The sequel to Superman has an interesting history, involving multiple directors, actors who dropped out, different stories, different composers, and a whole lot of behind-the-scenes hugger mugger. For years, the theatrical version that was released was the only version available, but the recent reconstruction and release of a version that approximates the version Richard Donner envisioned for his sequel allows us to make a detailed comparison between both films.
Richard Donner was hired to shoot the first two films simultaneously, the first film ending with a "To be continued…" that would lead directly into the sequel. Donner had shot approximately 75% of his Superman II when he was told to stop and work on assembling the first Superman for release. Part of that involved taking what was intended to be the climax of the second film—Superman's turning back the Earth and reversing time—and making it the climax to the first.
A number of things happened that resulted in the decision to replace Donner as director on the second film. First, Marlon Brando sued producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind over profits he felt were being denied him, causing them to decide to remove him entirely from the second film. This rankled Donner, who had developed his own grievances with the Salkind's. Donner wanted to keep the tone of the films more serious and mythic, while the Salkind's were pressuring him to add more "campy" humor. Donner wanted more creative control, which the Salkind's were loath to concede, and more control over who worked on the production. It all came to a head, and eventually Donner was fired, and UK director Richard Lester [A Hard Day's Night] was brought in to replace him.
Now, due to director's guild rules, Lester must have shot 51% of the released film in order for him to take credit for it. This would mean a great deal of re-shooting of scenes already shot by Donner, as well as the addition of new scenes. Gene Hackman, writer Tom Mankiewicz, editor Stuart Baird and composer John Williams all declined to come back without Donner, and many of the actors who stayed were very vocally upset about the replacement.
Lester's task was to finish the film as cheaply and quickly as possible. The absence of Brando necessitated bringing back Susannah York as Superman's mother, suddenly playing a much more important role, and filming the remainder of Hackman's scenes with a stand-in facing away from the camera. Several scenes were re-written and rearranged, and the campy and slapstick sense of humor was reinserted. The film was a critical and commercial hit, although many fans of Superman and the first film regretted the change toward a sillier tone, and saw this as the first step toward the ultimate cheapening of the series in Supermans III and IV.
But the fans never forgot Donner's version, and held out hope that his version would ultimately be constructed and released. They wrote several articles and assembled the varying television and international versions of the film into unofficial reconstructions, and continually wrote Warner Brothers asking that the Donner version be reassembled and released. There was a lot of legal wrangling in getting the rights to Marlon Brando's Jor-El performance for use in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, and upon winning those rights back, Warner decided to hire Michael Thau to reassemble the film for a DVD release. Thau was able to secure the participation of Donner, and in late 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released. Now let's delve into the differences between the two films.
STARTING OFF WITH TWO VERY DIFFERENT BANGS
The Lester version begins with more space blobs like we saw in the first film, then quickly arrives back on Krypton, where some white-suited guard stands in front of a bank of crystals. The three villains step in and knock the guard out, pull out a red crystal, and break it! We'll never find out what that red crystal meant, but apparently breaking it is bad enough to get the three of them excommunicated from the planet. What follows is a reprise of the trial scene from the first film, now noticeably Brando-less, with their judges' voice simply being heard from off-screen. They are packed off into their little album cover [okay, the Phantom Zone] and banished into space. We then have a reprise of the events of the first film, but now with Susannah York alone loading baby Superman into his spangle-tastic spaceship. The footage from the first film continues, extensively [i.e. EXTENSIVELY] detailing the major plot points, alternating with the credits, showing a number of moments that will not be in any way related to the plot of this film. The credits are now a somewhat cheapened version of the "flying words" from the first film, now accomplished with repeated exposures of the words, giving them a strobe-like effect. While this is going on we hear the new score by Ken Thorne, using themes from the original John Williams music, which sound somewhat more speeded-up and bombastic.
The Lester version opens after the credits with Clark walking into the office of the Daily Planet, being ignored by several people he says hello to and, in the first sign of the "slapstick" sense of humor that infuses this version, tosses his hat directly onto a rack behind him without looking. He walks into Perry White's office to face an avalanche of exposition, informing him that "terrorists" have seized the Eiffel tower with a hydrogen bomb, and that Lois is there trying to get the story. When asked "Where he's been" that he hasn't heard the news, Clark says "home"—and already the Superman image takes a hit. What, Superman just tunes out and hauls off to the Fortress of Solitude every now and again, leaving the world to its own devices? Clark apparently takes the elevator down and finds an empty alley. In this film, Clark starts to run and just magically transforms into Superman, right on camera, his business suit apparently melting away or phasing into another dimension or… well, we may never know.
We join Lois in Paris getting out of a taxi. Our supposedly Pulitzer Prize-level journalist is such a hick she pronounces "Merci" as "Mercy." She learns that the "terrorists" [I don't think we ever find out what their goal is] have a hydrogen bomb, and helpfully informs the audience that this could destroy the entire city. Despite another display of her offensive ignorance of the French language, Lois manages to elude the one (1) guard that is posted at the base of the tower and begins to climb up. She climbs onto the bottom of the elevator holding the terrorists and the bomb, and is raised to the top of the tower. Meanwhile, the French are providing reams and reams of exposition about the activities of the terrorists and the French's efforts to stop them, finally severing the line that holds the elevator, sending Lois and the bomb—now armed and set to explode in 60 seconds—plunging toward Earth. Of course Superman shows up just in time, lets Lois off, and sends the elevator with the bomb off into space. The shockwaves from the explosion shatter the Phantom Zone, setting the three Kryptonian criminals free. They head directly to the moon.
We next join Lois and Clark in Lois' office at the daily planet. You will notice that in the Lester version, Lois has an office, which is easier and cheaper to shoot than having her at a desk in the middle of a busy newsroom. Clark makes moony eyes at her while she advises him to be more aggressive with the ladies. Clark then crushes his own thumb in Lois' juicer—hoo boy, is that funny! Margot Kidder was said to have enjoyed a good relationship with Donner and did not enjoy working with Lester. One can only speculate as to what that might have to do with the fact that her eyes are bloodshot and she is verging on slurring her words during this scene.
The Donner version begins on Krypton with the trial of the criminals [no nasty red crystal snapping], and immediately announces its kinship with the first film by the presence of Marlon Brando. This version contains a line from General Zod [Terence Stamp] that sets up the rest of the film: That Jor-El will bow to Zod, and one day, so will his children. This line is in the Lester cut, but somewhat unintelligibly shouted as they float away in their album cover. Krypton explodes, and this time we see Kal-El's little spiky spaceship fly past the criminals as he heads toward Earth. Then we see Kal-El land on Earth, and proceed directly to the end of the first film, when the two nuclear missiles are launched. We see Superman launch the first into space, only now we follow it as it continues its path past the moon, toward the three criminals. It explodes, breaking the Phantom Zone [we now get to enjoy a neat effect as the three criminals tumble through space among shards of the shattered Phantom Zone]. Zod shouts "Free!"—and we go into the credits!
The music goes down almost to silence, and the familiar whooshing, continuous [as opposed to strobed] flying credits begin coming at the camera. As this happens the music slowly builds up until it bursts into the familiar Superman theme by the time the red ‘S’ appears on screen. And this announces a huge difference with Lester's version—the Donner cut still has a John Williams soundtrack! Which will make an enormous difference as the film goes on.
The first episode of the Donner version is quite different from the entire Paris escapade of the Lester version. Lois, still seated in the center of a busy newsroom, looks at Clark and suddenly realizes that he's Superman. The girlishly excited expression Margot Kidder gets on her face at this moment is priceless. A few minutes later she tests her theory by jumping out the window, knowing Superman wouldn't let her fall. He runs downstairs and uses his breath to slow her fall. He extends a canopy for her to bounce off of and she lands—HARD—on a fruit cart. She sees Clark standing in a window upstairs before she passes out.
Already the tone is entirely different. The Donner version is an extension of the tone of the first film—it is more somber, and approaches the material seriously. The Lester version is faster, with faster music, credits that don't match, and that big action bonanza opening sequence. Oh, and a culturally ignorant Lois. The Donner opening sequence is relatively quiet, plays on what we know about these characters, and the more serious tone—including how very hard Lois hits that cart—echoes with far greater emotional resonance, since Kal-El knows that Lois is in love with Superman, but still, he cannot reveal himself to her. By contrast, the Eiffel Tower opening of the Lester version is a somewhat generic "big action moment" that gives us Superman doing his thing within the first ten minutes, but seems to be aimed at the largest possible audience—people who want to see action up front, not fans of the first film who want to see the characters they know.
There's also something in the more somber tone of the Donner version that draws greater ironic resonance from the fact that it is Superman himself who sets the Kryptonian villains free. Of course, he does it in the Lester cut as well, but there it comes off as an accident, whereas in the Donner film, perhaps because it arises from the greater context of events from the first film, it maintains an air if tragic inevitability.
DUDE, YOU ARE SO SUPERMAN
We next join Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Ned Beatty as Otis as they toil in jail. Recall that Hackman refused to return to shoot with Lester, so anytime you see him in the Lester version, you are seeing footage shot by Donner. What this, and the next few scenes provide, however, is an excellent opportunity to notice how the exact same scene plays out with slightly different editing and, most importantly, a wholly different soundtrack. The Donner version continues to take the material more seriously, even his humorous material with Lex and Otis having a more genteel air than Lester's, and the following scene, in which the Kryptonians menace astronauts on the moon, having an air of genuine menace, whereas it is much more lighthearted in Lester's version. Scenes—including Luthor's escape from prison—are largely the same between both versions until Clark and Lois reach Niagra falls.
There, Clark and Lois are shown around their tacky honeymoon suite by an unctuous bellhop, who introduces such elements as their fireplace, heart-shaped tub, lava-lamp pillars, and vibrating bed. It is mortifying, and it is eliminated entirely from the Donner version. The Lois and Clark hot dog talk by the Falls and the rescue of the small boy is, unfortunately, just as bad in both versions, so it's a relief to find out that this is footage shot by Lester, but had to be inserted into the Donner cut, as he hadn't shot it. Lois cleans Clark's glasses for him and she sees him briefly without them, giving rise to further suspicion. Soon after, in the Lester cut, Lois jumps into the water to force Superman to save her; remember, in the Lester version, she did not jump out the window at the beginning. This time he runs along the side of the river, eventually using his heat-vision to burn off a log that she can hold onto.
Later that night, in the Lester version, Lois is relaxing by the circular, middle-of-the-room fireplace when Clark trips over the head of the pink bearskin rug [tacky], accidentally landing with his hand in the fire. Lois confronts him directly about being Superman, and he admits it, saying "We gotta talk!" When she tells him that she loves him, he says "Well then we really gotta talk!" I would love to put this scene down, but it does showcase Reeve doing a very sweet, moony-in-love routine, which is very good and effective. The scene in which Clark changes into Superman merely by Reeve changing his posture and attitude that gets so much attention in the Donner version, but another version is also represented here, and is handled fairly well. The scene ends with Superman telling Lois that he wants to take her somewhere special, which we know will be the Fortress of Solitude. Ultimately I prefer the Donner version of this scene, but I have to admit that the childish glee at being free of secrecy that Reeve shows here is quite compelling and endearing.
The replacement version of this scene in the Donner version is actually an early screen test between Reeve and Kidder, filmed before they shot even the first film. It is, however, the only version of this scene ever shot, and so they had to include it here. The most noticeable difference is that Clark has markedly different glasses, and Kidder's hair hasn't been dyed black. Many viewers find it jarring to have a screen test right in the middle of a movie, but I actually rather liked it—you get an opportunity to see how these two actors approached their characters before they had really had a chance to hone them or become comfortable with each other—and it's impressive to see how close to their final characterizations they had come at this time, and also how their chemistry was also locked firmly in place.
In this scene Clark enters a normal hotel room—not the crazy sex lodge of the Lester version—and flirts with Lois while she applies makeup. He says with all this acting like a newlywed, he's beginning to feel like a newlywed. When she mentions Superman he gets irritated, saying it's impossible for him to measure up in her eyes. She tells him he should dress better and be more forward [these elements were retained for the orange juice scene in the Lester version], but soon comes clean and tells him she's convinced he's Superman. She says she'll prove it, and points a gun at him, and shoots. Reeve's transition here is excellent, as he's all stammering like Clark until the shot goes off, the shock sending his shoulders back and head up, into the stance of Superman. The first thing he then does is upbraid her for playing so callously with the life of Clark, but she reveals that she fired blanks. Superman is chagrined, but his expression tells us that her cleverness in this deception is precisely what he loves about her. The next time we see them, they're flying to the Fortress of Solitude, minus the silly line about him wanting to show her his "special place."
WE DO NOT WANT TO SEE THE SUPER-SHAG
Meanwhile, Lex has escaped from prison in a hot air balloon with the assistance of Miss Teschmacher, heading North to discover the Fortress of Solitude. The Donner cut makes their journey through the arctic seem slightly longer, but in both cases they seemingly turn a corner and—poof!—Fortress of Solitude! Once they get inside, big differences soon become apparent.
Lex starts toying with crystals and in front of them, a large crystal comes up with some new people imparting lessons—apparently Kryptonian elders, although we've never seen them before, and soon the image of Susannah York as Superman's mom appears. She lays down some Kryptonian history, then specifically gets to the three criminals and how they simply could not be turned away from their dastardly, red-crystal-snapping ways. She says they're safely tucked away in the Phantom Zone but the zone "Might—just might—be cracked by a nuclear explosion in space." Well golly, WHAT were the chances? The ONLY thing that could free the criminals just HAPPENS to be the very event that just transpired! The world sure is a funny place.
Since the Hackman footage was shot in front of a blue screen, they could use the same footage and just replace Brando in front of it for the Donner version. Again, the presence of Brando creates a much greater continuity with the first film, and generally keeps the tone serious—helped greatly by him not mentioning the coinkidink with the nuclear bomb. In both versions, Luthor decides he will act as agent to the three villains and bring Superman to them.
But what of our villains? They have landed in the rural US. Ursa vaporizes a snake that bites her, then is amazed by her own powers. In the Lester version, the hulking Non picks up the snake and "comically" practices his own heat vision, which is not quite up to snuff yet. A few minutes later he is practicing again, on a truck. They terrorize the town, then fly to the White House, seeking to find the most powerful man in the country. On the way, they use their heat vision [rendered with a special effect that couldn't have run over $3] to change the faces on Mount Rushmore to their own faces. This is what today's top scholars refer to as "appallingly dumb." The Donner version wisely omits Non's heat ray practice antics, and cuts effectively from the villains leaving the small town to the Washington Monument crumbling to the ground.
The Donner version does include several new effects, but done in a more primitive way so they fit seamlessly in with the rest of the 1980 effects. Even these provide an excellent example of the differences in the mindsets behind his film. For example, at one point the police fire a flamethrower at Zod, and he uses his breath to blow the flames away, toward another building. As a short, take-at-home quiz, look at the photos of the same scene below. Identify which effect is unbelievably moronic, then guess which version of this film it comes from.
So, as the President's assistant wonders: Where is Superman? Well, in the Lester version, he has flown Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where Superman shows her his glowy green crystal and she marvels at it, then carelessly leaves it under her purse. They make small talk until she mentions that she's hungry, whereupon Superman flies around the world gathering the choicest ingredients, which he can use to create a sumptuous meal. We see him land on a tropical mountainside and select some particularly morsel—Juan Valdez is just out of frame—then he and Lois are eating at this elegantly appointed table in the Fortress of Solitude. I KNOW the footage of Superman using his powers to super-mince some vegetable must have been inadvertently destroyed, otherwise it surely would be here.
Lois presumably conducts a self-guided tour while Superman [in his Superman suit] calls up mom again and inquires what might happen if he wanted to, well, you know, and she informs him that he must surrender his powers forever, with no chance of getting them back. Up pops this plastic chamber, seemingly borrowed from the local mall, and Superman steps in. Red light appears in the chamber and there is a short vision of Superman in flames, then the skin and flesh systematically being stripped from his skull. Clark soon appears double-exposed, as Superman, and as Clark, in a white shirt and black slacks. Clark walks away and Superman fades out. He has now been de-powered, complete with de-powered wardrobe. Clark then leads Lois to the super-bed, which I believe is in a chamber covered with long white shag carpeting. Personally, just my preference, but I do not want to see the Super-Shag, and I DEFINITELY do not want to see the Super-Bed. EVER.
So Clark [we'll call the de-powered Superman Clark] and Lois get back from the Fortress of Solitude [HOW exactly they do this is cleanly elided over in both versions], and stop into a diner, where Clark gets beaten up. At one point, while Clark is laying on the ground, Lois says "I want the man I fell in love with," and Clark ruefully says "I wish he were here." They then see the three villains at the White House, taunting Superman, and the whole crush of what has happened and what a pickle he's in comes in on Clark. He realizes he has to go back, and sets off. We see him try to hitch-hike as he trudges along a snowy interstate, which I suppose is necessary, but does kind of imply that the Fortress of Solitude is just off route 9 just behind the old Jenson place—and if you see the Dairy Barn, you've gone too far. Once inside, Clark has a VERY brief "I failed" speech, and then the green crystal that Lois carelessly dropped wherever she felt like it starts to glow, and the next time we see him, Clark is Superman again. Oh, so I guess all that stuff about "once you give up your powers you can never get them back" was just so much hot air? Losing your super-powers: no big deal.
The de-powering and re-powering scenes are the crux of the Donner version, and are given all the momentousness the material deserves. First of all, it occurs AFTER Superman and Lois have done the Super-deed. So I guess that resolves all those questions about whether she'd be killed when… he… well, you know. Apparently she's not [internal bleeding perhaps? Not mentioned]. The film cuts directly from the President's aide asking "Where is Superman?" to Lois and Superman asleep in bed [no long shot of the Super-bed, thank you, I appreciate it], upping the dramatic effect of him being asleep, happy, and blissfully unaware as the world is crumbling, and upping the drama even more as he is ABOUT to de-power, and if he only knew what is going on down South…
So Lois comes out wearing Superman's shirt [cute] and sees him talking to Jor-El. He has already changed into the white shirt and slacks. Jor-El expected that this day might come, but he obviously hoped that Kal-El would get over it, and he is NOT happy. He upbraids Kal-El: "They give you their undying gratitude and THIS is how you repay them?" He calls Superman selfish, and Superman freaks: "Selfish?!" He says he's given them all he's got, and when is it ever enough? And doesn't he deserve to be happy? Kal-El says that he can't deny that he has felt joy in serving mankind, and Superman has to admit that he has, but now it's time for him to be happy with Lois. Jor-El then tells him if he's sure, he can go to a chamber [thankfully not the cheesy plastic chamber of the Lester version] and lose his powers, telling him he can never regain his powers and urging him several times to reconsider. But Kal-El won't. He is de-powered, and once this is over—in a moment I LOVE—Jor-El turns and gives Lois the stink-eye, as if to say "So, my Son gave up all his powers and duty for YOU?"
The diner sequence is the same, but now it has added weight, as Kal-El was warned and implored and asked and asked again to reconsider, but his feeling and arrogance made him blind to his father's advice. It also seems that poor Kal-El only gets a few hours to live as a human, and it seems that most of them were spent driving in snow. Anyway, back to the Fortress of Solitude he goes. There he has a much-expanded speech about his own foolishness and guilt, saying "I failed you. I failed myself. And all humanity." It's unfortunate that Christopher Reeve's most intense and dramatic speech in the series was cut for all these years. Again, the green crystal glows, but that's not it: Kal-El puts it in, and Jor-El appears again. He says he anticipated this very thing happening, in fact it was meant to happen. Superman can get his powers back, via Jor-El infusing him: meaning that once he is re-powered, he will never see his father again. This also makes Kal-El feel terribly guilty, but of course he must go through with it.
The difference here from the Lester version is astonishing. To take the events in order, Superman's sleeping with Lois before de-powering removes the sense that sex was a factor in his de-powering, and places the emphasis more on their relationship. Kal-El's rebellion is now greater than just his love for Lois, but is about him living his own life, finding his own happiness, and no longer having to be at the beck and call of humanity. There's also a much greater air of simply being sick of having to do everything his father says. So it's a typical adolescent rebellion and as such, it's something that many more people in the audience can relate to; for while few can empathize with having to give up one's super-powers for the love of a woman, everyone can relate to being sick of having to do things for others and getting frustrated with having to do what one's father says. Lastly, in the Donner version, Superman has to make a huge sacrifice to get his powers back, which is both a final step into adulthood, and further punishment for his mistake. Regardless, it's all given a rather heavy and mythic significance, as opposed to the Lester "Oh, I gave my powers up and got them all back without a problem, so what's for dinner?" approach.
You can imagine how much better the Bryan Singer hand-wringing and psychological trauma approach to Superman would have gone down, had the Donner cut been the second entry in the series.
THE SUPER-BATTLE: SILLY, OR ACTUALLY FRIGHTENING?
So now on to the big battle. It proceeds much the same, except for a few "comic" details that Lester included in his version. First of all, as Lois watches the fight from her window at the Daily Planet, she is accompanied throughout by another woman who makes silly faces and comments at her. Then there are details such as Ursa accidentally whacking Zod with a flagpole, and a bystander saying "Woah! Home run!" Then, during the high wind the villains create with their breath, they blow an ice cream cone out of one man's hand and on to another man's face. A man is talking in a phone booth and keeps talking after the entire booth has been fallen over and is being blown down the street. A man is blown backwards on roller skates as he yells "woahoahoahoahoah!" Then a woman's wig and a man's toupee are blown off their heads, causing the woman to say "Oh, my hair!" and the man to reply "YOUR hair?! What about mine?" Before watching this scene in the Lester version, please be sure to remove any nearby objects with which you may be tempted to use to blind yourself.
The Donner version simply removes all of those idiotic touches, and a result, the fight comes off as much more serious and awe-inspiring. The villains blowing down the street is very intense and actually sort of frightening. There's no silly woman next to Lois in the window, but Perry and Jimmy Olsen. One other observation—note how effective and realistic the man thrown straight through the skyscraper is here, with its primitive effects, and compare this to how crappy Spider-man getting thrown through a skyscraper looked in Spider-Man 3, even with all its fancy modern digital hoo-ha.
After the fight, Superman takes off for the Fortress of Solitude, leaving the public feeling as though he has deserted them, although we know he is actually drawing the villains away from where they can injure the public.
In the Lester version, you'll start to notice long shots of Hackman, captured from the back… these were shot with a stand-in to fill in gaps missing from the Donner Hackman footage. Soon Superman comes out with a line about how he expects better manners in his house. As Non approaches him, he throws out a very, VERY poorly animated "S" that becomes a sort of cellophane net-thing that briefly confounds Non before melting away. Apparently this cellophane "S" is THE most-reviled element of the Lester version by fans. The three villains then direct some sort of white beam at Superman [never seen before or since in the movie] which he is able to deflect and push back at them. Why Superman is abruptly more powerful than the three villains is left unexplained. After the villains are dispatched with, we have a short scene back at the Daily Planet. Lois gives a heartfelt speech about how she knows she can never have Superman and is "Jealous of the whole world." Clark gives her the kiss of forgetting, and she forgets the whole thing. Convenient, that. He goes back to beat up the bully at the diner, there's a last bit of Superman placing the flag back atop the White House, and he's off.
The Donner version just feels fuller and less silly. You see Hackman brought into the Fortress of Solitide. There's no cellophane "S" and no mysterious white beam. And the transformation chamber is just not as silly as in the Lester version. The main differences happen after the villains have been dispatched.
For one, Superman flies Lois a ways from the Fortress of Solitude, where they say their goodbyes. She says "No regrets. I got the man I love to love me, didn't I?" and he replies "Oh yeah." Of course, in this version, since they had sex before he gave up his powers, you have to wonder what the problem facing them is. Anyway, then Superman somewhat inexplicably destroys the Fortress of Solitude. Maybe because it is exclusively a training ground, and now that Jor-El is no more? He drops Lois back home—and then reverses time, just like at the end of the first movie! Here's what happened. The first movie was originally going to end as a sort of cliff-hanger, with Zod being released from the Phantom Zone and shouting "Free!" Ultimately they decided that the first movie needed a stronger finish, and they moved the reversing-time sequence—planned from the start as the climax of Superman II—to the first film, planning to just think of a new climax when it came time to complete Superman II. This was a great idea, as the reversing-time idea was an excellent thematic closing to the first film [if it does stretch credulity beyond the breaking point]. So upon reconstructing the Donner version of the film, they had a choice of using the Lester version with the kiss of forgetting, or leave the original ending with the time reversal, making it seem as though Superman did it twice. They went with the time-reversal, using the logic that Clark would never kiss Lois, only Superman kisses Lois.
As seen in the Donner cut, the time-reversal comes off as an interesting epilogue, a little grace note after the movie proper has finished. In the first Superman, when reversing time, he was highly emotional after the death or Lois and the destruction of the West Coast, as well as the fact that he was disobeying his father's direct orders not to interfere with the course of human events. So you got the sense that Superman was on the verge of losing control and maybe wasn't making the right decision. Here everything is pretty much resolved, so the reversal has much less urgency, and in fact seems more a matter of preference than anything. What's interesting is the way it's done… at first we don't know that Superman is doing anything, we just see the strange effect of time going backwards as seen on earth, and later it is revealed that Superman is behind it all. Lois forgets who Clark is, the Washington monument and Statue of Liberty are repaired, and the criminals are back in the Phantom Zone. They do make the strange decision to include him going back to beat up the bully at the diner, which, if Superman reversed time, never would have happened in this version. Ah well, it’s only a movie.
GOING BACK IN TIME
The two versions of Superman II offer an interesting comparison of the little decisions that can change the tone of a film, such as the inclusion of silly humor or a replacement of a musical soundtrack. For me the Donner version is vastly superior, including the seriousness of tone, key actors, and soundtrack that makes it of a piece with the first film. I recall seeing the Lester Superman II in theaters, and leaving disappointed that it was so silly and such a degradation from the first film. For lovers of the first film who were disappointed with the Lester version in theaters, the new Donner cut is a bit like being able to go back in time, to revist a disappointing experience of one's youth, and experiencing the relief of having it turn out right this time.
THE THEMES OF SUPERMAN picks apart the thematic elements that masterfully tie together the vastly different sectionsof the first film.