Sunday, November 26, 2006

Superman II- The Donner Cut

A rather unusual, and dare I say historic event occurs on Tuesday when Richard Donner's cut of Superman 2 arrives on DVD.

Richard Donner, the director of the first Superman starring Christopher Reeve, was fired half way through the filming of the second Superman.

The reason was cited as creative differences.

He was replaced by Richard Lester who delivered an outstanding sequel.

I'll even go as far as saying that it's a superior film than the first Superman.

I'm sure I share that opinion with many others.

But for whatever reason there's been a demand to see the footage that Donner shot, some even claiming that his version was even better than Lester's.

Throughout the years a cult following developed.

It became a full fledge phenomenon when Bryan Singer, in preparation for his film Superman Returns, viewed footage from the Donner cut, and came away singing it's praises.

So Warner Brothers did the unprecedented, and decided to release a version of Superman 2 using the previously unseen footage shot by Donner, and filling in the holes with the footage shot by Lester.

Not only that, but paid for restoration, and according to the special features on the DVD, the creation of some 250 new special effects shots.

Some of the highlights of the new version is a new beginning, ending, and the presence of Marlon Brando.

But is it better than Lester's version?

Spoilers now follow.

First off the film has never looked better.

It's obvious the powers that be has put some money into this DVD.

This isn't some chessy director's cut that inserts storyboards, and cheap narration to fill in the holes.

The video, sound, and color have all been enhanced, and restored.

I threw on the special edition of Lester's version, which is being released at the same time, to compare the transfers, and the differences are obvious.

The Donner version looks, and sounds significantly better.

Which is disappointing for fans of the original version.

In terms of story, the Donner cut is shorter, tighter, and feels more like a sequel.

Events that transpired in the first film directly affect this version.

Specifically, the way General Zod and his crew escape from the phantom zone is from one of Lex Luthor's nuclear bombs in the first film that Superman intercepts on it's way to California.

Instead of the terrorist bomb from Lester's version, the bomb that releases Zod is a nuclear bomb that Superman throws into space.

The ending is also drastically different. Instead of the magic kiss to make Lois forget, Superman simply does what he did in the first film. Which is reverse time to the point where he throws the bomb into outer space.

Which means the whole movie never takes place.

Which makes no sense....whatsoever.

The best, and most refreshing change is having Marlon Brando in the film.

I'm not sure if it's nostalgia, or genuine enhancement of the story, but having Brando in the film seems to really elevate the film to another level

In terms of story, it definitely raises the stakes when Superman decides to become human.

Also seeing Brando pleading with his son to reconsider, enhances the themes of the Superman story. Issues of responsibilty, serving the greater good, and self sacrifice are addressed.

It also brings out a more dynamic performance from Christopher Reeve.

We witness a great moment when we see the little boy in Kal-el come out as he defies his father, and decides to become human. Than another great moment when we see his remorse, and regret when he begs for forgiveness, and pleads for a way to become Superman again. It adds a vulnerability to the character of Superman that we've never seen on film.

It's also tragic when we see that the only way that he can become Superman again, is by the destruction of his father's hologram. Which means he will never be able to interact with the image of his father again.

It provides a rather touching goodbye scene between the two.

The moment is especially poignant when one steps out of the film, and considers that relatively recently both Marlon Brando, and Christopher Reeve have passed away.

But besides those changes the movie is basically the same. The same themes, and plot-line remain relatively intact.

I guess if I had to choose though, I prefer Lester's version.

In terms of story logic, and through-line Lester's version just plays better. There's also more action sequences in his film.

But I'm grateful for this new version. If only to see Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando's new footage.

After watching Superman Returns, one realizes how excellent Christopher Reeve's performance was, and it's always refreshing to see Brando perform, even in a performance that many consider stilted and distant.

The DVD is available on November 28th.

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