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SUPERMAN director's special edition DVD

The campaign in San Antonio for a nationwide rerelease of SUPERMAN the movie failed miserably... but then that's because the test market was in San Antonio... one of the absolute lessor markets for film going in the country. A place where when I was selling Comic Books at conventions, we would always... ALWAYS have our worst shows, because the market just wasn't there...

So you won't be seeing SUPERMAN on the big screen again anytime soon. And there is a reason why I'm not all broken up about it. I really dislike the new cut of SUPERMAN. I feel both the original cut and the ABC cut of SUPERMAN were vastly superior to this edit of the film. Now sure... there's a new sweeping digital sound to the film, but frankly... that is done kind of half-assed. When you have the big action scenes... Krypton exploding... Superman performing super-acts.... Machine Guns firing... Well that's when sound is all around you. But when you are walking down a street in Metropolis... or in the Newsroom of the Daily Planet... or in Grand Central Station with Otis... the sound feels flat and like it is just coming out of audio central. This same philosophy of sound re-engineering was used in the rerelease of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.... the music was all fancied up, but the regular scenes... well, they all felt mono... and suddenly you had a difference in audio quality that was distracting.

As for the new scenes put into the film? Well... like the soundtrack, they are sort of inserted half-assed... For the best SUPERMAN + edition, find a copy somewhere of the ABC Superman cut as originally aired on Television.... don't get the one that was re-edited with the Laserdisc edition of SUPERMAN... that one isn't edited well... but the ABC edit was amazing.

My problems with the new scenes here?

Well... quite simply… The Original 1978 SUPERMAN, due to Stuart Baird’s editing of the material was structurally perfect. We went from the destruction of Krypton… to the years in Smallville… to the hustle and bustle of Metropolis… to the final act which is ‘super’. There was no back and forth… Every scene advanced the story and took it somewhere new and forward. As much as I’ve always hated the ‘CAN YOU READ MY MIND’ sequence, without it, the romance and love between Supes and Lois would not be poignant enough to make his reaction to her death feel so real at the end. Personally, I would still prefer if they just ex-ed the Margot narration, but kept Williams’ music… I believe it works better that way.

However, in this new edit… there is a scene after the first night of Superman doing Super things that interrupts the flow of the narrative and feels completely arbitrary and out of place. The scene is a cool scene… but it belongs… as an extra on a DVD and not in the narrative itself. Also, they add some of the opening Krypton stuff with the ‘council’ and the Kryptonian Guard, but not his flight to capture and punish Jor-El and Lara which when seen actually does add a sense of danger and immediacy and urgency to the sequence… but as is, you just get a fairly meaningless set up with no payoff. There is also a scene in the Daily Planet that is slightly extended here, where Clark is sitting at his desk for the first time… and the camera begins to pull back taking in the hustle and bustle of the newsroom and Clark’s adjusting to it… but in reality as originally shot the scene continued even longer and to far greater affect. It is like Donner saw that, said wow… that’s great, but then didn’t have the courage or faith that the audience could stick with the scene as long as it could be.

Ok, so part of my problem with this super-edition is that it isn’t quite super-enough. And I am coming from a point of view that the vast majority of the audience doesn’t have and that is that I know what all the missing pieces are… I’ve seen those scenes play all the way out within the context of the film. But imagine if Cameron were to do a new edit of THE ABYSS, where he kept say the wave at the end, but decided to cut the aliens communicating with Ed Harris scene. All of a sudden you would be, well… upset. The other way you saw it was the superior version. In a way that’s how I feel right now with this new edit of SUPERMAN. Donner added scenes where they don’t feel right, didn’t add enough to scenes where they would feel right… BUT THEN never had the courage to re-edit or re-score certain scenes that could have perhaps played better shorter. When you look at the special edition of BLOOD SIMPLE that the Coen Brothers shot… they actually made their film shorter… switched some key scenes around, and at the end… the film now plays much better.

This ‘SuperEdition’ is almost there… It doesn’t completely suck… and to many people I know, they absolutely love it. Now at the end of the day… do I recommend buying this disc even though I don’t care for the new edit?


Why? The extras. The extras are fantastic. The screentests alone are worth the price of the disc. Watching what an Anne Archer – Lois Lane or a Stockard Channing – Lois Lane or a Leslie Anne Downs – Lois Lane would’ve been like… Watching the first time Chris Reeve ever put on the costume and acted in a screen test as Superman… hands on his hips… Cocky and self-assured… that amazing smile of his… Even in a terrible costume… HE IS SUPERMAN!!! Watching the Superman & Lois scene from SUPERMAN 2, but where Lois shoots Clark to trick him into revealing his secret identity… MARVELOUS!!!

Then there is the documentary. For anyone that loves SUPERMAN, this documentary shows you how close SUPERMAN came to being THE WORST MOVIE EVER in the unobstructed hands of the Salkinds… How the original tone was more akin to IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD… How Telly Savalas as Kojak was going to have a cameo… How the plan was for a 5 hour Camp Spectacular with someone like Paul Newman or Robert Redford as Superman… Dear God… Thank heaven for Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz… because while I still feel all the Luthor/Otis/Tessmacher scenes have the complete wrong tone… at least the first hour and a half is perfect… at least the Clark/Superman character is perfect… At least Lois is as wonderful as she is… or Jackie Cooper for Perry White!

And the most amazing thing happens in the documentary… you get excited thinking about what it must’ve been like to spend two years of your life bringing SUPERMAN to the screen… all the pitfalls and dangers… all of the problems and budget hells… The joy of seeing Christopher Reeve pull off his first flight in the Superman costume from the Fortress of Solitude… Or how Cinematographer of the Gods, Geoffrey Unsworth made Margot Kidder feel more beautiful than she has ever felt before… How they tried shooting a man-doll out of a cannon, a remote control flying Superman model… all to try to get Supes to fly… Oh this is wonderful!

I wholeheartedly recommend buying this DVD and hope that with the success of the DVD, that Warners Home Video seriously contemplate doing an even more SUPER-EDITION set where we get a pristine print of Donner’s Original Print, the ABC Print and This Print. Where we get all the extras for SUPERMAN 2 as well as 3!!! Where we get a look at the abandoned concepts for the Tim Burton SUPERMAN that will never be! Where you have a commentary track by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini talking about what they would’ve done with the film or how perfect it was… or whatever they would say! There’s still so much more that could be done for a supreme SUPERMAN edition, but this 2-sided disc is gold for me, and I haven’t even done the Commentary track… BTW, you can watch the ‘CAN YOU READ MY MIND’ scene with only John Williams’ score (which has it’s own isolated track throughout)… you’ll see what I mean when I say… THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE!!!

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the SUPERMAN DVD… personally I can’t wait to get SUPERMAN 2 on DVD!!! I love that movie too!


SuperTim below defends the inclusion of the second Jor-El/Supes scene in the Fortress of Solitude as being necessary as explaining why he needs to keep his secret identity.

First off, Clark Kent is not Superman's secret identity... Superman is Clark Kent's secret identity. As the film is told, Kal-El is raised on Earth since a small child as Clark Kent. His basic goodness and up-bringing all comes from the Kents. He isn't Kal-El anymore... he isn't Superman. Clark Kent for the first 20 some-odd years of his life IS CLARK KENT! It is Superman that doesn't fit into him. The reason he wants Lois to love him as Clark is because Clark is who he is. The entire concept that he would ever want to abandon his 'identity' as Clark Kent is completely and totally ludicrous... CLARK KENT IS WHO HE IS! It isn't an act or a put on... This is always the problem with 'SUPERHERO' movies. The persona that Spider-Man takes on in the costume... that isn't who he is... Who Spider-Man is is Peter Parker... the boy that allowed his uncle to die by not stopping a criminal that happened by him... who watches his Aunt grieve and be alone through her final years because he didn't do the simplest of tasks. The best rendition of Clark Kent ever on screen for me has always been the Fleischer Clark Kent... smart, brave (to a point) and interested in getting his story. One of the little problems I have with the Donner SUPERMAN is the idea of making Clark a bumbler... In the first half of the film, Donner went out of his way to convince us that Clark was a real human being... a kid with doubts and anxieties... That 'with all those powers' he still couldn't save his father... Now sure, he went off with the Ghostly visage of his father for more than a decade to LEARN THE CUMULATIVE KNOWLEDGE OF MULTIPLE GALAXIES... and he comes back with a stutter and a nasal New York High Society accent? If anything, he would sound Mid-Western in his normal voice... and Superman would be the act. It is one of the fundemental problems with the second half of the movie.

As for the scene in question... rarely have I seen a more embarrisingly self-aware moment that when Superman reaches out his arms to... HUG A HOLOGRAM... Dear God! Oh... and never mind having any transitional moments to get us to the Fortress of Solitude... he's just... POOF and there. And then him having doubts about being Clark? BLOODY TERRIBLE! Superman 2 had it right... he would give up being Superman to be Clark... not the other way around!

SuperTim... I'm glad you love this edit, I really am. I'm glad you got the chance to see it on the big screen. I really really am. But the thing is both the original film and the ABC cut FLOW better than this one. In the documentary on the disc you hear Tom Mankiewicz lament that they never had a chance to TEST or SCREEN the original film... Well on the cut we saw of this print... it certainly feels untested... and it was at San Antonio... and it didn't succeed.

As a fan we often times become blind with love for material. I'm often accused of it... and sometimes the criticism is very valid. I love the Donner SUPERMAN like very few things in this world. I love SUPERMAN the character like you wouldn't believe... It's the reason why I have nearly every incarnation of him ever in 16mm film.

For me, the character of SUPERMAN embodies the ideal of what we dream to be. The ideal to be without flaws and to be a superman... If Clark never had powers, he'd be a great man. Someone that embodied all the best traits that we as people have. As Superman he becomes a role-model and a spokesperson for truth and justice and... the idealized American way. If the American Way was indeed the Superman way, we very well would not of just started to allow Arsenic to be pumped into the country's drinking water... or repealing aspects of the Environmental Protection Act...

In 1978, months before the movie came out I had the mylar SUPERMAN 1-sheet hanging on my wall as a boy. I was 6 years old. I remember when it was supposed to come out that summer... On 16mm I had the original Teaser Trailer (also found on the DVD) and I saw it 50-60 times... When I looked at the poster and saw the words: YOU WILL BELEIVE A MAN CAN FLY.... I believed with every fabric of my being. I turned 7... walked into the AMERICANA theater here in Austin... I sat on the front row of the theater... and I believed.

During the documentary on the making of the film on this DVD, I teared up... quite a bit. There are moments that absolutely got me. Especially when Richard Donner described the first time Christopher Reeve got in that costume and flew and banked... Or that first screen test... Or the tribute to Geoffrey Unsworth. Hell, I cried in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE when Louis de Pointe du Lac was describing seeing the sunrise through cinema and that wonderful montage ended with Supes in space as the sun rises... And the film, even in this subpar version, still gets me when Lois dies and he angry screams and reverses the motion of the Earth itself... But there is a difference between you and me.... I can still love something and be critical about aspects of it. I love the new soundmix.... when it is being done... But this sound remix isn't on par with THE EXORCIST's or THE WILD BUNCH's.

In the documentary, when you hear Gene Hackman saying something along the lines of, "I always looked at this part as being basically a cartoon." Or listening to Tom Mankiewicz describe the chapters of the film, and hearing him describe that when we get to Metropolis... the film becomes "COMIC BOOK"... Well... THOSE ARE THE PROBLEMS WITH THE MOVIE! Right there. Out of their own mouths!

When Sam Raimi said at the Spider-Man press conference that the only Superhero film he watched in preparation to shoot Spider-Man was the first hour and a half of SUPERMAN... There is a REASON! Because after that... tonally the movie gets all screwed up. You have a perfect Superman, in a cartoon world. It's so close... so close you could taste the film being perfect. I love it to death, I love the film as one of my favorite movies... BUT DAMMIT... there in that last hour... there are huge character problems, tone shifts and moments of complete absurdity that just do not match with the first hour and a half. IT JUST ISN'T THERE.

For me, the closest SUPERMAN gets to being perfect is the ABC cut of the movie. And even there... it isn't quite perfect.

Now I know... what movie is perfect? For me? ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, KING KONG, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, JAWS, BEN HUR, BELLE ET LA BETE, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, TOY STORY 1 & 2 and there are several several others... But SUPERMAN, unfortunately has flaws... endearing flaws? Sure... Everytime I hear Otis' theme I wince and smile in tandem... When I hear Margot Kidder say, "Can you read my mind..." I just roll my eyes... But things I've never been ever to get over are things like portraying Lex Luthor as a used car salesman with technical know how... Lex's only perfect moment in the film is when Superman asks if that's how he gets his kicks... planning the deaths of innocents... and Lex saying, "NO, by causing the deaths..." PERFECT! And still the moment that causes my heart to leap is when Luthor takes off his wig to identify himself as Luthor... but it is ruined by Otis playing parrot.

I love SUPERMAN the movie to death... And I love that it is as wonderful as it is, because I know it could've been a disaister. As I said before... I highly recommend buying this dvd... if for no other reason than SIDE TWO and the John Williams isolated Score track...

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