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Your RMC II Results Are In!

Tagline: None

Cool Dialogue: “You ARE Superman, aren’t you!”

Pizza: Uncle Joey’s

Preshow Entertainment: None


Have you ever bumped into a friend in another city? Or state…or even another country? That’s random, and random is everywhere. Hell, some bloated moron even has a club and its website just for random movies. And like meeting your friend while you’re on summer vacation in the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, sometimes randomness is nothing short of amazing. You know, like creating the universe, or even better, winning the lottery. Our Random Movie Generator (RMG) selects movies from over 3000 titles. So what are the chances that it would pick both the theatrical release of SUPERMAN II (1980) and the alternate version - SUPERMAN II: THE DONNER CUT (2006) within 16 months of each other? I’ll leave that question for all the statisticians among us. And I’ll also ask them this – what are the chances that the RMG also chose, within those same 16 months, SUPERMAN III? And 8 years earlier (almost to the day) – SUPERGIRL? So either the RMG is rigged or it has a taste for the Superman franchise. It can’t possibly be random, can it? Anyway, who cares??? I’ve blathered waaaay too long. “Sorry.”


Also random, the fact that the RMG chose two Gene Hackman movies in a row (our last movie was THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE). Okay, I guess I had more random blathering, but this time I’m really done. “Sorry again.”

Since I’ve already written about SUPE II, I’ll have our Random Movie Club Archivist dig it out and paste it below for you. There’s not a whole lot to add to that, but I’ll give you some of the basics. Richard Lester was called in after Richard Donner was fired (after shooting most of the movie). The Lester cut is a mess compared to the Donner Cut. In Lester’s, they were unable to get Brando, Hackman (they used a double!), and score-meister John Williams to return. Rumor has it they were all loyal to Donner and Tom Mankiewicz (who wrote practically all of SUPERMAN and the first pass at SUPERMAN II). The Lester version is jokey and corny, with obvious pieces missing and plot holes. The Donner cut (assembled in 2006) makes complete sense, though there are a few scenes where screen tests are used (obviously, they couldn’t go back and reshoot a 26 year old movie, especially with Christopher Reeve gone). But because we know they’re screen tests (the actors look different), we’re okay with it. We just want to see how the movie was meant to be. As mentioned in the write-up below, “…film geeks/historians will see this as a rare case of a fudged movie being returned to its creators to make it right.”

One last thing. I want to share this story with you. It occurred between our two SUPERMAN II screenings. Terence Stamp, who played General Zod, shocks a bunch of kids who have just seen 2013’s THE MAN OF STEEL. http://go.shr.lc/1mbmiqn

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Your Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Miraculously freed from eternal orbit, the three outlaws from Krypton descend to earth, for the ultimate confrontation.

Pizza: Guido's

Preshow: None


On December 15th, 1978, I saw SUPERMAN at the Astor Plaza (now gone) theater in NYC, my favorite theater in the world. It was opening day and it was snowing. We waited hours. I was reading a newspaper, and when I turned the page, there was a two-page ad for SUPERMAN with the teaser line - "Tonight You Will Believe That a Man Can Fly." The guy reading over my shoulder loudly commented - "Shit! For three hours in the snow and six bucks, my man better fly!" And thus began my experience with the first SUPERMAN movie, an experience that kept me in the theater through its endless end-credits while my friends took off. They were probably home by the time the last seconds of SUPERMAN actually unspooled. That means they never got to see this - "Coming soon, Superman II". When the sequel came out two and a half years later, I was ready to enjoy it. But watching it again now, it clearly hasn't held up as well as the first one. SUPERMAN II is at times sloppy and inconsistent with many plot points left unexplained or simply abandoned.  And I wholly believe the reason is:

There are two versions of SUPERMAN II, similar in plot yet radically different; one of which you've probably seen, the other, odds are, you haven't. Because as a distant planet was destroyed, so was the sequel to one of the best (perhaps even the best) superhero movies. Director Richard Donner horn-locked with producers on final cut, budget, the employment of producer Pierre Spengler, seemingly everything. Most of SUPERMAN II was shot in tandem with the first movie, but when it came time to shoot the rest, they replaced Richard Donner with Richard Lester (Dick Wars!). It gets really complicated, the how and the why, but the results were this: The 1981 theatrical release of SUPERMAN II had Lester's name on it, despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of the footage was Donner's. So as good as SUPERMAN II was, we never got to see the real movie, the Richard Donner version. And then, almost as if Earth spun backwards and we went back in time, Richard Donner and editor Michael Thau recut the movie to Donner's original vision, which became available on DVD in 2006. And I myself am thankful, for The Richard Donner cut is superior to the theatrical version of SUPERMAN II.

But since the Random Movie Generator spat out the theatrical version, that's the one we'll mostly explore now.


What would heroes be without villains? Nobody. That's why we need villains, be it a superhero movie, a spy story or the real world. A villain always makes the hero, and SUPE II has four of them. Besides Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), played with the gleeful obnoxiousness of Joe Pesci in LETHAL WEAPONs 2, 3 and 4 (also directed by Donner), we have three escaped convicts - the cold-hearted Ursa (Sarah Douglas), the manimal Non (Jack O'Halloran), and ringleader General Zod (recently voted #2 of Space Villains, right behind Darth, and wonderfully played by Terence Stamp). Escaped from where, you ask? Superman's home planet Krypton, now as defunct as the Astor Plaza. And who sentenced them to be imprisoned before their fortuitous and ironic escape? Superman's dad, Jor-El (Marlon Brando, criminally absent in this movie, but present and important in the Donner Cut). You don't want to piss these criminals off, especially when, on Earth, they have the same powers as you. They won't play fair. They'll steal your emblems and badges right off your uniforms and collect them. This, my mortal friends, is a story of revenge.


But before these Kryptonian Kreeps even escape from their 2D Phantom Zone, Superman must save Lois. In this outing, our intrepid and ridiculously careless, anything-for-a-story reporter finds herself clinging to the hurtling undercarriage of an elevator in the Eiffel Tower as it speeds to the bottom. Yeah, Superman saves her in time, but this event concomitantly leads to the escape of Zod, Ursa and Non. Unfortunately, we're the only ones to notice, and when these three kick some astronaut ass on the moon, we see just what they're capable of. But Earth will be safe. It's not like Superman is going to lose his powers or anything like that.


To balance the action, SUPE II amps up the love story between Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Under the surface, this has always worked incredibly well because, generally speaking, both sexes can relate (Superman creators Siegel and Shuster tapped into this first). For the boys, here's a geeky guy, Clark, who falls in love with the cool girl, and she couldn't be more oblivious. For the girls, here's a hunky lifesaver filled with compassion. As in real life, the geek's competition for the cool girl's love is a jock, though in this case, the geek and the jock are the same person.


Eventually, Lois puts two and two together, and here lies the wonderful inner struggle of the movie; to be with Lois, Superman must become mortal. Is he willing to do that? Well, apparently, even men from Krypton fall in love. Although I just called this "wonderful," I'd like to add that it does yield a terrible consequence. It turns out that Superman is a bit selfish, choosing tail over thwarting evil and saving kittens. But what really irks me is how selfish Lois is. She knows Superman will lose his powers, yet doesn't object. Basically, so she can have the man she loves, she's signing a possible death warrant for humankind. They're both to blame. But what the hey, we all do crazy things when we're in love. This is explained much better in the Donner Cut, with Jor-El talking to his son, and Superman rebelling: "At least they (humans) get a chance at happiness. I only ask as much."


So there you have it. Zod & Co. bring the world to its knees ("Kneel before Zod!"), and Supe doesn't even know because he's in love, mortal, and hanging with Lois at his Fortress of Solitude, which, by the way, would make an awesome episode of CRIBS. And amid all this conflict, both physical and emotional, is one pizazzy movie.

There are lots of funny and amusing things in SUPE II: When Lex and Otis are walking through the prison laundry, Lex tells an inmate in an aside "I want my Liberace record back. Tonight." Unfortunately, there are moments that were simply over-the-top stupid, like when the Kryptonian badasses blow vehicles and people down the street with their hurricane-force breath, a phone booth with a man in it gets knocked over on its side, yet he keeps talking as he's being swept down the street. An ice cream comes off of someone's cone and lands on someone else. I could have done without that stuff. So could Donner, who snipped all of Lester's goofy comic touches. Now that I think of it, Lester had just directed BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, a prequel to the original that had these same sort of cheap gags.


I remember opening night when, at the end of the movie, Clark returns to the diner where he previously got his mortal ass kicked by Rocky the house bully. As soon as they cut to Rocky, we all knew what was going to happen, and we all laughed and applauded in anticipation. Naturally, Superman, here as Clark, can't kill the guy even though that would have been okay with us. Hell, he isn't even supposed to hurt him. But he does, a little. And humiliates him. We loved it on a visceral level, but also because Zod killed and tortured innocent people, while Superman merely humiliates (okay, and breaks the hand of) a guy who really, really deserved it. That's our boy.


One thing I've always loved in these two movies is the casting, from bit parts like the two small town police officers, to the major players, to Superman himself. Reeve, an unknown, turned out to be an extraordinary actor who played both parts incredibly well. Kidder's portrayal of the chain-smoking, hot dog/hamburger chomping no-nonsense reporter makes it difficult for anyone not to fall in love with her. And then there's Terence Stamp with that calm yet effective stare. He hardly breaks character, so when he does in one scene, rolling his eyes at us humans, it's funny. Stamp played Zod, in his own words, like a "galactic Hitler." O'Halloran's great as the grizzly bear menace Non, and Sarah Douglas' Ursa is crazy sexy evil. In case you want to catch up with her, in 2012 she appeared in the movie STRIPPERS AND WEREWOLVES.


I don't want to bore you with my thoughts on the effects. We all know (or could guess) how cool they were at the time; and while many are still pretty great, others are cheesy. The lunar craft, for example, looks like a tin can wrapped in Reynold's. And why'd they have to crash that helicopter behind a barn so we can't see it? The first movie had a thrilling helicopter scene, why's it so chintzy here? And the big Metropolis (rumored to be a $4 million set) battle 'tween Supe and the villains now feels like a staged event on the Universal Studios tram tour.


SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II were originally meant to be two parts of the same movie, like the serials of yore. The first part was the origin of Superman followed by his dealings with Lex Luthor, and the second part was Zod. In fact, we were meant to see the villains escaping from the Phantom Zone at the end of the first movie, followed by the title "Coming Soon - Superman II." But deadlines turned out to be a real life villain, so much so that they decided to lift the ending of SUPERMAN II and make that (when he flies around the world to turn back time) the end of SUPERMAN. Mario Puzo, who knew a lot about powerful men (THE GODFATHER), did the original script(s), which I'm sure clocked in at 1.4 million trees (there's also a belief that father and son producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind bought Puzo's name to promote the movie before anything was shot, and Puzo didn't write much at all). Then, lovebirds David and Leslie Newman did their pass, as did Robert Benton, and finally, some major assistance (read: the bulk of both movie scripts) from Hollywood Dynasty member Tom Mankiewicz. When it came time to do the second tier of filming a couple of years later, Mank didn't return, opting to stay with the Donner party. Also not back for the second shoot was Hackman, though it didn't necessarily mean he refused. Word on the Hollywood streets said he was busy. But because of this, his Luthor disappears from the movie for long stretches, and when he is around, he's sometimes substituted by a stand-in with some mighty bad looping. Yet Hackman still manages to provide the comic relief that Otis (Ned Beatty, hardly here at all) provided in SUPERMAN. Hackman, despite his last name, is nothing but brilliant. Just watch when Ursa crushes his fingers. That's Comic Beat #1. Seconds later, he answers Zod's question while sucking his thumb to relieve the pain Ursa caused...Comic Beat #2. But it's that subtle glance he throws her, sort of like a "Seriously?" that does it for me, and thus, completes the comedic triumvirate.


Besides Hackman, DP Geoffrey Unsworth and Production Designer John Barry also failed to return for the Lester shoot, though their excuses of having died are somewhat valid. John Williams, although shown a cut of SUPERMAN II, declined to work on it (maybe he was hanging with Hackman). However, they did lift a ton of his wonderful and iconic score from the first movie, even though I always thought he himself lifted it from the song in this 60s toy commercial: http://bit.ly/bU9eOv

I love the first two SUPERMAN movies a lot (again, the Donner Cut of II). The pair's tone is close to perfect, never taking itself too seriously, yet at the same time being serious. Regular readers of these Random Movie Club pages know how ridiculously hard I am on superhero movies, and while I didn't find gaps in logic and plot in the first one, I sure did in the Lester version of II. When he becomes human, he is told - "Once it is done, there is no return. You will become an ordinary man." But we know, even as this is said, he will somehow become Superman again for Act Three; we just don't know how. But here's the thing - we never know how. In the wimpiest of conceits, he is able to get his powers back through a stroke of luck (a crystal beckons him). But what does the crystal do? I have no idea, except somehow it makes him Superman again. They never show or even tell us how. "Once it is done, there is no return," cautioned his Supermother, not "Once it is done, there is no return, unless you wanna use that green crystal over there." It's a total cheat.

Now as far as bad logic goes; In the big set piece of rebuilt NYC streets (as Metropolis), when the villains push a bus at Superman, citizens actually believe it kills him ("They killed Superman!"). Huh? This is the Man of Freakin' Steel. He can toss elevators into space, reroute missiles with his bare hands, turn back time by flying kinda fast...I don't see how a Greyhound pinning him against a Marlboro truck would kill him. It wouldn't even tear his tights. Come to think of it, it didn't. Oh, and why in tarnation, whatever tarnation means, was there a kid who spoke with an English accent in a small town of 123 people in Idaho? I mean, besides the fact that it was shot at Pinewood Studios in England where they got financial credit for hiring Limeys. Couldn't he at least try to fake an American accent? Instead of him begging General Zod "Please let my daddy down," he may as well have asked him, "Please sir, I want some more." And why does a town, Pop. 123, have a hotel? I also could have missed the religious allusions in these movies; the father sending his son to Earth, Zod walking on water followed by Ursa picking up a snake. But at least no one's watching and then joining the congregation at Temple Kal-El or Our Lady of a Thousand Supermen. Oops, my atheism's showing again. Anyway...


In the commentary of the Richard Donner Cut, Donner was clearly incensed that they tossed out all the Brando footage to save money. See? --> "They ruined the movie to save a couple of bucks." Well, that's both true and not true. The couple of bucks he's referring to was Brando's demand for nearly 12%...not just from the back-end but from the...entire...box...office. On the theatrical cut's commentary, producer Pierre Spengler (though it may have been Ilya Salkind, I got lost trying to remember whose voice was whose) said, "Enough years have passed that I think everyone should get credit for making this movie." So after 26 years (the span between the theatrical and the Donner Cut) there are still bitter feelings and people saying "I did this, but not that," and though it's fascinating on one level, it just doesn't matter to the average moviegoer (film geeks/historians will see this as a rare case of a fudged movie being returned to its creators to make it right). What matters is SUPERMAN II, in either version, is a totally fun movie. But yes, the Donner Cut is so much better. It makes much more sense, has fewer gaps in logic and even though some scenes are screen tests to fill in for footage never shot, it's the way to go. Though they do repeat the ending of the original movie. Must there always be something to baffle me??


Here's something else you may not know. I lied when I said there are two versions. There are a lot more. In the 1980s, TV stations around the world ran different versions, sometimes adding so much footage that they could make SUPERMAN II a two-night event so they could sell more commercials. I taped one of these versions, and yes, it sits in the Random Movie Club film vault along with the Donner Cut. That means that maybe one day we'll see one or both of these versions. Until then, we have to sweat it out. Like Superman did.

Never Let 'em see you sweat


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