Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
What's interesting about this home video re-edit of Superman II is that it's a purely speculative recalibration, designed as the concluding chapter to a version of Superman: The Movie that doesn't even exist. Originally Superman was to end with the Man of Steel averting nuclear disaster by punting one of Luthor's ICBMs into space, thus freeing the Phantom Zone Kryptonians. The time rewind finale that played at the end of the released Superman was to be saved for the sequel, with Clark playing God to undo the ruin Zod has made of Earth.
Assembled from as much Donner footage as possible, and hung on a bare frame of Richard Lester's work, this approximate cut does much to undo the eccentricities of Lester's sequel. Zod's presence is clipped and fleeting, ditching much of the culture clash hysteria. Greater emphasis is placed on Zod's hatred for Jor-El, recontextualising Zod's aimless bullying of Earth as a necessary dithering before Superman appears. Likewise Superman's dabble with humanhood is bracketed with Godhead projections of Marlon Brando's Jor-El pleading with his lovesick son to keep a cool head. The scenes between Reeve and Brando vibrate as the full messianic subtext of Superman is explored.
Dressed as a human, Superman outlines his desire to live with Lois as a human. Jor-El calls him selfish, saying that making one person his focus contravenes the mission. He cannot commit to both. Superman rages, knowing his father is right. He is thinking only of himself, but doesn't he deserve to? Hasn't he earned the right to explore his own desires? What's interesting is how centred and calm Jor-El is. The phantom projections of the Fortress of Solitude blur the line between simulation personality, recording, and actual soul fragment. Here Brando delicately and patiently outlines the folly, while providing the means with which to perform it. Richard Donner's Superman II presents a messianic predicament but firmly contextualises it in emotionally human terms. The father is willing to do what he sees as an ethical wrong in order to provide a happiness for his child. Likewise, when it all does go wrong, the same father is equally prepared to extinguish the half life that remains to him in order to restore the super-man. Christian doctrine is inverted as the father lays down his life for the son.
In Lester's film Superman's power shrink was an artificial obstacle to allow Zod a speedy dominion. It also presented Kal-El as a dimwit, blind to his other half's desires. In Lester's II it often appears that the clumsy Clark identity is the root personality, that the poised Superman is the elaborate act. In Richard Donner's II Superman is the clearly the true state of this man.