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Before you watch this DVD there is something very important that you
must understand. Richard Donner never completed Superman II. And, since
he never completed the film it was impossible to truly make a "Donner
cut" per say. What this DVD (edited and produced by Michael Thau) shows
us is what the film "may" have looked like. Once you understand that
you will be able to enjoy the experience.
Why do I go through that explanation? Well...because from the complains I've heard and read it seems that people don't seem to understand that. So, that's why I felt it should be addressed.
Now, on to the review...
Donner was hired by the Salkinds in '76 or '77 to direct two Superman films at the same time. When time and money was running out the decision was made to stop production on Superman II and focus on the first one. By that point Donner had already completed about 80% of the film. When Superman became the biggest hit of 1978 the decision by the Salkinds was to fire Donner. He was replaced by Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) and Lester re-shot most of the film. Only about 30% of Donner's work remained.
After almost 30 years WB finally released Donner's version since most fans demanded to see it. And, on the DVD, Donner, thanks the fans which I felt was a nice touch.
The plot of the movie is the same as Lester's Superman II. General Zod and his goons escape the Phantom Zone. They arrive at Earth (or Planet Houston as they call it) and quickly take over. And, where's Superman? He made the mistake of giving up his powers to be with Lois Lane. So, will Superman recover his powers on time to save Earth from Zod? You will have to watch the film to find out.
Now, the question on everyone's mind is whether or not this version is truly better than Lester's take. The answer is yes! Why? Because Lester never really understood the material. Which is prove when you watch Superman III. Donner, on the other hand, truly understood the material. He understood that...YES...it's a comic book adaptation but it's still an art form. As silly as Superman may seem he understands that there is a wonderful story to tell. And, he understands that there is wonderful characters to develop and have an audience understand and fall in love with. When you watch this DVD that's what you'll see. A film directed by a man in love with the material. Not a film by a man who did it for the money. If you love Superman: The Movie then you'll love Richard Donner's version of Superman II. The ONLY flaw of this version is that it was never completed.
Richard Donner's cut of Superman II is not the definitive answer to
"what if Donner had been allowed to finish Superman II?" It is not a
stand alone, completed, film so much as it is an abstract
representation of where he intended to go. Remember, we are dealing
with a reconstruction of an incomplete 25 year-old film. It's a jig-saw
puzzle with a few pieces missing, jimmy-rigged with whatever the
filmmakers could use to complete it.
But if you can look past inherent flaws that comes with the circumstance obvious dubbing issues, inconsistent special effects, glaring continuity errors, a recycled resolution, and lack of an original score look past all of that, look to the underlying vision, and you'll see something special.
First and foremost, the return of Marlon Brando's scenes, a presence sorely missed in the theatrical cut of Superman II which allows the characters and story arcs that started in the first film to come full circle. At last nonsensical dialogue from the first film clicks into place "the father becomes the son, the son becomes the father" it gains a meaning in a touching exchange between Jor-El and Kal-El. In the Lester cut, Kal-El consults his mother in the fortress of solitude, and somehow it lacks the emotional punch that the exchange should have. Here, though, in the Donner Cut, Marlon Brando's voice rings with fatherly love, and across time and space the essence of the father reaches out to the son. A love that allows Jor-El to guide Kal-El even from his Kryptonian grave. And after 25 years it finally makes sense how Superman regains his powers after sacrificing them to live with Lois Lane.
Marlon Brando as Jor-El by itself makes the Donner Cut worth the price of the rental. I mean, how do you cut out Marlon Brando? Especially when his character is integral to not only the plot, but to the titular character's arc? Anyway, I particularly liked the restoration of how Lois initially suspects Clark's identity. A passive comment by Jimmy Olson makes her pause and ponder the paradox of Clark disappearing when Superman appears, and she draws a suit, hat, and glasses over a newsprint picture of the Man of Steel. In the Lester version, Lois' eventual revelation feels more chance driven, and even when they have direction it's as though they beat around the bush. It's anti-climactic, and lacks a fulfilling payoff.
In Donner's version, by contrast, the challenge is more direct. A one on one battle of wits with Lois fighting to conclusively prove that Clark is Superman, while he makes clever use of his powers to keep his identity hidden early on Lois throws herself out a window. And instead of Superman flying to the rescue, Clark uses his super-breath to slow her descent, and his eye beam to unlatch a canopy to break her fall. She lands safely, and lo and behold Clark hasn't moved from the window 50 floors up. "Lois! What have you done?!" Point: Superman and Richard Donner.
The exchanges are just more fun in Donner's version it's like a cat and mouse game that escalates until the eventual pay off in a scene that Donner, sadly, never shot. Reconstructed from screen tests, gaping with continuity errors, but it's remarkable the power that still underlines the moment when Clark is finally caught red handed, and removes his glasses. Subtly transforming from Kent to Superman right before our eyes it finally feels like the pivotal moment it should be, and resonates more deeply because the previous scenes support and sustain it. I guess what I'm getting at is, once again, the arc feels more natural, more complete.
Gone are as many as the throw-away Naked-Gunesque sight gags as Michael Thau could afford to cut. And what a difference that makes to the overall tone of the movie. Of particular note: the battle over Metropolis that finally feels like the epic brawl it should be. Other than a few additions, the major difference between Lester and Donner's version lay in the editing. And yet I cheered every time Superman sent one of the villains flying through a building or a sign as though watching this sequence for the first time I was thrilled when the villains created a powerful wind to stop the mob and the focus stayed on the destruction at hand cars crashing into buildings and other cars and not wigs and silly phone booth conversations. The villains are more threatening, more intimidating, and the battle appears more destructive now that their powers weren't used to generate jokes.
While I'm hesitant to say the humor in Donner's film is more sophisticated (the Donner cut does have toilet humor not present in the Lester cut), I will say Donner's jokes are better planned and executed. At least in his version most of them have proper build up and pay off.
Finally, the issue of complaints: were this another film under another set of circumstances, I would have room to complain. It does have flaws, yes. As mentioned above, the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II looks like a jigsaw puzzle that was finished with "whatever." Unlike Superman, Donner could not turn back time and finish shooting with the full resources he needed to do the job right. The disclaimer before the film clearly states it's a representation of the Donner concept. Nothing more.
Like I said, this is only a hint of what could have been. And that's more than we should reasonably have hoped to get.
I, like many others have been waiting for this cut to come along. I got
the DVD yesterday and expected a film with missing holes, missing scene
title cards and un-easy editing due to the footage used.
What people forget is that Richard Lester's version was pretty hot in 1980 minus a bloke getting blown around while on the phone in the heat of a battle.
Well ... I was shocked, and I clapped at the end. Superman II now feels like a different film. The new scenes are very good (and just show what Chris Reeve could do - what a wonderful actor he really was), Marlon Brando scenes are superb to watch, new music cues - from Superman one, lots of new funny scenes, and new special effects that don't look out of date in what is supposed to be a 1980 film. Gene Hackman's part seems more fleshed out here than before - witness the Fortress of Solitude crystal scenes. lovely and funny.
This shows the power of DVD and show special it is. This cut simply could not have been made. You will find that some of the new edits jump from scene to scene in a flash - that because we already know the film from Richard Lester's version. Watch this like is was new and you would love it more. You, if you are a Superman fan, will fall in love with the new opening scene with a new look at the Phantom zone capture (new camera angles you see) and get this - new credit sequence up to the standard of the original supe adventure.
So it really like a fantastic new look at a old film. You could point out the faults in lines dubbed or the odd bit of tinkering even the ending but this really is a new Chris Reeve film you though could never have been made. Bonus.
Masterful piece of reimaging - Superman is back
This should have been the original Superman II! When you watch it, you
finally understand what the hell Superman and his father have been
saying all these years. It all makes sense now. Having grown up on
Superman, I feel cheated!!! I had to wait until now to finally
understand one of my favorite film series! It's just a crime!
Not only does Donner's film flow better and enlighten the viewer, it even makes those annoying villains have more purpose. Even as a kid, I thought they were ridiculous. They're still ridiculous in this film, but Donner links them more clearly to Superman's past, so you get pulled into the plot line more.
Watch this film and you'll see my point.
Most movie fans know that Richard Donner began shooting Superman I&II
simultaneously, and that he was fired after the first was completed to
be replaced by Richard Lester. Lester re-shot most of Donner's footage,
re-working scenes and dialogue and finishing the second film as well as
time, budget, and his own talents allowed.Compared to the first, it was
badly paced, choppily edited, and filled with horribly out of place
attempts at comedy. Superman's showdown with Zod and his henchmen in
downtown Metropolis was still (and in many ways, is still) the greatest
superhero battle ever captured on film, but the rest of the film was
weak and uneven in comparison. The result was an entertaining enough
follow-up, but one was until now left to wonder what might have been
had Donner had the opportunity to finish the film properly.
In an unprecedented move, Warner Bros. recently allowed Donner to re-master and edit all of his original Superman II footage. Most of the footage had survived, and some parts had to be filled in with segments from Donner's re-shoots and even a couple of full dress screen tests.
The result is, while a bit rough around a couple of edges, remarkable. The new version is paced much better, and gone are the more cringe-inducing moments from the theatrical cut (like Superman's amnesia kiss, or Clark's bumbling around like a buffoon and falling into a fireplace). More importantly, however, is the dramatic weight that some of the restored scenes add to the film. A wonderful father/son dynamic is revealed as Superman and Jor-el (Marlon Brando, appearing in previously unseen footage) find themselves at odds over the last son of Krypton's proper role on Earth. In the theatrical cut, when a de-powered Clark returns to the fortress of solitude in a quest to regain his powers, he finds the glowing green crystalline equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. In The Donner Cut, Superman's powers are not restored without a price.
If you haven't seen The Donner Cut, you haven't seen Reeve's finest acting as the son of Jor El. We also get more Gene Hackman and the delightful Valerie Perrine.
The action scenes are as punchy as as ever, and again, campier comedic elements have been removed. The new ending will definitely divide audiences. I won't spoil it here, but it certainly is different, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet.
Here's hoping that in the future, the Man of Steel's cinematic exploits continue to be steered by class directors such as Richard Donner rather than hacks such as Sidney J. Furie or Richard Lester.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
December 1978 and 'Superman The Movie' just premiered worldwide. It's
that rare epic that's humorous and fun! It honors the legend and offers
a refreshing take on our first encounter with a super flying hero. When
the end credits cap with..."Next Year Superman II", it was met with
thunderous cheers and applause.
'Superman The Movie' may not be perfect. But with so much heart and a quality 'tongue-in-cheek' approach that it made for perfect entertainment!
"Good news", the film makers say, "the best is yet to come with Part 2. Most of it's already in the can". That WAS good news!
Unfortunately, months later...Bad News strikes!
First: Director Richard Donner gets nixed!? Some of his scenes are to be replaced?!?
Then: Marlon Brando Is OUT!!
BRANDO?? THE LEGENDARY ACTOR ICON OF THE 50'S AND 70'S! "Financial Reasons"(?). But since he's already been paid his salary, his percentage of the gross for Part 2 is contractually guaranteed. His name attached to any movie at that time spells big bucks! And he's essential to the plot!! Go Figure!! But the producers didn't see it that way; a similar renege they attempted in their all-star opus "The Three..." and "Four Musketeers" in the early 70's.
So Brando's out! Brando sues! And Brando wins! He's reimbursed and he's upset!! (Wouldn't you be after receiving a couple of mil'?!)
Most of Donner's scenes are re-filmed. Without Donner, the heart of the saga is jettisoned. Several actors and crew members are understandably outraged. Even the very professional Christopher Reeve makes a negative statement that it's shameful the world will be deprived of a performance by an actor of Brando's stature.
SPOILERS: When "Superman II" was released in 1980/81, it got great reviews. For me; a was a mixed bag! The movie opens on Krypton...and Brando's absence becomes painfully obvious.
The music swells! But where's the rich textured motifs that composer John Williams had firmly established from Part 1 (less musicians = less money)? Themes get carelessly substituted. Even Otis' musical cue continues long after Ned Beatty's early exit. And where's that dramatic, epic feel. Proof positive?? Compare "Zod's Phantom Zone Release" in both the 'Theatrical' and 'Donner Cut' versions. There's no arguing the difference in dramatic impact.
And Margot Kidder! Her performance under Lester's direction is heartbreakingly noticeable. Under Donner's direction, she's spunky, energized, spontaneous. And beautiful! (Courtesy of Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth who's name is (finally) properly re-instated into the opening titles).
A Comic book continuation on a grand scale is forever lost!!
So...how does "The Donner Cut" cut it?? Depends on how much you know on Part II's troubled history and your level of enjoyment of the theatrical version.
For me...and I ain't apologizing! It's the most near satisfying movie I've seen this year. Almost like time traveling 25 years back and you're hoping the press made some sort of mistake about Brando not being in it; and Donner not directing the little bit left to film and;...and whatever!
So now Donner's version opens with an ominous score by John Williams, followed by a heartfelt tribute!
Then! And finally! The 1st voice you now hear is...Brando. You can't help feel that this is the way it should've always been!
An alternate universe that most lovers of Superman lore will embrace. The joy ride is in the number of alternate and extended scenes; and those crappier ones left out. Is this a definitive version? Of coarse not! Poor decisions canceled out any definitive version from ever existing a long time ago.
Non's unnecessary comic schtick is mercifully dusted. The evil Kryptonians are now leaner and meaner. Gone too, are the annoying comic spectator reactions to the battle of the titans.
Top billed Gene Hackman's limited screen time nearly doubles and you can't help wonder why they got cut to begin with. His stand-in double and silly voice-over one liners (by a mimic) are minimized. Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine also get more screen time and I'm probably one of the few who appreciated the flushing pay-off.
What's baffling is why did all that great footage get originally scrapped?
The alternate Lois attempt (in the new opening scene) to reveal Clark's alter ego is a SCREAM!!! The film's resolution is more poignant, if illogical. The main thing is: it's different! Why repeat what already exists in the theatrical version when a Donner alternate is available that showcases his original intent. And Lois & Clark are back at their teeny, tiny desks along with all the other office riffraff and background mayhem, as opposed to Lester's (more accurately, the producers') cost-cutting version of Lois secluded into her own office.
The awe from 'Superman The Movie' is somehow recaptured. It's obvious from the DVD's documentaries and interviews that Donner loves working with actors. From the cast interviews; it's obvious the affection is mutual. On screen; it obviously shows!
Donner should be commended for his courage on revisiting this painful period in his past. This is a new and exciting vision with a whole different feel. Also, I doubt he could maintain a dry eye whenever Christopher Reeve was on screen.
This is a must see and a 1st in movie history! Never before has an internet campaign been so successful in making an impossible dream became possible.
The legacy of Christopher Reeve & Marlon Brando demands that their 'lost' footage be celebrated. Their solo scene where they 'connect' is worth the price of admission.
It's unavoidable that fan's opinions will split! Which version is better? You decide! I don't have the arrogance to state which is better. I can only say which version I enjoyed more.
And there's no way to conclude a 'Superman II' review without saluting Michael Thau.
I've just seen this 'Richard Donner' cut of Superman II after getting
the Christopher Reeve box set for Christmas. Its great. Really great.
But heres the thing. There is material in the Richard Lester version
that has been airing in the UK for years that i love and when you see
the Donner cut its either edited out or the music is completely
changed! The scenes i'am talking about are really around the Krypton
villains. Their arrival on the moon and attack on the astronauts was
one of the best sequences in the movie and the villains' theme by Ken
Thorne (originally by John Williams) which plays over that sequence and
whenever they are on screen was fantastic...the soundtrack is not in
that sequence in the Donner cut!
Also, the hand wrestling scene between the farmer and Ursa in the coffee shop is gone! Please don't get me wrong, this version is superb and i guess it is as close to seeing what Richard Donner originally intended for the sequel before he was replaced with Richard Lester. Also the 'new' footage which i have never seen is really great, especially the opening sequence with Lois Lane throwing herself out of the Daily Planet office window in an attempt to get Superman to save her, as is the small new inclusions of the attack on the White House, making it a little longer and more violent was the right direction and you can clearly see where the makers of the X Men got their inspiration from in this sequence.
The final battle at Superman's address in the North Pole is slightly disappointing. More a battle of super minds than super powers.
However, this is really fascinating if you are a Superman fan and thankfully because of the box set i now have both versions. One is not better than the other, they are both flawed brilliance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Superman II was Superman Trouble. I will spare the sordid details as
they can be read in my "Superman II" review on the Lester version
boards. But let's just say that if you really want something bad
enough, it can and might happen. Such is the case with this new, and
most say, REAL version of Superman II. After many years, and even more
letters, Warner Brothers finally financed a Donner recut of Superman
II. But as has been stated before - the two films are both incomplete,
and one will never actually see what Donner's version will ever really
be. However, with this new cut, we as an audience can finally see what
Donner had intended, and conceived.
"Superman II" begins with sparing no expense, or exposition. We see the action start right away, with such rumored scenes as Lois jumping out of the window, longer Lex Luthor prison scenes, and finally, the scenes with Marlon Brando which were long thought a rumor. Also seen are the full fortress finale, the full Donner interiors to the Daily Planet, and the screen tests for both Reeve and Kidder that were ingeniously edited together to create a scene in itself. These are great new scenes, with the soft Geoffrey Unsworth lighting, John Barry production design, and gorgeous Margot Kidder, and of course, Donner direction that give off the feel that the first film had. The print really shines, and the Donner footage is exactly what fans had hoped for.
The writing is better too, better dialog, better pacing, and no Lester humor. The Metroplois battle is harsher, the way Lois finds out Superman's identity is more clever (you can see why Margot was cast, her screen test inter-cut with Reeve's plays well as an actual scene) and the finale is pithy and in your face. It has been years and years coming, and I Feel we are now given the Superman II that we wanted.
There are a few quibbles. The editing. Michael Thau had some great ideas, but he jumps around every take it seems ever shot and never sticks with one. While it is great to see fresh new takes of favorite scenes, it is frustrating that some dialog has been lost, that was once seen on network television. The editing appears choppy in some scenes as well. We don't get a good enough look at some shots due to this. The Music. It is used rather effective in some scenes, better than the Theatrical version, and then in some scenes, it is not so effective. But these shouldn't really make a difference to the general audiences, only to the devotees like me who knew about this version years in advance.
Despite those small shortcomings, the film will grow on you. I have learned to accept the film, editing and musical differences for what they are: Donner's intention. Remember the Donner scenes presented theatrically were done so by Lester's crew, so everything in this film is how Donner would have done his version. An acquired taste of a new way to look at this classic film. It works. As many of us new it would. It really works.
I was eagerly anticipating the release of this version of Superman II. Having enjoyed I and II a great deal, I was intrigued by the possibility of a more 'epic' style to the second movie. The Richard Donner version has some interesting moments, and is probably worth watching if you're a big Superman fan but, overall I was disappointed by it and found it less satisfying then the original. Aside from having a disjointed feel to it, the dialog was actually more campy in many places, sometimes bordering on silly. The evolution of the Lois/Superman romance is less well-developed (one of the strengths of the original Superman II) and the ending was particularly unsatisfying. However, the Brando/Reeve scenes, almost by themselves, were worth the viewing (especially the second one), and it would have been nice if these scenes could have found their way into the original cut.
Superman 1 and 2 were intended by the director to be a unit, and were
filmed concurrently, as Jackson's Lord of the Rings films were. This
approach works. Originally, after most of Sup 2 was in the can, the
producers got rid of Donner and the Brando footage to save money and
broke up the thematic flow of the two films. They made Sup 2 into a
cheap money-maker follow-on to 1 and ruined it in the process.
What the studio has done here is, nothing short of grand. They've essentially remade this film as it was intended to be. It flows seamlessly from Superman The Movie now. Richard Donner's great pride in his work is evident from his enthusiastic intro on the DVD.
The storyline is cohesive, the emotionally soaring (!) tone of the first film is maintained and heightened. Scenes that reflect the fabulous chemistry between Reeve and Kidder have been restored.
The extensive Marlin Brando footage, shot and intended for the Fortress of Solitude scenes, has been restored.
This film is well worth a watch, particular in conjunction with a re-look at Superman I first. Hats off to Warner Brothers for bringing Richard Donner's vision for it back to life!
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