Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which restores the filmmaker’s vision to the Superman sequel, makes its arrival on 4K UHD. The film makes its arrival as part of the Superman 1978-1987 5-Film Collection getting the complete upgrade to 4K as Warner Bros continues its 100th anniversary celebration.
In a perfect world, Dick Donner would have been able to finish directing the film in the late 1970s. He filmed scenes for both films simultaneously but was let go from the film after filming 75% of the sequel. When filming resumed, Gene Hackman did not return for reshoots. Thanks to an internet movement, he was able to finally restore Superman II into his original vision…or as close as originally intended. Michael Thau was one of the editors that put the film together and was also pivotal in the film’s VFX for the restoration. They also use footage originally edited by Stuart Baird (1977-78) and scenes cut for the Lester cut. Overall, only 20% of Lester cut footage makes it into the film.
The film opens with a prologue that uses different takes from the Superman: The Movie in introducing General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran). Thirty years later, Superman accidently frees the tri when he diverts a missile into space. Shortly thereafter, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) believes that Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) is Superman. We know this is true and she ultimately learns the truth upon shooting him. But for the time being, she jumps out of the Daily Planet building, thinking Superman will save her. Elsewhere, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) escape prison and make their way to Kal-El’s Fortress of Solitude and learn of the impending doom.
When Zod, Ursa, and Non arrive on the moon, they realize that they have superpowers thanks to Earth’s yellow sun. One thing leads to another and well, Zod starts asking everyone to kneel before him. The correct thing to do here is resist and not kneel before Zod. Anyway, they leave nothing but destruction in their wake. Eventually, Lex finds them and takes them to Superman.
When Perry White (Jackie Cooper) assigns Lois and Clark to investigate a scam at Niagara Falls, Lois makes the discovery of a lifetime. Well, I mean, she already knew the truth but she just needed a boy falling over the ledge to confirm her suspicions.
The film’s third act couldn’t be less predictable if it tried. We know that Superman must win the day. However, he does so by ultimately resorting to the same tricks that saved Lois one movie earlier. In fairness, some of this is because of Dick Donner being let go from the film.
One key difference between the theatrical and Richard Donner cut is the inclusion of Marlon Brando. Brando’s inclusion is also one of the particular reasons as to why this film works. There are tons of VFX work but at the end of the day, they also have to use 2006 technology to make the film look like the late 1970s. There are scenes that are similar to the Richard Lester cut. Much like Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back, they also opt for a different take. But thankfully, there are no campy scenes and I’m going to get to this here in a moment.
Another difference is the return of the legendary composer John Williams–well, kind of. They use the main Williams themes and added some additional Williams cues that didn’t get used for Superman: The Movie. While Williams screened the Richard Lester cut, he didn’t get along with the filmmaker and Ken Thorne was brought on to score Superman II. Some of the Ken Thorne music is used for the Donner cut.
While the Richard Lester version is included with the new 4K set, I won’t be watching it because of Dick Donner. Lester is a comedy filmmaker and shouldn’t have been allowed near the franchise with a ten-foot-pole. The two filmmakers have very different styles of filmmaking with Donner opting for an epic scale in the comic book movie. There are some Lester scenes in the film but that’s because of not really having much of a choice. In any event, there are scenes in the film where Donner could only film it on a screen test. The film has something of a weak ending but this is because of Donner leaving the production. As a result, he could not give it the ending that it truly deserves. Instead, they repeat the time travel beat because of it being impossible to shoot new footage.
Given everything that happened, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut restores Donner’s vision and makes the best out of an otherwise terrible situation. In terms of the 4K UHD upgrade, the film looks and sounds as good as it will ever get.
- Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz
- Introduction by Richard Donner – featurette
- Superman II: Restoring the Vision – featurette
- Deleted scenes
- Lex and Ms. Teschmacher head north
- Lex and Ms. Teschmacher head south
- The villains enter the fortress
- He’s all yours, boys
- Clarke and Jimmy
- Lex’s gateway
- Famous Studios vintage cartoons
- Eleventh Hour
- Destruction, Inc.
- The Mummy Strikes
- Jungle Drums
- The Underground World
- Secret Agent
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
SCREENWRITERS: Mario Puzo, David Newman, and Leslie Newman
CAST: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Clifton James, and E.G. Marshall, Marc McClure, and Terence Stamp
Warner Bros. released Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut on November 28, 2006. Grade: 4/5
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