Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a 2006 superhero film that is a re-edit of the 1980 film Superman II. It has been officially sanctioned by Warner Bros. and director Richard Donner, and stars Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Marlon Brando. The cut was supervised by Donner, creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz who penned the screenplay for Superman and the 1977 shooting script for Superman II on which the Donner cut is based, and Michael Thau, an editor who worked with Donner on the 2001 director's cut and restoration of Superman.
Unlike many "special edition" and “director’s cut” movies released over the years, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a largely different film. As much as half of the film contains never-before seen material filmed by Donner, including 15 minutes of restored Marlon Brando scenes as
Superman's father Jor-El as well as numerous new Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder scenes, although much of this "new" material appeared in earlier extended television cuts. There are also several newly-filmed shots with CGI enhancements. Richard Donner is credited as director of the film instead of Richard Lester — the original credited director of Superman II. More than half of Lester's footage filmed for Superman II has been removed from the film and replaced with Donner footage shot during the original principal photography from 1977–1978. Certain footage filmed by Richard Lester remains in sequences that were not shot by Donner due to the halt in production for this film.
The film was released on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc in November 2006.
MAKING OF THE RICHARD DONNER CUTEdit
When filming was suspended on Donner's Superman II in October 1977, the director had completed almost all of the major character-based sequences in the film. All scenes in the Daily Planet and most scenes set in the Fortress of Solitude were completed. All scenes featuring Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper and Gene Hackman were also completed. What remained to be filmed was the villains' arrival on Earth, and their rampage through mid-west America as well as exteriors at Washington D.C. during which Zod announces his takeover of the Earth from the tip of the Washington Monument. Most of the battle scenes between Superman and the super-villains had yet to be shot, as well as both the interiors and exteriors at Niagara Falls. Several minor scenes including a love-struck Superman deliberately tilting over the Leaning Tower of Pisa (later adapted in Superman III) and a scene in which Superman warns off some English fox-hunters were also not filmed.
With the new cut of the film, Richard Donner is said to have become the first director in history to return to a project he left unfinished with a majority of the footage that had already been shot.
The new film features most of the completed never-before-seen scenes (some scenes have been deleted for narrative/dramatic reasons), which in many cases replace scenes re-filmed or altered by Richard Lester. These include the original opening of the film set in the offices of the Daily Planet. In this opening, we see Lois trying to figure out the Clark Kent/Superman similarities, followed by Perry White assigning Clark and Lois on the honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls, and then Lois testing Clark/Superman by jumping off the balcony of one floor of the Daily Planet (a revised version of this scene appears in the Lester theatrical cut).
The following is a list detailing restored or differing scenes from Superman II that appear in the Richard Donner Cut:
- Pre-credits: Superman reprise. The arrest of the three super-villains is deleted, but Jor-El's role in there is restored.
- The villains' travel through space towards Earth is shown alongside Kal-El's own travel pod. Superman hurls the nuclear missile from the end of the first film into space. Different shots and angles have been used to those in Superman.
- The super-villains are freed from the Phantom Zone by the nuclear missile, and fly to the moon. Zod shouts "FREE!" A combination of Donner footage and new effects.
- Credit sequence. Marlon Brando is given third billing, after Gene Hackman and Christopher Reeve, before the main title. Richard Donner is also credited as director for the first time and also “A Richard Donner Film” is credited. The music is credited to John Williams whose score from Superman is reused in some scenes.
- Interior Daily Planet. Lois glances at Clark and seemingly sees his resemblance to Superman for the first time. She draws over Superman's picture in the newspaper, and later shows this Clark. At his denial, she jumps out of the window to prove that Clark is Superman. This sequence was filmed by Donner, and features several new effects of Clark zooming through the Daily Planet and using his super-breath and heat vision to break Lois’ fall. Lester’s opening at the Daily Planet and the Eiffel Tower sequence has been deleted.
- Luthor and Otis in prison. This Donner scene featured in Lester’s Superman II. Extended to include a scene in which Otis tries to pass on a rumor about a fellow inmate being a bed-wetter, only to pass it on to said inmate.
- The super-villains land on the moon and attack the astronauts. This Donner scene is featured in Lester’s Superman II. Footage of Houston control was never filmed by Donner, and Lester material is used in the Donner Cut, albeit heavily re-edited.
- Luthor’s escape from prison by balloon. This Donner footage was featured in Lester’s Superman II but is expanded here to include more banter between Lex and Otis and Lex and Eve. Arctic daytime background plates which featured in the Lester cut replaced with nightime city background plates.
- Niagara Falls interiors – the honeymoon couple arrive at the bungalow. Heavily-truncated version of Lester's scene features in the Donner Cut, which cuts away just as Lois is about go through the door into the honeymoon suite.
- Luthor and Eve head north. This scene, filmed by Donner, is not in the cut, but is in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Luthor and Eve arrive at the Fortress of Solitude. Lester’s footage of Superman’s mother and the Kryptonian elders has been removed from this Donner scene. Instead, Brando’s Jor-El now informs Luthor of the existence of the super-villains. This scene has been extended to feature new sequences of Luthor and Eve’s arrival at the fortress, with extended dialogue throughout the sequence.
- Niagara Falls exteriors. Clark gets a hot dog. Superman rescues a small boy. Donner never filmed these scenes, so Lester’s footage (largely similar to original script) is used here. However, Lester's footage of Lois’ later deliberate jump into the river to prove that Clark is Superman has been removed, as well as the scene where Clark returns with the hot dogs.
- Exteriors. Luthor and Eve head back south in the Snowmobile, whilst Luthor plots and schemes. This scene is not in the film, but is featured in a deleted-scenes section on the Donner Cut DVD.
- Niagara Falls bungalow interiors. Lois fires gun at Clark, who is forced to reveal his true identity just before Lois admits she used a blank. This scene was never filmed, but the original Donner-directed Reeve and Kidder screen tests, which played out this scene, have been edited together and feature here. This can be made out by Clark's distinctly different hairstyle and glasses. Lester’s sequence featuring Clark burning his hand in the fireplace has been deleted.
- The villains arrive in Midwestern America, and meet the rangers. Donner never filmed this scene, thus Lester footage is used here. In Lester’s version, part of the dialogue intended for this scene was transferred to the army general in the small town. The Donner cut features heavily re-edited versions of the scene, removing Ursa's arm-wrestling gag from the Lester film, Non killing a boy, and Ursa's statement that the boy will never become a man.
- Fortress of Solitude interiors. Superman discusses his dual identity with Lois, and then they make love for the first time. Lester footage is mostly used here.
- Washington monument destroyed, featuring new CGI effects footage. The super-villains fly into Washington, D.C. as the Washington monument crumbles. Footage of The President and his council watching these events on TV replaces the Lester version in which Mount Rushmore is destroyed.
- Fortress of Solitude Interiors. Jor-El warns Superman of the dangers of falling in love. Superman gives up his powers and becomes a mortal. Lois appears in this scene wearing only Superman's shirt and socks. Of note, is that Lois is never seen in close-up in this scene. It remains unclear whether this was an editing choice, or whether the close-up was lost/destroyed or never filmed by Donner. Lester’s re-shoot of this scene is scrapped entirely.
- The villains attack the White House and force the President to kneel before Zod. This Donner-filmed scene was featured in Lester’s Superman II. The new cut features extended footage throughout.
- Exteriors. Lois and Clark drive toward the diner. Donner Cut features a car on a snowy mountain road.
- Clark is beaten up inside the diner by a truck driver named Rocky, and hears the President relinquish his powers to Zod. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II.
- Luthor visits the villains inside the White House and offers them the son of Jor-El. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II.
- A bruised Clark arrives at the Fortress of Solitude and screams for his father, after which he discovers the green crystal which he uses to reactivate the Fortress. Jor-El appears (both in his normal disembodied head form and in full corporial form), and 'dies' in order to restore his son’s powers.
- Daily Planet interiors. Lois, Perry and Jimmy Olsen wait for Superman. The villains burst into the Daily Planet, and Superman finally appears. A new Donner scene in which Perry White paces around replaces a similar re-filmed Lester scene. Many of these Donner scenes featured in Lester’s Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester.
- Superman and the super-villains fight in Metropolis. Superman flees the city. Most of these scenes were never filmed by Donner. The new cut combines Lester footage (re-edited to remove slapstick sight-gags, although the backwards roller skater highlighted in the Lester version is still briefly visible in one shot), original Donner footage, and new special-effects sequences. Lester scenes featuring Lois leaning out of the office window with a rather insensitive female co-worker have been replaced with original Donner footage. Another added scene is Jimmy re-entering the office with Perry's coffee and Lex steals it out of his hand. Jimmy argues that the coffee was "the Chief's" and Lex counters calmly with "The Chief's got it."
- The super-villains return to the Daily Planet. Luthor offers them Superman’s home address. These Donner scenes featured in Lester’s Superman II, though certain shots were re-filmed by Lester. The Lester shot where Ursa seizes Lois is omitted.
- The group arrives at the Fortress of Solitude. The super-villains break through its defenses. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Superman tricks the villains into losing their powers. Superman crushes Zod’s hand. Lester’s Superman II contained this Donner footage, though certain shots were Lester inserts (Lois Lane has noticeably different hair and make-up in the Lester re-shoots).
- Luthor is taken away by the Arctic patrol, while trying to plead with Superman to not let them take him back to prison counting down the percentages he could offer him from 3-2-1. Superman shouts, "Blast off!" This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Superman destroys the Fortress of Solitude. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts.
- Outside the Fortress, Lois and Superman agree to end their relationship. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts, and here is trimmed and re-edited.
- Superman takes a weeping Lois home, where Superman says a final goodbye to Lois. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. Only the end shot where Superman leaves the roof was shown in Lester's Superman II.
- Superman turns back time to avoid the devastation of the planet caused by the super-villains, and thus re-imprisons the villains in the Phantom Zone, repairs the destroyed Fortress of Solitude (not shown in film), and makes Lois forget Superman's secret identity. Part of this sequence was used as the ending for Donner's first Superman film but no replacement scene was written. Includes previously unseen footage of Jackie Cooper as Perry White brushing his teeth.
- Daily Planet interiors. Lois has a feeling she may have missed something important, and asks Clark to get her a pizza.
- Daily Planet interiors. Clark bumps into Jimmy, then into a rude man, reminding him of unfinished business. This Donner footage has only ever been seen in rare extended television cuts. This scene is not in the Donner Cut, but is available to view in a deleted scenes section on the DVD.
- Clark gets his revenge on the bully in the diner. This Donner-filmed scene featured in Lester’s Superman II. (The inclusion of this scene in the Donner Cut creates a continuity error as references are made to the previous encounter between Clark and the bully, even though Superman has turned back time.)
- The end credits no longer say "Superman III Coming Soon"
The prospect of creating a Richard Donner Cut of Superman II did not begin to gain momentum until the 2000 restoration of Superman for DVD. At this time, six tons of footage for Superman II was discovered in vaults in England, including much "lost" footage filmed by Richard Donner. Soon after, Donner was approached by Warner Bros, to do an extended version of Superman II, but remained reluctant to revisit the movie.
Nonetheless, fans continued to campaign for the film. Ultimately, three websites were instrumental in creating the momentum that finally led to the creation of the Donner Cut. The first was Capedwonder.com, run by Superman collector Jim Bowers. In 2004, Bowers published numerous stills from "lost" scenes in Richard Donner’s Superman II, seemingly providing definitive proof that Donner had filmed far more footage than the Salkinds or Richard Lester had initially been prepared to concede. Secondly, the website Supermancinema.co.uk provided fans with detailed breakdowns of the theatrical Superman II, identifying Donner footage within the film, and also providing speculative lists of just how much lost Donner footage might actually exist. Finally, on 19th June 2004, the Planet of the Apes fansite TheForbidden-Zone.com organised hundreds of fans to email or write letters directly to Warner Bros. president Jim Cardwell, demanding that the studio allow Donner to release his version of Superman II. This effort was the first to elicit a positive response from the studio.
Other than Donner’s reluctance to re-visit the project, these legal issues were ultimately the greatest obstacle towards creating a Donner Cut. The required footage was still owned by the Salkinds, and issues relating to the use of Brando’s filmed footage in Superman II remained unresolved. Issues relating to whether Richard Lester or Richard Donner would be credited as director of any new cut also remained to be addressed. It was not until legal negotiations surrounding the use of certain Brando footage in the film Superman Returns that the key issue of whether Brando’s filmed Superman II footage could be used was resolved.
Work finally began on the project in late 2005, though without Richard Donner. At the Director’s Guild screening of the Donner Cut in November 2006, Michael Thau underlined Donner’s reluctance to involve himself in the project, telling the audience:
Thus, mixed emotions invariably followed the initial announcement in January 2006 that a new Superman II was being worked on, primarily down to the news that Richard Donner was having little or nothing to do with the re-edit.
A month later, when asked about the new Superman II cut, Donner told the website Dark Horizons: Template:Cquote
Over the years, Donner has frequently proclaimed diametrically-opposing views with regards to the possibility of re-assembling his Superman II — often stating that he would like to do it, other times stating that he would not. In June 2006, restorationist Michael Thau finally confirmed that Donner had finally decided on a far closer involvement with the project, also bringing in writer Tom Mankiewicz to assist in its creation.
In August 2006, Thau confirmed that the entire film, rather than simply featuring new material, would be re-cut from the original camera negatives (including the small number of Lester scenes remaining in the film). The Donner cut comprises 1977–78 pre-cut Donner Superman II negative edited at the time by Stuart Baird, 1980 Superman II theatrical negative cut by John Victor Smith, as well as numerous newly-cut elements edited together or re-edited by Michael Thau. It was essential to edit in the Lester footage in order for the Donner Cut to be coherent story-wise.