Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, 2006.
Directed by Richard Donner.
Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman.
The 1980 classic is reedited to its original director’s vision.
Having heard of this film’s very existence when it was released in 2006, I found myself longing to own a copy of it. A fan of the cinematic representation of the Man of Steel since first seeing Christopher Reeve’s debut as Superman when I must have been biting ankles, I was delighted to say the least when finding a shop that sold this movie as part of “The Christopher Reeve Collection” which includes all of Mr Reeve’s Superman films. Although I’m sure many of you know the storyline, I’m positive there are some who do not.
Three criminals (General Zod, Ursa and Non) from Superman’s former home of Krypton are released from their outer space prison after an explosion. Unfortunately for mankind, they are released quite close to Earth and decide to conquer the planet as they had failed to do on Krypton. Lex Luthor (Hackman), on the other hand, has been imprisoned along with his assistant Otis (Ned Beatty) after trying to make the land along the San Andreas Fault collapse into the sea with the new area owned by Lex. He soon escapes and embarks on a “mutual relationship” with General Zod and co after telling them that he knows how to find the son of their jailor Jor-El (Marlon Brando) a.k.a Superman. Unfortunately for the world, Clark Kent (Reeve) has fallen in love with Lois Lane (Kidder) and inadvertently displayed his secret identity, with his ghostly father Jor-El having removed his powers at Superman’s home, the Fortress of Solitude, after Superman requests for this to happen. Will the Earth ever be saved by Superman once again or will the world always be under the control of General Zod?
Having watched Richard Lester’s cut of “Superman II” many times, I found this version to be completely different but far better than beyond all belief. The alterations are quite remarkable and certainly evident for all to see. But first, a little backdrop about the film itself.
Whilst filming the first “Superman” film, Richard Donner also shot footage for its sequel simultaneously. The producers Alex and Ilya Salkind fired Donner and replaced him with British-director Richard Lester. The footage which Donner shot was pretty much thrown out, with a vast amount of new footage shot by Lester. Although the result of this was a commercially successful movie, the original vision of Donner was lost. Thanks to an internet campaign to get the original cut released, the vast amounts of footage which was shot for “Superman II” by Donner was shipped over from London to the USA. To say this project was ambitious is an understatement, as the production staff had to look through each and every reel and make sure that it was under Donner which this footage was shot.
With great power, comes great responsibility said Uncle Ben in the recent Spiderman movies. The legion of fans which regard Mr Reeve as the finest Superman ever to wear the red cape must have had high hopes for the release of this movie, and they mustn’t have been disappointed. With yours truly counting himself in this camp, I found this film to be superior when compared with Richard Lester’s original cut. The reasons for this are as follows:
The one element of the 1980 version which really bothered me is the dated comedy. Gone are these scenes, such as the man talking in the phone box after General Zod and co blow away the Metropolis citizens attempting to defeat them with whatever they could find, and are replaced with dark moments which Donner is so good at putting in his movies. The second element which this movie improves on is the fact that it is not just about Zod and co invading Earth. Their destructive nature is split up over the course of the narrative to much success, and replaced with previously unseen footage of Marlon Brando. Due to his exorbitant fee for appearing in the first movie, it was made forbidden that Brando should not appear in the sequel and the result of this was that new scenes of Superman’s mother Lara (Susannah York) should be replaced. To even think of replacing a screen legend such as Brando with a lesser-regarded actress is unthinkable, but then again that was the mentality of the Salkind’s. Money over common sense, the Salkind’s should be ashamed for what they did. Details of such footage will not be divulged, but trust me it is worth watching.
The way in which the movie is edited is quite contemporary, with the ending changed considerably and less patriotic but it is Donner’s vision which is most important, and some might argue that it is a much more suitable ending indeed. A respected and better version for the great man Christopher Reeve, but due to the Salkind’s dithering over who to direct the sequel an opportunity for Mr Reeve to view it in his own lifetime has been lost forever.