THE HISTORY OF SUPERMAN II: RESTORED INTERNATIONAL CUT
Written exclusively for CapedWonder™.com by Bill Williams
Posted 20 February 2017
When we think of fan films, we think of underground projects done with very little to almost no money, done for the love of the project with a tip of the hat to those films that inspired us. For me the very first one that comes to my mind is Hardware Wars, a hilarious takeoff of the original Star Wars that in and of itself became a cult classic. In the 1980’s three boys set out to make their own homemade version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which they did over the course of seven years and only in 2015 were able to finally complete. By the time of the Internet and digital era, fan films took on a new life, with projects such as Star Wars: The Phantom Edit leading the way for the slew of restorations, fan-made extended versions and recuts of beloved films that expanded upon or shortened films for those people with selective tastes (or distastes) for certain projects.
And then there was Superman II.
We are all familiar with the many production troubles that befell the sequel during production in 1977 and later in 1979 and 1980, when Richard Donner was unceremoniously removed from the production and replaced by Richard Lester. His directorial bent towards comedy resulted in a shift in tone for the sequel in numerous places, which to this day are still noticeable when going to the debates. In 1984 fans were first introduced to the extended version of Superman II on ABC, which saw some fifteen minutes of footage added to the film’s broadcast. Over the next few years different versions of the film would appear in various markets around the world, containing even more unseen footage shot by both Donner and Lester.
By this time my parents and I had our first VCR, and I was very fortunate to have recorded the ABC broadcast of Superman II in its second airing in 1985 [the first was on February 20, 1984], and then in its third and final broadcast in 1987. For some reason, something inside told me that I should record the third broadcast – and my instincts were right. In that third and final broadcast, even more footage was included toward the end of the film that had not been seen in its two previous broadcasts. (In later years, during the Internet era, some fans would argue that the added footage at the end of the film was there all along in the first ABC broadcast, but I remember better, for in those pre-VCR days I had recorded the audio from the film, and the footage was not there.) Little would I know at the time how important recording that final broadcast would be.
During the Internet explosion, it was not uncommon to go onto eBay and find auctions for the extended versions of Superman II on sale. Fans could purchase their own copies, see how much footage was left out of the theatrical version, and make their own conclusions as to which footage from which director was better, Donner or Lester. It was in 1997 that I first discovered the now-defunct Superman Cinema website, hosted and run by Dharmesh Chauhan, known in those days first as MegadethDC and then later as GandalfDC. This led to my first reports on the site, which led to a project that continues to this day: the most definitive breakdown of footage from Superman II and the identification of who shot what and when. And it led to communication with fans across the world, some of whom I have developed good friendships to this day.
But through it all, the good and the bad, the fun and the drama, the discussions and the negative drama that ensued, there was one question that everyone seemed to agree on: when would we get to see the rest of Richard Donner’s original concept for the film? The proof was there in the theatrical and the extended versions, the Tom Mankiewicz script, and behind-the-scenes production photos that started to fill in the gaps in places.
This is where the editor comes in. (In time I would learn his identity, but out of respect, I have held that information to myself to this day and will respect his anonymity through the entire history of his involvement.)
In 2001, this anonymous fan took it upon himself to produce an introductory concept reel that would be the starting point for what he called Superman II: Green Cut. His intention was to restore as much of Richard Donner’s original style and influence to the sequel, add new effects, re-edit the film, and include select extended scenes. Most importantly he would attempt to bring back Marlon Brando’s presence to the sequel as much as possible. He would also restore the original film’s sweeping main title credits and John Williams’ stirring music, while tinting the credits green as a tip of the hat to the green crystal that would play an integral part in both films. He would upload the eight-minute video to Superman Cinema…
And then, as he would later tell me, September 11th hit. Amid the chaos of that heartbreaking day, the video obviously got lost in the shuffle, and rightly so. We were more concerned about friends, loved ones, and where our nation was going from that point on than a little fan-produced video. But in time that little video would become the diversion Superman fans needed to take their minds off the tragedy and breathe once again.
From there he would be asked, “Why not do a full-on restoration of the complete extended version of Superman II? Why not indeed, he reasoned. One of the key supporters of the project, Rennie Cowan, had encouraged him to do a full-on restoration of the complete extended version of the film. From there, the project soon took flight.
Through Superman Cinema he put out the call for fans to contribute their VHS copies of the film for what he would now christen the Superman II: Restored International Cut. By now the film had been replicated and distributed around the world in varying qualities, some better than others, and others not so much. That was simply the technology of the day, when all you needed were two VCRs and a set of audio and video cables connecting the two – primitive technology indeed, but effective for its day – and yet even it would be superseded in years to come.
The first contributor to the project was Chance Bartels, who sent in his VHS master of the project. His version helped lay the groundwork for the original version of the Restored International Cut, or RIC. Another fan who stepped up to the plate was an Australian fan named Paul Naylor, who lent his Betamax copy of the broadcast from Australia for the project. It was a huge risk for him, one that would prove crucial to the overall success of the project. His version contained all of the added scenes that were necessary, in the best quality possible. At that time, Betamax was still superior to VHS in numerous ways (though the format was not as long-lived as its successor). Thanks to a fan identified as “Indo77”, Naylor was located, and his contribution proved successful.
Two other contributors sent in their personal copies, which were considered and either used or rejected for numerous reasons. In some cases station logos or subtitles (as in the Danish broadcast) took up huge portions of the television screen, which did nothing but distract fans. The editor wanted the best possible quality for the best possible format – DVD – without any distractions to the film itself. He spent countless hours and money out of his own pocket, nearly $2,000.00 he would later tell me, in editing, re-editing, re-coloring, and formatting the film completely on his own, using not only videos of the extended broadcasts but also a PAL transfer of the original theatrical version. He would also work with a sound expert in improving the sound quality of the numerous scenes, bringing everything into sync as much as possible.
By July 2002, Richard Donner gave an interview with Entertainment Weekly, and he made a statement that would have vast ramifications in years to come: “Hopefully, someday we’ll put them back and show the audience what they could’ve had.” While fans had been aware of a portion of the footage for nearly twenty years, that was the proverbial tip of the iceberg to what lay unreleased in film vaults.
This is where I come in.
Through Superman Cinema, the editor put out the call once again for any fans with copies of the extended version on tape to contribute to the project. When I saw the announcement, I stepped up to the plate and made contact with the editor. Not only would I contribute my first-generation VHS recording of the broadcast, but I would also provide a copy of the footage analysis I had been working on for a few years at that time. My contributions were extremely generous to the editor, with many key scenes making their way into the final product, and the footage analysis used as an optional text commentary during the film. Another contributor, Todd Kluss, also provided his first-generation VHS recording as well. Both versions would be used in the final product.
Other contributors made significant contributions to the project. One fellow suggested to the editor that the DVD contain numerous bonus features on the disc, which the editor took to heart. Jim Bowers of CapedWonder.com submitted numerous production photographs for three key sequences Donner had shot in 1977: Lois attempting to trick Clark into becoming Superman by jumping from the Daily Planet, the original version of Superman sacrificing his powers for Lois, and Jor-El returning one final time to restore Superman’s powers. A few scant photographs had surfaced in the public years before, but only now were we seeing more behind the curtain, so to speak. Another fan, identified as “Xeno Galaxian”, provided a copy of the The Making of Superman II documentary for the project (a few years before its inclusion in Warner Bros.’ Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set). Conor Rooney provided a copy of the original Ken Thorne soundtrack album to the project (another precursor to the Superman: The Music – 1978-1988 CD box set). Another fan, George L. Pilcher III, provided both the DVD menus and the artwork for the release. Still other fans, among them Kevin Skinner, Russell Dodd, J.B. Ross, and “Pineapples 101”, provided the encouragement and support the editor needed to bring the project to completion.
But there was one significant hurdle that had to be crossed: how to get the project out to fans who wanted to see the RIC without setting off any alarms with Warner Bros.? The editor included an open letter to Richard Donner, stating, “Your work is not forgotten. This project, the Restored International Cut, exists as a tribute to your work and efforts. It’s been more than twenty years, and your fans are still patiently waiting for the real Superman II. Many of us have gone to great lengths to get a glimpse of the film we’ve been longing to see. While we still wait for an official release, the bootlegging community has shown no qualms in charging fans extravagant prices for low quality reproductions of footage known to exist. It is our hope that this project will offer fans a more reasonable way of obtaining those scenes.
“This Restored International Cut has two main purposes. First, to give fans the opportunity to see those scenes in the best possible manner, without having to pay inflated bootleg prices. This whole endeavor has been done as a labor of love and is strictly non-profit. Second, to let you, Warner Brothers, and anyone else with influence know that the fans are still eager to see the rest of your lost work on Superman II.” His openness and honesty sent a clear message to Donner and Warner Bros. officials: he was not in it for the money, nor was he making a name for himself. He was a fan who, like so many others, wanted to see Donner’s version of the film completed and released.
In short, the editor told me, he created a project that was intended to be destroyed.
His plans were reasonable. Twenty master copies sent out, with fifty copies made and freely shared, would result in one thousand copies. One thousand more voices to be heard by the studios to petition for an official release. I remember seeing the final project on DVD toward the end of October 2004. The film looked and sounded fantastic. All of the bonus features were incredible, including a before-and-after restoration of footage. Even seeing my name in the credits brought a huge smile to my face, knowing that I helped in making something special.
A year later, the editor had plans for a third phase of the RIC. His intentions were to include enhanced visual effects in certain key sequences to make the film even more visually exciting, and a trailer was prepared…
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Somehow, somewhere, bootleg copies of the RIC made their way into the public for sale, either at a comic book store or at a convention, I cannot recall which. Someone was determined to wrongly profit off the editor’s hard work. This in turn alerted Warner Bros. to formally kill the project – which, ironically, was the editor’s intention. By this time Bryan Singer had secured the rights to Marlon Brando’s footage from Superman-The Movie and Superman II for inclusion in Superman Returns, which in turn opened the door for Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, and Michael Thau to begin work on bringing Donner’s version of Superman II to completion.
I lost contact with the editor. Fortunately, I still have his work on disc, along with the memories of what he shared with me, even though I no longer have those e-mails.
When you compare all of the versions of Superman II that are out there, there are bits and pieces of footage, including deleted scenes, alternate angles, and trims that are exclusive to the extended version and are not in either the original theatrical release or the Donner Cut. Amassing all of the footage would be similar to the work done on the Kino Lorber release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or the Criterion Collection’s release of Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin. The differences are endless. I’ve done it in my head and on paper.
But one thing is clear: the Superman II: Restored International Cut fills in a key gap in the Superman franchise which we are thankful for, all due to the efforts of one fan with a dream.
February 20, 2017
SUPERMAN II: RESTORED INTERNATIONAL CUT DOWNLOADS & IMAGERY
Posted 20 February 2017
Download the movie in two formats. No new restoration has been done to the video or audio of this original 2005 release.
1. A single MP4 file (2.76 gigabytes) from CapedWonder.com.
2. Create your own 2-DVD set (video files, box & disc art, and instructions to create the DVDs) as a compressed RAR file (7.73 gigabytes) from CapedWonder.com. The RAR file can be uncompressed with WinZip.
Below is the box & disc art, and screenshots of a selection of key DVD menus from the original 2005 release. Enjoy!
Updated February 20, 2017