Cast & Crew
Terrorists hold Lois Lane captive and threaten to destroy Paris with a thermo nuclear device. Superman rescues Lois and throws the weapon into space. But, the blast awakens Zod, Ursa, and Non, the three exiled villains from Superman's home planet of Krypton. The evil threesome return to Earth and attempt to use their powers to take over the world.
Michael J Shannon
E. G. Marshall
Frans J Afman
John Victor Smith
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut on DVD
The story behind the Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is complicated. As on the Salkind's Richard Lester Musketeers movies, a giant script was eventually divided into two separate movies. Donner had filmed much of the second film before the premiere of the first half, which was entitled Superman: The Movie. Most of Part 2's dialogue scenes between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were already in the can, along with all of the material featuring expensive stars Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando.
But when Superman: The Movie became a huge hit, the filming of Part 2 stumbled. Richard Donner considered the success a vindication of his genius and expected to be given total control. He was instead fired. To finish the second movie, a number of major compromises were made, including the loss of most of what Donner had directed.
Synopsis: Superman (Christopher Reeve) has saved the world and delivered Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) to prison, but the missile he diverted from Hackensack explodes in space, freeing the super villains Non, Ursa and General Zod (Jack O'Halloran, Sarah Douglas, Terence Stamp) from the Phantom Zone. They come to Earth to conquer and are overjoyed to learn that the son of their enemy Jor-El (Marlon Brando) has preceded them. But in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman tells the spirit of his father that he's made a decision: He's fallen in love with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and has decided to shed his super-powers and become human.
Richard Donner was ready to make the Superman movies into an ongoing franchise but his producers saw things differently. They not only replaced Donner with Richard Lester, they saved money by not using any of Marlon Brando's footage. New scenes featuring Kal-El's mother (Susannah York) were substituted. Lester proceeded, for better or worse, to make Superman II his own by re-shooting most of the dialogue scenes that didn't feature Gene Hackman. Richard Donner's emphasis on sentimentality was minimized. Lester directed the actors at a faster pace, eliminating many comic dialogue lines and adding sight gags of his own devising. His version has a much sharper, cynical tone.
This is not to suggest that Richard Lester was like a new dog spraying his scent over somebody else's work. Many movie directors see their job as imposing their personal taste, and Lester simply had a different attitude toward the material. Therefore the newly reconstructed Richard Donner Cut isn't necessarily better than Richard Lester's original. Actually, it can't be the perfect item we'd like to see, for several reasons.
New version producer and editor Michael Thau seems to have located every piece of film Donner shot, and has done a masterful job of putting it together. But Donner didn't get to film all of his scenes. A crucial moment occurs when Lois decides to shoot Clark Kent to prove that he's really Superman. Donner had been unable to film the scene, but Thau discovered that it had been done as a screen test for Reeve and Kidder. The footage has been tacked together, even though Reeve's hair, glasses and physique don't match. As the acting is fairly consistent, this isn't much of a problem.
The serious problems come with the ending. The scripted 'Big Finish' for Part One had depicted "the Hackensack missile" accidentally freeing the super-villains from the Phantom Zone, setting up a dramatic cliffhanger and pointing to a sequel.(See Footnote #1 at bottom). Rather than keep faith with their two-film plan, the producers were afraid that Superman: The Movie might not be successful enough to warrant a sequel. To beef it up, they swiped the scripted ending of the second film, in which Superman turns back time by circling the Earth at high speed. In the final cut of Superman: The Movie, Superman turns back the clock to restore Lois Lane to life after she's been buried in an earthquake fissure. Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz realized that they would have to come up with yet another Big Finish to end the second film, and would also need a new way to make Lois Lane forget that she knew Clark Kent's secret identity. Superman couldn't turn back time twice.
When Richard Lester inherited the problem, he solved it with a simple 'kiss of forgetfulness,' an illogical move that nevertheless wrapped things up with minimal effort. In recreating Donner and Mankiewicz's 'vision,' editor Thau naturally sought to minimize the Lester footage and for that reason re-instated the "turning back time" gag. It doesn't improve the movie, and here's why.
"Turning back Time" is a cartoonish variant of the much-reviled "It's all a dream" plot device, the gag that basically tells us that our concern with the events of the story has been wasted, because they never happened. If Superman can undo the past, why does he stop short? Why not go back and save the life of the policeman killed in Part 1? Why not prevent Krypton from exploding in the first place? The time trick seems less of a cheat in the first movie because it's used only to negate the final consequences of the missile that strikes the San Andreas Fault. Superman resorts to the trick when he becomes emotionally distraught at the death of Lois. It's all over fast and we're relieved to see Lois "saved" again.
In Thau's Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, the trick undoes all the events of the story right back to where the super-villains are released from their dimensional prison (the flying record album). So nothing happened to anybody except Superman, who has essentially been able to take Lois Lane to bed, without consequences! Even worse, since the White House was never destroyed, we don't get to see Richard Lester's excellent finish in which Superman returns the American Flag to the grateful President (E.G. Marshall). It's the most sentimental image in the entire film series, as it expresses the American Values that Superman represents. Superman = Patriotism.
The Richard Donner Cut 'fixes' some of the superficial gripes with the original release. We get to skip most of the annoying battle nonsense with Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James) and the U.S. Army, and are given more of the super-villain assault on the White House. A lame Mt. Rushmore gag is gone, in favor of some better action bits in the final confrontation in New York. Dialogue scenes are fleshed out with more verbal comedy, making Gene Hackman's role even funnier. Valerie Perrine's Eve Teschmacher even gets a laugh or two. As General Zod, Terence Stamp is still the best thing in the movie; his imperious dictator is wickedly funny, especially when dealing with Hackman's frantic Lex Luthor.
Best of all, Marlon Brando is back in, which makes this restoration a significant rescue of a Brando performance. Brando's presence almost redeems the dumb plot device of having Kal-El give up his super-powers 'irrevocably,' only to get them back after a bloody nose and a bit of crying. Jor-El simply explains that he expected his son to make this mistake, and left him an "out." Kal-El uses the last bit of his father's stored Kryptonian essence (a concept reminiscent of the Philip K. Dick tale Ubik) to become Superman again.
Actually, some of the mistakes in Superman II are from the original script. Donner and Mankiewicz couldn't overcome the cheap idea of Superman foregoing his super-powers to sleep with a woman. Kal-El gets to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak, and Lois never knows what hit her. This kind of "monkey with the concept" story was common in Superman Comics even back in the late 1950s, but it doesn't serve the character well. Not only is Superman cheapened by the "Kal-El Gets Laid" storyline, it kills his future romance with Lois Lane...Clark will always have an intimate secret over poor dumb Lois. (See Footnote #2 at bottom).
Even worse is Superman's he-man revenge on the truck driver who beats him up. Superman is an avowed pacifist and presumably above such immature behavior. Having him collect a kick-ass payback panders to the yahoos in the audience and trashes the character. This is the guy who says things like, "I never lie" and means it.
Whenever a film is changed some segment of the fan base is bound to be miffed. Michael Thau clearly reconstructed the show with the aim of using as much of Richard Donner's footage as possible. His effort yields warmer performances and smoothes out some of the rougher dramatics. We're especially pleased to have another Christopher Reeve performance to savor. But the unwelcome (original) ending is actually less satisfactory: The showdown in the Canadian diner is now the film's ending. Instead of Lester's beautiful gesture to the flag, the new finish teaches that The American Way includes roughing up a clownish bad guy for cheap laughs.
Warners' DVD of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is an excellent rendering of this expensive-looking filmic reconstruction job. The enhanced Panavision image looks very clean and colorful. We can see the image improvement between the newly composited effects and the old ones from 1980. The modern effects people have done a great job creating new scenes, like the collapse of the Washington Monument, look like they were made 25 years ago.
Donner and Mankiewicz discuss the history of the film in both a commentary and a featurette, Restoring the Vision. Although some newspaper interviews laud Donner's work in putting his show back together, it's obvious from the commentary that the director had very little active participation -- he cannot recall major plot points in the film, and Mankiewicz has to remind him of the changes. The reconstruction is really the work of Michael Thau, Donner's trusted editor (and sometimes producer). Thau was able to re-cut the entire film using bits of unused footage from Part One and giving Richard Lester's excesses a good trimming. It's a shame that Donner and Mankiewicz weren't able to finish their work, as I have a feeling they might have straightened out some of the story's problems.
Also included is a selection of deleted scenes, wisely not included. One unused clip shows Lex Luthor definitely being arrested by the Mounties...in this new cut we wonder if he's in the Fortress of Solitude when Superman blows it up with his X-Ray vision.
* 1.Five years before, the Salkinds had barely summoned up the courage to stick with the two-part format for their Musketeers movies, a gamble that paid off handsomely. Apparently the enormous cost of effects for Superman shook their faith in their master plan. If the first movie was a flop, the second would never be seen, leaving the original "cliffhanger" ending "hanging" ... much like the wishful-thinking "coming soon" ending of the ill-fated Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
*2. Actually, events conspired to minimize Superman's future interaction with Lois. Actress Margot Kidder was critical of the Salkinds in public, which resulted in her being written out of Superman 3 almost entirely. The romantic interest was provided by Clark Kent's old flame Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole). Gee, if he gets too 'involved' with Lana, perhaps Superman can just 'turn back the clock' and get out of any unwanted responsibilities that might develop!
For more information about Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, visit Warner Video. To order Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut on DVD
In various ways, Superman II (1980) stands as a bit of an anomaly amongst Hollywood sequels. The powers at Warner considered a state-of-the-art screen adaptation of comics' Man of Steel to be such a can't-miss proposition that a substantial portion of Superman II was in the can before Superman: The Movie (1978) opened to its anticipated box-office and critical success. Superman II is further distinguished by the degree of success it demonstrated in expanding upon its predecessor, both in its exploration of the nature of its hero's famous dual identity and the provision of a threat worthy of his stature.
The sequel's scenario finds Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) doffing his civvies for a quick flight to Paris, where Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), is attempting to get up close and personal with nuke-wielding terrorists that have commandeered the Eiffel Tower. Superman disposes of the threat by thrusting the landmark's bomb-laden elevator car into space. There, the weapon detonates but the explosion creates a rift in the prison dimension known to geeks everywhere as the Phantom Zone, freeing the three Kryptonian criminals consigned therein by Superman's father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) in Superman: The Movie. Now imbued with the same powers as our hero, the imperious insurrectionist General Zod (Terence Stamp), the seductive but sadistic Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the mute brute Non (Jack O'Halloran) start making their way toward an unsuspecting Earth.
The tales of the strains that grew on the set of Superman: The Movie between director Richard Donner and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind have passed into Hollywood legend, and the friction peaked with Donner's release in mid-production of Superman II. Recruited to complete the project was Richard Lester. A good portion of the material Donner had filmed was shelved, and Lester's contribution to the finished cut of the film reflects approximately 80%. The difference in approach is palpable, as Lester strayed from Donner's reverence for the subject matter and infused a good deal of his brand of visual humor. His touch served the sequel's story well, however, effectively mining the wit inherent in the protagonist's identity crisis, and staging a monumental clash of the titans when Superman confronted the invading threat.
Co-star Jack O'Halloran who plays Non, one of the Kryptonian villains in the film, discussed the making of Superman II in a 2001 interview (on the web site www.supermanhomepage.com): "We had a lot of fun except the Salkinds were a**holes and caused all the commotion that there was on the film...The movie "Superman II" WOULD HAVE BEEN A 1000 TIMES BETTER HAD THEY LET DONNER FINISH WHAT HE STARTED..Anyone ever tell you the story about when they shot the Eiffel Tower scenes in Paris? They took the Superman 50 million dollar project into Paris as a cheap western production because it was cheaper to shoot in the pouring rain rather than wait for a dry day...just to save money." More damaging to O'Halloran personally was the the staging of the aerial fight scene over Metropolis. "The problem was in the harness we wore," the actor said, "We brought the fellow from American who made the harnesses for the "King Kong" production and they worked a treat. It was either those or we all walked. We worked very hard doing the flying scenes and in fact I was doing A FLY SCENE WHEN I BROKE MY BACK and they never accepted the blame." Luckily O'Halloran recovered from the injury and went on to make such films as Dragnet (1987) and The Flintstones (1994).
As for Christopher Reeve, the present generation knows the actor primarily from the tireless advocacy for spinal cord research that he engaged in over the final nine years of his life after being rendered quadriplegic by a 1995 equestrian accident. His on-screen legacy will always be defined by Superman, the role that made him a star and brought him the most universal acclaim. Reeve's performance worked because he had a true grasp on not just the noble and confident Man of Steel, but on Clark Kent, the klutzy yokel pose he effected to walk amongst us mere mortals. "Superman, since the 1930s, has been a very important figure in our culture," Reeve recounted in a 2001 AOL interview. "In the 1940s, soldiers in the trenches read Superman comics as a morale booster. And in the 1950s and 1960s, he was a larger-than-life hero in a difficult time. And then in the 1970s and early 1980s was more of a romantic figure and someone you could count on, a friend. And so I feel that the character is more important than the actor who plays him. But I feel it was my privilege to be the custodian of the character in the late 1970s and early 1980s."
Producer: Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler
Director: Richard Lester, Richard Donner
Screenplay: Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz
Cinematography: Robert Paynter, Geoffrey Unsworth
Film Editing: John Victor-Smith
Art Direction: Terry Ackland-Snow, Ernest Archer, Charles Bishop, Norman Reynolds
Music: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane).
by Jay S. Steinberg
Released in United States Summer June 19, 1981
Released in United States on Video February 1, 1989
About 20% of the film was shot by Richard Donner during the filming of the original 1978 "Superman."
Released in United States Summer June 19, 1981
Released in United States on Video February 1, 1989