Richard Donner, Richard Lester, Sidney J. Furie, Bryan Singer
SUPERMAN- THE MOTION PICTURE : Easily the best film of the franchise, as arguably, the film that set the pattern on how to make a proper comic book film, which is followed to this day. It helps that director Richard Donner, took the subject matter seriously, eschewing a cartoonish approach, making this an epic adventure, anchored by great (for their time) special effects, a brilliant score by John Williams, and a superb lead performance by Christopher Reeve, who is, and ever shall be, the definitive Superman. I still get chills during Supermanís first appearance, where he saves Margot Kidderís appealing Lois from a helicopter mishap.
That said, itís not perfect, and Iíve always been put off by Hackmanís comic approach to Lex Luthor (although Iíll admit, Hackman is funny- heís just NOT Lex Luthor, as we know him from the comics). The land-scam premise is weak, and the ďturn-by-the-planetĒ ending is silly. Also- Otis. Why? However, itís still a great film- flaws and all.
SUPERMAN II Tragically for us, Richard Donner clashed with producers Illya & Alexander Salking while making the first film, and despite having 70% of the film in the can, he was fired and replaced by Richard Lester. Lesterís a fine director, but he DID NOT have a handle on the character at all, giving this a weird slapstick-sensibility which clashes badly with Donnerís serious vision. Basically, the Donner footage is good, the Lester footage is shit.
The theatrical cut of SUPERMAN II is a mess, with Lester doing cheap-ass reshoots of existing Donner material to get a director credit, and Gene Hackman not even coming back to dub his dialogue in the already completed scenes. This is a tragedy, as thereís so much thatís right in the film, with Hackman being much better as the secondary villain then he was as the primary, with Terrence Stamp owning as General Zod.
As for the long-awaited Donner Cut- itís still a mess, but understandably so. The ending is a mess, with him being forced to recycle the ďturning back the worldĒ ending from part 1 (which was actually always intended for part 2)- when he would have been better off just biting the bullet and using the Lester conclusion (along with the reviled ďkiss of forgettingĒ), as the ending doesnít make sense without it. Still, at least they were able to get rid of Ken Thorneís bad re-orchestrations of John Williamsí themes from the first film, and got Hackman to re-voice the missing sections of dialogue. Also- Marlon Brandoís extensive second appearance as Jor-El is restored.
SUPERMAN III : This is a REALLY stupid film, with Lester and the Salkinds making the boneheaded decision to turn the film into a Richard Pryor comedy. I loved this as a child, and I guess I still have a bit of a soft-spot for it, but itís not a good film. That said, Reeve almost redeems the film through a cool subplot which briefly gives us an ďevilĒ (or rather, surly) Superman, leading to a cool inner battle with Clark Kent.
SUPERMAN IV- THE QUEST FOR PEACE As bad as Part 3 is, itís a masterpiece compared to this Golan-Globus travesty, which ranks among the worst films ever made. Itís unwatchable, although it has a great commentary track by writer Mark Rosenthal, who recounts the tortured production in fascinating detail.
SUPERMAN RETURNS Bryan Singerís misguided attempt to pick-up where Richard Donnerís original films left off. While itís not as bad as some have said (itís certainly a well-made film), it lacks energy and excitement. Even the much-touted Routh comes off as doing a Christopher Reeve impression- but alas, no one can compare.
Moving onto the second film, we get both the theatrical and Donner cuts of the film. Both have commentary , a vintage TV making of , deleted scenes , and trailers/TV spots . Thereís also a featurette on Donnerís efforts to reassemble his cut of the film. In a cool touch, we also get the great Max Fleisher SUPERMAN cartoons from the forties, and the less-cool, Famous Studios cartoons.
III gets a vintage TV special , deleted scenes , commentary, and the trailer .
QUEST FOR PEACE gets the previously mentioned commentary, a trailer , another vintage TV special , and a full half-hour of deleted scenes . If you thought was was left in the film was badÖ
RETURNS gets all the extras from the previous HD release, including a three-hour documentary, deleted scenes , a video journal , trailers and a brief featurette about the use of the Brando footage cut out of Part 2 (which found its way into the Donner Cut).
On a separate disc, we get a new documentary that takes a candid look at all the films, along with the LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! documentary that got a separate DVD release around the time RETURNS hit theaters. Thereís also featurettes on the science of Superman, and on the late Christopher Reeveís enduring legacy. Stoners- take note, thereís also a trippy-ass TV pilot called THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERPUP, which reimagines Superman as a canine puppet. Weird shit.