Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Superhero Media: Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

Longtime readers will be aware of my love for Superman II, despite it's age and many flaws. Natually, when the chance to grab the Donner cut on Blu-ray for $5 turned up, I grabbed it and settled in for a night of feeding the starving Film graduate in me. It was... interesting. For those not in the know, Richard Donner originally intended that Superman and Superman II would be a single film, about four hours with an intermission; odd, but not unheard of for the era, just consider 2001: A Space Odyssey. That Donner would be given the opportunity to rework Superman II to be closer to his "vision" is interesting in an academic sense, but still jars with his original, overall intention. Lucas aside, I'm usually a fan of visionary directors getting a chance to rework their masterpieces, but the complexities of Superman II mean that it's problematic at best. That said, the Donner cut is well worth watching, it's still a good film and there is plenty to enjoy, I'm just not certain that it would be fair to say that it is, in any way, the "superior" version. 

So what does the Donner cut do better? Well, the plot is a bit better, it flows better and doesn't seem quite as far-fetched. The reveal, when Lois Lane uncovers Clark Kent as Superman, is better, with Lois outsmarting Kal, rather than just throwing herself off cliffs until he's obliged to save her. Some of the new/extended scenes don't look great, even in HD, because they were unfinished in the 1970s and no amount of digital polish can improve what wasn't there to begin with. Sadly, although the ending is changed, it's not for the better, and I still feel that the best version was left on the cutting room floor, where a de-powered Zod, Ursa and Non (along with Lex) are carted away by some kind of Arctic police force and sent to prison. Here we get a re-hash of the problematic ending of Superman, not leaving open the idea of Lois being pregnant, which was one of the better ideas in Superman Returns.
For those, like myself, with an academic bent, the Donner cut is well worth checking out, but for those with a nostalgic take on the original, it is perhaps best left alone. I'm honestly not sure which one I'll be watching more moving forward, both have their good and bad points and are sitting about even in my estimation at the moment. Still, pretty much any version of Superman II is going to be superior to the next wave of Superman and Justice League films that are set to be released over the next few years. Actually, while my mind's on it, I must check out the documentaries on the disc, there's probably something pretty good... 

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