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.
The big dumb fistfight in the sky
2.41: The Big Dance
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.
The big dumb fistfight in the sky
2.41: The Big Dance
— Danny Horn