DONNER'S SUPERMAN II REDUX: SUPERMAN
II - THE RICHARD DONNER CUT (PART ONE)
In the mid-1970s a young Richard Donner fresh from directing the The Omen
box office hit was hired by Alexander and Ilya Salkind to direct a big
screen version of Superman. (The Salkinds spoke to an unknown Steven
Spielberg at some point to direct it, but he was busy with some big fish
who had a big hit a few years back with a high octane comedic version of
Alexander Dumas’ over-familiar Three Musketeers novel boasting an all-star
didn’t have a particularly fondness or affinity for the Superman
character. They just smelled big bucks and somehow managed to sign two of
the era’s biggest Hollywood stars, namely Marlon Brando (and no, we’re not
just talking girth here
Brando had yet to balloon into the human Zeppelin he would become towards
the end of his career) and Gene Hackman. Brando would be Jor-El,
Superman’s Kryptonian father and Hackman would be Lex Luthor, Superman’s
The Salkinds’ lack of understanding for the character showed in the list
of big name stars they seriously considered for the role of Superman, anyone from
Robert Redford and Paul Newman to Elton John! Unafraid to spend money to
make Superman an event movie and not just a cheap B-flick, they got
then-hot author Mario Puzo to do the screenplay. Puzo (who wrote the
Godfather novel on which the much-superior movies were based on) didn’t
understand the character either, and wrote it as high camp. One scene for
instance had Superman searching for Luthor and then stopping a bald guy
who turns out to be Telly Savalas, then a superstar for appearing in the
popular Kojak TV show in a cameo, as himself!
"Anyone from Robert Redford and Paul Newman to Elton John were
considered for the role of Superman . . ."
Donner did however understand the character and
instinctively knew that avoiding the self-aware camp of the 1960s
television series starring Adam West was the best route to take. Instead
the film would buy into the iconic lead character’s mythos. Sure, there’d
— but it’d be all played straight and central to the movie’s
success the story would be investing in the love story between
Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane. If audiences believed in them as
characters, then they’d also believe that a man can fly . . .
Lucky enough to come across the perfect Superman,
namely the then-unknown Christopher Reeve and rewriting the screenplay,
Donner redefined the modern superhero movie and made a beloved classic in
However, the initial plan was to turn the huge
sprawling screenplay (the product of several rewrites by a small army of
writers and “creative consultants”) into two separate movies that would be
filmed at the same time. The idea was novel at the time
— it was only later when it would become a more common practice
with the likes of Back to the Future II and
III, the last two Matrix
movies and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But making a man fly involved developing some difficult
special effects work and the production schedule was pretty tight and
punishing to start with. So with a release date looming for the first
Superman movie, it was decided to finish that movie first and then finish
the sequel later. So with only about 70% of Superman II in the can, Donner
focused on getting Superman - the Movie done first.
When Superman – the Movie became 1979’s second highest biggest box office
hit (clocking in at a box office take of $82 million, it lost out to
Grease for the number one spot), it was only a given that Superman II would be finished. There was
only one problem: the Salkinds had fired Donner . . .
producers also felt that they didn’t need Marlon Brando anymore either,
which would have meant paying the actor more money . . ."