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About That `Richard Donner Cut' Of SUPERMAN II...

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

First and foremost, I’m interested to see what Warner Bros. puts out, and I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Having said that, I wanted to clarify some things since my e-mail box is inundated with e-mails about “Donner’s Cut” finally being available. I’m sure some people still don’t know what the big deal is, or they didn’t realize there was ever any alternate cut of SUPERMAN II out there somewhere, some long-rumored thing that has driven fandom a little crazy. It’s one of those things like the five-hour-cut of THE THIN RED LINE or the even-longer APOCALYPSE NOW, or David Lynch’s real director’s cut of DUNE (something I’ll be discussing later this week on my DVD blog, a version of a movie that supposedly corrects all the mistakes, fixes all the flaws, or just plain rocks in a whole new way, a version we’ve never had a chance to see.

At the start of the week, last Monday, I went to a press event in Burbank, at the corporate headquarters of Warner Home Video. Pretty much every single major executive for the label was there, like Ron Sanders, Jeff Baker, George Feltenstein, Ronnee Sass, as well as many of the publicists we deal with on behalf of Warner. I saw guys like Bill Hunt from The Digital Bits there, guys I rarely come face to face with, which was an added bonus for attending. The presentation itself was really nice, and I’ll get into it in more detail in this week’s DVD SHELF column on Tuesday (yes... it’s coming back after a month off). For now, I just want to get into the topic of the “Richard Donner Cut” of SUPERMAN II that’s going to be included as part of the 14-disc megacollection that Warner is putting out near the end of this year.

Because no matter what it is, and no matter how cool it is, I have a fundamental problem with calling it “Richard Donner’s cut.” Because it’s not.

First, let me say that Michael Thau, the guy who is putting this version together, is the best possible choice for the job. He worked closely with Donner over the years, and he was the one who spearheaded that great SUPERMAN restoration a few years ago. If there’s anyone other than Richard Donner who is qualified to try to put together an alternative cut of SUPERMAN II, it’s Thau.

For non-fans, the question that no doubt comes to mind immediately is “But why do we need an alternate cut of SUPERMAN II in the first place? Wasn’t that one of the good ones?”

Indeed it was. But thanks to the Salkinds, it wasn’t the film that it was originally supposed to be. Basically, SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II were supposed to be made as one long film at the same time, then cut in half and released as separate films. Donner shot about 75% of the second film before he and the Salkinds hit a creative wall with each other, and he left the project. He ended up finishing the first film, and then they hired Richard Lester to come in and work to shape Donner’s footage into SUPERMAN II and to shoot whatever they had to in order to make it a finished film. That’s the short version of the story, but I’m sure you can find a dozen more detailed accounts if you do a quick Google search.

By total coincidence, just before I attended that Warner Home Video event, I happened to end up in the editing room where Richard Donner is currently tweaking the sound mix on 16 BLOCKS, and we ended up sitting for about two hours, talking about a number of subjects. His older films, this new film, other people’s work, and, finally, SUPERMAN II. I didn’t realize Warner was about to make this big announcement, but I asked him about it because I’d been hearing rumors, and this is our exact conversation:

”Moriarty”: So are you involved in the new DVD release of SUPERMAN II?

Richard Donner: Here’s how I’m involved. Michael Thau... it was his idea because he had read so much on the internet about how people wanted to see it.

”M”: Sure.

RD: So he went to Warners... with my blessings. He asked me. And at first, they weren’t going to do it. Then they did the research, and lo and behold, they flew the negative over from England and started reprinting every foot...

”M”: Wow.

RD: Yeah. But even so, there’s a lot of stuff missing. Michael... he asked me come in every once in a while, and I do... but it’s his picture. I don’t really want to see it early. I want to see it in the theater. It was too many years ago for me to be involved. If I were going to redo it, I’d do it totally different. The reason it’s... the reason it is what it is... I was so naive then, and there were so few things you could use. Technically speaking. So it’s not my cut. It’s not really my film anymore at all.

So... there you have it right from Donner’s mouth. And I’m not putting this up to try and make Warner Bros. look bad, since I’m thrilled they’re putting it out. I just wish they’d found something else to call it, since now we’re in for raging nerd arguments about how much of Donner’s cut it “really” is. Thau’s a really smart guy, and talking to him after the event, it sounds like he’s going to knock us out when this is released. I guess it’s a marketing thing more than anything else, calling this “The Donner Cut,” as they do in the promotional material they handed out to all of us at the WHV event. They promise that there will be a “Donner vs. Lester” comparison, footage never before seen, and that there will be an HD-DVD release the same day as the regular DVD release. You’ll only be able to get this as part of that 14-disc set, though, so I hope you really love your SUPERMAN. That’s a whole lot of Man Of Steel at one time.

I’ll have more about this event, my time with Donner, and all sorts of good stuff in the next few days, so I’ll see you then.

"Moriarty" out.

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