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Discussion Starter #1
Superman II: Richard Donner Cut

Thank God for the Internet...” Director Richard Donner says of the grass roots movement that made this version of the film possible.

According to the featurette Superman II: Restoring the Vision, they had to sift through several tons of film that arrived by truck from Warner Brother’s studios. Superman II is almost 30 years old and much of the film suffered moisture damage. The restoration effort involved baking every roll of film to remove moisture and then viewing and cataloguing every scene for continuity. What a project!
Richard Donner has directed many of the films we love - not necessarily great films but films that have a way of getting our affections (or under our skin) like the 1976 Omen, Ladyhawke, Lethal Weapon and recently 16 Blocks. It’s a widely held opinion that none of the other Superman films starring Christopher Reeve ever reached the same level of the first. So, what if Richard Donner had been able to complete Superman II instead of being dumped from the project?

Why is this version so special?

Richard Donner, director of the first Superman film actually started filming both Superman I and II in parallel. So, he was shooting two films at the same time, instead of just one. Warner Bros found he was going way over budget and way over time and had him rush only the first movie into completion. Then in a slight that to this day seems to fill Donner with spite, WB dropped Donner from the project of finishing Superman II and they went with film directory Richard Lester who gave us the Superman II we saw at theaters. Most of Donner’s work that was done while shooting Superman I was laid to waste. Until now!
Restoration is complete and available on HD DVD so I jumped at the chance to see the movie that Donner would have created. This is no mere ‘Director’s Cut’ of Superman II - this is a completely different movie with only pieces taken from the theatrical release. Many familiar scenes have a slightly different take.

• Actors: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Bando, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Terrence Stamp •
• Directors: Richard Donner
• Format: AC-3, Director's Cut, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
• Language: English
• Region: 0
• Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
• Rating
• Studio: Warner Home Video
• DVD Release Date: November 28, 2006
• Run Time: 116 minutes

The Movie: No Spoilers

Superman II, like the sequel to any comic book film, is really where the ‘fun’ begins. Since the back-story is done we’re familiar with the characters, so Superman II is free to dive right in with familiar faces. The credits are similar to Lester’s Superman II, recapping events in the first film. But the shots are all different - the Donner cut uses different angles but tried to stay true to how Donner envisioned the Shakespearian tone of the Krypton authorities condemning General (Terrence Stamp) Zod and his cohorts to banishment from the doomed planet. The special effects have been touched up, particularly where space is visible, and they look great on HD DVD. Although the effects look too good for a 30-year-old movie, they remain true to the film’s era. Unlike certain movies by George Lucas, none of the touch ups scream - “21st Century CGI!”

After recapping the first Superman and witnessing Zod’s escape from the two-dimensional prison, we’re re-introduced to Clark Kent and Lois Lane foisted straight into exclusive Donner territory. The scene takes place inside the offices of the Daily Planet where Lois is catching on that Clark is really Superman. We’re treated to scenes that emphasize banter between Margot Kidder and the late Christopher Reeve, to whom the version of the film is dedicated. It’s a fitting dedication because Donner’s version of the film seems to care more about its characters than Lester’s theatrical release. Gone is Lester’s opening involving a rescue at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Instead we get scenes that explore the relationship between Lois and Clark.

Fruit Cart!

I won’t give away what happens in the opening scenes, but the extent to which Lois is willing to go to prove Clark is Superman is shocking. The contrast between the opening scenes recapping events at Krypton to the big city newspaper with its fast paced quips is a real jolt. Again, the first attempt Lois makes to prove Clark is Superman is downright jarring, and really draws you into the characters. It’s not as grandiose as a harrowing rescue at the Eiffel Tower, but it’s more personal. Donner uses the character interactions to create a more dramatic effect. Lois is of course foiled in proving Clark is Superman at this time, but the scene ends in one of those tried and true comedic clichés in film, the fruit cart.

In keeping with Donner’s more personal vision of the characters there is more - much more - interaction between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The scene where Lois and Clark are in the hotel room at Niagara Falls is a real treasure. It was taken from a screen test of the two actors performing together for perhaps the very first time, it shows. The scene actually takes on the tone of an improvisational indie film with the actors, Kidder and Reeve, really showing they have chemistry. And let’s face it Kidder was hot back in the day. You get to see a lot more of her too; wearing just a Superman T-Shirt or just a towel, her body is more prevalent in this release than Lester’s.

Film Summary

The movie is a must see for fans of the film or Reeve. It’s definitely a different movie than the one released to theater, and is a very strong piece in every way except one. The ending is terrible. I won’t give it away but it’s one of those cheap endings that removes validity from the film. You just have to block it out and not let it ruin your enjoyment of what’s good about the rest. This wasn’t Donner’s choice for an ending. What we get is something cobbled together from a combination of Superman I footage and Lester’s work.


The video on my 720P HDTV using the HD DVD version of the film was excellent. It should be, from the amount of work they put into the production. As expected though, some scenes looked inconsistent. Some of the video was taken from Lester’s version, some shot by Donner while shooting Superman I and some from screen tests; but despite the variable image sources the picture looks pretty good overall. Scenes of the Krypton convicts battling Superman along the night skyline of Metropolis (New York City) are incredible to behold even by today’s standards. The HD treatment of the video, in my opinion, exceeds that of the HD DVD version of Superman: The Motion Picture. Never-before-seen scenes like the one pictured below of Superman being thrown into torch hoisted by Lady Liberty demonstrate the clarity of the background landscapes in HD, it’s incredible.
Take that Lady Liberty!


I found the audio in this film to exceed what I’ve come to expect from 25 plus-year-old films that get the 5.1 treatment. The Dolby Digital soundtrack sounds excellent through most of the movie. There are only a few spots where the sound isn’t crystal clear. The audio received almost as much attention to detail as the video, and it shows. The effects during the battle scenes didn’t fail to give my subwoofer plenty of rumble and the echo-chamber effects were a real standout in the Fortress of Solitude. The soundtrack is actually better than the 2001 restoration of the original Superman on DVD.


Superman II: Restoring the Vision: This half hour long featurette is mainly interviews with Donner himself and production staff. It also shows footage of the restoration process. It’s interesting mainly because Donner has a real take no prisoners personality. He spares not for a moment his contempt for the old production from Warner Brothers and their moves that kept him from completing Superman II. In one scene Donner even refuses to utter the name Richard Lester. You can tell he’s a passionate man, at one point he appears truly touched by the outpouring from fans on the Internet to get the Donner cut released.

Introduction By Richard Donner: A few minutes of Donner thanking the fans that made this possible, and letting us know what we’re in for.

Deleted Scenes: I scanned through it, just a few extended scenes they decided not to use and mostly they were probably right not to use them.

None of the special features appear in HD.

Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz: Usually audio commentaries are terrible exercises of Hollywood ego-stroking futility. Only rarely, if you get the right personality, are they interesting. Donner is the kind of guy you’d want to watch a movie with to hear his comments. This is a worthwhile commentary to hear, and boy is Donner ever a crotchety old bugger at times. But bravo to him for standing behind who he is and not filling the commentary with a bunch of fluff. He says what he’s thinking and doesn’t care who's listening. I wish there were more like him in Hollywood, in fact I just wish there were more like him period.

2,234 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

Excellent review Wayde.

I liked the Donner cut much better than the original. I think it was the camp in Lester's version that turned me off. Not that there aren't campy moments in Donner's, there was just something about the slapstick attempt at comedy in Lester's that I didn't like.

I particularly liked the more ruthless Zod in Donner's cut, and was surprised to see him use a machine gun to mow people down when they took over the White House. It was cold and brutal, but at the same time like watching a kid play with a something that isn't a toy but they are still fascinated with it because they have never seen anything like it before. It was touches like that though that made Zod a more formidable villain in my opinion.

Also the 'kiss' ending is gone. Seeing that they completely changed the ending and feel of the movie, which in some ways doesn't mesh with the first movie (in other ways though it is more of a continuation than a sequel) I would love to see a Donner Cut of Superman the Movie to go along with this version.

539 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

"I would love to see a Donner Cut of Superman the Movie to go along with this version."

Thanks for the compliment wbassett

but isn't the original Superman: The Motion Picture... actually a Donner cut to being with? Do you mean a director's cut of the film? I think that's the version you'll find on DVD. Either way they're both excellent films. Although I'm not sure if anyone can save Superman III

2,234 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

Yeah the DVD is pretty much the director's cut, I meant since the ending of Superman II kind of doesn't go well with the ending of Superman the Movie. For those that haven't seen it we shouldn't give anything away, know what I mean Wayde? So obviously Donner had a different idea for at least the ending of the first movie and probably Lois wouldn't have even died during the earthquake. That's what I was talking about. I think it would be cool to see both movies the way Donner originally intended them is all. I still love the first one as is though.

Senior Shackster
792 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

Donner is lucky to have become a 'post-release auteur'. I imagine every director would like
to be the auteur (French word for author) of his film but it's very difficult when dealing with
enormous budgets then and now. The smaller the budget, the more likely that the producers
or distributor will allow you creative control over the film. But when large sums of money are
at stake, the financiers will often have the final say. The way around this is to produce your own movies rather that direct as a 'work for hire' but that is also extremelly difficult and probably
impossible for a packaged property like the Superman series. In any event, I'm glad Donner
was able to have his version released after so many years. I'm still a fan of Richard Lester
and like many of his movies but I don't think his tongue in cheek approach to filmmaking
(i.e. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "Robin and Marion", "Help!") was
appropriate for this picture.

Having said that, while his version of "Superman II" is better than Lesters, it's still less than
satisfying as a movie. The first film also had problems with it's shifts in style and tone although
it was entertaining.

This actually brings up an interesting if not controversial subject...

"Authentic director's version" of movies re-edited a long time after the original
release. We've seen it with a number of classics like "Lawrence of Arabia",
"Blade Runner", "Star Wars", "Close Encounters", "Apocalypse Now" and "E.T".
What makes it more confusing is that in many cases, the directors had creative control the first time around. Revising a movie years later takes the original
out of it's cultural context. The new versions may or may not be better in
certain respects but they are certainly not the same experience that audiences
had in the first release.

Each movie is a reflection of the era it was made in
and I'm not sure that updating or altering them is a good idea. For example,
one of my all time favorites was "Lawrence of Arabia" which I saw many
times in Repertory cinemas in the seventies. The 1989 70mm print looked
and sounded spectacular but it wasn't my favorite version of the film. In all
honesty, many of the new scenes didn't enhance the story and made it drag.
I preferred the tighter editing in the standard cut. I didn't like any of the
added CGE incorporated into the re-issue of "Star Wars" because they didn't
match the optical effects of the original and seemed out of place. I liked watching
"Apocalypse Redux" in dye transfer Technicolor (Coppola wanted to print the original
this way but they shut down the process before he finished) but the extra hour
of footage made the story lose it's narrative momentum. I almost forgot why
Sheen was going down the river during the extended plantation scene which
seemed like a separate narrative tacked onto the main one. Is longer necessarily
better? Should every out-take be put back into a movie (even by the director)
after the fact? At what point does pacing play a more important role than
character nuance. (I'm omitting movies that were censored that have been restored
and referring to filmmakers that alter their own pictures after the fact)

I suppose that as long as the original version is available this won't be an issue
but in the case of "Lawrence of Arabia" it's unlikely that the original cut will be seen again. Lean edited that version too.

Premium Member
15,054 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

Is this version available in stores or just online?

Senior Shackster
792 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

Re-screened it again last night and then compared it to the Lester's version. I think the pacing of the Lester version is better and you have an action scene up front. Donner's version works better as a continuation of the first part but not as well as a separate film and of the course the ending is terrible. Both versions are campier
than the first film and have the same shifts in tone going from serious drama to
tongue in cheek comedy to action. I still find the changes disorienting because the
scenes with Brando were so serious. I'm glad they're back and it works better thematically than having his mother but it's remains a very uneven film. I also
thought the explosions, cars crashes and other effects could've been tightened
further. The crowd reactions seems wrong. Why were all those people hanging around? They should've been running away or ducking for cover if there's a mid-air fist fight between Superman and the three villains. They just stood around waiting for something to fall on them. Faster cuts would've made that work better and seem
less silly.

Perhaps what they should do some day in the future (providing Donner agrees) is to recut both pictures into one long epic single feature with an intermission after the
villains are freed from the phantom zone. That way the first film doesn't have the turn back the world ending. The effects were terrible so it would be no great loss. Lois doesn't die. He does some heroic things like save the bus and close up the fault then pushes the missle into outer space and the second story begins for the rest of the film. The villains are far more interesting in part II. The epic movie would end with him turning back the world. Along the lines of a three and a half hour epic removing extraneous scenes that no longer make sense or are necessary like beating up the bully in the restaurant or Lex trying to burn and freeze him in Part 1 even though he knows that can't kill Superman. Basically it would be Donner materials tighted up and trimmed into a "Godfather Saga" type of picture with a climas and all the padding cut out.

I didn't watched the complete end credits of this new version the first time. Yesterday I left it running and saw that ludicrous end notice where Donner appologized for the fur coat and second hand smoke in the film. It was one of the dumbest things I'd ever seen in a movie. I had to zoom back to see what he was even talking about. Jackie Cooper smoked a cigar and Valarie Perine wore a fur in the artic. One of the most absurd cases of political correctness I've encountered. Let's hope it doesn't start a trend. Imagine future editions of "Bullitt" which end with a "Buckle Up for Safety" title card. Unless a movie is specifically about politics or some issue or is an agit-prop piece, they should leave this nonsense out of mainstream entertainment. Movies are for entertainment
not indoctrination.

HTS Senior Moderator
5,423 Posts
Re: Superman II : Richard Donner Cut

I've always hated the "turn back the world" part. I picked up Superman the Movie and Superman II The Richard Donner Cut today. Best Buy's sales on Blu-ray's, my new Panasonic DMP-BD80 and new Sony LCD are gonna take a big chunk outta my checkbook.
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