Today I am sitting down to watch Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. This is an alternate version of Superman II, which was initially released on DVD in 2006.
This version of the movie differs to the theatrical cut of Superman II and includes new scenes, a different ending and some alterations to existing scenes. In essence, it is a version of the movie closer in tone and content to what director Richard Donner originally intended.
Why does this version of the film exist?
In the late 1970s, Richard Donner was hired to direct Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980). The plan was to shoot both movies back-to-back.
Donner shot all of Superman: The Movie and a significant chunk of Superman II, before he was removed from the project. The director and the movie’s producers had a huge falling out, Donner was fired and replacement director Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman II.
The theatrical cut of Superman II (i.e. the most widely seen version of the film) is credited to Richard Lester, however, it is actually the work of two directors: Richard Donner AND Richard Lester. But it isn’t the only version of the film.
During the mid-‘00s, to coincide with the release of Superman Returns (2006), Warner Bros. asked Richard Donner if he would revisit Superman II. The director agreed, and using a mixture of existing material (deleted scenes, test footage, abandoned ideas etc), he compiled a new cut of the film, closer to what he originally intended.
This second version of Superman II is known as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. And this is the film I am watching today.
In this post I will watch, discuss and pass comment on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, providing a sort-of running commentary. I will be throwing out observations, musings and asides, all in real-time, to provide details about the film and how I feel about it.
Now before I begin, I must stress that if you haven’t already watched the theatrical cut of Superman II, then do so before progressing any further. Not only will this post spoil what is an excellent film, it also won’t make complete sense unless you are familiar with the picture.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980/2006)
45secs – The film opens with an onscreen dedication to Christopher Reeve – as it should. The actor – who passed away in 2004 – was perfect in this role.
1min – The first scene in this cut of the movie takes place on Krypton and is a replay of a scene from Superman: The Movie – i.e the trial of the Kryptonian criminals: General Zod, Ursa and Non.
5mins 45secs – More recapping – to set up the new opening. The recaps cover the end of Superman: The Movie – specifically the scenes involving two missiles.
7mins 10secs – Now here’s something very important to note. In the original cut of Superman II, the Kryptonian criminals are freed after Superman throws a bomb into space, following a scene set in Paris. In this cut the criminals are freed from their prison, after Superman launches one of the missiles into space. So this opening ties closely into the end of Superman: The Movie.
8mins 20secs – And now into the epic titles, backed by John Williams’ fantastic Superman score!
These are not the same titles used in the theatrical cut – they have been recreated to give Richard Donner his directing credit AND to reflect the new changes to the film. In this version of the movie, Marlon Brando gets a credit – something he didn’t get in the theatrical cut – as this film now includes lots of Brando footage (more about that shortly).
12mins – Onto the first-post credit scene now, which takes place in the Daily Planet office and includes new material, such as…
13mins 20secs – …Lois drawing a hat, glasses and suit over a photo of Superman. She suspects Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same and she is calling Clark out on it.
14min 30secs – With the film deviating from the original opening, there are no longer any scenes set in Paris.
16mins 15secs – Lois is so convinced that Clark is Superman that she throws herself out of a window, expecting Clark to save her. He does save her, but without her knowledge and this is an incredibly fun scene to watch – it should have been in the theatrical cut.
22mins – The Kryptonian criminals are free of their prison and are now terrorising astronauts on the moon.
24mins – The Kryptonians kill the astronauts and it is pretty menacing stuff. Every time I watch this film, I forget how menacing they can be.
29mins 30secs – Lex Luthor has escaped from prison and is on his way to the Fortress of Solitude. There is a little more footage with Lex than there was in the theatrical cut.
34mins – Lex and Miss. Teschmacher are in the Fortress, where they are joined by a holographic projection of Marlon Brando. In the theatrical cut, the holographs did not feature Brando, as the producers didn’t want to pay to use his footage. As such, in the original version, every time Superman needs to speak to a ‘ghost’ from his past, his mother pops up.
38mins – Lois Lane and Clark Kent are on assignment at Niagara Falls. This now marks the second time that Lois suspects Clark is Superman, but this sequence ends very differently.
In the theatrical cut, Lois and Clark are at Niagara Falls, when a young boy falls from a ledge and plummets towards the water. Clark does a quick-change into Superman and saves the boy.
Lois notices that Clark and Superman are never around at the same time, so assumes they are the same person. To test her theory, she jumps off a ledge – only to get (sort of) rescued by Clark, not Superman.
Lois’s theory doesn’t pan out, but a short while later, Clark accidentally reveals his secret identity. Back at their hotel, he trips and puts his hand in a fire; but when Lois takes a look at his hand she can’t see any burn marks, leading to the revelation he IS Superman.
In this Richard Donner Cut, only the scene with the boy takes place. Lois’s fall, as well as the entire fire sequence have been removed.
These scenes have now been replaced with a sequence in which Lois pulls a gun on Clark, when they are back at the hotel. She fires the gun, leading Clark to reveal he is Superman.
It sounds pretty harsh – and it is! But the gun was firing blanks, so Clark wouldn’t have been harmed anyway.
So, the big question is: Is this a better scene?
In all honesty, no – and it is because the scene wasn’t finished.
For this cut of the film, the whole ‘gun’ sequence has been recreated using a mixture of different test footage. Test footage that contains inconsistencies.
Clark’s hair changes, as do his glasses, and both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder look much younger here than they do anywhere else in the film. So, it kind of sticks out like a sore thumb!
It’s a shame really, because had this scene been shot as intended, then it could have worked fine. But as it stands in this release, it looks a little odd.
55mins – The Kryptonians are on Earth and are demonstrating their new found powers for all the world to see. There are a few tweaks in this version of the movie, to make the Kryptonians appear more threatening. The scene where the criminals deface Mount Rushmore has also been replaced.
56mins – More Brando footage.
59mins 30secs – After revealing his secret identity, Superman decides to give up his powers to be with Lois. This is all very dramatic and this cut of the movie plays out much better than the original. Want to know why? Because it includes a number of scenes with Marlon Brando.
As Lois and Jor-El watch Superman become stripped of his powers, Jor-El (aka Brando) gives Lois a disapproving look. In that one, very brief expression, Brando is able to convey so much about what he is feeling for his son, and the decision he is making.
1hr – With Superman busy at the Fortress of Solitude, the trio of Kryptonians storm the White House. This scene has been tweaked for The Donner Cut, to once again show how deadly this trio is – and once again it works much better.
1hr 3mins – I feel it is important to note that one of the main differences between the theatrical cut and The Donner Cut is the tone. Some of the gags/lighter moments in Richard Lester’s cut have been removed, to add more tension and drama. It’s a subtle change by Richard Donner, but one which really alters the way scenes play out.
1hr 4mins 15secs – Heading back from the Fortress, Lois and Clark pull into a diner. Richard Donner gets a quick blink and you’ll miss it cameo.
1hr 6mins – Clark gets into an altercation with a diner, leading to a scuffle. This is the first time in Clark’s life that he has seen his own blood.
1hr 7mins 14secs – This whole diner scene is very powerful. Clark is bruised and battered, and once he learns that the Earth has been invaded by evil Kryptonians, he begins to understand the ramifications of giving up his powers.
1hr 8mins 30secs – Clark Kent: “I have to go back.”
1hr 12mins – Lex Luthor bargains with the Kryptonians.
1hr 15mins 45secs – Clark is attempting to get his powers back. He is able to make them return, BUT it means giving up his link to Jor-El. This is Brando’s final scene and it is very touching. Again, this SHOULD have been in the theatrical cut.
1hr 17mins 20secs – Jor-El: “Farewell forever, Kal-El. Remember me, my son.”
1hr 18mins – Jor-El gives up the last of his energy to restore his son’s powers. This is an epic scene.
1hr 21mins 40secs – With his powers restored by Jor-El, Superman arrives in Metropolis for a showdown with the Kryptonians. This cut of the movie uses an alternate take, with Superman goading General Zod with a different line to the one delivered in the theatrical cut.
- Theatrical cut: “General, would you care to step outside.”
- The Donner Cut: “General, haven’t you ever heard of freedom of the press?”
I actually prefer the line from the theatrical cut.
1hr 27mins – Another epic scene, as Superman battles Zod, Ursa and Non in the streets of Metropolis. When I was a kid I loved this scene.
1hr 29mins 30secs – Another powerful moment now. The citizens of Metropolis believe Superman to be dead, so they arm themselves with junk and prepare to fight the Kryptonians. They know they are severely outmatched, but they are taking inspiration from their fallen ‘friend’ and fighting the good fight regardless.
1hr 30mins – The Kryptonians use their collective super breath to disable the crowd. This scene has been tweaked slightly to reduce some of the comedic touches.
1hr 35mins – Into the finale, with a scene set in the Fortress of Solitude. General Zod gets a little more dialogue here and once again, it makes him appear more threatening.
1hr 39mins 40secs – One of the best scenes in any movie now. Superman uses Lex Luthor to get the drop on the Kryptonians. He then removes their powers and saves the world! Hurrah!
1hr 44mins – In the theatrical cut, the film starts to wrap up now, with a scene in which Superman kisses Lois and she loses her memory; forgetting his secret identity in the process. But in this cut, Superman travels around the world and turns back time – rehashing the same ending from Superman: The Movie.
Confusing, yes – if you don’t know why this ending is being used.
The original plan was for the first film to end with Superman stopping two missiles from causing the earthquake – he would have done this without the need to turn back time. The film would have concluded with Superman tossing one of those missiles into space, accidentally freeing the Kryptonians in the process – as seen at the beginning of this cut of the film.
1hr 49mins – And now for the coda – which is my favourite scene. Clark returns to the diner to get even with the guy who roughed him up. Now technically, this scene doesn’t make sense, as Clark just altered time, so the diner scene never happened… but it’s still fun to watch. I’m going to let it slide.
1hr 51mins – As the credits roll, I have a huge smile on my face. There is just so much to love about Superman II – I really like this film, regardless of what cut I watch.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a fascinating curio. It presents a window into what could have been, had things played out differently between Richard Donner and the Superman producers.
Is this cut of the movie perfect? No. As noted, due to limitations with the footage, one scene in particular looks a little out of place and the ending just doesn’t sit right. But on the whole this cut works very well.
Donner’s approach to Superman has a more serious edge than Richard Lester’s, so it is interesting to see how the material can change with a different set of eyes. And this change is arguably better.
Some of the changes Donner has made are subtle, some less so, but in most cases, the changes are significant enough to alter the tone of the film and make it a stronger piece – which is pretty remarkable, considering how good the theatrical cut of Superman II is.
So, the question remains: Is this the definitive cut of the movie – i.e the one that everyone should watch? I would argue no. The theatrical version of Superman II plays out just fine and works well as a sequel to Superman: The Movie, so for general audiences, that is the version to watch.
But for fans of the Superman movies, those who really love the films, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is certainly a film to have in their library. It doesn’t replace the original version, but it sure does make for a great companion piece to alternate to from time-to-time and one that really should be watched.
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