lois throwing herself in the Niagra river to test Supermanís identity. It should have been saved as well. I also kind of enjoy Lois scaling the Eiffel Tower but honestly we can live without that part of the story.
If I was asked to pick which version should be definitive, I would have a hard time. Still, I think this version of Superman II comes closer to my understanding of the story than the theatrical version did. This would make a great triple feature with Superman the Movie and Superman Returns. This is one of the great treats of the DVD format, the what could have been.