Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

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Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Directed by Richard Donner
Richard Lester
Produced by Pierre Spengler
Michael Thau (2006)
Written by Screenplay:
Mario Puzo
David Newman
Leslie Newman
Robert Benton
Creative Consultant:
Tom Mankiewicz
Comic Book:
Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
Starring Gene Hackman
Christopher Reeve
Marlon Brando
Ned Beatty
Jackie Cooper
Sarah Douglas
Margot Kidder
Jack O'Halloran
Valerie Perrine
Clifton James
E. G. Marshall
Marc McClure
Terence Stamp
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Stuart Baird
Michael Thau
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) November 28, 2006
Running time 116 min.
Language English
Budget $54,000,000
(Superman II) + (2006 Restoration)
Preceded by Superman

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a 2006 re-edit of the 1980 superhero film, Superman II, by Richard Donner, who shot a large part of the original movie before being replaced as director by Richard Lester. It stars Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Margot Kidder and Marlon Brando. The cut was supervised by Donner, creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (who penned the 1977 shooting script for Superman II,[1] on which the Donner cut is based), and Michael Thau, an editor who worked with Donner on the 2001 director's cut and restoration of the 1978 film Superman. Superman II is largely considered the most fan-edited movie ever.[citation needed]

Unlike many “special edition” and “director’s cuts” released over the years, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a very different film, despite both versions following roughly the same storyline. As much as half of the film contains never-before seen material filmed by Donner, including 15 minutes of Marlon Brando scenes as Superman's father Jor-El as well as numerous new Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder scenes. Some of this "new" material has appeared in earlier extended television cuts. Some of the existing scenes were also replaced with alternate takes or footage from different camera angles. There are also several newly-filmed shots and many new visual effects. Richard Donner is credited as director of the film instead of Richard Lester. More than half of Lester's footage filmed for Superman II has been removed from the film and replaced with Donner footage shot during the original principal photography from 1977. Certain footage filmed by Richard Lester remains in sequences that were not shot by Donner (due to the halt in production for this film) for purposes of story cohesion. As a result, approximately 83% of the footage in the film is Donner's footage.

The film was released on DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 28, 2006. It is the only version of Superman II to be released on HD DVD and Blu-ray format, as the theatrical cut was only released on DVD.


[edit] History

In 1977, director Richard Donner set about simultaneously filming an epic two-part adaptation of the Superman comic book series. With 80% of Superman II photographed, after having to postpone the original summer 1978 release date for Superman due to an extended shoot, filming on Superman II was suspended in October 1977 so that Donner could focus on completing the first film.

Following the release of Superman in December 1978, it was widely assumed that Donner would be re-called to complete the remainder of the sequel. However, a number of events led to Donner’s eventual replacement as director of the movie. Most importantly, the producers (Alexander and Ilya Salkind) announced that Marlon Brando's completed scenes for Superman II would be excised from the movie in order to prevent them having to pay the actor the reported 11.75%[2] of gross U.S. box-office takings he was now demanding for his performance in the sequel. Donner publicly lambasted this decision, announcing that he would make the film his way or not at all. The April 1978 issue of the sci-fi magazine Starburst quotes Donner as saying, "That means no games...They have to want me to do it. It has to be on my terms and I don't mean financially. I mean control."

Tensions had existed between the Salkinds and Richard Donner throughout the almost nineteen months of filming it had taken to complete Superman and most of Superman II. The producers blamed the director for going wildly over budget and schedule. Donner claims he was never given a budget, nor a schedule. In the commentary track on the 2006 DVD release of the theatrical version of Superman II, co-producer Pierre Spengler recounts that Donner was indeed invited to return to complete the film as director, but, according to an Army Archerd/Variety magazine interview, Donner declared that if Spengler remained on the picture, Donner himself would not return to direct. In the same commentary, Ilya Salkind states the removal of Spengler was allegedly one of many demands made by Donner, who, he claimed, also wanted final cut of the film and more control over the production, demands to which the Salkinds weren't willing to agree.

The situation finally came to a head, and on March 15, 1979, the Salkinds decided to replace Donner with U.K.-based director Richard Lester, with whom they had worked on two successful Musketeers films. In 1989, Donner told Starlog magazine, "… the Salkinds, for whatever reason, chose not to bring me back. After I waited to hear for six or eight weeks, I got a telegram that said, 'Your services are no longer needed.'"

[edit] A replacement director

Lester had served as mediator (or uncredited co-producer) between the Salkinds and Donner for a large part of the initial shoot. Suspicions abounded at the time that Lester was being primed for taking over the film, despite Donner's determination to complete the project at all costs and Lester's assurances to the contrary.

Lester himself has never fully commented on his role in the controversial production of Superman II and has refused any involvement with the 2006 DVD re-releases, although at the beginning of an AMC widescreen telecast of Superman II, Lester acknowledged that the sequel was indeed "his film."

The situation was further complicated by the deaths of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth on October 28, 1978 and production designer John Barry, who died on June 1, 1979, Richard Lester's first day as director of Superman II. Tom Mankiewicz, a key Donner ally who had re-written both Superman scripts to comply with Donner's directive to make the features more realistic and less camp, declined to return without Donner, as did editor Stuart Baird, who would later go on to direct Star Trek Nemesis. Composer John Williams also turned his attention to other projects, such as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark; while the Salkinds and Lester commissioned fellow Musketeers alum Ken Thorne to re-use Williams' themes.

[edit] An alternate Superman II

In order for Richard Lester to earn a directorial credit on the film, Superman II had to contain at least 51% of his footage. This meant that large portions of the film were subsequently re-written and re-shot by Lester, with much of Donner's filmed Superman II footage excised.

Both Superman scripts were originally written by The Godfather writer Mario Puzo, and then re-written in 1976 by screenwriters David & Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, prior to Donner's hiring as director. When Donner came on board in January 1977, he insisted on bringing in screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to re-write the script. Mankiewicz made numerous and considerable changes to both screenplays, removing and altering major scenes, and completely re-writing much of the dialogue. It was this Mankiewicz script that was then filmed by Donner in 1977-78. Following Donner's (and Mankiewicz's) removal, writers David & Leslie Newman were re-hired by the producers to re-write the Superman II script, even though most of it had already been filmed. Ultimately, the Newmans did this by making Superman II as similar as possible to the 1976 script they had originally written before Mankiewicz and Donner came on board. Scenes that had been most altered by Mankiewicz in 1977 were subject to the greatest revisions. For example, in the original Newman draft, Superman II begins with terrorists seizing a building in New York. Mankiewicz's 1977 re-write removed this scene entirely. Then, the Newmans re-inserted the scene, albeit shifting the location to Paris. The same can be said for several crucial Newman / Benton scenes, including Lois's deliberate jump into a river near Niagara Falls (removed by Mankiewicz – reinserted by the Newmans); Clark revealing he is Superman by not burning his hand (re-written by Mankiewicz to have Lois trick Clark by firing a gun with a blank bullet at him – reinserted by the Newmans). A considerable amount of cut Newman / Benton dialogue was also reinserted by the Newmans, almost word-for-word into the re-re-revised Superman II script.

It has been suggested that if Gene Hackman (who had completed all of his scenes for Superman II under Donner) had returned for any further filming without Donner, almost all of Donner's Superman II footage would have been scrapped. As it was, only the Gene Hackman Donner footage – as well as Donner footage deemed too expensive to re-shoot – was destined to remain in the finished film. (According to Ilya Salkind's 2006 DVD commentary track for Superman II, Hackman was merely unavailable to return to shoot his remaining scenes for the final Lester cut.)

One of the early changes made for the final Lester cut was the elimination of any scenes involving Marlon Brando, even going so far as to re-shoot the scene where Jor-El takes the green crystal and laying into the starship, as millions of dollars would have been paid to Brando for the inclusion of these scenes.

Lester's main task in completing Superman II was to film cheaply and quickly, to avoid further budget or scheduling overruns. According to many of the cast and crew, this entailed a noticeable drop in the quality of filmmaking, as certain scenes were hastily re-written and shot. Ultimately, the Newmans' campier take on Superman coupled with Lester’s more comically-oriented sense of direction led to a Superman II that was a huge box office and critical success, but condemned by Donner as severely flawed. Lester has often been vilified by Superman purists who link his assumption of the directorial reins with a general downward spiral in the quality of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, e.g., Superman III was directed entirely by Lester. In a June 2006 interview with Hotdog Magazine, producer Ilya Salkind conceded that Lester did not share the same passion for the material as had his predecessor Richard Donner.

[edit] The 1980 theatrical Superman II

Filming was completed for Lester's Superman II on March 10, 1980 and was released in Europe and Australia on December 4, 1980 and June 19, 1981 in the United States. This version of Superman II combined Donner footage shot in 1977 with Lester footage shot in 1979. Approximately 30% of Lester’s Superman II is Richard Donner footage.

In numerous scenes, the theatrical Superman II interweaves footage filmed years apart. Much of this interweaving was necessitated by Lex Luthor actor Gene Hackman's refusal to return to film any further scenes with Lester. Thus, all Hackman footage in the film is Donner's, although in certain scenes, a body double was used for wide shots re-filmed by Lester. In several instances, Lester re-staged Donner-filmed scenes, inserting certain newly-filmed shots into pre-existing material. This is most evident during a scene in which the super-villains burst into The Daily Planet. The scene was filmed in its entirety by Donner in 1977. The Perry White office set was then partly re-built under Lester in 1979, the actors placed in exactly the same positions, costumes, etc., and new material filmed and inserted into the final film.

[edit] Donner footage in Superman II

The following is a list of all major Donner footage that was retained for Superman II:

  • Lex Luthor in prison, including the escape by balloon.
  • A powerless Clark is beaten up by a bully in a fast-food diner.
  • Lex Luthor visits the super-villains in the White House.
  • The villains burst into The Daily Planet and chase after Superman (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage).
  • The villains return to the Planet and decide to go to Superman's polar fortress (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage).
  • The second part of the final scene at the Fortress of Solitude, beginning with Luthor's belated arrival (some close-ups are edited-in Lester footage).
  • Clark returns to the diner and gets his revenge on the bully.

The rest of the film, including the opening scenes at the Eiffel Tower, some part of the scenes at Niagara Falls, the scenes of the super-villains in Midwest America and the battle in Metropolis were all shot by Lester. Several television stations have broadcast extended cuts over the years. These have largely featured additional Donner material including footage of Superman destroying the Fortress of Solitude at the conclusion of the film, as well as extra scenes between Lois and Superman.

[edit] Superman II controversies and plot holes

Critics of Lester’s Superman II, including Donner, have stated that Lester's penchant for comedy undermined the integrity of the film, especially when compared to Donner's Superman. Examples of this trademark comedy are evident during scenes which feature Superman fighting the super-villains in Metropolis. The villains attack the citizens of Metropolis using super-breath. Several comedic sight gags follow, including the wind blowing off a man's toupee, the ice cream being blown off of a cone and into someone's face, a man being blown over in a telephone booth and talking the whole time, a man with an umbrella being spun around as if dancing (parodying Singin' in the Rain) and a man on roller-skates rolling uncontrollably backwards across the pavement.

One particular plot hole that has frustrated the film's fans involves the transition from a powerless Clark Kent finding the green crystal at the abandoned Fortress of Solitude to a restored Superman’s return to The Daily Planet to fight the super-villains. Lester shot a workaround scene where Superman shows the green crystal to Lois Lane, who absentmindedly places it aside without returning it to its chamber; this explains its survival when the device is destroyed, supposedly allowing Kent to use it to reverse his loss of Superman's powers, but there is no indication as to how this is possible without the device itself. Furthermore, the hologrammatic Lara flatly states that the process is irreversible in the first place. This lack of any explanation whatsoever as to how Superman regained his powers was frustrating to audiences.

Discussions about lost Donner footage have been raging for years, and with the advent of the internet, numerous letter-writing and other campaigns were instigated to persuade Warner Bros. to allow Richard Donner to create his version of Superman II. In 2005, a fan restored DVD known as Superman II: Restored International Cut was released.[3] It featured extended scenes shown in various television broadcasts over the years and helped bring much publicity to the cause when Warner Bros. threatened legal action over the bootleg release.

[edit] The Richard Donner Cut

When filming was suspended on Donner's Superman II in October 1977, the director had completed almost all of the major character-based sequences in the film. All scenes in The Daily Planet and most scenes set in the Fortress of Solitude were completed. All scenes featuring Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine and Gene Hackman were also completed. What remained to be filmed was the villains' arrival on Earth, and their rampage through mid-west America as well as exteriors at Washington D.C. during which Zod announces his takeover of the Earth from the tip of the Washington Monument. Most of the battle scenes between Superman and the super-villains had yet to be shot, as well as both the interiors and exteriors at Niagara Falls. Several minor scenes including a love-struck Superman deliberately tilting over the Leaning Tower of Pisa (later adapted in Superman III) and a scene in which Superman warns off some English fox-hunters were also not filmed.

The new film features most of the completed never-before-seen scenes (some scenes have been deleted for narrative/dramatic reasons), which in many cases replace scenes re-filmed or altered by Richard Lester. These include the original opening of the film set in the offices of The Daily Planet. In this opening, we see Lois trying to figure out the Clark Kent / Superman similarities, followed by Perry White assigning Clark and Lois on the honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls, and then Lois testing Clark / Superman by jumping off the balcony of one floor of The Daily Planet (a revised version of this scene appears in the Lester theatrical cut).

[edit] The Mankiewicz script / original Donner shoot

The following is a list detailing restored or differing scenes from Superman II that appear in the Richard Donner Cut:

  • Before the company logos appear at the beginning of the film, a text reads, "The following film represents Superman II the way it was originally conceived and intended to be filmed. Some scenes were taken from screen tests of scenes we were unable to shoot."
  • Opening logos; A modern day digital Warner Bros. logo plays followed by the DC Comics logo.
  • Pre-credits; Superman reprise. The arrest of the three super-villains is deleted, but Jor-El's role in there is restored. The scene is also re-edited with different close-ups.
  • The villains' travel through space towards Earth is shown alongside Kal-El's own travel pod several times. In the original Superman, there had been just one fleeting glimpse of the diamond-shaped "Phantom Zone" window during Kal-El's trip to earth.
  • Reprise of the Superman ending; The missiles are launched, Lex places the Kryptonite necklace on Superman and pushes him into the swimming pool, Eve rescues Superman and he hurls the nuclear missile into space. Different shots and angles have been used to those in Superman.
  • The super-villains are freed from the Phantom Zone by the exploding nuclear missile, and fly to the moon. Zod shouts "FREE!" This is a combination of Donner footage and new effects, and had originally been intended as a cliffhanger-ending to Superman.
  • Main Title sequence; The credits are now in the form as the ones used in Superman with the blue letters zooming into space, instead of the flying white titles used in Lester's cut. Marlon Brando is given third billing, after Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeve, before the main title. Richard Donner is also credited as director for the first time and also "A Richard Donner Film" is credited. The film is simply titled as just Superman II and not "The Richard Donner Cut." The music is credited to John Williams, whose score from Superman is reused in the film, as he was not brought back for the soundtrack recording of Superman II.
  • Interior of The Daily Planet; Lois glances at Clark and seemingly sees his resemblance to Superman for the first time. She draws over Superman's picture in the newspaper, and later shows this to Clark. At his denial, she jumps out of the window to prove that Clark is Superman. This sequence was filmed by Donner, and features several new effects of Clark zooming through The Daily Planet and using his super-breath and heat vision to break Lois’ fall. Lester’s opening at The Daily Planet and the Eiffel Tower sequence has been deleted.
  • Luthor and Otis in prison. This Donner scene featured in Lester’s Superman II, with different shots being used in the new version. Extended to include a scene in which Otis tries to pass on a rumor about a fellow inmate being a bed-wetter, only to pass it on to said inmate.
  • The super-villains land on the Moon and kill the astronauts. This Donner scene is featured in Lester's Superman II. Footage of Houston control was never filmed by Donner, and Lester material is used in the Donner Cut, albeit heavily re-edited. The scenes on the Moon are re-colored to a darker blue tone to give it a more space look. The camera also spins when the villains fly from the Moon, instead of the original pan-up. The soundtrack in Donner's cut does not feature the echo-treated percussion effects heard in Lester's.
  • Luthor's escape from prison by balloon; This Donner footage was featured in Lester's Superman II but is expanded here to include more banter between Lex and Otis and Lex and Eve. Arctic daytime background plates which featured in the Lester cut replaced with nighttime city background plates.
  • Niagara Falls interiors; the honeymoon couple arrive at the bungalow. Heavily-truncated version of Lester's scene features in the Donner Cut, which cuts away just as Lois is about go through the door into the honeymoon suite.
  • Luthor and Eve head north; This scene, filmed by Donner, is not in the cut, but is in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
  • Luthor and Eve arrive at the Fortress of Solitude; Lester's footage of Superman's mother and the Kryptonian elders has been removed from this Donner scene. Instead, Brando's Jor-El now informs Luthor of the existence of the super-villains. This scene has been extended to feature new sequences of Luthor and Eve's arrival at the fortress, with extended dialogue throughout the sequence. The original release contained a joke about Miss Teschmacher not having had a chance to visit a restroom for two days. The new release "completes" that joke by featuring an off-screen sound of a flush and Miss Teschmacher announcing, "I found it!"
  • Niagara Falls exteriors; Clark gets a hot dog. Superman rescues a small boy. Donner never filmed these scenes, so Lester's footage (largely similar to original script) is used here. However, Lester's footage of Lois’ later deliberate jump into the river to prove that Clark is Superman has been removed (having been accomplished earlier by the jumping-out-the building scene), as well as the scene where Clark returns with the hot dogs. (A couple of continuity issues are seen. First, Lois takes off Clark's glasses to wipe away the mist from the falls, and sees the resemblance to Superman, now seemingly for the first time. In the original version, this fit the Lester cut. In the new version, it is a non sequitur, as Lois had already explored that notion earlier in the Donner footage. Another oddity has Lois asking Clark to get some orange juice, "freshly squeezed" they say together, with Clark adding, "I know." This apparent non sequitur refers to an earlier Lester scene at the Planet, in which Lois was actually making freshly squeezed OJ, a scene not retained for this version.)
  • Exteriors; Luthor and Eve head back south in the Snowmobile, whilst Luthor plots and schemes. This scene is not in the film, but is featured in a deleted-scenes section on the Donner Cut DVD.
  • Niagara Falls bungalow interiors; Lois fires a handgun at Clark, who admits his true identity, then Lois reveals that she used a blank cartridge. This scene was never filmed, but one of the original Donner-directed Kidder screen tests, which played out this scene with Reeve, is utilized. This can be made out by Clark's distinctly different hairstyle and glasses, and slimmer physique. Close-ups from one of Reeve's tests, in which he played the same scenes with Holly Palance as Lois, are edited in. Lester’s sequence featuring Clark burning his hand in the fireplace has been deleted.
  • The villains arrive in Midwestern America, and meet the rangers; Donner never filmed this scene, thus Lester footage is used here. In Lester’s version, part of the dialogue intended for this scene was transferred to the army general in the small town. The Donner cut features heavily re-edited versions of the scene, removing Ursa's arm-wrestling gag from the Lester film, Non killing a boy and Ursa's statement that the boy will never become a man.
  • Fortress of Solitude interiors; Superman discusses his dual identity with Lois, and then they make love for the first time. Lester footage is mostly used here.
  • Washington monument destroyed, featuring new CGI effects footage; The super-villains fly into Washington, D.C. as the Washington monument crumbles. Footage of the President and his council watching these events on TV replaces Lester version in which Mount Rushmore is vandalized, the actual faces replaced with those of the villains (the fourth being simply destroyed).
  • Fortress of Solitude Interiors: Jor-El warns Superman of the dangers of falling in love. Superman gives up his powers and becomes a mortal. Lois appears in this scene wearing only Superman's shirt and socks. Of note is that Lois is never viewed in close-up in this scene. It remains unclear whether this was an editing choice, or whether the close-up was lost/destroyed or never filmed by Donner. Lester’s re-shoot of this scene is scrapped entirely. There are none of the special effects "stripping" Superman's face away layer by layer, or of his Superman costume fading away and leaving him, in civilian clothing. In Donner's footage, he wears civilian clothing throughout the scene (even briefly flying across the Fortress in them), and the process in the molecular chamber is visually uneventful. In Lester's footage, there was a clear difference in lighting effects between the chamber as it originally worked (intense red light inside the chamber only) and after Superman reconfigured it (red light all over the Fortress). In Donner's footage, there is less of a noticeable difference, as red lighting is all around in both scenes. Significantly (especially with respect to Superman Returns), Lois and Superman make love before he loses his super-powers, opposite of the original version's sequence of events. This new edited scene has now caused major fan controversy over the Donner cut.
  • The villains attack the White House and force the President to kneel before Zod; this Donner-filmed scene was featured in Lester’s Superman II. The new cut features extended footage making the scene more violent.
  • Exteriors. Lois and Clark drive toward the diner The Donner Cut features a car on a snowy mountain road; in Lester's cut they are past the snowy region. In the Lester cut, as they arrive at the diner, after Clark grumbles that "It sure takes longer when you can't fly", and exits the car, he goes on to whine about his back being stiff from the long drive. That last complaint is omitted from the Donner cut. It is nevertheless apparent that the former Superman has actually become the nebbish Clark Kent personality he once pretended to be, and Lois, as the stronger personality, must literally lead him by the hand.
  • Clark is beaten up inside the diner by a truck driver named Rocky, and hears the President relinquish his powers to Zod. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II.
  • Luthor visits the villains inside the White House and offers them the son of Jor-El; this Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester's Superman II. This scene is now featured before Clark's return to the Fortress of Solitude, contrary to Lester's version. Also, Luthor sarcastically says to Zod that Superman is the son of a baseball player named Jor-El.
  • A bruised Clark arrives at the Fortress of Solitude and screams for his father, after which he discovers the green crystal which he uses to reactivate the Fortress. Jor-El appears (both in his normal disembodied head form and in full corporeal form), and 'dies' in order to restore his son's powers. The full meaning of Jor-El's somewhat cryptic statement in Superman, that "The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son", finally becomes clear.
  • The Daily Planet interiors; Lois, Perry and Jimmy Olsen wait for Superman. The villains burst into The Daily Planet, and Superman finally appears. A new Donner scene in which Perry White paces around replaces a similar re-filmed Lester scene. Many of these Donner scenes featured in Lester's Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester. In the Lester shots, Jimmy Olsen's curly hair is noticeably thicker on top, and Lois's hairstyle is straighter. They alternated with Donner shots featuring Gene Hackman.
  • Superman arrives at The Daily Planet stating, "General, haven't you ever heard of freedom of the press?" deleting the original, more aggressive line: "General, would you care to step outside?". The Lester version, however, was a more close-up shot, and the "Freedom of the press" line sounds like an overdub. This was possibly done to avoid a repeat of the gag of characters "stepping outside" through a highrise window - made necessary because of the inclusion of the original Donner segment of Lois testing Clark by stepping out the Daily Planet window at the beginning of the film.
  • Superman and the super-villains fight in Metropolis. Superman flees the city. Most of these scenes were never filmed by Donner. The new cut combines Lester footage (re-edited to remove slapstick sight-gags, although the backwards roller skater highlighted in the Lester version is still briefly visible in one shot), original Donner footage, and new special-effects sequences. Lester scenes featuring Lois leaning out of the office window with a rather insensitive female co-worker have been replaced with original Donner footage. Another added scene is Jimmy re-entering the office with Perry's coffee and Lex stealing it out of his hand. Jimmy argues that the coffee was "the Chief's" and Lex counters calmly with "The Chief's got it."
  • The super-villains return to The Daily Planet. Luthor offers them Superman's home address now in exchange for Cuba. These Donner scenes featured in Lester's Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester. The Lester shot where Ursa seizes Lois is omitted and is replaced by Zod asking Luthor if would like anything more to which Luthor replies, "Cuba."
  • The group arrives at the Fortress of Solitude, and the super-villains break through its defenses. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is in the deleted scenes section on the DVD.
  • Body-double scenes for Hackman's Lex Luthor (facing away from the camera, with overdubbed voice) were excluded from the new version. Lester's battle scene in which Superman throws his "S" at Non and transforms into many different holograms is replaced with Donner's scene of Superman only trying to negotiate with Zod.
  • Superman tricks the villains into losing their powers. Superman crushes Zod's hand. Lester's Superman II contained this Donner footage, though certain shots were Lester inserts (Lois Lane has noticeably different hair and make-up in the Lester re-shoots).
  • Luthor is taken away by the Arctic patrol, while trying to plead with Superman to not let them take him back to prison, counting down the percentages he could offer him from 3-2-1. Superman shouts, "Blast off!" This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is in the deleted scenes section on the DVD.
  • Superman destroys the Fortress of Solitude. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts.
  • Outside the Fortress, Lois and Superman agree to end their relationship. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts, and here is trimmed and re-edited. The kiss scene was also featured on the back of the theatrical Superman II DVD case which was released in 2000.
  • Superman takes a weeping Lois home, where Superman says a final goodbye to Lois. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. Only the end shot where Superman leaves the roof was shown in Lester's Superman II.
  • Superman turns back time to reverse the devastation of the planet by the super-villains, re-imprison them in the Phantom Zone, resurrect the destroyed Fortress of Solitude (not shown in film), and wipe Lois' memory of Superman's secret identity. Part of this sequence was used as the ending for Donner's first Superman film, but no replacement scene was written. Includes previously unseen footage of Jackie Cooper as Perry White brushing his teeth.
    • Although the "turning back time" sequence appears to be a rehash of the original film's ending, the original plan was to have a cliff-hanger ending on Superman and, as Donner notes in the DVD special, have the turning-back-time sequence conclude Superman II. (Lester concluded II with the "kiss of forgetting"; in the DVD extras Donner states he believed "Clark should never kiss Lois, only Superman should kiss Lois").
  • The Daily Planet interiors; Lois has a feeling she may have missed something important, and asks Clark to get her a pizza (the Lester cut had her asking for a hamburger). Perry also pantomimes a sense of puzzled deja vu as he reads the paper.
  • The Daily Planet interiors; Clark bumps into Jimmy, then into a rude man, reminding him of unfinished business (see below). This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
  • Clark gets his revenge on the bully in the diner. This Donner-filmed scene was featured in Lester's Superman II. The inclusion of this scene in the Donner Cut creates a continuity error as references are made to a previous encounter which the patrons remember, even though Superman has turned back time.
  • The scene where Superman returns the U.S. Flag to the White House and apologizes to the President has been deleted. In the DVD specials, Mr. Thau concedes that it is a nice, patriotic ending, but would be at odds with Superman having turned back time.

[edit] Creating the Donner Cut

The fans pounded at Warner Brothers....emails and home video and the head of the studio, and so Warners finally...called me up and said ‘What do you think?’ and I said ‘Well, let’s see what we can find.’

Donner Cut editor/producer Michael Thau telling a reporter from in July 2006 that the film had come about largely as a result of fan pressure.

The prospect of creating a Richard Donner cut of Superman II did not begin to gain momentum until the 2001 restoration of Superman for DVD. At this time, six tons of footage for Superman and six tons of footage for Superman II was discovered in vaults in England by Michael Thau[citation needed], including much "lost" footage filmed by Richard Donner. Soon after, Donner was approached by Warner Bros. to do an extended version of Superman II, but remained reluctant to revisit the movie. In May 2001, he told the website IGN, "At the time, the studio wanted me to go back in and re-cut the film and add anything I wanted to add or do anything I wanted to do. Quite honestly, I was done with it. I was finished."

Nonetheless, fans continued to campaign for the film. Ultimately, three websites were instrumental in creating the momentum that finally led to the creation of the Donner cut. The first was, run by Superman collector Jim Bowers. In 2004, Bowers published numerous stills from "lost" scenes in Richard Donner's Superman II, seemingly providing definitive proof that Donner had filmed far more footage than the Salkinds or Richard Lester had initially been prepared to concede. Secondly, the website provided fans with detailed breakdowns of the theatrical Superman II, identifying Donner footage within the film, and also providing speculative lists of just how much lost Donner footage might actually exist. Finally, on June 19, 2004, the Planet of the Apes fansite organised hundreds of fans to e-mail or write letters directly to Warner Bros. president Jim Cardwell, demanding that the studio allow Donner to release his version of Superman II. This effort was the first to elicit a positive response from the studio, with many of those who wrote receiving a letter stating, "Warner Home Video is supportive of an extended version of Superman II on DVD. However, there are complex legal issues that need to be resolved before the film can be re-released. Warner Home Video is presently addressing those issues."

Other than Donner's reluctance to re-visit the project, these legal issues were ultimately the greatest obstacle towards creating a Donner Cut. The required footage was still owned by the Salkinds, and issues relating to the use of Brando's filmed footage in Superman II remained unresolved. Issues relating to whether Richard Lester or Richard Donner would be credited as director of any new cut also remained to be addressed. It was not until legal negotiations surrounding the use of certain Brando footage in the film Superman Returns that the key issue of whether Brando's filmed Superman II footage could be used was resolved. In November 2006, Donner Cut producer Michael Thau told American Cinematographer magazine, "Marlon Brando's estate made a deal with Warner Bros. to license some of his footage for Superman Returns. This later led to the studio going back to his estate for our re-cut of Superman II. If that footage couldn’t be used, it wasn’t worth doing the project."

Work finally began on the project in late 2005, though without Richard Donner. At the Director’s Guild screening of the Donner cut in November 2006, Michael Thau underlined Donner’s reluctance to involve himself in the project, telling the audience, "Dick (Donner) was doing (the film) 16 Blocks at the time and I was always trying to lure him in with, you know ‘Dick, here’s a piece of candy, come in to the cutting room.’ and he said ‘No, no, no..."

Thus, mixed emotions invariably followed the initial announcement in January 2006 that a new Superman II was being worked on, primarily down to the news that Richard Donner was having little or nothing to do with the re-edit. In a January 2006 interview with the website IGN, he stated, "They're doing it. I'm not doing it...I don't even want to see it until it comes out in the theater...I'm too far away from it now." A month later, when asked about the new Superman II cut, Donner told the website Dark Horizons, "I would never shoot like that now in a million years, I mean it was a different way, a different style, different interpretation."

Over the years, Donner has frequently proclaimed diametrically-opposing views with regards to the possibility of re-assembling his Superman II — often stating that he would like to do it, other times stating that he would not. In June 2006, Michael Thau finally confirmed that Donner had finally decided on a far closer involvement with the project, also bringing in writer Tom Mankiewicz to assist in its creation. In an interview with the magazine Movie Magic, he stated, "When I’d get a cut on a scene, I’d show it to Dick and he’d say, 'I don’t like that line; that reading’s not good,' and so on. With Dick it’s always, 'Make it move faster."

In August 2006, Thau confirmed that the entire film, rather than simply featuring new material, would be re-cut from the original camera negative (including the small number of Lester scenes remaining in the film). The Donner cut comprises Donner Superman II scenes edited by Stuart Baird in 1977-78, 1980 Superman II theatrical scenes cut by John Victor Smith, as well as a large amount of new material edited by Michael Thau.

In an interview with Now Playing magazine, Thau noted, "A lot of scenes that had been already cut, that Richard Lester had interwoven new material in — and there was a lot of them — I unwove that material and recut those scenes, basically from scratch a lot of times. I also had to deal with negatives that had already been cut. And when I wanted to recut it, and Lester had already cut it in a different way, I'd have to unwind that. It was a complicated jigsaw puzzle sometimes, to put it back the way I envisioned Dick would want it cut. We only used the Lester footage when there was material when they had not been able to shoot, and to keep some continuity to the story."

In a June 2006 interview with the website, George Feltenstein, Senior Vice President of Warner Home Video's Catalog Marketing division, stated:

We have been getting for years and years and years letters begging us to release the Donner cut of Superman II, and this year we bit the bullet and we've created what is ostensibly a new film, although the footage is all footage that was shot years and years and years ago. But it was sitting in a lab and never assembled. And for those of us were very saddened and touched by the loss of Christopher Reeve — to see footage you've never seen of him before, and a whole different take on the Superman II story, is really thrilling.

[edit] Plot

The film opens with highlights of events from the first movie: Jor-El condemning three Kryptonian villains, General Zod, Non, and Ursa, to the Phantom Zone and sending his son, Kal-El, to Earth in a rocket ship, the launching of the two XK-101 missiles, Superman being trapped in the swimming pool by wearing the Kryptonite necklace by Lex Luthor and being rescued by Ms. Teschmacher, and Superman diverting the XK-101 missile programmed to hit Hackensack, New Jersey into outer space.

The Phantom Zone drifts through space towards Earth because the shock waves after the destruction of Krypton sends it on a new course, and the XK-101 missile explodes near it, causing shock waves that destroy the Phantom Zone, freeing the three villains, who then head toward the Moon.

In The Daily Planet, editor-in-chief Perry White reads an article by Lois Lane about Superman thwarting Lex Luthor's attempts to level most of California. When Jimmy Olsen remarks to Lois Lane that Clark Kent has not been around to see Superman in action, Lois suspects that Clark is Superman. She confirms this belief when she draws clothes that Clark is wearing on a picture of Superman; the posture of both looked almost the same. Lois, noting the uncanny resemblance, realizes who Superman is and even teases him when he arrives that she knows his true identity. She tries to prove it by jumping out of a window in Clark's presence to call his bluff. Instead Clark races outside at super-speed and uses his super-breath and heat vision to slow her fall and open roof curtains to act as a trampoline. Lois bounces off them and lands in a fruit stand. By the time she looks up, Clark has already raced back up to the window and looks down, appearing not to have done anything at all.

General Zod, Non, and Ursa arrive on the Moon and kill all astronauts on a joint NASA-Soviet moon expedition. They note that they have become more powerful from how easily they have killed all of the moonwalkers, having acquired more powers from being closer to a yellow Sun. They decide to fly off to Earth, which they believe to be called 'Houston', upon overhearing radio transmissions between the moon mission and mission control in Houston, Texas.

In prison, Lex Luthor devises a plan with Otis to break out. When Otis reveals to Luthor that Superman always flies north to escape radar detection, Luthor decides to track him down using a 'black box' he has created that detects alpha waves. Luthor finally breaks out of jail with the help of Ms. Teschmacher using a hot air balloon, but leaves Otis behind as his weight holds the balloon down. Using the black box device, he goes north to the Fortress of Solitude. Luthor, activating the Fortress control panel, then learns from hologram recordings of Jor-El about the three Kryptonian villains who have escaped. He decides that he will collaborate with the Kryptonian villains to defeat Superman and take over the world.

Meanwhile, Clark and Lois have arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario to investigate a 'honeymoon racket' assigned to them by Perry White. Lois sees a boy falling over a railing and calls for help; Clark, outside of anyone’s sight, transforms into Superman to rescue him. Later, in their suite, Lois decides to try to prove again that Clark is Superman, suspecting that it is far too convenient that Clark disappears every time Superman appears. She points a gun at Clark and, despite his urges not to do it, fires a shot. She looks with amazement as Clark, who is unharmed, then removes his glasses and, giving Lois a stern look, says, "If you had been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed." Lois, in a humorous twist, reveals that she has used a blank in her gun.

The three Kryptonian villains arrive on Earth in a small town in Idaho, where they declare their reign over the entire planet to the townspeople after using their powers to easily stop incoming military forces. They then fly to the White House and easily defeat the military defenses that are protecting the President of the United States. Afterwards, General Zod forces the President to kneel before him in submission by threatening everyone’s lives. The President kneels with despair, praying for Superman, wherever he is, to come to the rescue.

Meanwhile, Superman takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where he confesses his love for her. They eventually retire to his bedchamber and make love. Kal-El then speaks to his father through hologram about his desire to give up his responsibilities as Superman so he can live a normal life with Lois. Jor-El criticizes Kal-El for his decision, but nonetheless offers him a choice. In order for him to relinquish being Superman, he must enter a crystal chamber and be exposed to harnessed rays from the Krypton red sun. He will, therefore, lose his powers permanently and no longer be invulnerable as he has been before. Despite his father’s pleas to reconsider, Kal-El enters the chamber without hesitation and undergoes the de-powering process, which culminates in the destruction of the crystal control panel.

When Clark and Lois visit a diner, Clark, now powerless, finds that he can’t even handle a bullying customer named Rocky, who easily beats him up. Clark's mood is worsened when he watches the President announcing his surrender to General Zod on the diner’s TV. Suddenly, the President pleads for Superman, to which General Zod calls out a challenge for Superman to come fight him. Clark realizes that he has to return to the Fortress and find a way to have his powers restored.

Lex Luthor finally arrives at the White House and offers the three villains a way to find Superman, who he notes is the son of Jor-El, their imprisoner, in exchange for possession of 'beachfront property': Australia. Luthor agrees to help the three villains and hopefully find a way to have Superman defeated.

Meanwhile, Clark arrives back at the Fortress, now a darkened sanctum, and calls out to his father for help. Dreading that there may be no hope left, he then notices the green crystal glowing among the remains of the destroyed control panel – the same crystal that has called out to him in the first movie. He uses the crystal to activate the panel, and once more, Jor-El emerges in hologram. He tells Kal-El about his terrible mistake and offers him one last resort to regain his powers – he will channel all of his remaining energy to his son, thereupon dying. Jor-El bids farewell and emerges in full body and spirit; upon touching Kal-El, he restores his son’s powers and dies by fading away. Kal-El emerges once again... as Superman.

The Kryptonian villains attack the Daily Planet and confront Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane. Luthor advises them to take Lois as a hostage, informing them of her close relationship with Superman. Suddenly, Superman appears, taking up Zod’s challenge to fight. An epic and destructive battle ensues in Metropolis between Superman and three villains of equal power and strength. Finally, Ursa and Non throws a bus at Superman crashing him into a building. Superman, to the people of Metropolis, appears to be dead, and they try to attack the villains, who blow them back with super-breath (with much less slapstick than the Richard Lester version). Superman emerges alive, but flies off, seemingly in defeat.

Luthor offers the villains the location of the Fortress of Solitude, in exchange for Cuba. The villains fly north with Luthor and Lois. When they arrive at the Fortress, they confront Superman and Zod threatens Lois' life to force his surrender. However, they also betray Luthor and plan to kill him as well. Luthor seemingly sides with Superman, who tells Luthor about trying to trick the villains into entering the de-powering chamber, the same one he has used before to lose his powers. Luthor, however, double-crosses Superman and warns Zod of the trap. Zod decides to spare Luthor's life and agrees to the term of his demands. Luthor then informs them of how to activate the de-powering process and is ordered to activate it himself.

With Lois' life being threatened, Superman has no choice but to enter the de-powering chamber. After the de-powering process, Superman emerges with a look of weakness and hopelessness on his face. Zod orders him to kneel and take his hand in submission. Much to everyone’s amazement, and Zod's painful surprise, Superman crushes his hand, picks him up, and throws him across the room. Zod falls down into the abyss below. Luthor then realizes that he himself has been double-crossed into tricking the villains, since Superman has switched the process so that the de-powering rays have been set loose in the Fortress, while Superman has been safe inside the chamber. Non leaps toward Superman, only to realize that he can't fly and fall into the abyss as well. Lois then lands a punch on Ursa, knocking her off her platform into the pit.

Superman and Lois leave Luthor stranded in the Fortress and fly away. Superman then uses his heat vision to destroy the Fortress (it has been shown in a cut scene that Luthor has been arrested and taken away by police prior to this). Lois, while showing that she still loves Superman, realizes and agrees that he must continue to serve humanity, conforming to his father's wishes. After Superman flies her home, Lois begins to break down in despair. Although life would never be the same, she heartbreakingly assures Superman that she can be trusted to keep his secret identity, which Superman acknowledges consolingly, and he flies off.

Superman, realizing that life with Lois can never be, decides to turn back time, flying around the Earth at tremendous speed and reversing events that have occurred throughout, such as the destruction and mayhem done to Metropolis during Superman's battle with the villains and the shattering of the Phantom Zone that releases the Kryptonian villains, as well as Lois' knowledge of his secret identity. The status quo is finally changed back to normal, although both Lois and Perry White seem to experience a sense of déjà vu.

Clark, now with his powers restored as Superman, goes to the diner and confronts Rocky, who is more than willing to pick a fight with him. Much to everyone's surprise, this strange, young man handles the bullying customer like a little child, eventually felling him across the counter and sending him crashing into the pinball machine, knocking him unconscious. Clark then offers to pay the owners of the diner for the damage. With those around wondering how the stranger was able to beat the bully, Clark simply replies: "Oh, I’ve been... working out."

Superman then flies away from and around the Earth and into the reaches of space. Glancing around, he catches the audience's gaze, and flashes a smile (this is the signature clip used in all four of the Reeve Superman films).

[edit] World premiere

The world premiere of the new cut took place November 2, 2006, at the Directors Guild of America building in Hollywood and was attended by many of those associated with the film, including director Richard Donner and producer Ilya Salkind. After the screening, Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, Margot Kidder, Sarah Douglas and other cast members participated in a panel discussion.[4][5][6][7][8][9] On November 25, 2006, an exclusive screening benefit for Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was held at the Fine Arts Theatre in Los Angeles, California. The proceeds of ticket sales went to the Christopher Reeve Foundation.[10]

[edit] Reaction

Many critics have generally applauded the effort, thrilled Donner had the chance to piece his film back together, at the same time bemoaning the lost opportunity.’s Brian Orndorf proclaims the film “… a triumph of intention, sending the imagination soaring again over this new angle on a very old question mark. It breaks my heart to even consider what Richard Donner might’ve accomplished had he not been fired, but the “Donner Cut” gives the fans that close, breath-on-the-glass look at a lost classic that never received its chance to soar in the cinematic heavens.” IGN went as far as to call the film the Best Director's Cut of 2006.

Other critics disparage the reliance on screen-test footage, as well as the repetition of the time-reversal element used in Superman, with other criticisms pointing to the film’s inevitable restructuring and less than perfect visual effects.

Some reviewers have responded very positively, applauding the darker, more serious tone of the film and admiring that the film seems to flow as a true sequel to the original Superman. Bryant Griffin of SyFy “It really feels like a direct continuation of the first film, honoring the Man of Steel with dignity.…” Most have praised the new performances of Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, and especially Christopher Reeve. The review laments, “It is sad to see Reeve in such great form and not be around to see it…”

Comparisons to the theatrical release of Superman II vary widely in their criticism. Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide notes, “When I compare the Donner cut to the theatrical edition, I think the latter remains more compelling and enjoyable.” Yet, Clint Morris of extols, “From the storyline to the tone to the performances to the pacing. … It works a hell of a lot better than the condensed Superman II that we know.…”

Cast members Margot Kidder, Jack O'Halloran and Sarah Douglas have openly stated that they believe “The Richard Donner Cut” is the superior Superman II. IMDb users rate the film 8.0/10, compared to 6.7/10 for the theatrical Superman II. Rotten Tomatoes gave the “Donner Cut” an aggregate rating of 83% compared to 86% for Lester's Superman II.

As with many re-edits of popular films, particularly vocal fans have criticized the re-cut and have largely lashed out at editor Michael Thau for their misgivings. One fan “review” published on the website noted “By far, the “Donner Cut”'s greatest weakness is the way the film's scenes have been re-structured and shuffled around. Scenes essentially play unto themselves, with no real cohesion between the three threads.” Donner himself has also come under criticism for an apparently uncompromising approach to Richard Lester's material, which in certain cases is heavily truncated in the new film.

In addition, many fans have been critical of the fact that Michael Thau did not produce an expensive visual effects sequence using computer generated images (CGI) to create a "CGI villains-rule-the-world-scene." This scene, which has the villains destroying key monuments around the world, was not photographed by Donner before he was fired. Thau, in an interview published on justified the decision based on the amount of footage that would need to be created in CGI.

Fan reaction to the “Donner Cut” has led to many so-called “fan-cuts” edits that attempt to address many of their criticisms of both the Lester and Donner versions of Superman II. Many of these efforts have been posted on the Internet, including Youtube.

[edit] Continuity with series

It is difficult to confirm where Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut lies in the continuing story of the film series — whether it ends the Christopher Reeve series, proceeds directly into Superman Returns or is considered a non-canon offshoot. The Donner Cut does not serve as the new Superman II for the original four movies since Donner himself claimed that if he had finished Superman II, he would have made completely different versions of the following sequels thus making Superman III and IV completely non-canon.

Many fans like to consider it as the official second act that continues into Superman Returns. Production wise, the Superman Returns was released in June 2006, five months before the DVD release of the Donner Cut thus making the theatrical Superman II the official lead-in for Returns, but since both films were reportedly released on DVD on the same date, November 28, 2006, the Donner Cut could also serve as the bridge to Returns.

[edit] DVD special features

  • All new introduction by director Richard Donner (1 minute and 53 seconds)
  • Commentary by director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz
  • New featurette Superman II: Restoring the Vision (13 mins. and 18 seconds)
  • 6 Deleted Scenes (8 minutes and 33 seconds)
    • Lex and Miss Teschmacher head north
    • Lex and Miss Teschmacher head south
    • The villains try to enter fortress
    • He's all yours, boys
    • Clark and Jimmy
    • Lex's getaway (video can be viewed here[1])
  • Subtitles: English, Français & Español (feature film only)& German

[edit] Trailer

On September 20, 2006, Warner Bros. released the official trailer for the Christopher Reeve Superman Collection DVD box set. (Includes footage of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.) [2]

On November 21, 2006, Warner Bros. released the trailer for the Ultimate Superman Collection DVD box set[3].

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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