Aren't Directors Supposed to Have an Eye? or What Was Donner Thinking?

I recently watched the beginning of Superman II/The Richard Donner cut and was flabbergasted.

Theater version above/
Richard Donner cut to the right. 
Which looks potentially more exciting?

Before I continue, to lay my cards on the table, the Christopher Reeves Superman-Lois Lane relationship has never been one of my favorites. I far prefer Lois & Clark's interpretation where Lois comes to love the "real" man rather than the demigod before the relationship can actually work. But I was in the mood for some older Superman, so I picked up Superman II. The Richard Donner cut was the version my library had.

In the released-to-theater version of Superman II, Clark and Lois go to Niagara Falls. When Clark/Superman rescues a boy who plummets over a railing, Lois becomes convinced that Clark IS Superman and jumps into the river herself. Clark manages to get her rescued without revealing himself. However, when they return to the suite, he trips (while talking to Lois) and falls in a fire.When Lois sees that his hands are completely untouched, she realizes she was right.

The entire sequences of events is exciting, action-packed, and filmed against wide vistas (Niagara Falls, a large suite). The a-ha moment is believable; Lois is less cocky and more WOW, which is how she should feel!

In the Richard Donner cut, the initial scene (the rescue of the boy) takes place but then we skip to Clark and Lois in a small, enclosed space. During the scene, Clark paces while Lois mostly sits, standing once. She shoots Clark/Superman from a sitting position. When he doesn't die, he--standing in one position--proclaims that she has figured him out.

First of all, she SHOOTS him? If one accepts the proposition that no one immediately recognizes that Clark is Superman, there is no way that Lois could be 100% sure of his double identity, especially when she jumped out of a Daily Planet office window and Superman didn't swoop to her rescue. And she SHOOTS him?

Second, the scene in the hotel suite is boring as in boring shots, boring blocking, and boring dialog. It's not even marginally exciting as a scene. It's like watching a soap opera or Lucas's actors in Star Wars I, II, and III--without even the wide vistas on blue screens to give things more oomph!

I thought directors were supposed to be visually oriented--all about the "look" of something. Granted, the first Harry Potter movie comes across as a slideshow, and Lucas doesn't have the foggiest idea how to direct people. But still--what else would attract someone to work in film but the visual element? (Nolan, for example, makes perfect sense to me. His stories are over the place, but boy, his movies LOOK like movies.)

It's like a writer who wants to tell a story but can't stand words. I mean, huh?

Having written all this, I must acknowledge that on IMDB, the Richard Donner cut has more stars than the original, so maybe I just don't get the Reeves-Superman universe . . .


Mike Cherniske said...

to be fair, the hotel shot in the donner cut was actually a recovered rehearsal scene, so everything, including the lighting and shots, were temporary.

Mike Cherniske said...

most of the film was reconstructed from recovered footage, deleted scenes, bloopers, scrapped shots, ect. So while the donner cut more or less tells the movie he had intended to make, it wasn't his final vision, as he was never allowed to finish his version of the film.

James Wilson said...

Actually, it's worse than that...It's Margo Kidder's audition reel. That scene and the Lois-Superman discussion before flying were the two scenes auditioning actresses had to do (and there are several versions with different actors in a lot of the "Superman" DVD's). They never shot the "theatrical" version of that scene with Reeves and Kidder.