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.

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