Superman II 2.50: Ice Cops

One of these days, I’m going to write about a movie that isn’t actually two different movies. Specifically, that’ll be a little over a week from now, when I wrap up Superman II at post 2.55, and move on to a simple little boy-meets-girl thriller called Swamp Thing.

But in order to land this movie, I need to talk about two endings — Richard Lester’s theatrical cut, and the Donner Cut — which take different routes to get to the same frankly unsatisfying story point. And today, as we bid farewell to the giant Arendelle ice castle, I’ve actually got three different versions to discuss. I guess some people have a problem with letting things go.

Now, the one thing that everybody agrees is that Superman knew that Luthor would double-cross him, because a lying weasel like him couldn’t resist the chance.

Once the tyrants from planet K have plummeted to their uncertain fate, it’s time to deal with this wascally wabbit, who’s going to try and talk his way out of a one-way trip to Nuremberg. As a mythopoetic trickster figure, Lex Luthor knows that he doesn’t have any bargaining power right now, but he’s going to keep talking and see what happens.

“I was with you all the time!” he exclaims. “That was beautiful! Did you see the way they fell into our trap?” It doesn’t work.

“Look, Superman!” He’s still trying. “I got a proposition for you! Now, don’t stop me until you’ve heard this! Because — well, I know I owe you one, but… we’re in the North Pole, right?”

And that’s where the story branches — three roads diverging, with three different takes on what happens to Mr. Luthor from here.

Option 1: Theatrical cut

In Lester’s theatrical cut, Luthor keeps on talking, as we see Superman and Lois leaving him behind: “Let’s wipe the slate clean! If you give me a ride back, I promise I’ll turn over a whole new leaf. A whole forest!…”

And his voice dies away, as we follow the hero winging his way back to Metropolis. So in this version, Superman leaves Luthor to die, cold and alone, in a big empty haunted house with dead aliens in the basement, and nobody to talk to but a shattered Kryptonian memory bank that probably doesn’t even remember how to recite Trees anymore.

There might be some leftovers from the couple’s romantic dinner in the icebox, which in this place could be almost anywhere, but there are no other local food sources that we know of. Lois had to keep prompting Superman through the whole movie before he finally sprang for a hot dog, so it doesn’t seem like he’d keep a well-stocked larder. It’s likely that Luthor either starved to death, or fell down one of the enormous and deadly crevasses in the Fortress floor.

Now, some apologists will attempt to retcon this brutal scene, saying that obviously Superman is planning to come back to the Fortress at some point before Lex expires, and take him to prison and dinner, not necessarily in that order, but I’d like to point out that there is no canonical evidence to support that theory, and besides, the Donner Cut is even worse.

Option 2: Donner Cut

In the Donner Cut, Luthor’s dialogue ends with his desperate appeal: “Well, I know I owe you one, but… we’re in the North Pole, right?” That’s the end of Lex as a material presence in the movie, because the extra dialogue from the theatrical cut was performed by Lester’s Hackman-alike sound substitute. He just says “we’re in the North Pole,” and then Superman and Lois fly away; the rest is silence.

Superman lands some distance away, has a touching little moment with Lois, and then he burns the Fortress to the ground, destroying it with his heat vision, and vaporizing Lex and the three Kryptonians.

And that’s what happens, in this version of the movie. There is no way around it.

We see the villains fall down the holes in the floor. We see Lex talking. We see Superman and Lois leave the Fortress, without him. We see Superman destroy the Fortress.

By all of the commonly understood rules of cinematic grammar, Superman left Luthor and the Zoners in the Fortress, and then destroyed it, with all four villains inside. There are zero other possible interpretations for this scene.

That is Dick Donner’s version of the end of this movie. Superman murders Lex Luthor and General Zod, and leaves them in the ruins for future ice archeologists to unearth. They should have shot this sequence in black and white, for the full film noir atmosphere.

Option 3: Extended TV Cut

And then there’s the Extended Cut, with the correct answer. As they did with the first movie, the Salkinds sold an extra-long version of the film to television, so that networks could run it in two parts as a two-night special feature. The first movie’s Extended Cut was released on Blu-ray in 2017, but the Superman II Extended Cut mostly exists on fifth-generation VHS tapes that were traded at comic book conventions.

That cut of the movie presents a different explanation for what happened to Lex, and the three Kryptonian villains: they were arrested by ice cops.

The version that’s posted on YouTube is a bit blurry, but that little group of people moving around in the rear of the shot are the three Phantom Zoners, being led into a US Arctic Patrol vehicle by a squad of polar police officers.

We hear John Williams’ jaunty March of the Villains one more time, as Lex continues pitching career opportunities to Superman: “Who’d be the wiser? We’d say that you were killed in the battle. You’ll lie low for a few months, and hang out at my joint. Then I’ll bring you along as a boxer! The Metropolis Masher, right? Don’t you love that?”

Then Superman says, “He’s all yours, boys,” and the gun-toting ice cop says, “Right, Superman,” because that’s how polar justice works.

Lex continues pitching, as the cops lead him away and bustle him into the snowmobile, and at this point, the routine gets wearing. Generally, I have a healthy appetite for Hackman’s Luthor shtick, but this scene exceeds even my generous patience.

“We could be partners!” he says. “Sixty-forty! …  All I’d ask is ten percent! … Eight percent! … Let’s negotiate. Five percent! … Three! … Two! … One!” And then they close the door and the vehicle takes off, to bring Luthor to the cooler.

That scene was shot by Donner, as all of the Hackman material was, but they didn’t include it in the Donner Cut. Donner and editor Michael Thau might have felt that this Arctic Patrol scene slowed down the end of the film, when the thing that we really care about is what happens between Superman and Lois.

Plus, the extended Luthor shtick really is too much; the not-very-funny countdown from ten percent to one takes 18 seconds, and ends exactly the way you’d expect. Also, there’s no such thing as the US Arctic Patrol, and it’s not clear how Superman would have contacted them, and asked them to come to the secret ice-palace headquarters that nobody’s supposed to know about.

Still, at least this would have clarified that Superman didn’t leave the four villains to starve or flash-fry — which, according to the two existing sources, is exactly what he did.

Monday:
The reviewers chime in…
2.51: Hated the First, Loved the Second

Chapters

— Danny Horn

23 thoughts on “Superman II 2.50: Ice Cops

  1. Wow. I didn’t know about these alternate versions. I’m not sure which ending I dislike more.

    I would, however, kind of like to see an Ice Cops tv series. Lex could be a recurring villain, a la Snidely Whiplash. Or the three PZ Villains could be continually plotting how to escape and regain their powers, and the Ice Cops would have to foil their humorous hijinx.

    Meanwhile, I have to confess, I’ve been dreading this moment. Now that Danny is moving on to Swamp Thing soon, I feel like I have to rewatch it for the first time in some 40 years. He keeps mentioning the rough patch coming, so I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of deep hurting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > Swamp Thing soon, I feel like I have to rewatch it for the first time in some 40 years

      I watched it for the first time last night and it seems like more of a riff on rubber-suit-monster/mad-scientist movies from the 50s/60s (which I’ve seen a plethora of) than anything that we think of in relation to a “comic book movie” today (other than, maybe, the sea monsters scene in Aquaman). Should be interesting to read what Danny finds.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Love the Ice Cops idea. Or, reworded – Superman on Ice – how does Lex Luthor skate away from being held responsible for his next scheme?
      Like the Super Friends, we could also have Lois Lane, Badass in this show. Lois, Ice Cops, Supes, and the week’s guest villians each get a turn in the episode.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So the tv version is the only one where Superman isn’t a murderer. Cool.
    Luther’s fate didn’t really register for me in the Theatrical version, maybe because I saw the tv version first. I was already introduced to the idea that he was arrested and that was in my head. It really puts the lie to the idea that Lester’s version is a light romp.
    Donner ends up undoing everything so who even know what Lex does after his escape? I wonder which version of events Donner would have used if he had completed the film with a different ending than the time reversal?
    I really hope Marvel knows what it’s doing introducing a Multiverse because I’ve dealt with multiple realities with this movie and it’s head-spinning. If I live long enough to get to Danny’s discussion of “Justice League”, I’m ignoring the Snyder Cut.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. In Israel, the last version is the one we saw as the “official” version and only one that i’ve ever seen. For me it was weird getting the DVD versions and finding that i’m lacking something in the movie, that something is “missing” or maybe my memory played tricks on me. That’s till I saw the YouTube showing those exact scenes that I remembered and for some reason were no where to be seen…

    Everyone defends Snyder’s Genocideman and saying oh the extended cut is the official real version and Donner’s Superman is a cold blooded murderer. Those people need a brain check and urgently… as Donner clearly shot the scenes that prove Superman just imprisoned and didn’t kill anyone, not to mention the whole world reversing thing again…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Option 3 is also known as the Monty Python Cut. When they were stuck for a proper ending, they’d have some police show up and arrest everyone.

    Don’t worry about the villains. People pretend to die all the time in the comics. Later someone will retcon the whole thing (“Of course Luthor had a portable teleporter for just such an emergency and escaped a split second before the explosion”).

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I certainly didn’t worry about the villains when I saw the movie in the theater in 1980. The villains don’t interact with any potential future movies, such that we might care about their continued existence or lack thereof.

      Instead, they relate directly to us in our capacity as an audience. The Kryptonians were threatening to make us watch a movie about them moping around being bored; Luthor was threatening to show us what Batman 66 would have been like if none of its writers had been funny. Once the house lights come on, we will be rid of them in any case.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention at this point. I don’t recall anything happening after Superman defeated the Phantom Zone Criminals, just them cutting to the scene leading up to Superman heepnotizing Lois and beating up that guy in the diner.

    BTW, they’re lucky they called the ice cops and not the phone police!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I think Donner’s cut with him wiping out the Ice Palace was supposed to be all symbolic of him shedding his need for parents and isolation and blah blah blah, and you’re supposed to forget he just murdered at least Lex Luthor (if you go with the notion that the depowered Kryptonians most certainly would be gobbets of splattered meat at the bottom of an abyss at that point.)

    The problem is, of course, is we just saw Lex doing his Lex Thing, very much alive, and the entire point of Superman is he’s the Friend of Mankind. ALL of mankind, even rapscallions and ne’er do wells, and he’s not supposed to just drop ten tons of glacier on a guy’s head.*

    Both Lester and Donner’s cuts could have worked if they’d shown Lex staggering away from the wreckage, alone, filthy, and muttering “I’m okay, I’m okay. This situation is NOT the worst I’ve ever been in…well, okay, it is, but that’s okay! I’m Lex Luthor! I can handle this!”

    And we know he can, and he’ll make it to a hut or a dog sled or something, and now he has a new project of vengeance for being left as polar bear chow. Win-win!

    *If I recall correctly, there actually was a comic book that dealt with this, when Superman’s confronting Lex for the zillionth time and Lex flat out asks why he doesn’t just kill him–he’s not going to change, he’ll keep hurting people, and Superman is actually endangering everybody by letting him live.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. If Hot Clark can navigate the Arctic without aid, I’m sure Lex can manage too, if just left in the Fortress without it being exploderated. And now we know why Superman has a Clark Kent room along with ones for Lois, Jimmy, et al. if he has the habit of leaving villains alone in the Fortress.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Goddess and Jio – Oh yeah! Just a few seconds of Lex, Just Barely Escaped, solves the problems with either Lester’s fly-away-abandonment or Donnor’s burn-it-down end to Supe’s tenancy at the Fortress.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Judging from the DSED blog (which I’m still making my way through) and this one, you’re DEFINITELY doing something right, Danny. Aside from your own informed, funny posts, you’ve attracted a community of funny, informative people. I’m normally just a silent lurker, reading posts and comments on websites but not participating, but I really wanted to be part of this one.

      Liked by 4 people

  8. Regarding CSI: North Pole, the North Pole isn’t ice-on-land like the South Pole, it’s just floating ice well outside the territorial limits (depending on who’s signatory to which treaties) of any of the adjacent nation-states (an issue that’s becoming uglier as more of the ice melts and shipping routes and potential seafloor resources open up). So there’s no government, and no one for the Ice Cops to answer to (or be paid by).

    Captain Nitpicker, away!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Kryptonians made themselves genocidal enemies of all of humanity. Therefore, any humans with authority anywhere, have full right to arrest them.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. We have our own little Parallel Time Superman here!

    Or as the youths today say, a multiverse.

    I’m itching to check out what cuts are available on the DVD set I bought. I think I’ve waited long enough to convince my hubby to do another watch. I believe last time we watched the theatrical of II.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. For those of you without the DVD set, I just clicked around on one of my favorite websites Internet Archive (aka archive.org). I found what looks like a fan-produced “Donner Cut,” which is called the “Restored International Alternative Cut 2005” at
    https://archive.org/details/supermanii-restoredinternationalalternativecut2005
    The December 29, 1985, ABC Sunday night movie cut, which the Salkinds apparently added some footage not in the original theatrical release, is available on archive.org (complete with vintage 1985 commercials!) at https://archive.org/details/1985abcsuperman2full . Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think I’ve got this. My first thought was the ice patrol. They don’t normally do crime, but it’s their beat so they could be expanding. Then the more I thought about it. They’re probably NATO or UN troops (I know not really, but that’s what they should be). Hopefully they wouldn’t have given up like the President did or vaporized like the Kremlin. They’d be watching and seeing the fearsome threesome leave, they were probably tracking them, to be at hand when they got a chance.

    Like

  12. I maintain that Lex should have been the one to save Superman, as I mentioned in an earlier comment. He pretends to betray Superman with the revelation about the de-powering chamber, but then uses his 200 IQ to figure out a way to invert the de-powering effect (he’s been here before and fiddled with the crystals, remember?).

    His motive for saving Superman would be 100% clear, which is that the Zod Squad was going to kill him any minute, and besides that, it’s better to be up against one nice Kryptonian for control of the world than three Kryptonians with no mercy. In the end, he claims that Superman owes him a favor and “why not let bygones be bygones”, but he still gets carted off to the prison he escaped from and has to return to doing laundry with Otis, to wait for his next chance.

    Liked by 1 person

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