The Whole Planet Houston?

If you're well-versed in the behind-the-scenes saga of the Christopher Reeve-era Superman films, then you know that the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, had hired Richard Donner to film the first and second Superman movies simultaneously -- and that, when budget and schedule overruns got out of control, put the kibosh on the sequel in the middle of its principal photography and had Donner finish only the first film. And you probably also know that said time and money troubles got Donner fired before he could finish Superman II, whereupon the Salkinds brought Richard Lester in as his replacement. Well, ever since then, some fans have been crying out to see Richard Donner's original vision of the movie, and in 2006 they got their chance when Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD.

Well, Superman movie fan that I am, I can't quite say I was one of the "crying out" sort, as evidenced by the fact that I just got around to picking up this DVD a few weeks ago ... used ... for six bucks. It was interesting to watch, and, well ... I don't know if it's just because I'm used to the original Richard Lester version, or maybe it's the fact that Donner, according to his introduction on the DVD, never got around to filming everything he wanted to film back in the day, and thus had to reassemble his vision of the picture as best he could from the available footage (and had to use some footage from that other guy, much as he didn't want to). But, even though I'm quite certainly a big fan of the first film and would even go so far as to call it a masterpiece, I've gotta say that I think Lester's version of Superman II is actually better.

First of all, the editing was somewhat choppier in the Donner cut, particularly the way they kept going back and forth between Clark and Lois at the Fortress of Solitude, and the supervillains' conquest of Earth -- in the Lester version, the sequences were kept in bigger blocks and thus seemed to be more coherent. And then there was the subplot about Lois scheming to "out" Clark as Superman ... the fact that she was smart enough to do so notwithstanding. Lester is supposedly known to have more a sense of comedic directing than Donner, which is all too evident here in that Donner's efforts in this regard come off as a bit more clumsy and forced, while Lester's are more naturally flowing. We can forgive the redundant climax, just because Donner obviously wouldn't have used it for the first movie had he seen the second one through to the end, but it's quite odd that he kept the epilogue in since the climax canceled out the scene it relates to ... don't worry, I'm trying to avoid a spoiler, so if you go and watch it, what I'm saying will make sense, I promise.

I'm still glad that Richard Donner went to what I'm sure was a lot of trouble to re-assemble his version of the film -- as closely as possible, of course -- and I'm glad I picked it up. It's a unique glimpse into a somewhat "lost chapter" of the Superman saga, and has a wealth of what one could call "deleted scenes" from Superman II. Imperfect though it may be (in my opinion, anyway), I'll always consider him a master for the wonderful story he told in the original Superman movie. I do think the Salkinds were wrong to fire him from Superman II prematurely, because I'm quite positive that Superman: The Movie wouldn't have been the blockbuster it was if someone else had directed it.


It's Been a Long Road, Getting From There To Here

As I mentioned in a previous entry, by the time Star Trek: Voyager went off the air in 2001 I'd had my fill of the Trek Universe for awhile ... something that just a few years earlier was inconceivable. So when Paramount chose to crank out yet another series so closely on the heels of Voyager, I was understandably unenthused ... kind-of like being asked to walk another mile after I'd already walked two (even if there were a record store when I got there). Indeed, if Enterprise hadn't starred Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap is one of my all-time favorite shows), I probably wouldn't have even given it a try. But try I did, and boy did I ever try. The pilot episode was entertaining enough, but all too soon boredom set in, and I mustered all the interest I could until I gave up about two-thirds of the way through the first season.

Fast-forward eight and a half years, and I'm on vacation in California. Several times over the previous few months, I'd started to feel tempted to give Enterprise another chance (apparently unconvinced deep down that I could get bored with a Trek show), and had been checking out the prices of the used DVD season box-sets. By the time I'd arrived at Amoeba Records in L.A., I'd decided to go ahead and pick up season 1 if I saw it at a decent price. I still kind-of balked at $35, but took the plunge anyway. (Good move, 'cause the disc trays inside were still shrink-wrapped and ended up being brand new!) I've now re-watched the first nine episodes so far, and must have been really bored back in the day 'cause I didn't remember jack about most of them.

What a difference eight years makes! There I was, putting the blame on what I saw as imperfections in the show -- the way the crew seemed to fall too soon into treating the supposedly new experience of space exploration with an everyday nonchalance ... the writers sneaking in what were essentially phasers by jury-rigging the established continuity and calling them "phase pistols" ... the confusing concept of the "Temporal Cold War", which to this day even a time-travel geek like me doesn't quite get -- when it really was mostly my boredom after all. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite a ways from being "in love" with Enterprise just yet, but it turns out not to have been the dog (sorry, Porthos) I'd written it off as back in '01.

Prequel shows can be a very tricky endeavour, of course. How do you put a fresh spin on a "been-there done-that" concept that we've already seen? Not to mention that audiences today want faster-paced shows, which means you can't slow things down with all the exposition that, with the unfamiliar environment the characters are in, probably ought to be taking place. So in a way we really can't blame the creators and writers for all their sneaky retconning. I mean, having plain old laser pistols, which we now know aren't very powerful, would be kind-of boring, right? And we all know about Captain Pike and the first Federation Starship Enterprise -- not to mention the furor that can boil up amongst fans with the mere mention of the notion that their cherished characters might be re-cast -- and besides, who says there wasn't a Starship Enterprise before the Federation actually came along? I'm hoping that they let up a bit on the use of the transporter, though, 'cause I don't want things to get too convenient for "ye olde tyme crewe" ... besides, shuttlepods are a kind of cool all their own.

Well, anyway, suffice to say that I'm enjoying Enterprise significantly more the second time around, and I might even think about picking up the subsequent seasons when the time comes. I always enjoy watching Scott Bakula, Porthos is just cute as all-get-out, Anthony Montgomery ain't all that bad-lookin' either, and I'm enjoying watching the budding friendships between T'Pol and Tucker, and between Phlox and Sato. And Heaven help me, I'm even pretty-much okay with the schmaltzy theme song. It makes me wonder how many other fans out there just needed a bit of a break from Star Trek, and if it might have run longer than the abbreviated four years it did, had Paramount simply put off its launch for a few years.