Friday, January 19, 2007

Superman II (1980)

Superman II is the 1980 sequel to the 1978 feature film Superman. It was the only Superman film to be helmed by two directors. For this reason the film is surrounded with controversy since original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes shot by second director Richard Lester (who had been an uncredited producer on the first film) in 1979 are refilmed Donner sequences. It was released in Europe and Australia in late 1980 but not distributed in the United States until June 1981, which is unusual for such a major production.

Superman II (1980)

According to statements by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 1984, when Superman II premiered on television, 24 minutes were re-inserted into the film (17 mins in US ABC TV). Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. A brand new re-cut of the film, restoring as much as Donner's original conception as possible, entitled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released in November 2006.

Off-screen problems hampered production of this movie: like other Salkind productions such as The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), this was filmed at the same time as the first Superman movie to be a direct sequel. However, Marlon Brando filed suit over his percentage of the first film's profits, so as a response, the Salkind brothers excised his scenes from the second film. Director Richard Donner argued with the producers over their attempts to make the film "more campy," in his opinion, which led to his removal and replacement on the project by Richard Lester. Following that, Gene Hackman declined to return for any reshoots by Lester, which cut down the number of scenes in which he appears in the final cut (or with a few scenes where a body double was obviously being used).

Another reason behind Richard Donner's removal may have been that the Salkinds were upset that Donner went over their originally planned budget for the movie. Warner Brothers ended up getting more and more involved in the race to complete the film, allowing the studio to receive more profits from the film's box office take than the Salkinds had originally agreed to. With their power slipping away, Donner was unfortunately made the scapegoat.

Despite all the difficulties, and with only a few noticeable shifts in tone between the two directors' scenes (Lester's scenes tend to be more campy and humorous), it was noted by critics to be a remarkable and coherent film, highlighted by the movie's battle sequence between Superman and the three Phantom Zone prisoners on the streets of Metropolis. Scenes filmed by Donner include all the Gene Hackman footage, the moon sequences, the White House shots, Clark and the bully, and a lot of the footage of Zod, Ursa and Non arriving at the Daily Planet. Since the Lester footage was shot almost two years later, both Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve's appearances look different between the Lester and Donner footage. Reeve appears less bulked up in Donner's sequences (filmed in 1977), as he was still gaining muscle for the part. Kidder also has dramatic changes throughout; in the montage of Lester/Donner material, shot inside the Daily Planet and the Fortress of Solitude near the movie's conclusion, her hairstyle, hair color, and even make-up are all inconsistent. Indeed, Kidder's physical appearance in the Lester footage is noticeably different; during the scenes shot for Donner she appears slender, whereas in the Lester footage she looks frail and gaunt.

In the years since the film's release, the controversy continues to be fueled, while the film itself has achieved cult status. In 1983, Alexander Salkind's production company pieced together an "Expanded International Cut" of the film for television using approximately 24 minutes of footage not shown in the theatrical release, some of which was original Richard Donner footage shot before Richard Lester became director. The "new" footage expanded on the film's many subplots, including a further explanation of the villains' task on Earth, Superman and Lois' romance, and an alternate ending involving Lex Luthor, the three Kryptonian villains, and the final fate of the Fortress of Solitude. This 146-minute expanded version was released throughout Europe and Australia in the 1980s (the initial expanded U.S. ABC and Canadian CBC telecasts, though edited differently, were derived from the European/Australian TV edit).

In 2005, several Superman movie fans attempted to bring the film closer to Donner's original vision by creating their own professionally-made video restoration of the "International Cut" and offered free DVDs of it on one of the many Superman fan sites, but their efforts were thwarted by Warner Bros., who reportedly threatened legal action.

All four Superman films received Special or Deluxe Edition releases in 2006 coinciding with the release of Superman Returns. It was confirmed that Ilya Salkind has released Donner's footage for a separate Superman II disc and that Donner was involved in the project. According to an interview conducted by website, Ilya confirmed that Time Warner now owns all of the footage shot for 1978's Superman, 1980's Superman II, 1983's Superman III, 1984's Supergirl, and 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace including distribution rights. SE restorationist Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, who supervised the Superman II reconstruction. Despite some initial confusion, Thau confirmed that all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered and transferred from England. The new edition was released on November 28, 2006 and called Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. It was also confirmed that the new cut will feature less than 20% footage filmed by replacement director Richard Lester.

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