One of the most anticipated Superman DVD releases ever is finally hitting DVD on November 28th and it’s not the fourteen disc set that has everyone talking (though that is a pretty awesome looking DVD set). No, it’s the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, which to sum up in a few words, is a much better film than the Richard Lester version that was released.
For those that loved Lester’s work in Superman II, you may want to look away from this DVD –while I don’t think Lester is mentioned more than a few times by name, the crew that worked on Superman II after Donner was disbanded get frequent slamming by Donner and crew. Not so much in the documentary, but in the commentary…the commentary gets pretty bitter feeling after awhile.
There is a fair share of new scenes and recut footage for this release, as to be expected, as well as some of Lester’s combined footage to make the film feel complete. The story in both versions of Superman II are essentially the same, only now they have the return of Marlon Brando as Jor-El (replacing the part of Lara in Lester’s Superman II) creating a stronger story line between father and son (“The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.”). The opening and middle portions of the film are also slightly different, with Lois first discovering that Clark may be Superman, which plays later on in the middle of the film with an alternate final discovery sequence.
I don’t want to spoil the film too much for those who have been waiting decades to see it, but the real highlight of the film for me is the discovery sequence in Lois’s hotel room, where Lois shoots Clark with a blank bullet to prove that Clark is Superman. These sequences are slightly out of continuity (they were shot at different times and Clark’s hair changes from shot to shot), but it’s easy to look past as the acting and character development is so strong in this sequence. Since this scene was the original screen test for Kidder and Reeve, it’s evident why they got the parts as these sequences have some of the best acting from those two in all of the films.
Superman II: The Donner Cut definitely feels like a straight out continuation of the first film (and not just because Superman II features a recap of the final events of Superman), as the characters feel the same to us as when we left them. It’s hard to view this film without thinking of the first one prior, especially the ending of this film, which I also will not spoil—but let me just say, if you didn’t like the ending of the first film, you won’t like this one.
The number of new scenes in this cut is staggering and I had a hard time remember if what I was seeing was new or whether it was reused. Some of the scenes look familiar but have different backgrounds to them and others are just 100% exclusive to this cut. Coupled with the deleted scenes in the special features portion of the DVD, there is plenty of new material here to enjoy and it’s always nice to see more of Kidder and Reeve’s as Lois and Clark.
It’s not a big secret that I don’t like the Reeve’s films too well, which stems from the portrayal of Lex Luthor more than anything, but this Donner cut definitely gives me new appreciation for the first and second films. If you can swallow some of the camp that the first and second films do and the adaptation of some of Superman’s powers (thankfully there’s no saran-wrap S shields being thrown against Zod and crew in this cut!) take some getting used to, but overall this film does a hell of a lot better job with these characters than Lester did in Superman II and III.
The DVD comes in a standard single disc amaray case with a cardboard slip that features reflective foil images and text as well as some embossed lettering on the cover. It makes for a more attractive cover than the matte insert we have underneath the slip. Also of note, the rear cover of the slip case and insert on the actual DVD case are different—same text, just different images and layout.
The inside of the case features a disc with the same art as the cover and no insert slips/chapter/DVD details. Quite bare looking inside! The menus are static with music over the main menu only. Menus are easy to navigate and are pleasant on the eyes.
Video is a bit grainy and contains some color distortion at times, but consider its age, I’m not going to dock too many points for this. The fact this footage has been lost for so long and is restored to look this good is good enough for me—especially considering the original transfers the four Superman films got on their initial DVD release, this transfer easily eclipses those.
Audio is a very powerful and clear 5.1 Dolby track. Not much satellite noise, but there’s plenty of subwoofer thuds and booms to keep your room active for the near two hours the film runs.
Special features for this disc are a three minute intro by Richard Donner, a featurette that runs slightly over ten minutes, deleted scenes and feature length commentary. The intro and featurette cover the history of the film, the process it went through to be restored and a bit about the fan demand that resulted in this DVD release.
Deleted scenes are nice to see, though they aren’t as restored as the feature film video. You can see why most of these scenes were left out, but they’re still nice to see and I’m glad they included them on the disc. Most of the stuff is Luthor scenes, but there are a few scenes with the rest of the characters as well.
The commentary is where the brunt of the information on this disc comes from. Donner holds nothing back when commenting on what footage is his, what footage isn’t (and why it subsequently sucks and that he would have done it differently) and frequent mentions about how long ago it was all shot. It’s a lighthearted track at times, but it can also get very bitter when talking about the cut of Superman II that did make it to theaters. It’s understandable why he would still be upset over this film, as he clearly cares a lot about it and the actors that he worked with while doing it. For anyone that’s even thinking of picking this DVD up, the commentary is a must listen as it really gives you a feel for what went on behind the scenes of this film.
Overall the DVD portion does not disappoint. The film contained and the special features on this single disc well warrant the price tag and will look great on your shelf next to the other Reeve’s film DVD re-releases that hit on the 28th. Definitely do not pass this one up!
Originally posted on The World’s Finest in November of 2006.