I’ll confess that I’ve always liked the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but I’ve never been as huge of a fan of them as others are.
I saw them on TV plenty as a kid, mostly II-IV, and while I admit I was very entertained, I never set out to own them or review them all the time with my friends or anything like that. The effects looked a little hokey, and the humor of the last two really didn’t win a whole lot of points with me (or it could have been because I was scared OUT OF MY MIND BY THE CYBORG LADY AT THE END OF III!!! YEESH!!!).
Then 2000 came along, and when releasing movies on DVD became all the rage, WB released a director’s cut of Superman: The Movie.
… and I was totally blown away.
The Donner cut felt like an epically told, cinematic masterpiece. The cinematography was gorgeous, the direction was great, the actors were well-cast, and the movie took its time beautifully to tell the story of baby Kal-El going from Krypton to Smallville to Metropolis, learning his heritage and becoming Superman along the way. Reeve shined, and Donner and his team did a beautiful job of crafting a great story around him. In the 1950 Oscar winner, “All About Eve,” George Sanders says that the director’s job is to build a tower from which the lead actor can shine on the top. Both were accomplished in this, and then some (this version of the movie is also included in this Blu-Ray release).
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a perfect film, as can be seen in basically every scene with Lex Luthor and his henchmen, regardless of how many Oscars Gene Hackman had won by then. But for 1978, the movie did a phenomenal job of making comic books relevant to broader audiences, as someone for the first time had taken the subject matter seriously. What everyone can agree on is that this film pretty much set the standard for the superhero genre decades before there even was a superhero “genre.” Some say that it’s still the best superhero film ever made, and almost all say Reeve is still the definitive Superman on the big screen.
When I heard that an even longer cut of this movie was being released last November, I really didn’t understand the logic behind it, since a director’s cut had already been made and had done its job. Much to my surprise, however, I found out this was not another director’s cut but a Blu-Ray release of the two-night television airing from 1982, totaling a whopping 188 minutes. Apparently, whenever a blockbuster movie was made in the ’70s or ’80s, movie studios would often save extra footage not included in the theatrical release in order to maximize advertising revenue by airing the movie over two nights instead of one. This cut was not approved by Richard Donner, I believe intentionally, and wasn’t the brain child of any one person’s (the editor?). As such, it’s not meant to be a “definitive vision,” or even a new one of any kind, just a version of the film that we all thought had come and gone, and then was lost to the ages (click here for a full rundown of the different cuts released if you’re interested).
I got this as a gift a few months ago and finally got around to watching it last week, and Oh. My. Goodness.
I adored this film. I absolutely adored this film. I LOVED it. I loved EVERYTHING about this movie! I didn’t think there was anything more to add to Superman: The Movie, but this proved me wrong. It felt bigger, more epic, more well paced, everything than what had come before. The forty-five or so extra minutes weren’t filled with meaningless subplots or characters we hadn’t seen before, but expanded on the same content of the original release.
There is more Krypton, there is more Smallville, there is more Metropolis. There is more Superman, more Lois, more Luthor, more Jimmy, more Perry, and yes, even more Otis. Each major scene is padded with more scenes which expand the narrative. Unlike the so-called “Ultimate Edition” of Batman vs. Superman, which added meaningless scenes that added nothing to the main narrative and just went in a million tangents that weakened the film even more, in my opinion, Superman: The Movie- Extended Cut does the exact opposite. It makes the movie even more grand and adds to the good qualities already brimming to the surface.
A lot of fans, although appreciating the release of this cut, took exception with the fact that so much of the added content is buildup to Superman himself going into action, or unnecessary expanding of things we already know. Clark finally becomes Superman exactly one hour into this movie, and saves Lois exactly halfway through. Luthor, Otis, and Miss Teschmacher rigging the nuclear missiles is also expanded, as is Jimmy’s assignment to snap pictures on the dam at the conclusion of the movie. According to some, scenes like these might not have been needed (watch the excellent Oliver Harper review for more on that line of thinking). Many said that if the Donner cut, or even theatrical cut already told the story perfectly, why add more?
Personally, I can see how this added narrative could bother some, but it didn’t bother me at all. While not for all, I took some film classes in college and love a lot of different kinds of movies, and this reminded me of the formula that many Hollywood epics used to take during much of the industry’s golden age. Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, and many others followed a similar formula of buildup and exposition. Hitchcock did it with his, as did DeMille, Kubrick, Ford, Capra, and all the greats. I’m totally okay with this approach, even from a movie in which we expect great amounts of action and spectacle. That said, this might be an acquired taste, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.
If I have any hangups with the Extended Cut, it’s that some extra scenes do hurt the story just a tad. For example, at the end of the movie, after one of Luthor’s missiles hits California, a LOT of footage is added showing Superman mending faults in the earth’s crust, saving buildings and school buses, repairing the dam and so forth. After doing so, he saves Jimmy Olsen and even flies him to a nicer angle so he can take a picture of the disaster. All of this would be fine if it wasn’t taking place BEFORE HE HAS SAVED LOIS!! After seemingly rescuing everybody but Supes’ main squeeze, the Man of Steel suddenly has an “a-ha” moment and realizes he hasn’t rescued Lois yet, which I just don’t believe. Lois is more often than not the first person Superman saves, in any interpretation of the character, and I HIGHLY doubt he would fly Jimmy closer to take a picture, or rejoice with villagers after he saves them before he saves her. Even so, seeing him work on more natural disasters striking does add something to the epic-ness of the movie.
As for the other weak points, well, Otis and Luthor will always be annoying no matter how anyone arranges or cuts scenes from now until the end of time, but even knowing more about their motivations makes them a little more tolerable. It was the Bronze Age, anyway, so I’ll just go with it.
All in all, I think this cut of the film adds a great deal to the already wonderful stuff the original release did, and actually softens the blow of some of the bad stuff. For a long time I had thought that the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the ’40s and Superman: The Movie were neck and neck for the best interpretations of the character outside of the comics, but I think this cut of the movie might just give it the nod.
Can I recommend this film? Yes I can, but do be warned you’re not watching standard superhero fare, but the cream of the crop in its most epic form. Hardcore fans only, I’d say.
Capage Meter: 9.5 out of 10