Thursday, February 24, 2011

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

I never had much interest in this movie to be perfectly honest. I thought that Superman II was a perfectly fine film as is, even though it was admittedly flawed and very, very silly. Most Superman fans knew about how the film was taken away from the original director Richard Donner mid-production and given to Richard Lester to reshoot and reedit, although to this day nobody really knows why. So the question always lingered like a riddle wrapped up in an enigma: what could have been?

Like I said, I never really bought into that riddle because I like Superman II way better than I did Donner's original Superman film, so I didn't have a whole lot of faith that his version of the sequel would be that much better. After all, Donner was the guy who made Lex Luthor into a joke, conceived Clark Kent as a bumbling fool, came up with an over all story that made zero sense, and ended the film with the most ridiculous deus ex machina in movie history. So I never really understood why people thought it was such a travesty of justice (not to mention truth and the American way, or whatever) that Donner was fired from finishing the second film.

Fast forward thirty years later, and the original cut as envisioned by Richard Donner was restored and released on DVD and Blu Ray. Well, it's as close to his original vision as possible, since much of his footage was lost forever and some remained unfilmed, but for all intents and purposes this is the film that would have been released had Donner not been fired and replaced with Lester. Got all that? Good. Like I said, I had little interest in seeing this, until a few days ago when I heard some people whose opinions I respect extolling its virtues and encouraging everybody to check it out. So I checked it out.

The Richard Donner cut is a very interesting, thoughtful, painstakingly reedited and restored version of a very flawed, admittedly stupid movie that turned it into a very different but equally flawed movie that is still very stupid. Some of the flaws from the original cut have been fixed to make way for new flaws, while some of the stupid stuff has been replaced by stuff that's just as stupid. At the end of the day, I prefer the original, and seeing this film only reinforced by original assumption that the stupid replaced Richard Donner because his ideas were just plain bad.

I'm not going to go into detail here about all of the changes from version to version, since there were so many, some major and some so subtle that I probably didn't even notice. I'm just going to briefly discuss my initial impressions and what I thought worked and what I thought didn't. The film's opening was completely different, eschewing the big set piece at the Eiffel Tower with a ten minute montage recapping the previous film in order to set up the release of Zod and his gang from the Phantom Zone prison. In Donner's cut, they were now freed from Superman deflecting one of Luthor's missiles and not from the bomb placed by terrorists on the Eiffel Tower (or whatever). This was a fine change, although I found the montage of the first film to be a ponderous, unengaging way to open a film. The Eiffel Tower scene was pretty dumb, but at least it was exciting and fun. This new opening was just boring.

Most of the changes throughout the rest of the film were more of tone than of anything else, although some footage was stuck in and some other stuff was taken out. Richard Lester directed a campy, overly silly romp while Donner's cut is a more thoughtful, talky dramatic piece. Personally, I found Donner's vision to be pretentious and boring, while Lester's at least was funny and seemed to contain a lot more action. One cool change was how they put Marlon Brando back into the film as Jor-El, replacing footage of him for all of the footage with Superman's mother. That was all flawlessly done.

But it was really the ending that sold me on the original version, since Donner's Cut has the worst ending sequence I've ever seen in any movie since... well... since the original Superman. Both films basically have the same ending, and while it was dumb the first time around, it was completely moronic and almost offensive the second time. Just watch it and you'll see what I mean. (SPOILER!!!!!!) Sure, Lester's version were Superman clouds Lois's memory with a super-kiss was dumb, but having Superman turn back time again was so much worse, and completely invalidated the entire movie. Dumb dumb dumb.

So... the Richard Donner Cut. All they managed to do was take a dumb movie and made it even dumber. If you loved Superman II already, you'll probably like this as well since it is fundamentally the same movie, albeit with a few changes here and there that range from the marginally superior to the infinitely inferior. If you hated Superman II, this cut won't change your mind, and, in fact, might just annoy you even more. I will give credit to the people who reedited and restored this version, however, since the new footage was seamlessly integrated with the old. There were some wacky moments here and there were the footage didn't always click because hairstyles changed from shot to shot and some of the effects were obviously cleaned up with CG, but it was an astounding work of restoration all the same.

But still... Skip it.

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

I'd read a few reviews of this cut on Usenet, though I guess I'd forgotten that the Donner cut ends the same way that Superman ended. That's really a lot to go through--turning back time and all--just to keep your secret.

This is a classic mistake of people who don't really understand comic books. If you give Superman a power like that, it opens the question of why he doesn't use it all the time. I mean, why doesn't he just go back in time to World War II and capture Hitler?