There’s definitely no doubt in my mind that the Superman films, particularly the first two, will always be remembered as excellent pieces of film not only because they introduced the world to the late, great Christopher Reeve but also because they’re simply great films. When word first came around that Superman director Richard Donner had filmed an ENTIRE version of the 2nd film only to have it scrapped at the last second, the interest of fans immediately piqued. What was so risquÃ© about the Donner cut that made Warner Brothers basically shelve the film for some 20+ years? Well thanks to renewed interest in the Superman stories via Superman Returns, Warner has finally decided to let fans see for themselves what Donner’s visionary ideas were all about by showing us his cut of Superman II.
A bit of back-story for those of you interested. Originally hired to film both Superman and Superman II back-to-back, Donner was soon fired by the Salkinds over a stupid dispute they were having with actual Superman II director Richard Lester over some films he shot for them. Instead of actually working out an agreement between all parties, the Salkinds decided to fire Donner and bring in Lester to film the story. The end result is a film that’s good in its own right but seemingly was missing a big part that made the original so great. Laughs seemed force, the romance seemed out of place, and the climatic battles seemed kind of dull in retrospect.
Well thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, fans began to rally together in support of Donner and his cut. Warner, knowing they could make a buck, decided to sit down with Donner and work out some type of agreement that would allow his cut to finally be seen. Without giving away any real spoilers here I will come out and say that fans of the series will definitely want to check this one out simply to see what Donner had in mind. Sure Donner wasn’t able to actually film an ending (leaving the fans with a type of dÃ©ja vu all over again), but that isn’t a huge error here. I liked how Donner brought Brando (one of the 1st parts to go when Donner’s was fired) back into the mix. The included sequences of the escape from the Phantom Zone shedded some light onto the type of warriors these three were.
So I’m not completely sure if fans of the original will be able to pick a “better” version between Lester and Donner’s version. As one who enjoyed Lester’s cut for what it was worth, I can say that Donner’s cut felt like it would have been the more appropriate version that should have seen the day of light back some 20 years ago.
Presented in a 1080p, VC-1 Encoded, 2:40:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio, this new cut of Superman II has quite the odd feature mostly because a lot of the film’s footage was put together from various sources.
Since I have this one on SD-DVD as well I decided to do a quick comparison of the two. I easily noticed that the color usage was stronger on the HD version with the film’s blacks and reds standing out the best. Despite all the various footage, I was surprised at the absence of any real noticeable grain. Video noise and dirt on the print is never really present, again a huge surprise. The film’s print has been shaped up in a fine manner for this HD release. Even though this one isn’t as impressive as say Superman Returns, Warner has still produced a fine video transfer.
Arriving with the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound track, Superman II presented the type of sound that isn’t ever overly powerful, but is more of an accompanying audio experience that works well with the presented effects.
Dialogue was fine, which was a pleasant surprise. I figured that with the archival footage mixed newer footage, we might get a few sequences of spotty dialogue. Dynamic Range presented a lot of high-end effects, particularly some of the sounds of the wind when Superman flies by.
The big negative here is that the film’s surround track sounded out of place. John William’s infamous score was the only real use of the film’s surrounds. I figured the film’s climatic battle would result in a nice overall balance. Such isn’t the case here, as the surrounds never geared up resulting in the type of atmosphere that is faulty, almost seeming out of place. While obviously better than the SD audio, I expected more out of this one.
- Introduction by Richard Donner: Here Donner sits down for a brief introduction the film. Donner comes off as a completely humble guy thanking the fans for their continued efforts to bring his vision to the screen.
- Restoring the Vision: This 13 minute affair focuses on the work and effort that was done to bring this Cut to our eyes. While on the short side this brief feature is interesting enough to warrant a glance.
- Audio Commentary with director Richard Donner and screenwriter Tom Mankewicz: Now this is what fan’s want here. Donner and Mankewicz are a joy throughout giving us tons of thoughts on the filming of this cut, what they felt when this cut was revoked and their thoughts on the renewed interest in the piece. I had hoped for something like this and I wasn’t disappointed.
- Deleted Scenes: Presented are six different scenes that mostly felt like a mini-tribute to Hackman’s character as he’s present in every scene. A nice surprise is that all of the presented scenes are in full 1080p video.
There is no doubt in my mind that Superman fans will definitely check this one out. Warner has brought this one to HD with a fine video, passable audio and some interesting features. When it comes to an actual purchase, only the biggest fans will want to spend their money on this one. The rest of you should rent it to see if Donner’s cut is for you.