Film editor restores director Donner's wit to `Superman II'

Critic's Picks: New Dvds

November 26, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN

SUPERMAN II - THE RICHARD DONNER CUT --Warner Home Video /$24.98

This is the film Richard Donner intended you to see. Donner, who directed all four Lethal Weapon movies, was at the helm of the first two Man of Steel films, Superman: the Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980), which he shot back-to-back.

But before the second one could be completed, Donner was fired from the project by its producers. They brought in Richard Lester, who did groundbreaking work on the Beatles' romp A Hard Day's Night (1964), to finish Superman II. He jettisoned many of Donner's scenes and shot his own.

Now, 26 years later, film editor Michael Thau, who was once Donner's assistant, has assembled what he could find of Donner's abandoned footage and re-cut the movie, restoring several of its wittiest scenes, trimming others, establishing both a new beginning and a new ending, and bringing back the mesmerizing Marlon Brando, whom Lester had inexplicably consigned to the cutting-room floor.

The new version - dedicated to the late Christopher Reeve, who played Superman and his alter-ego, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, in the first four Superman movies - dispenses with the silly opening Eiffel Tower sequence, as well as the scene in which Lois Lane, eager to prove that Kent is Superman, hurls herself into the Niagara River. Instead, in the first few minutes, Lane (Margot Kidder) draws glasses, a hat and civilian clothes on a photo of Superman in The Daily Planet to illustrate the physical similarities between the two.

Kent dismisses the comparison and the impetuous Lane jumps out the newsroom window, hoping he'll catch her. He manages to both save her and conceal the act at the same time.

Kent is finally revealed for who he is in another restored scene - filmed as a screen test - when Lois pulls a gun and shoots him, leaving him, of course, intact. The scene replaces a much drier one at the same Niagara Falls hotel.

The Donner cut retains some of the more inane, if endearing, aspects of its template, including Kent's irrepressibly dorkish demeanor and the jocular bluster of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), whose gregariousness belies his claims to being an evil master criminal. Then there is Terence Stamp as Superman's nemesis, General Zod, unwavering in his desire to have the world bow before him. Some of the violence borders on slapstick, but Superman did, after all, start out as a cartoon character.

Special features

Options on the newly edited Superman II include an introduction by Donner, a "featurette" called Superman II: Restoring the Vision, and several deleted scenes. It is being released at the same time as a slew of other Superman DVDs, including The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection ($68.92), a compilation of the first four films in their original versions.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

WINDTALKERS --MGM / $14.98

John Woo established his bona fides as a director of viscerally hard-core violence in more than two dozen Chinese movies and in high-profile, U.S.-produced films such as Hard Target (1993), Face/Off (1997), Mission: Impossible II (2000) and Paycheck (2003).

In Windtalkers (2002), Woo tried to capture the vagaries of loyalty in wartime, and the conflicts created by blind adherence to principle.

The story revolves around a battle-hardened Marine, Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage), who is ordered to protect a Navajo "code talker," Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), assigned to a reconnaissance unit in the Pacific during World War II. Enders must prevent the code from falling into Japanese hands - even if it means killing his charge.

But Cage's earnest performance struggles against an uneven script, and the code talker's evolution into warrior is no more than superficial. Woo's battle scenes, however, deliver the requisite punch.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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