Problem was that only about 56% of all the footage shot by director Donner actually still exists, and for Donner to “complete” the movie he had to use a lot of Lester’s later footage, a fact which obviously galls Donner judging from his director’s commentary on Superman II. (This ironically makes the “Richard Donner cut” of Superman II very much a product of Lester’s labours as it was the other way round with the theatrical cut of the film.)

Even though it almost three decades ago, it is clear that Donner is still pissed off (to put it mildly) at being fired from Superman II, and while this DVD is fascinating for several reasons it unfortunately is hardly an improvement on the original film, a fact which has to do with both the limited resources available to Donner today (after all, he can’t film scenes the way he would have liked to and had to use second-hand material such as a screen test in one case) and because it becomes clear that he still doesn’t have a clear idea as to how the plot and screenplay of both Superman I and II would have played out even to this day . . .

What works in the Donner cut:

  • An early sequence in which Lois Lane jumps out the windows of the Daily Planet so that Superman would save her and reveal his secret identity as Clark Kent in the process. This sequence is fantastically funny and it is rather sad that it has been omitted in the original film.
  • Using Brando instead of Susannah York makes more sense not just from the whole “father/son” relationship angle, but also from a continuity point of view. York never featured much in the storyline and all of a sudden she does – eh?
  • Less camp in Terrance Stamp’s performance as the evil General Zod )although it could be argued that Stamp’s campy performance “kneel before Zod!” is arguably one of the film’s biggest pleasures.
  • More of a sense of continuity with the first film: in the Donner cut it is shown how the missiles launched by Lex Luthor and detonated by Superman in outer space sets free the Kryptonian villains. In the original film there is a sequence involving French terrorists holding hostages on the Eiffel tower instead which plot-wise serves the same purpose: setting free the villains.
  • A more reverential tone to the proceedings. But makes no mistake: there are lots of out-of-place “comic relief” provided by Lex Luthor and his henchmen, sequences which visibly makes Donner squirm in embarrassment on the audio track - after all, he filmed them!

What doesn’t work in the Donner cut:

  • Lots of plot stuff simply makes no sense. In the original film Kent clumsily falls over a bear rug in a tacky Niagara Falls honeymoon suite and jabs his hand into a fire. There are no burns however and Lois finally cottons onto Kent’s secret identity. Unlikely yes, but Lois learns Kent’s secret in an even more improbable way in he Donner cut. She shoots a pistol at Kent and nothing happens . . . not just because he is the invulnerable Superman, but because she used blanks. Surely Kent/Superman would have realised that she used blanks as no bullets bounced off his invincible hide?
  • In the Donner cut Superman renounces his powers as Superman after sleeping with Lois. As Larry Niven in a hilarious article pointed out: Superman is simply too powerful to sleep with any mortal woman and would probably ripped the poor woman into pieces in the act of love! On the other hand, the Lester cut got that right: he loses his superpowers so that he can sleep with her.
  • Superman does his whole “turning back time” trick again as he did at the end of Superman – the Movie. This way he re-establishes the status quo: Lois never learned his secret identity. (In Lester’s Superman II he uses a mind trick that seems cribbed from Star Trek’s Spock to erase Lois’ memory of his secret identity.) This shows that Donner didn’t know how to end either Superman I or II because he’s using the same ending again. Story-wise it makes no sense for Superman to turn back time (a really desperate measure when one thinks about it) just to erase Lois’ memory of his secret identity, but it makes more sense that he would do it to save the life of the woman he loves.

The best version of Superman II would probably be a synthesis of the two cuts to be honest: a more dispassionate editor taking the best from Lester’s and Donner’s versions and melding them into one.

As it stands now, Lester’s cut of Superman II is till the better one simply because it seems zippier (even though it actually runs longer) and just seems more coherent.

Still, Superman II – the Richard Donner Cut remains a fascination glimpse into what could have been if Donner had been allowed to finish the film. If you’re a fan of the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks you should check it out.


Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando
Director: Richard Donner

Product Details

Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Director's Cut, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Rating PG
Studio: Warner Home Video
Run Time: 116 minutes

DVD Features:

  • Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Richard Donner's cut includes footage shot but never used, including a never-before-seen beginning, a never-before-seen resolution, 15 minutes of restored footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, and more
  • All-new introduction by Richard Donner
  • Commentary by Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz
  • New featurette "Superman II: Restoring the Vision"
  • Deleted scenes




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