One my biggest regrets when it comes to this blog is that I don’t take enough time to focus on the movies and TV shows that I really enjoy. That’s something I want to improve as time goes on. The last time I wrote about one of my favorite childhood films was around four months ago when I discussed the 1978 classic Superman: The Movie. In that post, I opine about just how much that film meant to me as a young child. It’s true, the original Superman was huge inspiration to me when I was a kid. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give credit to its sequel; Superman II.
In many ways, Superman II is more than just your average sequel. It was the intention of the director that both films would serve two different chapters to one complete story. In this way, the original vision was for both films to seamlessly fit together. In fact, a large portion of Superman II was shot at the same time as the original film. However, due to budget concerns, the crew was forced to focus on completing the first movie – leaving the footage for Superman II on the backburner to be revisited at a later time if the first movie was deemed to be profitable. Of course, the original film was a massive hit so continued production on the sequel received a green light. What happened next, however, is one of the famous motion picture legends of modern times…
Due to infighting between the production studio and the film’s director, Richard Donner, the decision was made to hire a new director to complete the work on Superman II. This new director, Richard Lester made the bold decision to scrap a large portion of what had already been filmed for the sequel. He then decided to implement massive rewrites to the script. The new script had a more comical tone and in the eyes of many (myself included) it didn’t retain the same feel as the original movie. As a result, many of the cast members expressed their dislike of the new direction and one, Marlon Brando, even refused to return. But, despite this controversy, Superman II was still very successful with moviegoers.
The main villains of this film harken back to the very beginning of Superman: The Movie. In the opening scenes of the original, we see Superman’s father Jor-El condemn three Kryptonian criminals to eternal imprisonment in a mirror-like device known as The Phantom Zone. Superman II begins with a recap of that event, and is followed by a summary of the first movie. During this recap, it is made clear that Superman’s actions from the first film actually resulted in these criminals being freed from their prison. Upon arriving on Earth, these Kryptonians, led by a man named General Zod, seek out Superman (the son of Jor-El) to get revenge for their imprisonment. The big twist in the plot, however, is that Superman has given up his powers to live as a normal human. So now, at a time when the world needs him the most, he finds himself powerless to help. I’d love to keep going, but on the off-chance that someone is reading this who hasn’t seen the film, I’d hate to spoil any more than I already have.
For many viewers, even those oblivious to the behind-the-scenes drama regarding Lester and Donner, it was obvious that something about this film just seemed a bit disjointed. Half of the movie had a serious tone that fell very much in line with the first Superman film, while the other half seemed a bit more lighthearted. What’s weird about the whole affair is that the rewrites were intertwined into bits and pieces of the original shoot. So watching the completed movie often left viewers puzzled, but in a way they couldn’t quite put their finger on.
Flash forward to 2006… A new version of Superman II is finally released to the public. This movie, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut claims to be Superman II as it was originally written and conceived. This version of the film uses nearly all of the original footage (including scenes with Marlon Brando). The only footage from the Lester cut that are retained are clips that were crucial to storyline and/or scenes that were needed to make the film feel complete and whole. In many ways, this is the version of Superman II that fans had been clamoring for since 1980. But, let’s be honest – The Donner Cut is not perfect. For starters, in order to keep with the original script, this version of the film had to include some scenes that were never properly filmed. To pull this off, test footage was used and integrated into the existing movie. This works fairly well, for the most part. But it does create some visual continuity errors. On top of that, Richard Donner never filmed an ending for the second movie. Since he disliked the Lester ending so much, the decision was made to simply recycle the ending to the first film. This means that once again, Superman ultimately solves all of his problems by ( SPOILER ALERT :) reversing the spin of the Earth and erasing a portion of history. Personally, I find this to be a massive cop-out and for this reason alone, I don’t consider the Donner Cut to be the canonical version of Superman II.
So, if you’re watching Superman II for the first time, which version should you go with? Well, in my personal opinion, I would have to say that casual fans are probably better off with the theatrical release. Despite its imperfections, it’s a complete film and it retains enough of the original script that it still serves as a perfect capstone to the tale started in the first movie. However, if you’re a film buff or if you grew up watching the original and now want a slightly different experience, The Donner Cut is probably worthy of your attention.
Until recently, there was no way to enjoy either version of the movie in 4K. But thankfully, the last few months have seen the release of a physical boxed set that includes all four Superman movies in one collection (this includes both versions of Superman II). I’ll state right up front, I’m not a fan of Superman III or Superman IV. In fact, I HATE the movies… But at the time of this writing, this collection is currently the only way to get your hands on a 4K copy of Superman II. The 4k UltraHD Blu-Ray release is without a doubt the best this film had ever looked. The transfer is simply outstanding. It’s sharp and colorful, the contrast is mindblowing, the sound is remastered, it’s absolutely perfect. The only downside is the cost. The collection currently sells for around $90, which is a bit steep for a collections of films from the 70’s and 80’s.
When it comes to classic Reeves-era Superman films, Superman II is just as classic as the 1978 original. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which version you pick. Because, after all, who cares how the second film actually ends. We’re not going to waste our time with the third and fourth movies… right?