Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tirades of Truth: Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

I reviewed Superman Returns awhile ago and called it a sequel to Superman 2, which I loved. I heard about the Richard Donner Cut, but never saw it...until now. For those that never heard about what happened, basically in a nutshell Donner was making Superman 1 and 2 at the same time. They stopped filming on 2 to see how the first one did. It was a success, so of course they decided to mess with it and dumped Donner.

Well not only did they dump him, but they wanted him gone from the credits as well. So they needed to shoot 51% of the movie with another director. They did, but Donner had shot about 80% of his version already. That material was finally put together and released. Going into this movie I knew it would be choppy because of how it was made. It was basically taking bits and pieces of 2 films and pasting them together.

The end result? A movie better than before. I loved Superman 2. I considered it to be one of my favorite comic book movies of all time. There were a few things though that I never liked though. The first was the campy street people during the main fight in Metropolis. I don't want to see a guy on roller skates getting blown away or a man on the phone getting knocked over. It really took away from the overall tone of the film. Well my friends...that's all gone! It makes the scene much more powerful and entertaining...the distractions are gone.

For a list of all of the differences head over to Wikipedia, there is a nice list there (go down to The Mankiewicz script/original Donner shoot)

The Good
The Eiffel Tower scene that opened the movie is also gone. That scene was used to set up how Zod and his buddies were released from the Phantom Zone. Well in Donner's version, it is one of Luthor's missiles from the first movie that does it. I think that works better because it really ties the two movies together. The original was supposed to end with Zod and friends being freed from the Phantom Zone, setting up a cliff hanger for number 2.

Instead, this one opens with Lois figuring out Clark is Superman by drawing Clark over a Superman picture. Corny, but kind of like Superman Returns when the kid realizes Clark is Superman too. So what does Lois do to prove it? She jumps out of a window of the Daily Planet. It's great to see how Donner shows off his super speed to get down there and stop Lois from hurting herself and then back up in a flash. Great...better than firing a white laser from his finger (more on that later). It's a scene like this that really sets the pace that this version was going to be a bit more serious than it turned out to be.

Did I say more serious? How about how Lois finally discovers Clark's secret is done better here too. In the original version, Clark trips over a bear rug and drops his glasses into a fire and he gets them out. There is no burn, so Lois knows he is Superman. Cute. But in the Donner version, she shoots Clark with a gun! Really?!? Yep. This is probably the scene most people complain about because it was used with test footage. You see Christopher Reeve's hair change style a couple of times and the set is pretty...empty (look at the photo). It would have been great to see this done, but to be honest it really didn't bother me that much. Like I said though, most people complain about this one scene the most. Take it for what it is, a major plot element that never made it to the final shoot, but was necessary in the Donner version.

Marlon Brando's scenes are all back in place. They dumped him as well to save money and boy was that a mistake. I can't describe how much better he does of conveying the messages to Superman than his mom did in the original. Also what makes these scenes better is Lois is wearing Superman's shirt and Superman flies in his clothes...awesome!

The final confrontation in the Fortress of Solitude is shorter, but better. Gone is the stupid finger lasers, giant S getting thrown, and everyone having the ability to make a clone of themselves. I was/am a huge comic fan and this never sat well with me. Nowhere in the comics did these powers exist and yet there they were. It's a short sweet version that wraps up the film nicely.

One final note on the good, Gene Hackman and Terrance Stamp were much better in this version. The banter back and forth was better than the original. This is probably because Hackman wasn't brought in for the new director after Donner was dropped. So they had to paste a story with old footage.

The Bad
The ending isn't as good. The whole turning back time doesn't work for me. And it wasn't supposed to be used here either. When they went with the turn back time in number one, they were going to make a different ending for number 2, but it was never shot. I never was a huge fan of the "super-kiss", but it worked better than the turning time thing. In addition, by turning back time a few things were messed up.

Superman bringing the flag back to the White House is one of the best scenes in all of comic book cinema, now it is gone. He gives a great quote too;

Good afternoon, Mr. President. Sorry I've been away so long. I won't let you down again.

Sends chills down the spine as he is saying this over the White House with the American flag. This is probably the scene I missed the most.

It also messed up the continuity of the film. Clark still gets beat up by the diner bully. And he goes back and kicks his butt in the end, but if he turned back time then no one would remember Clark coming into the diner before because it never happened. Now I believe Donner would have done something to explain it (maybe having a different ending than the time thing again) because he shot these scenes and is actually an extra in the diner! It just doesn't work. Plus that's the last scene! Huh?!?!? that's how it ends? Yep.

I also missed some of the quotes. I mentioned the ending quote, but also the quote right before the big fight is changed. In the original version, Superman asks Zod; "General? Would you care to step outside?" Classic. He comes off as being confident and knows it annoys Zod. You know that this is going to be on big fight too. Has the throwback to the old westerns when they would ask this.

In the Donner version we get; "Haven't you heard of freedom of the press?" Really? That's just bad.

Final Thoughts
The Donner Cut is the better version overall. The story might have more bumps in the road, due to the lack of finishing the movie, but taking out all of the "campy-ness" and stupid powers makes this the definitive version of Superman 2. I really wish they could have finished this movie the way it was supposed to, I would have loved to see how it was going to end.

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