Superman II: The Donner Cut (Mania.com)

By:John Sinnott
Date: Sunday, December 24, 2006

Welcome to the special Christmas Eve edition of High Def Revue!  Okay, there’s really not anything special about it besides the fact that it is premiering on Christmas Eve.  In any case, I hope that you and yours have a safe and happy holiday, no matter what you celebrate.  Now on to the news: 

Prestige coming to Blu-ray:  Christopher Nolan’s latest mysterious film, The Prestige will be making its way to HD video on February 20th.   This film from the director of Memento and Batman Begins is set in 19th Century London and stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two rival magicians who will stop at nothing to out perform their competitor.  Special features haven’t been announced yet, but a commentary track is expected. 

Yet another edit of Alexander comes to HD DVD and Blu-ray In an attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, Warner Brothers is releasing a third edit of the Oliver Stone flop Alexander.  Already available in the theatrical version and a directors cut (which is actually shorter) this coming February 27th will see the release of “The Unrated Final Cut” of the movie.  Running a whopping 45 minutes longer than the version seen in theaters, this cut will feature extended battle sequences and more sex, both heterosexual and homosexual.  Even with the addition of more sex and violence, I can’t see this cut being much better than the other two, which were generally savaged by the critics. 

The Silence of the Lambs to arrive on Blu-ray in early 2007:  MGM has announced that the classic thriller The Silence of the Lambs will be released on Blu-ray on March 13th of next year.  The Jodie Foster / Anthony Hopkins film that made Hannibal Lecter a household word was one of the best movies of the 1990’s and it will be interesting to see how the film elements look in HD.  Special features and haven’t been announced yet, but stay tuned and we’ll keep you informed.   
 

This week’s Spotlight:  Superman II:  The Donner Cut on Blu-ray: 

Many fans of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies know the story behind the second film in that series. Richard Donner directed the first installment and it was a huge success. While he did make a very popular film, he fought with the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, quite a bit. In a surprise move the Salkinds fired Donner from Superman II although he had already filmed roughly 70% of it. The fan magazines at the time attributed Donner’s departure to either 1) the Salkinds being manipulative producers who insisted in micromanaging the production or 2) Donner having turned into a prima donna after the reception that the first film received and was acting like an out of control mad-man on the set. The truth is probably somewhere between the two stories.  

In any case Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, The Three Musketeers) was handed the reins and created a popular but somewhat silly sequel that has one of the lamest endings of any modern film. (The 'kiss of forgetfulness'.) A couple of year ago, in 2004, Margo Kidder stated in an interview that Donner had shot enough footage to edit together his version of the film. This started a grass roots based campaign to collect the existing footage and recreate the film that Donner was never able to make. Warner Brothers agreed to go ahead with the project and Michael Thau was put in charge of the restoration. Now, at last, fans of the series can get an idea of what might have been. Of course this isn't exactly Donner's vision, but it is close and he gives it his stamp of approval. This new, more interesting and fun version of the second Reeve Superman film is now available on Blu-ray as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.  

Starting off just before the end of Superman: The Movie, albeit with a slightly different conclusion, Superman II has Superman sending an atomic missile out into space to save countless lives. When it finally detonates in the vast space between planets, the shockwave destroys the portal to the Phantom Zone.  This was where three Kryptonian criminals were exiled to in the first movie. General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his accomplices, Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the destructive mute Non (Jack O'Halloran) emerge from their imprisonment and head to Earth where they discover that they have all of the powers of Superman. Though they failed to take over Krypton, conquering Earth will be easy.  

It's made even more facile by the fact that Superman isn't around. Like in the comics, Lois becomes convinced that mild mannered Clark Kent is really Superman. To prove it she throws herself out of a 30th story window, and when that doesn't work she comes up with a deviously clever scheme which does.  Clark/Superman seems a bit relieved that his secret is out, because now he can share his life with someone.  

He takes Lois to his Fortress of Solitude and there he does something with her that never would have gotten past the old Comics Code Authority. The man from Krypton falls in love with his human companion. When he discusses this with the generated image of his father, Jor-El informs him that the only way he can give himself to an Earth woman totally is by becoming human himself.  

Over his father's protests, Kal-El places himself in the red sun chamber and is exposed to the rays of his home world sun, rendering him mortal and powerless. Of course when he and Lois make it back to civilization they discover that General Zod has taken over the world and the only person who can stand up to the brute is now without the strength to do so. 

This is a significantly different version of this story. It's not just an alternate cut, this movie tells the tale in a totally different way. Though the narrative is a little rough in parts due to the nature of the creation of this edit, it is superior to the original in a lot of ways. Gone are a lot of the hokey, silly parts, like most of the fight between Zod and the Texas Sheriff (Clifton James), the Mount Rushmore section and the over-the-top Superman carrying the American Flag ending. The sight gags, which were never very funny, are removed and in their place are more of the witty dialog that made the original movie so much fun.  

This version has Lois discovering Clark's secret in a creative and imaginative way, not through some stupid slip on Superman's part. This version also features Marlon Brando as Jor-El once again, and it's great to see him playing the role which was originally cut from the theatrical release.  

Of course there are some problems. There are some minor plot holes sprinkled through the film, along with several scenes that don't quite match being forced together, but this is largely due to the nature of this edit. A more troubling aspect is the conclusion. Donner hadn't actually figured out the ending of the film, so this edit has to fall back to the way the movie was originally going to end before Salkinds decided to eliminate the cliffhanger ending from the first film. This gives viewers a sense of déjà vu, and though it's still a pretty dumb way to wrap up the movie, it's better than what Lester came up with.  

As far as the image is concerned, this film is presented with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio encoded at 1080p. Let me start off by saying that this movie looks much better than it should. Sure, there are some problems, but for basically being put together after being ignored for decades, this is nothing short of miraculous. I've seen my share of films that were restored from several prints and negatives and this movie looks nearly seamless compared to most. Of course this is a patchwork job. The restoration team led by Michael Thau uncovered every foot of raw film that Donner shot for this movie from different film archives and then pieced it together. (Segments that Lester shot are also included, since Donner didn't have time to film everything he wanted.) Because of this some scenes look better than others, but the movie fits together wonderfully as a whole. There aren't abrupt changes in image quality going from scene to scene and the movie flows nicely.  

While neither this version nor Richard Lester's film are better than the first Superman film, the Donner cut is more enjoyable than Lester's vision in a lot of ways. A lot of the goofy sections that were sprinkled through Lester's movie are gone, and this movie has more heart than the theatrically released version. That's not to say that this film is perfect, there are a few plot holes and the ending is still a bit lacking, but this is a glimpse of what might have been. Fans of the series will surely want to check this version out. 

Upcoming High Definition Discs:  
 

December 26, 2006 

Blu-ray 

The Descent

Transporter 2 

HD DVD 

Casino

Jet Li's Fearless

Lady in the Water

The Matador

Scary Movie 4

The Scorpion King

The Sopranos: Season Six, Part One

Wolf Creek 

January 02, 2007 

Blu-ray 

The Covenant 

HD DVD 

(none) 

January 16, 2007 

Blu-ray 

GoodFellas

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Scooby-Doo (2002) 

Winged Migration 

HD DVD 

The Mummy Returns

Poseidon

Scooby-Doo (2002)

The Sting 

January 23, 2007 

Blu-ray 

Alien vs. Predator

Black Rain

Casanova

Chicago

Courage Under Fire 

Gridiron Gang

The Guardian

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Manchurian Candidate

Men of Honor

Saw II

Saw II (Unrated)

Saw III

We Were Soldiers 

HD DVD 

Black Rain

Brokeback Mountain 

January 30, 2007 

Blu-ray 

Flyboys

Hart's War

Open Season 

HD DVD 

Half Baked