Watching the Superman films on television in the ’80s was quite startling. It seemed that there was a host of new and alternate scenes that were missing when the films showed theatrically. Even as a teenager, I realized that something was amiss. How could there be such a wealth of heretofore unseen material? As the years wore on, I learned that other, different versions of Superman: The Movie and Superman II played in various countries. Fans began to compile and compare lists in online forums of what alterations existed between the films televised in the U.S.A., the Netherlands, Australia, etc.
Where did all of these extra bits come from? It’s not uncommon to see alternate takes or extra scenes during televised presentations of feature films. These come about in order to remove objectionable bits, to pad running times, or to perform both of these duties. However, the large quantities of new scenes came from the production woes of Superman: The Movie and Superman II. Both films were shot at the same time but, after the release of Superman: The Movie, director Richard Donner and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind had a falling out. Richard Lester was brought in to finish the picture (and re-shoot some of the previously completed footageunder Director’s Guild rules, he had to direct more than half of the film to be credited).
As technology caught up with geekdom, fans from around the globe attempted to preserve and compile the most-complete versions of these films. Undoubtedly, the most notable of these is Superman II: The Restored Intearnational Cut. A two-disc DVD collection, what really makes S2:RIC stand out is the optional on-screen commentary track that denotes which scenes were shot by initial director Richard Donner and what was shot (or re-shot) by Richard Lester.
"Ever hear of ‘Freedom of the Press?’"
The combination of fan petitioning and, more importantly, the option to cash in on hype generated by Superman Returns helped sway Warner Brothers into inviting Richard Donner to restore his original vision of Superman II. A massive movement to locate film and sound elements began and, with the help of editor Michael Thau, Donner re-assembled Superman II. It’s estimated that fifty percent of this edition had gone unseen by audiences since the film’s initial release in 1980.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a fascinating, albeit flawed, attempt at artistic reclamation. S2:RDC features some scenes that had never seen the light of day such as Lois Lane betting her life that Clark Kent is Superman, not by jumping into Niagara Falls, but, by leaping out of the Daily Planet building. A few of the other major changes include the removal of the Eiffel Tower terrorists (the nuclear shock that frees General Zod, Non, and Ursa from the Phantom Zone in S2:RDC is the Hackensack missile from Superman: The Movie), a different revelation of Clark Kent as Superman to Lois (a screen test that doesn’t necessarily work), restoring Marlon Brando (and his voice), and the reversal of time to set everything right.
It isn’t much of a mindbender that Donner’s version of Superman II is more in keeping with the tone of Superman: The Movie. Most of the strained jokes from the Lester version have been removed, giving S2:RDC more of an edge. The amount of humor is appropriate and effective. Also, the battle royale between Superman and his foes feels tighter. However, the two Superman films don’t flow together very well due to the insistence of Donner to use the original ending of Superman II which had already been used in Superman: The Movie. To have Superman spin the Earth backwardsresetting time a second timemakes it seem that this is the Man of Steel’s fallback answer to any insurmountable problem. Girlfriend dead? Spin the Earth backwards. Some badass super-foes deface your planet? Spin the Earth backwards. Can’t find your car keys? Spin the Earth backwards. Keep in mind that, all the while, "it is forbidden."
What’s worse is that this creates a large problem with the dénouement. In Superman II, a powerless Clark Kent gets his ass handed to him at a diner after he’s given up his powers for Lois Lane. At the end of the original Superman II, a super-powered Clark returns to the diner to beat up his attacker. By turning back time, the film’s logic contends that none of the events in 97 minutes of the film had happenedthat includes the diner scene. That Clark comes back to settle a score that no one but he recalls basically turns Superman into a vindictive jerk who throws a beating on someone that never hurt him. That the owner of the bar says, "I just got this bar fixed, it cost me a fortune," apparently refers to the scene that now "never happened" (and Clark Kent’s remark about "working out" is completely out of the blue as well).
S2:RDC boasts some 200 new special effects shots. A lot of these clean up continuity errors inherent in such an ambitious endeavor. Most of these f/x shots work very well; that is, they don’t call attention to themselves. The biggest exception to this is the aforementioned Hackensack missile which resembles a floating ballpoint pen as it zooms through space towards the imprisoned Kryptonians. There are also a few new shots included in S2:RDC such as an insert shot of Superman’s hand picking up a green crystal.
"Care to step outside?"
The best thing about the release of S2:RDC has been the reaction of the fan editing community. The Donner cut could be considered one enormous deleted scene. It provides a wealth of new and alternate scenes from which fan editors can cherry pick variants. Since its November 2006 release, fan editors have been hard at work making a "best in breed" version of Superman II via multiple attempts at reconciliation of the Donner and Lester versions.
In line with the above complaints, most of these edits excise the time reversal of S2:RDC and erase Lois Lane’s memory loss of Superman’s secret identity via a super-powered smooch. Some edits favor the pink bear revelation of Superman’s identity while others muck about with the evolution of Lois and Clark’s love affair; fretting about Lois having intercourse with a super-powered Kal-el versus the de-powered Clark Kent. Like Donner, the editors appear highly cognizant of the amount of humor in Superman II and strive to strike the right balance. While Lex Luthor and Otis can be comedic, the super villains need to be menacing, rather than punch lines.
Two of the best Superman II fan edits are ADigitalMan’s Superman II: The Hybrid Cut and Booshman’s Superman II: The Booshman Cut. What these lack in creativity from a naming perspective they make up for with the clever revamping of the Lester and Donner versions of the film. Running 103-minutes as opposed to ADigitalMan’s 129-minutes, the Booshman version is leaner, meaner, and the preferred version of Superman II to date.
Akin to the releases of the early version of The Big Sleep, Orson Welles’s posthumous edit of A Touch of Evil, and Brian Helgeland’s meaner Payback; that Richard Donner’s version of Superman II could come to fruition over a quarter of a century after he was removed from his own film is a testament to the marvels of current technology, the dedication of fans, and the malleable nature of storytelling.
For more information visit: www.supermancinema.co.uk