Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (Blu-ray) (rerelease) (1980)

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Released 24-Aug-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Featurette-Introduction by Richard Donner
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Superman II: Restoring The Vision
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Famous Studios Superman Cartoons
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 115:52
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Donner
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Terence Stamp
Sarah Douglas
Jack O'Halloran
Gene Hackman
Case Gatefold
RPI $79.95 Music John Williams
Ken Thorne


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Chinese
Korean
Spanish
Portuguese
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Slovenian
Swedish
Thai
Turkish
Chinese Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, extremely at times
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     As mentioned previously, there was a lot of bitterness all around about Richard Donner being replaced as director on Superman II. In the mid 2000s calls for Donner to go back and put together an approximation of how he was going to assemble Superman II reached a fever pitch. Finally, in 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on home video, finally answering the question of what Donner was aiming for. He is not entirely successful, however. As the production was ceased prematurely, a complete version is sadly never going to happen. But once again we are reminded that the more seriously a storyteller takes his subject, irrespective of how fantastic that subject might be, the better the end result.

     Right off the bat we sense how much more methodical and serious Donner was in his approach to Superman II. Beginning with a slightly cut-down reprise of the trial sequence from Superman, Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran) are packed off into the Album Cover Of Doom™ again. But this time, as Superman accidentally frees them (this time as a result of his handling of the nuclear missiles at the end of the first film), the villains do not simply fly off to the moon. Celebrating the fact that he has been freed in a manner that only an actor of Stamp's calibre can credibly deliver, Zod leads his peers to the moon.

     To say that the shots of Zod and company inside the Phantom Zone establish this cut as a far superior effort is like saying that traditional Queenslander houses are poorly designed from every conceivable modern point of view. It is an understatement of a magnitude comparable to the distance between where you, the reader, sits and Proxima Centaurii (for those who do not know, Proxima is the nearest star with planets that might be able to sustain our kind of life… assuming you could consistently travel at the speed of light, you could reach it in 4.6 years.)

     Another big difference lies in the arc of Superman desiring to spend his life with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and the price he must pay to do so. In the original film, Lara urges him to reconsider for about two minutes before simply letting him do it. And the original scene in which this arc is resolved is cheap beyond words on multiple levels. In this version, Jor-El (Marlon Brando, who was cut out of the original release due to wanting more money on top of his admittedly already stupid salary for the first film) begs, pleads, and whines with his son to reconsider. Clark, after realising the consequences of his choice, comes back and delivers the performance of Christopher Reeve's life. I am not going to mince words here. The fact that Christopher Reeve's moment where he proves he was an actor of similar calibre to the like of Stamp or Brando sat on a cutting room floor for a quarter of a century makes me so disgusted with the Salkinds that I simply do not have words for it.

     Granted, this is still no X2, despite Donner's best efforts. But it does prove that if Donner had been allowed to complete the film as he had intended, there is a very good chance that it would have been.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was previously released on Blu-ray by Warner Brothers on a disc that, whilst an improvement upon the DVD, was definitely not all that this format is capable of. This new release is a great improvement, although it is still not perfect.

     The transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or thereabouts. It appears to be slightly narrower than other films in the series, but this might merely be a misperception caused by the different framings of this version compared to what I will call Superman II: The S***ty Attempted Comedy Cut going forward. It is presented within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.

     Compared to the previous Blu-ray, there is a perceptible but not dramatic increase in sharpness. Said previous disc was already quite sharp, so this is a high point. Details such as beard hairs or subtle edges in Sarah Douglas' makeup, as my favourite examples, leap out of the screen. Scenes common to both versions of this film are also dramatically sharper in this version. The moon sequence and the Niagara Falls sequences are so much sharper it begs the question of what happened on that other disc. Shadow detail is good, but not that great by current standards. There is no low-level noise.

     The balance of colours in this version of Superman II is very slightly different. At first, I thought that the colours looked fresher, as if the film had actually been shot, say, ten years before this cut was compiled as opposed to twenty-five. But that is partly because the colour balance has been deliberately altered for this version of the film. It is not quite at the teal-and-orange level that so many recent films seem to insist upon, but there certainly is a sense of contrasts or balances being squished here and there. On the plus side, blooming from overexposure is very much reduced compared to the previous three discs, and no misregistration is present.

     Like the other previously-released films in the canon, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut has been compressed in the VC-1 codec. No film to video artefacts were noted. Film artefacts were present, but these were small and infrequent.

     Subtitles are offered in English for the Hearing Impaired. These truncate the dialogue a little at times, but are more accurate than is the case for other entries in the series.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     My biggest complaint with the original Blu-ray release of this film was the absence of any lossless or uncompressed soundtrack option. The first, and default, soundtrack on this disc is the original English dialogue, rendered in 5.1 channel DTS HD Master Audio. Interestingly, the only other soundtracks are a Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 dub and an English audio commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 which is well worth listening to. This begs questions about why the cavalcade of soundtracks on the other discs, and why the marketing department at Warners, decided Thai was the one additional audio language the disc needed. I listened to the dialogue and commentary from start to finish.

     Compared to the previous Blu-ray, which admittedly was a pretty good rendition of the soundtrack, the separation between dialogue, music, and sound effect is dramatically improved. Consequently, the dialogue is now much easier to hear and understand. No problems were noted with audio sync.

     The music in this version of Superman II has been reassembled out of the music created by John Williams for the previous film and pieces of what Ken Thorne made for Richard Lester's cut. Although there are moments when the reassembled music adds something to the proceedings (Jor-El's explanation of who Zod, Ursa, and Non are being the best example), it does not work quite so well as would have been the case had Williams scored the entire film.

     The surround channels are aggressively utilised in order to wrap environmental and directional cues around the listener. At the end of the introductory sequence, when Terence Stamp roars "free!" like a man consumed by rage, the surround channels echo the word in a manner that had me rise up in my seat. Quieter parts of the film, such as the scene in which Lois tricks Clark into revealing that he really is Superman, collapse into stereo. The subwoofer is aggressively utilised to support music or such moments as when Zod fires the shotgun at himself, and other scenes of violence. Although it stands a little out due to the more sporadic nature of its use, it is integrated very well into the scenes where it is used.

     As a final comment, the quality of the mix on The Richard Donner Cut is a bit of a step above that on The S***ty Attempted Comedy Cut. It is still a film that was mostly made with 1980 technology in mind, but it appears more was done to disguise the fact on this occasion.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette - Introduction By Richard Donner

     This is a brief video introduction by the director, explaining both why this edit has put together and how it was largely people power that made it happen. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with film excerpts in 2.35:1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Audio Commentary - Richard Donner (Director) and Tom Mankiewicz (Writer)

     Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, I have to say right off the bat that these men are far more entertaining than the producers who commentate on The S***ty Attempted Comedy Cut. The entertainment factor largely derives from the fact that, until someone actually comes and reins him in a bit (unrecorded of course, but apparent), Donner is very forthright in saying exactly what he thinks of everything from the producers to future sequels.

Featurette - Superman II: Restoring The Vision

     Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with film footage in 2.35:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, this thirteen and a half minute featurette explains all the work, decisions, and politics involved in assembling this cut. I will tell you this much from the perspective of a storyteller: fascinating does not begin to describe it.

Deleted Scenes

     Eight and three-quarter minutes of scenes that were excised from the film and did not really warrant putting back in. These are all presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Some of them make Lex out to be an even bigger idiot than was the case previously. Others simply slow the film down without adding anything. The quality of performances in them is very good, but the written material does not quite jibe with the rest of the film in a lot of cases either.

Featurette - Famous Studios Superman Cartoons

     The Play All option takes one to sixty-seven minutes and fifty seconds of Superman cartoons presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Like the cartoons presented with The S***ty Attempted Comedy Cut, they are closer in tone to this version than that one. Also noteworthy is how they reflect American prejudices and American culture as they were at the time of making (judging from the Japanese man shown early in the first toon, this would be the early 1940s).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Much like the other discs in the set, the only differences between the two discs appear to be language options.

Summary

     Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is not an X2, but what they were able to do with it demonstrates that it had a serious potential to be one. It is more on the level of Darkman, a classic example of a superhero done in a wink-wink-chuckle fashion, but correctly. It also serves as a sad example of how Christopher Reeve did, in fact, have the potential to be a great actor but the wrong doors ended up being closed at the wrong times. Even if you are not as oriented towards the mechanics of telling a story as I have become over time, you have to admit that this serious approach to the material tends to work far better.

     Actually, I will go you one better. As I have referenced elsewhere when talking about this series, the nearest star to ours that might have planets capable of sustaining our kind of life is so far away that it will take 4.6 years to get there if we can sustainably travel at the speed of light. And that star is within our galaxy. Now, when you consider that Superman is said to come from at least six galaxies away in this series, you can understand what I mean when I say that the height from which The Richard Donner Cut s***s on The S***ty Attempted Comedy Cut compares favourably to the distance Superman travels in order to make his home on Earth.

     The video transfer is very good, but seems to have been messed with a little too much in the reediting process. The audio transfer is more reflective of the film's age, but still excellent by that standard.

     The extras are small in number, but are of great quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Friday, November 18, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD45, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic TH-P50U20A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR606
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer

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