Magazine article American Cinematographer

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Magazine article American Cinematographer

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Article excerpt

Recutting the Man of Steel for Supermen II: The Richard Donner Cut

by Noah Kadner

Few action movie buffs alive during the 1980s can forget the immortal refrain "Kneel before Zod!"-spoken by the eponymous supervillain (played by Terence Stamp) during Superman II. Yet many viewers were unaware that the version of the movie released theatrically in 1981 was a different film than its creators had originally intended. The sequel was filmed simultaneously with Superman by director Richard Donner ( The Omen, Lethal Weapon), and the two movies were initially designed to tightly interconnect, with the first film ending in a cliff hanger to be resolved by the second.

Superman and Superman Il were shot by the late Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC (200/: A Space Odyssey, Murder on the Orient Express) in 1977-78 in anamorphic 35mm using Panavision cameras. Donner shot nearly three-fourths of the script for Superman Il and then decided to focus on Superman in order to make its release date. During the release, producers Alexander Salkind, llya Salkind and Pierre Spengler disagreed with Donner over the scope and tone of Superman Il and replaced him with director Richard Lester, tester's scenes were photographed on a protracted schedule in 1979 by Robert Paynter (An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places).

Donner, commenting to American Cinematographer in 1979 about Superman, summed up the approach that served the original so well but may have led to his producers' concerns: "If there were two ways to film a scene, an easy way that would look easy on the screen and a way we all agreed was impossible, the answer was never in doubt. We'd shoot for the impossible."

Indeed, over the years, many fans have wondered if Donner's version would have better maintained the epic scale and style he'd established in the first film. Now, with this month's release of Warner Bros.' new homevideo version of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, those fans will finally have the opportunity to find out.

Longtime Donner associate Michael Thau was hired to edit the new version, having previously supervised the special edition of Superman and its making-of documentaries for a 2001 DVD release. The project was spurred in part by the recent 2006 production of Superman Returns. "Marion Brando's estate made a deal with Warner Bros, to license some of his footage for Superman Returns," Thau explains. "This later led to the studio going back to his estate for our recut of Superman II. If that footage couldn't be used, it wasn't worth doing this project."

Superman ll's original editors were Stuart Baird and John Victor-Smith (though only Victor-Smith received a credit on the theatrical release). The new version credits Baird and Thau as editors. Thau cut on an Avid Adrenaline Film Composer with Unity for media management running on an Apple Power Mac 2.7GHz Dual-Processor G5 with 4GB of RAM that was provided by Shapeshifter Post in Los Angeles.

Highlights of this new version include a completely redone prologue that provides a bridge to the first film; new scenes in the Fortress of Solitude with Brando; a reconfigured final battle with the supervillains (played by Stamp, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O'Halloran); and all-around restorations, wherever possible, of Donner's footage over Lester's. This became a jigsaw puzzle for Thau, as many scenes were composed of Lester's shots interspersed with Donner's. (The producers had many scenes reshot by Lester in order to satisfy certain contractual issues.) About 35 percent of the original theatrical cut was Donner's content; in the new cut, 80 percent of the content is his.

In all, Thau, working with assistant editor Karen Rasch, identified five key sources of footage: Superman cut negative; Superman //cut negative; new negative from Superman outtakes and unused Superman Il footage; and new visual effects and opticals created on the Avid. "Throughout the process, I was only interested in using original negative and not any dupes or IPs," Thau recalls. …

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