Reviewed May 13th, 2001 by Brian White
It's only fitting that a movie, which should have been better, is on a DVD that should have been better. I'll get into the negative aspects of both the film and the disc in a moment, but it is only fair to begin the discussion with talk of how entertaining I've always found this movie.
When I was eleven, I waited all summer for the renovations on my city's big old theater to be completed so the new twin cinema could open. I was overjoyed to find out that one of the inaugural films would be Superman II (the other was Cannonball Run). I absolutely loved this film. I went to a restaurant called Ponderosa every week to collect the cool Superman II posters they had (I never got, but really wanted, the one with the three supervillians). I bought the magazines about the film that gave it all away before I saw it. I soaked up all the hype in the press. When I finally saw Superman II, the movie met every expectation. Years later, when Dad brought home the betamax (back when we had to pay $80 per year for a membership at a video place), I rented the Superman II video so many times I'm surprised that Video Pros didn't give it to me. Even now, though I can appreciate the superior quality of the first film, I really love Superman II. When you're a kid and you see Superman the Movie, you have to sit through all of the exposition about Superman's origin (“creative consultant” Tom Mankiewicz complains about this on the commentary for the first film). In that movie there are three distinct sections of the film: Krypton's Shakespearean, or Biblical scenes; the Norman Rockwell-esque Smallville stuff; and the comic book land of Metropolis. In Superman II, it's all comic book. That's what the kid in me wanted then, and that's what I still enjoy now.
In Superman II, three villains that Superman's father sentenced to life in the “Phantom Zone” during the first film, escape and put their superpowers up to no good on earth. Unfortunately, Superman has chosen this moment to deprive himself of his superpowers to settle down with Lois (the concept of Kryptonian/Terran copulation is problematic at best). The movie contains a real sense of despair as the villains reek havoc, seemingly unchecked. A bad guy with super powers is really scary, and Superman II capitalizes on that quite well. Three guesses as to what happens in the end.
So why do I say the film could have been more? Well Superman and Superman II were supposed to be filmed together. The schedule and budget went crazy, and the studio demanded that attention be paid to the first film in order to make a release date. With a rumored seventy percent of the sequel filmed, director Richard Donner focused his attention on the first film. Donner's life had been made hell by producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind during the filming of Superman the Movie, and director Richard Lester (Hard Day's Night) was brought in as an intermediary between both parties. After the first film was released, and went onto great success, the Salkinds were in a position to ditch Donner in favor of Lester.
Both Gene Hackman, and composer John Williams refused to contribute to the sequel due to Donner's treatment. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were contractually obligated to return. Other actors had already performed for Donner, and that footage was used.
Donner's, and uncredited screenplay writer Tom Mankiewicz's vision for the films was altered into the campy style of the original treatment on the bits of the sequel that were left to film. It is said that Lester refilmed significant portions of the sequel, but when one considers set availability, there mustn't have been very much redone. Certainly the huge street battle is Lester's. Gene Hackman's footage was all shot in 1977 with Superman the Movie, as he was only available for a fixed time. You can notice stand-ins and voice-overs for Hackman during the climactic battle.
Most disturbing is the fact that Marlon Brando's footage was cut from the sequel. The Salkinds didn't want to pay the actor, so they refilmed the sequence with Superman's mother instead. This is made confusing when Superman later screams “FATHER!” even though his mother had been his only contact in the film. Another departure from Donner's vision is the scene where Lois discovers Superman's real identity. You can see the events as they were supposed to occur in the screen tests on the disc for the first movie. Here there is a bumbling, awkward scene that doesn't do justice to such a significant revelation.
The person who looked after the continuity deserves a handshake.
How does it look? Pretty much as expected from a catalogue title that has received no attention. You get none of the pretty clean up that makes the disc for the first film shine. It is presented in an anamorphic, 2.35:1 transfer. It isn't great, but it doesn't really take away from the enjoyment of the film.
The audio mix is a crime. Where on the first movie they created a beautiful 5.1 mix, here we get boring Dolby Digital 2.0, or Dolby surround.
There's a trailer and not much else.
Despite what could have been, this is a very good sequel. Many fans prefer it to the original. I can understand not wanting to spend the money on III and that piece of crap IV, but Superman II has been done an injustice.
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