A TALE OF II SUPERMANS

Those of you who care about such things, may know that when director Richard Donner was filming his glorious Superman movie (1978), that he was actually filming two movies simultaneously. What eventually became Superman I and II, was originally one script, split into two parts. After filming over 70% of Superman II and going way over budget, the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler, pulled the plug on the sequel and told Donner to finish the first one. He did, and the rest is comic book movie history.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE AS THE MAN OF STEEL
Christopher Reeve
REEVE AND KIDDER – COME FLY WITH ME
Superman and Lois flying high
Superman the Movie remains to many the tentpole by which all other superhero movies are measured. Yet by the end of production, relations between Donner and the producers were so vitriolic, they weren’t even speaking. Even after the global success of the first film, Donner was told by the Salkinds that “his services would not be needed on the sequel.” Instead, the Salkinds opted to bring in Richard Lester (A Hard Days Night) with whom they had previously worked on The Three Musketeers to finish Superman II. Not content to have a film with two directors listed, they had Lester re-film much of what Donner had shot, so that the film could be at least 51% Lester, and therefore Donner would recieve no credit.

DONNER AND REEVE
Donner and Reeve
While the theatrical version of Superman II was a massive success, it lacked the epic grandeur of the first. It was also – to those rabid fans like myself, with a discerning eye – a rather mixed bag of scenes shot three years apart. Clark and Lois’s hair changes from black to brown, Margot Kidder seems to have lost 20 pounds between shoots, a Gene Hackman impersonator dubbed many scenes since Hackman refused to come back without Donner, etc …

For years, especially after the advent of the Internet, fans have begged Warner Bros. to release Donner’s version of the film. Well … it only took 25 years, but in 2006, Warners relented and released Superman II ~ The Richard Donner Cut.
Superman II - the Richard Donner Cut
While not perfect, the much different film offered a fascinating look into the storytelling process. Gone was the slapstick humor that Lester inserted into the climactic battle in Metropolis (flying toupees, ice cream splatting in faces) which severely undermined the tension. Gone was the scene in Niagra Falls where Lois tries to prove Clark is Superman by jumping into a river. This is replaced by Donner’s version, where …

LOIS DRAWS A CONCLUSION
Margot Kidder
LOIS FIGURES IT OUT
The lovely Margot Kidder
LOIS MAKES HER ACCUSATION
Reeve and Kidder
AND PROCEEDS TO JUMP OUT OF THE …
… never mind. Check it out on the first video posted (way) below.
Lois on the sill
The most important change was the inclusion of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Brando had filmed all of his scenes for both movies in 1977, but so they would not have to pay him twice, the Salkinds cut him out of the theatrical release of II. It is wonderful to have him back here.

BRANDO AND HACKMAN – JOR-EL FACES LUTHOR
Jor-El faces Luthor and Teschmacher
BRANDO, REEVE, AND KIDDER (notice Lois wearing Superman’s shirt)
Brando, Reeve, and Kidder
The Donner Cut was released as a stand alone disc, and also part of the massive 14-disc Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition, highly recommended.
Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition
This is a true gift for Superman fans who have waited a quarter century to see what Donner would have done with the sequel to his masterpiece. That said, it is also flawed in that it is not a finished film. Screen tests for Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were re-edited together for the BIG REVEAL scene …

LOIS PULLS A GUN TO PROVE CLARK IS SUPERMAN (screen test)
Stick 'em up, Clark.
And the ending … (heavy sigh), the ending is the same as Superman the Movie. Turning back time was originally the ending of Superman II, but since it was the biggest beat in both films, it was decided to cut and paste it in the first. Rather than end the Donner Cut with Lester’s “magic amnesiac kiss,” editor Michael Thau (who oversaw this project, compiling negatives that had sat in a London vault for almost 30 years) decided to cut the version of II as originally scripted, with Supe turning back time again. It feels not only like a cheat, but a huge missed opportunity. A fatal flaw in an otherwise fascinating film. I understand Thau’s intent to try and create the most pure Donner cut possible, but by excising so much of the Lester footage that DID work, he has seriously compromised his effort.

THE KISS WE ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE
Reeve and Kidder lip lock
The Donner Cut is perhaps best viewed as a “what if” scenario. What if Donner had been able to finish this film? We will never know. But it is severely cool to now have what is, in essence, a brand new Christopher Reeve performance as Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton.

Disappointed and creative fans (most of whom have You Tube accounts) have started to make Fan Cuts, utilizing the best of both versions. One in particular, created by a webmaster named Selutron, goes far beyond mere editing, filling in the blank spots with new scenes and effects; even going so far as to take the three Kryptonian villains OUT of Lester’s Idaho town and putting them IN Washington D.C. as originally scripted. I’m not sure how this was done, but it’s pretty amazing.
Zod, Ursa and Non in D.C. - Selutron Cut
Selutron is working on an Ultimate Cut, and is now petitioning Warner Bros. for another go round. An interview conducted by Superman Homepage is pretty fascinating.

UPDATE 8-16-08
Selutron has closed his You Tube account and is presumed to be working on this project — the buzz is growing. CapedWonder.com (by far the biggest treasure trove of Superman imagery anywhere on the web) is now exclusively posting his work. You can check out his high quality videos here.

UPDATE 2-09-09
I just got an e-mail from Selutron today (is that cool or what!) thanking me for championing his cause on this site. He gave me a brief update on what was happening with his efforts. You can read an interview he did two months ago (Dec ’08) with Supermancinema.com by clicking here. Definitely worth reading.
Put your head on my shoulder
So … for those of you who care (and if you didn’t, why are you still reading?), perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Superman II just yet. Considering the remarkable things I’ve seen so far … here’s hoping.