Superman II 2.40: The Reshoots

Perry White and Jimmy Olsen are worried. Standing in Perry’s office at the Daily Planet on this unquiet night, they fret about the fate of the world.

“I can’t understand it,” Perry grouches, pacing across the room. “Where is he? I mean, he shows up every time a cat gets stuck in a tree, and now he’s decided to pull a disappearing act.”

Jimmy starts pacing too. “Yeah, well, maybe we just haven’t figured out his game plan,” he offers.

“Game plan!” Perry huffs. “It’s fourth down, the two-minute warning has sounded, and the ball’s deep in our territory. Just how brilliant do you have to be? I mean, uh —”

And then he stops, realizing that Jimmy is pacing exactly in step with him, and grimaces at the copy boy.

It’s a cute moment, which gives Jimmy and Perry one of their vanishingly few moments of cuteness in the sequel. But was it worth rebuilding the Daily Planet set?

The production of Superman II supports an excessive amount of idle Monday-morning quarterbacking, which I am taking full advantage of. It’s not fair, I know; most of the time, directors get to do their job without being haunted by the footage left over from a previous director. But both Superman and Superman II have been blessed with alternative cuts that expose the directors’ choices — the Extended TV Cut for the first movie, and the Donner Cut for the second — which enables after-the-fact nitpicking that most films don’t have to deal with.

Still, as long as we’re here, we might as well enjoy ourselves. So far, we’ve looked at sequences that Richard Lester directed that replaced the original Dick Donner scenes, like Lois at the Eiffel Tower, and sequences that replaced scenes that Donner was planning to shoot but never got to, like Lois finding out that Clark is Superman.

Now we’ve arrived at a curious moment in the film — a Donner sequence that was already finished and in the can, which Lester reshot but didn’t fully replace.

Donner filmed all of the Daily Planet scenes for both movies early on in the production — it was the second thing they did, right after filming all the Marlon Brando scenes. So this sequence, with the Phantom Zone villains and Lex Luthor invading the Daily Planet, was already wrapped back in May 1977.

Once Lester took over the production in fall ’79, he wanted to do this sequence differently, so they rebuilt the set, and filmed some new footage. But they couldn’t completely replace the whole sequence, because Gene Hackman refused to come back and do the reshoots. So what we see in Superman II is a Frankenstein patchwork of both Donner and Lester’s version of this scene.

The most noticeable difference is Lois’ hair, which if you’re in the hair-noticing demographic is extremely obvious and distracting. In the Lester version, Lois’ hair is more frizzy and full.

And Donner’s version is — I don’t know, less frizzy? Unfortunately, I’m in the demographic that’s hair-noticing but not very good at hair-describing. It looks different, is what I’m saying.

So you can tell that the shots of Lois punching Ursa and cradling the fallen Perry were from the original shoot…

while this insert of Lois gasping, “Superman!” is from the Lester reshoot.

The funny thing is that the Lester reshoots don’t make that much of a difference. I’m sure if they could have got Hackman to come back, Lester would have reshot the whole thing, as he did with the other sequences. But including the Hackman footage means that they’re really just making changes around the edges, and creating visual continuity errors.

Some of the difference between the theatrical cut and the Donner Cut are bits that Lester cut out. The Donner Cut has a cute little moment where Jimmy’s taking flash pictures of Non, who gets annoyed and crushes Jimmy’s camera with one hand.

Also, when Luthor enters, Jimmy says, “Wouldn’t ya know it!” and then Non picks him up by the scruff of the neck. Zod asks Luthor, “This is the son of Jor-El?” and Jimmy squirms, “No, but I’ll bet you’re a son of a —” and then Lois cuts him off with a shocked “Jimmy!” It’s cute, not a huge loss.

Another weird little difference is that the theatrical cut uses a Luthor line that I guess Hackman never recorded the ADR for, so Lester has the Hackman stunt-voice do it: “Even with all this accumulated knowledge, when will these dummies learn to use a doorknob?”

Here’s another reshot moment — in the original shoot, Superman lands on the flagpole outside Perry’s window and says, “General — haven’t you ever heard of freedom of the press?”

And then there’s a reaction shot with Jimmy, inside the office.

In the Lester reshoot, Superman says, “General — would you care to step outside?” which is a nice echo of his “step outside” moment in the diner.

He’s switched position for the reshoot, favoring his right side rather than his left.

When the villains exit through the wall of the office, the theatrical cut uses this shot of Lois, Perry, Lex and Jimmy through what used to be the wall.

But the Donner Cut has a couple more shots throughout the scene with Perry and non-frizzy Lois…

… which the theatrical cut swaps for a bit from the Lester reshoot, with a woman gushing over Non: “The big one’s just as strong as Superman!

After the fight, when Superman’s run off, the villains return to the Daily Planet office for one more little scene. As with the earlier scenes, most of this is from the original Donner shoot, except for the last couple of shots, where Ursa says, “Why not increase his handicap? Since he cares so much for these Earth creatures, let us take his favorite!”

So it feels to me like the changes aren’t that consequential, and I’m not sure it was worthwhile to go to all the trouble of doing the reshoots. On the other hand, doing a Superman movie at all is a bit of a luxury item, so if it made them happy, I suppose there’s no reason to stop them. It’s probably too late, anyway.

Monday:
The big dumb fistfight in the sky
2.41: The Big Dance


Footnotes:

Okay, one more nitpick and then I’m done for the day: in the shot of Non smacking Perry into the ceiling, you can see another person’s arm, holding Jackie Cooper’s hand.

Monday:
The big dumb fistfight in the sky
2.41: The Big Dance

Chapters

— Danny Horn

12 thoughts on “Superman II 2.40: The Reshoots

  1. when your reshoots are this obvious, maybe sticking with the original footage is a better plan. the choices about what needed to be reshot are bizarre (and probably ego-driven) and it all looks poorly stitched together. i feel for the editors who tried to match this crap into something remotely resembling uniform.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have to confess I’m probably the sort of viewer they want. I generally don’t notice the little discontinuities like Lois’s hair not being the same from shot to shot. Likewise in Dark Shadows I usually don’t notice the boom mike or the edge of the set appearing in frame. It’s obvious in retrospect, but in the moment I’m caught up in the drama and don’t see such things.

      Not to say Lester made the right choices in the reshoot. Without knowing that there were reshoots for this scene, I never would have noticed most of it.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. nothing wrong with that! most of the time i wouldn’t notice things like this—in this case it’s more that donner used the guy who shot 2001 and lester used a guy who didn’t. i’m a real dork when it comes to movies.

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  2. “Still, as long as we’re here, we might as well enjoy ourselves.”
    That’s why I’m here!

    “I’m not sure it was worthwhile to go to all the trouble of doing the reshoots”

    Looks his Lester’s idea was to have this part be whimsical. And unlike evil Kryptonians, not at all bored now that Superman’s back.

    But these trivial changes sure seem to have “contractual obligation” all over them, don’t they?

    When it doesn’t make sense, time to follow the money.

    Perhaps the set was built, and Lester planned to have a rather different approach to the scene than Donnor, before Hackman quit. Then Lester would have had to shoot for hoped-for continuity with the existing Hackman footage.

    That would have tied Lester’s hands from being as fanciful as he originally wanted. He could only make minor changes in tone, rather than putting his slapstick style all over this scene.

    He knew he was hired to stick to schedule and limit the budget. So to prove the point to the bosses (his only chance at getting paid for previous work plus this film), he quickly captured what he could, and moved along.

    No additional takes because the script supervisor noticed the coffee pot was only half full and held with the left hand last shot, or whatever. No delay for people who know the words for hairstyles getting Lois’s to match better.

    It is still an impressive, believable newsroom & boss’s office set! I’m surprised it hasn’t been used by a lot of other movies to represent Action News. Or, replace the typewriters with computers, put Palo Alto outside, and have it represent Silicon Valley Codetown.

    Carolyn: ” i feel for the editors”
    Isn’t the original editor one of the people who left SII, from loyalty to Donnor?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. no idea about who the editor was. but it looks like lester reshot scenes that actually had coverage; i.e. reversing reeve on the flagpole. there’s no rhyme or reason to it and in terms of matching shots, it’s a nightmare.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. really nitpicking here, but there’s also a very obvious difference in cinematographers—losing geoffrey unsworth and getting robert paynter is a massive, massive downgrade. nice eyelights, good shadows in the unsworth/donner vs. flat television lighting in the paynter/lester. it gives me a headache to watch—it just bounces back and forth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d guess most readers here know that classic cinematic film making, if you can afford it, is that you shoot everything with one camera. Move the camera for each point of view. Reset the lighting and photography to look beautiful for each new angle. This needs attention to detail from actors, crew, props etc. so that the shots will cut together smoothly, without continuity errors.

      I think Danny might have already mentioned that Lester was infamous for shooting with multiple cameras at once. It’s a quick way to get lots of coverage for cheap, but at the cost of any of the angles looking their best. At the time, TV shows were infamous for doing that. It’s the quick and dirty, cheap way to shoot. You need boring flat lighting, since making any one view look great might make weird shadows and uneven lighting for the other angles.

      I can see why the Salkinds would have loved it. Cheap, fast, gets the footage so you can move on. All you give up is some artistry. The SII actors hated it, since they never knew which camera to play to for their close-ups.

      I looked up Paynter. He had a long CV, including The Big Sleep remake a couple of years before SII. Soon after SII, he worked for John Landis on An American Werewolf in London, and then Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My guess is that Paynter could have matched the look of the first film if Lester had wanted that, rather than only to get as many laffs per dollar per week as he could into the can.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. This movie is like Frankenstein’s Monster–patched together from bits that don’t quite fit. Like the Monster, parts look fairly interesting but it can be a bit awkward as it moves along.
    I have watched more versions of this movie than can really be justified for any reason short of obsessive insanity or desperate hope (Extended tv version, Donner Cut and scenes from 3 fan edits.) Believe me, these are not the new scene options it needs. It already suffers from Multiple Director Disorder and there is no cure.
    Has there ever been another movie that has inspired so much mad tinkering after-the-fact by people who are so dissatisfied and yet hopeful that somehow the Monster can become a beautiful, cohesive Masterpiece of Creation?
    I sympathize, honestly. I keep rearranging furniture because I keep trying for that One Perfect Arrangement that will make everything fit perfectly and look amazing. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how much you move things around or introduce or delete elements, if the pieces really don’t work together to begin with, you’re just wasting your time.
    It’s really kind of amazing that this hodgepodge has any life to it at all. If nothing else, it’s a diverting experiment.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “Has there ever been another movie that has inspired so much mad tinkering after-the-fact by people who are so dissatisfied and yet hopeful that somehow the Monster can become a beautiful, cohesive Masterpiece of Creation?”

      Justice League?

      Liked by 3 people

  5. The “General, would you care to step outside” line is arguably the most memorable from the movie aside from “Kneel, before Zod.” It’s a nice call back. The CW’s Supergirl used it during a 2017 storyline.

    Conversely, the original “Haven’t you heard of freedom of the press?” line is just terrible. It feels like something Adam West’s Batman would’ve said. (I am a big fan of West’s Batman, but I don’t think that tone works for this moment.)

    Liked by 3 people

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