Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Jackie Cooper, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, E.G. Marshall, Marc McClure, Jack O'Halloran, Valerie Perrine
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by: Richard Donner
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of action violence, some language and brief mild sensuality
Running Time: 116
Date: 11/02/2006

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Plan of Steel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If the Internet is good for anything, it's good for a rallying cry. Like an instantaneous version of a petition or a letter-writing campaign, it lets the powers-that-be know what we want and how we want it. Back in the late 1970s, director Richard Donner shot all the footage needed for his film Superman (1978), as well as reams of footage that would have been used for Superman II. But Warner Brothers panicked over the escalating budget (more than $50 million, which is nothing compared to the estimated $300 million spent on Superman Returns), and fired Donner.

Richard Lester, who had directed A Hard Day's Night and Petulia, and had already worked for producer Alexander Salkind making the successful Three Musketeers movies, was hired to complete the sequel. He incorporated much of Donner's footage, and shot additional footage of his own. The film was released in the summer of 1981 with Lester receiving sole credit.

Twenty-five years later, Warner Brothers is about to get their money's worth. Thanks to overwhelming demand from Superman fans on the Internet, Donner was finally allowed to comb through the volumes of his unused footage and piece together his director's cut, or as close to it as possible. The result is fascinating; it contains at least 50% new material, and older scenes have new bits and pieces edited back in. Marlon Brando now has a significantly larger part, appearing in the Fortress of Solitude as a pre-recorded apparition of Superman's father Jor-El.

But is it a better film? Not particularly -- it's a different film, and an interesting film, but I'd prefer it to supplement the theatrical release rather than replace it. For one thing, much of the charming banter between Clark Kent/Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) has been replaced. A joke about orange juice has been excised from the opening moments, and later references to orange juice don't make any sense. In other words, Lester added a light, playful touch that nicely complimented Donner's technical competence. However, Donner's new scenes have their own feel, the movie moves a good deal faster and it's nice to see Reeve and the underrated Kidder back in action.

On the plus side, the silly plot about Superman giving up his powers for Lois makes a good deal more sense now. Brando's moments look fantastic, thanks to the addition of new digital effects, but I'm afraid not much can help the dated effects in the other scenes, as well as the stiff performances by the three Kryptonian villains (Terence Stamp, Jack O'Halloran and Sarah Douglas).

In one scene, Lois and Clark have gone undercover to Niagara Falls and Lois bluffs him into revealing his secret identity. In Lester's cut, she tries to jump into the falls, but in Donner's cut, she fires a gun at him in their hotel room. Donner never actually shot the scene, and so he cuts together Kidder and Reeve's screen tests. They're obviously quite a bit younger, with different hairstyles and slightly altered costumes, but the scene still works thanks to the magnetism of the two stars.

Ultimately I very much enjoyed this new Superman, just as I probably would have if I had been a little kid again. And if this had been the version released in 1981, I probably would not have known the difference.

Warner Home Video has released this on a separate disc, as well as in their massive, 14-disc Superman Ultimate Collector'sEdition. It comes with a new Richard Donner introduction, a commentarytrack and more deleted scenes (he shot a lot of footage). There's also alittle featurette about the restoration.

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