Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Superman 2: As originally conceived and intended

I managed to catch 'Superman 2: The Richard Donner Cut' at the Glasgow Film Festival, and the night before I watched the originally released Richard Lester version. The two versions of the film are as different as possible, and of course, there is a better version out of the two...

First, let me set the scene:

In the Lester cut, a lot of ridiculous stuff happens and as I previously found out, Lester seems incapable of making a Superman film that makes sense. What follows is just a little list of the things that I noticed when watching it:

1. As if it is a sign of things to come, in reaction to Ursa beating a redneck at arm-wrestling, General Zod (having been on earth for about 10 minutes) actually rolls his eyes. Not only have we seen that Kryptonians are pretty stuffy and almost devoid of humour, but if Zod had that humorous bone in his body, his character would have been a whole lot different.

2. This happens in both versions, but there are scenes in the Donner version which are also in the Lester version, purely because the Donner version was incomplete without them. I may just be comic illiterate, but does Zod have telekinesis? When approached by the cops with a gun, he snatches the gun by using his heat vision on it and then moving it with his mind, which is not a power that Kryptonians have on earth. While it is true that the original writers invented a whole load of powers for Superman in the early days and that this may have been one of them, it was only the ones that stuck and became part of his list of powers that should have been used.

3. This extends itself to the fight in the Fortress of Solitude, in which Superman uses a plastic S shield to stop Non from attacking him. This is pure ridiculousness and I my eyes popped out of my head when it happened.

4. AND it also extends to Superman projecting many variations of himself across the Fortress in order to confuse Zod and his cohorts.

5. AND yet again, during that same fight all four Kryptonians display the ability to project some sort of white energy beam from their hands. Completely stupid, and a power that does not exist.

6. Possibly because the original Donner scene includes Marlon Brando and he doesn't appear in Lester's version at all, Clark regains his superpowers simply by finding the green crystal at the partially destroyed control centre in the Fortress. Is that really enough of an explanation of how he reaquires his superpowers? No.

7. This one can be pretty much put down to how Richard Lester did things, the big fight outside the Daily Planet has shots of people on the street who are going about their daily lives, after earthquakes and explosions. There is actually a guy who goes to eat ice cream when Zod, Ursa and Non begin to blow the pedestrians down the road, and it flies off and hits someone in the face. Then during the same fight, there's a guy making a phone call, who falls to the ground and continues talking BECAUSE APPARENTLY THIS IS NAKED GUN.

8. The disappearance of Gene Hackman in the lead up to the big fight at the Fortress. This is pretty much because the actor was pretty defiant that if Donner left, so would he. This is also the reason that he doesn't appear in Superman 3.

9. And the icing on the cake? Superman erases Lois Lane's memory by kissing her. This is just juvenile.

And to keep this open minded, here is a list of the ridiculous stuff in the Richard Donner cut:
1. The reusing of the first Superman's plot that sees the hero wind back time by going around the earth backwards. It's dumb, but allowable on account of it making sense within the context of the original story.

And that's it.

Here is some of the awesome stuff that you get in Donner's cut in comparison to Lester's:
1. Gene Hackman deserves his starring role, as his appearances aren't fleeting as in the Lester cut, in fact he plays a much more prominent role. This is because most of his work was left on the cutting room floor due to his insistence on only working with Donner. It's odd, as Hackman's performance is delightfully hammy, which should fit into Lester's almost entirely hammy original, but it doesn't. Here however, it's a lovely little detour, and we get almost two times the amount of Hackman than what we see in the original.

2. This is a biggie, obviously. This version has Marlon Brando. In the original, Jor-el's appearances have been substituted with ones featuring Lara, Clark's mother. The scenes here have more emotion and feeling in them, and of course, its always great to have brando's original footage restored in all it's glory. I'm unsure why Lester felt that he needed to lose the emotion on Clark's face during these scenes, but for me it's one of the most impressive selling points of the Donner cut of the film.

3. The build up scenes with Zod and co are menacing, rather than silly like they appear in the original. While the scene on the moon is exactly the same, when they reach earth, the way they act and the way that the people react to them is very odd in Lester's version. There is a sub plot about Non not being able to control his powers when he comes to earth, which doesn't make sense, and thankfully is gone and he actually becomes  much more terrifying in Donner's cut.

4. Lois finds out Clark is superman in a much more convincing way. She doesn't just stumble upon it like in the original, she is brilliant reporter who is very savvy and in this version she becomes convinced that Clark is Superman, and chases after that fact until he is revealed. It's much more believable here and to be honest, when Clark Kent trips and falls into a fire in the original it is so out of character, that it is just stupid.

5. The fight in the street is genuinely gripping rather than the hammy crap in the first cut. The bit in which Non crashes Superman under the street is much shorter and it's purely just down to two facts. a) Donner is a better film-maker than Lester, and b) this cut has the benefit of time and being created by fans of the original series of films.

6. This may seem like a small thing, but after having the introduction to Superman 2 and 3 ruined by Lester, it was lovely to see the original titles in space come back. It really sets the mood for the big epic Superman film you are about to watch, and it gives you a brilliant chance to hear John Williams awe-inspiring score.

Donner's version of Superman is incredible, and its astounding that the Lester version made it to cinemas while this was effectively thrown in the bin. It's even more astounding that Lester got the chance to make Superman 3, killing the franchise as he did. Sure, there was a Superman 4, but the less said about that the better. The Donner double header is exactly what it should have been in the beginning, and now I know what I would change if I had a time machine. If you haven't seen the Richard Donner cut of Superman 2, you haven't really experienced superman at his best, and now is the time to see it.

At the end of both films, we see how Lester's version and Donner's much superior version compare in one single scene. In Lester's version, we see Superman carry the flag to the Whitehouse and say to the president "Sorry I've been away so long, I won't let you down again.", marking a very closed minded 'American' stance on the film, even when the film opens with a scene in Paris. However, in Donner's version, we see Superman fly over the earth, as it's protector. He has given up his powers for the one he loves, yet ultimately, his destiny is greater and he gives up the one he loves to protect the Earth. Sure, you could say that Superman fights for 'Truth, Justice and the American way' but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't protect the rest of the world if it needed it. It's what Superman truly means to the entire world that encapsulates that final image, and for me it sums up what a greater gift Donner's cut is than Lester's.

If you get the chance to see  Donner's cut in a cinema like I luckily did, please go. You will not regret it.

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