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Superman II: Special Edition and The Richard Donner Cut (DVD Review)

19 Nov, 2006 By: John Latchem

Street 11/28/06

Special Edition $26.99 two-DVD set
Donner Cut $24.98 DVD, $28.99 Blu-ray or HD DVD.
Stars Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Marc McClure.

The filmmaking process always yields new ideas and new approaches to scenes. So to claim The Richard Donner Cut represents what the director would have done had he finished Superman II is somewhat of a misrepresentation. Anyone believing otherwise likely will be dissatisfied by the revised ending.

Fans of Richard Lester's theatrical version will have no reason to change their mind, and those who thought it was too campy will no doubt view the new version as validation.

There are a few scenes that, had they been inserted in the theatrical edition, may have enhanced it. For the most part, the Donner cut is just a series of alternate takes of time-consuming banter, and I leave it to the viewer to decide if a flushing toilet in the Fortress of Solitude is any more appropriate than Lester's lighthearted touches.

The new opening sequence meanders in its attempts to recap the first film while reminding the audience of a nuclear missile Superman threw into space. It is this missile, not a terrorist bomb as in the theatrical version, that frees Kryptonian baddie General Zod and his minions. The film picks up from there, more or less in parallel with the story from the theatrical version.

Zod's attack on the White House is re-edited with more menace. The final battle, shot by Lester, is a little harder edged with the jokes excised, but this is more a factor of hindsight. And maybe trimming the cellophane ‘S' was a good idea, but after “Family Guy” has made a joke about it, is it really fair to leave it out?

Donner likes to talk about his attempts to make the love story between Lois Lane and Superman the core of the first two films. Ironically, the Donner Cut deletes a lot of the warmer moments between the two as the plot sort of lurches forward. Luckily, the theatrical version exists to fill in the blanks.

Lester's version gives dignity to Superman's decision to abandon his powers for Lois. In Donner's, Clark Kent comes across as impetuous and selfish when he asks to be relieved of his duties (he beds Lois prior to losing his powers in Donner's cut, which only raises more questions).

The Marlon Brando footage is fascinating to watch, and certainly provides the film with a different dynamic than the mother-son scenes of the theatrical version.

In terms of the love story, using the mother makes sense, although the Brando footage would have been equally effective, once viewers can get past the hokiness of Jor-El's disembodied head floating in the holographic void.

Jor-El's lessons hammer home the film's theme of duty vs. happiness (which is common in superhero movies). While the pacing of the original version still made the point in a way the new version does not, the addition of some of the Brando scenes would fit nicely.

The best change is the addition of the scene in which the spirit of Jor-El restores Clark's powers. This scene could have been inserted into the theatrical version with no problem.Executive producer Ilya Salkind spends much of his commentary for the theatrical version justifying the changes he and Lester decided to make.

For the most part, I tend to side with Salkind. The perfect version of Superman II probably lies somewhere in the middle of Lester's and Donner's.

Other than a few slapstick moments, Lester's film serves as a very worthy sequel to Donner's original Superman and should not be displaced by the new cut.

The special edition of the theatrical Superman II also contains a hilarious Superman 50th anniversary featurette from 1988. Hosted by Dana Carvey, the special is a tongue-in-cheek retrospective of Superman's career, with interviews from fans, “supervillains” and other “heroes.” It may be the best inclusion on any of the new “Superman” DVDs.

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