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Superman flagship director Richard Donner presents this special cut of the 1980 sequel starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, who's locked in a battle to save Earth from three evil outcasts of planet Krypton. Donner shot footage for Superman II concurrently with the first blockbuster, but director Richard Lester ultimately completed the project. This re-edited version features Donner's original vision, including restored deleted scenes.
For more about Superman II and the Superman II Blu-ray release, see Superman II Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on May 6, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Sarah Douglas
Director: Richard Donner
» See full cast & crew
Superman II Blu-ray Review
The sequel does not get off the ground, even after restoring many scenes shot by original director Richard Donner.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 6, 2008
Superman II was one of the most highly anticipated sequels of its time, along with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The release of Superman: The Movie in 1978 made Christopher Reeve a household name and catapulted him to stardom. But director Richard Donner's commitment and vision to make that film true to its comic book roots contributed to the movie's budget spiraling out of control. That landed Donner in trouble with the film's producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind. The rift eventually grew so deep that it affected the cast and resulted in the firing of Donner on March 15, 1979. After much of the film was shot, Donner was replaced by Richard Lester, who lacked his predecessor's passion and intensity to bring the comic book story to life in a serious way.
Lester's approach was more campy and lighthearted. Where Donner added humor in Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor and in some elements of the Clark Kent/Louis Lane (Margot Kidder) dynamic, Lester used comedy shtick as an underlying framework that affected the entire movie. For example, many cheesy stunts take place during the most dramatic moments of the film, like a man's toupé flying off his head. Donner would not have authorized such farce. Other issues like actor allegiances created logistic problems for Lester, not the least of which was Gene Hackman's refusal to return to the set after Donner was fired. All sequences with Lex Luthor are therefore shot by Donner earlier in production.
Although the sequel directed by Lester was a box-office success, fans took note of the different directorship. For the next 25 years, comments rained down upon Warner. In 2006, George Feltenstein, Senior Vice President of Warner Home Video's Catalog Marketing division, stated, "We have been getting for years and years and years letters begging us to release the Donner cut of Superman II. And this year we bit the bullet and we've created what is ostensibly a new film, although the footage is all footage that was shot years and years and years ago. But it was sitting in a lab and never assembled. And for those of us who were very saddened and touched by the loss of Christopher Reeve, to see footage you've never seen of him before, and a whole different take on the Superman II story, is really thrilling."
The idea is a good one, but the result is uneven. Donner's brief tenure on the project meant that he did not have the opportunity to shoot the ending and much of the action sequences. In fact, the Donner cut includes many screen test shots where Reeve has a different hair style and appears slimmed down compared to the rest of the footage. With no opportunity to shoot a true ending or alternatives to Lester's footage and his own test shots, Donner is left with a disjointed mish-mash of styles and performances.
Even if he had been allowed to finish the film, some question remains as to cohesion of the narratives. The film tries hard to reconcile two distinct plot lines. Krypton villains General Zod (Terence Stamp), Non (Jack O'Halloran) and Ursa (Sarah Douglas), who were sentenced to an eternity in prison and banished into space at the beginning of Superman: The Movie, are freed from their 2-D prison and reek havoc on earth. Meanwhile, the feelings Superman develops for Louis Lane eventually lead him to alter his molecular makeup and become human.
Superman II Blu-ray, Video Quality
The video quality is uneven because scenes come from different sources. Much of the footage looks vibrant and defined, but the test screen sequences Donner used do not clean up so nicely. Grain and noise are heavier, but the sequences are clear enough to see that Clark Kent's hair looks different. Other inconcistencies in the footage are visible. Overall, though, the picture is similar to that of Superman: The Movie. During some sequences, the 1080p resolution reveals extraordinary detail and good depth. During others, the definition is somewhat lacking.
The good scenes are best exemplified by lifelike contrast and rich color tones. Watch the early scenes in the offices of the Daily Planet. While there are some signs of digital noise reduction, skin tones and other colors are vibrant and definition is very good. Compare this to other scenes like some of the screen tests Donner used to flesh out the story and the video becomes noticeably more problematic. First, more noise is visible, but that isn't a problem per se. The relative lack of detail is apparent. The scenes in Superman's fortress in the North Pole lack the problems with the screen test sequences, but are not as fully resolved as the Daily Planet scenes, appearing a touch washed-out by comparison. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is therefore a hodge- podge of scenes of varying picture quality, from quite good to quite poor. Overall, unfortunately, it does not stand up to comparison with most Blu-ray releases.
Superman II Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio is more consistently impressive than the video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was digital processed from the original film's audio and extensively reengineered. The result is a modest 384 kbps. Dialogue, effects and music each sound vibrant and relatively detailed for DD, though not rising near the reference quality of the higher bit rate codecs; treble lacks the extension and bass lacks the full dynamic punch associated with the best BDs. But imaging is done right. The surrounds and LFE are engaged at all the right times.
Listen to the gunfire and sound effects as the trio of criminals from Krypton first demonstrate their power in small-town America. Explosions and small arms fire sound convincing, if not deep in the soundstage. The surround field accurately places most sounds in the three front speakers and thankfully avoids the "ping-pong" stereophonic effect. The orchestral score also also has good impact, considering its lossy, DD encode. Massed strings sort of congeal into a pleasant, euphonic midrange experience that cannot be described as high resolution, but it is not as thin as most DD orchestral scores.
Superman II Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The introduction and audio commentary will be more than sufficient for most viewers that are not hardcore fans of Superman II, but the extra material goes far beyond these. But first thing's first. Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, who Donner brought on board to rewrite the screenplay, deliver some first rate insight with their audio commentary. Both delve into details of the plot, the shoot and other challenges faced by the project. One gets the impression that Donner is still not totally "over" the experience of being let go by the Salkinds, watching the film he mostly shot and directed put in someone else's hands and then become a blockbuster success. But there is nothing I would describe as real bitterness in any of this. It is a very professional discussion of the conception and execution of the film, and Donner's vision.
The key featurette included on the Blu-ray is Restoring the Vision, a 13-minute exploration that briefly covers the rift and bickering that fractured the project and goes into more detail on the technical effort to restore the Donner cut. The behind the scenes footage offers a glimpse into the restoration, which will be of major interest to Donner and indeed all Superman II fans.
The supplements also include deleted scenes including several with Gene Hackman and Valerie Perrine, perhaps the most entertaining pairing in the film. Unfortunately, all six were throwaways, and it's easy to see why they didn't make the Donner cut. Although the aspect ratio of these scenes is 2.40:1, the video quality is also poor. They did not age well. It shows how much work must have been done to restore the scenes used in the cut.
Superman II Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Superman II, despite major box office success, was never the cohesive film that audiences applauded in Superman: The Movie. When news of Donner's experience in making both movies became common knowledge, it left a lingering question. How much better could the sequel have been if the original filmmaker had completed it? Fans wanted an answer and hoped to get it in the Donner cut. Both Donner and Warner delivered, and I am grateful for that, but we end up with a mix of good, great and forgettable sequences that overall do not rise above the clutter and problems of the theatrical release. Donner is clearly more gifted than his successor in the Superman franchise, and more committed to accurately recreating the comic book hero. But unfortunately for all parties concerned, he was not given the budget, time and artistic license to complete the film using his own vision. No amount of splicing, restoration or editing 25 years after the original shoot will fix that.
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