WHAT IS IT?
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is the direct-to-DVD release of a re-worked version of Superman II (1980). The film contains material directed by Richard Donner, which was not included in the original theatrical release, and removes material directed by Superman II director Richard Lester.
Confused? Then let me explain.
Prior to filming Superman: The Movie (1978), director Richard Donner was tasked with filming two Superman movies back-to-back (Superman: The Movie and Superman II). The first film was originally designed to end with a cliffhanger that would be resolved in the sequel. However, with production costs escalating, the producers of the Superman movies, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, insisted that Superman: The Movie was to become the focus of Richard Donner’s attention.
Despite already having filmed a large chunk of both movies (which saved shooting time) Donner set to work on completing Superman: The Movie. In order to ensure that Superman: The Movie was a big success, scenes were altered so that the first film had a definitive conclusion and would no longer end on a cliffhanger.
Meanwhile, tensions behind the scenes increased and the relationship between Donner and the Salkinds became increasingly difficult. The situation then worsened when the Salkinds brought in director Richard Lester as a production 'mediator' between themselves and Donner.
Still keen to cut production costs, the Salkinds announced that scenes featuring Marlon Brando - the legendary actor who played Superman's father Jor-El in Superman: The Movie - were to be cut. Removing Brando meant not having to pay him, which saved money!
And then Richard Donner was fired.
With more than half of Superman II in the can Richard Lester stepped in to complete the project, making changes to the beginning and the ending of the film in order to fit in with the events of Superman: The Movie. With Brando's scenes removed from Superman II, Susanna York - Superman's mother - filmed additional scenes to replace the missing actor.
The theatrical release of Superman II was actually a hybrid of two directors' work, however Richard Lester was credited as the sole director.
The 2006 release of Richard Donner's cut made use of omitted scenes as well as test footage in order to present a version of Superman II that was as close as possible to what was originally intended.
WHAT WAS GOOD?
Despite being more of an 'almost could have been' kind of release, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is an interesting curiosity that in many ways is far superior to the theatrical release of Superman II. With Donner back in charge, the tone of the movie shifted ever so slightly, removing the slapstick elements that appeared under Lester's watch, and the Kryptonian criminals became far more menacing.
Whilst scenes such as the Eiffel Tower rescue were removed, new scenes more than made up for it. Material originally omitted, including a scene where Lois tried to prove that Clark was really Superman was a great addition, as was the reinstatement of Marlon Brando's scenes.
Brando's inclusion helped to fill in a few plot holes from the theatrical release and gave the film a greater sense of depth. Clark's (or rather Kal-El's) decision to give up his powers was now shown to have greater consequences as he had to give up his connections to Jor-El for good too (well sort of - see below).
The original conclusion - Superman turning back time - was also present in Donner's cut, removing the need for the rather stupid 'super kiss' which existed in the theatrical version to make Lois forget that Clark was really Superman.
WHAT WAS BAD?
As Donner could only work with the material he had already shot, his director's cut is still not quite the definitive article. A scene included to show how Lois discovers Clark's secret had to make use of some early test footage, which jarred quite considerably with the rest of the film.
Also... if Superman turned back time at the end of the movie he erased everything he'd done throughout the course of the film, including destruction of the Fortress of Solitude. By doing this, he pretty much demonstrated that the consequences of his earlier actions meant very little.