December 29, 2006

The Donner Cut

Filed under: Not Tech — Chris @ 4:38 am

To anyone who fondly recalls Superman II as the reigning best super-powered superhero movie 1980-2002, I can heartily recommend Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.

As you probably don’t and probably shouldn’t know, large portions of Superman II were shot by director Richard Donner at the same time as the original film. For some reason I don’t know and refuse to find out, Donner was fired sometime after the first movie was released and Richard Lester was hired to finish the second film. This new release of the film is an attempt to reconstruct Donner’s original “vision” using some original unused footage, some new effects, etc. The result is a new movie with the same basic story and a totally different, less campy, feel. About a quarter of the original movie has disappeared and another large chunk has been replaced with similar scenes that were shot by Donner then re-shot by Lester.

The main difference fans will notice is that almost everything that was corny about the Lester cut has been removed. This includes: Lois Lane and the terrorists atop the Eiffel Tower, lots of silly Lois & Clark antics, the weird part where either the Fortress of Solitude is also a House of Mirrors or Superman has the power of projecting three-dimensional images of himself around at will, and the Magic Kiss of Forgetfulness. The corny scenes where Superman-as-Clark-Kent gets beat up at a truck stop then returns to exact his revenge remain.

And the corniest thing about the first movie has been resurrected and tacked onto the second: in place of the Magic Kiss of Forgetfulness, we have Superman turning the Earth backwards to reverse time. (This makes Lois forget his secret identity, but it doesn’t make the asshole at the truck stop forget he beat up Clark Kent.) According to the Special Features, Donner “envisioned” this as the end of Superman II and used it as the end of the first picture for unspecified reasons. So, you see, in the Donner “vision”, these two movies don’t end the same way: the real first movie (that doesn’t exist) has some other unspecified ending (which is awesome) and Superman II is the one that ends with the time reversal.

Bogus ending-ology aside, I think I finally may be able to forgive Donner for having Superman reverse time. I’ve figured out what he’s up to: he’s being all Silver Age-y. This is backed up by the other major new scene in The Donner Cut—the Silver Age-iest scene in the Superman film canon (not the less Silver Age-y for being cobbled together from pre-production screen tests). Instead of discovering that Clark Kent is Superman after he stumbles into an open fireplace and emerges unscorched, Lois Lane discovers Superman’s secret identity by shooting Clark Kent in the chest. Being unwounded, Clark Kent removes his glasses, broadens his shoulders, and stops acting like a douchebag, thereby revealing his true identity! But, aha!, Lois Lane reveals the gun was loaded with blanks! Superman is so gosh-danged bullet-proof that he can’t even tell if he’s been hit by a bullet! Yikes!

The only problem with this movie? Not Silver Age-y enough. When the real Superman wants to convince Lois Lane he’s not Clark Kent he doesn’t reverse time, he fakes his own death, or murders her, or fakes his own death then moves in with Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter. The important thing is that somebody actually or fakely dies. (On the subject of Jimmy Olsen, I just can’t help but point out: Superman is a Freak-Out.)

[UPDATE] It should be noted, time-travel-wise, that instead of reversing time by several minutes to prevent the state of California from bonking Lois Lane on the head, as in the original movie, in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman reverses time by several days, so that nothing in the entire movie ever actually happened*. Great Scott, you can’t get Silver Age-ier than that!

* The actual ontological status of the events of the film is unclear.

[UPDATE 2] Oh, and another thing: can we get some Crisis on Infinite Earths-level brain-power brought to bear on the continuity between Supermans I-IV and Superman Returns? Is the act of coitus implied in Superman II meant to lead to the super-baby of Superman Returns? If so, are surly truckers and Superman’s semen the only things on Earth powerful enough not to be affected by the Great Un-Happening of Everything in the Movie? Did Superman see the box office returns of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and fly backwards around the Earth until Bryan Singer signed on to direct a pre/se/Earth Prime-quel?


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