Hey folks, Harry here... I'm not entirely sure what this guy has... it seems that he got a pan & scan preview video tape of the new cut that Richard Donner has been working on for SUPERMAN. The sound problems that he's talking about should be thought of as tentative... we'll learn more from the San Antonio screenings next month. By the way... I've been getting lots of letters about the San Antonio screenings... When a studio does a TEST MARKET of a film, they release it in general release in that city... meaning multiple theaters and screens. As soon as we learn which theaters it'll be released upon, I will assuredly let you good folks know. Here's a look at a version of what we may be seeing on DVD and in San Antonio....
I've been seeing a few bits of news on your site about the new cut of Superman that's being released on DVD in May, but nothing has been said so far on its actual content. I happen to have an advanced screener copy of the new version. Unfortunately, the copy I have is in VHS and pan&scan, so I can take only about fifteen minutes at a time before I must turn it off and take an aspirin.
I have seen the old version of Superman *numerous* times. It would not be an exaggeration to say I know most of the film by heart. I even edited my own version once, splicing scenes from the extended version that aired on TV with letterbox scenes from the laserdisc. So, in case you think folks would be interested, what follows is a review of the changes I noticed in the new cut. I don't know how much detail is appropriate, so I'll include as much as I can think of, and you can cut out whatever you feel is extraneous.
Changes in the soundtrack were the first thing I noticed. There's no question that the audio has been vastly enhanced. I have a pretty decent stereo system that generally handles a wide range of sound with no problem, but it was taxed to its limits with some of the deep bass now present during the Krypton explosion scene and the shot immediately following the opening credits, where the camera seemingly comes close to the red sun of Krypton before dipping beneath it to reveal the planet.
Speaking of the opening title sequence, it was here that I first noticed some rather uncomfortable changes in the film's sound effects. Every time one fo the 3D titles flies into view, a new sound effect has been inserted that is louder than the old one and got on my nerves rather quickly. But this was only the first of the sound changes I noticed in the first few minutes of the film that didn't seem quite right. The next one came as soon as we encounter General Zod, Ursa, and Non trapped in those animated hoola-hoops. The sound of the hoola-hoops was also different and much louder than before. It annoyed me a bit, as it seemed to call attention away from the dialogue and take away from the gravity of the scene.
When the giant dome opened, the bass kicked up again, accompanying another new sound effect, that of the Phantom Zone. This one's really a shame, because the sound of the Phantom Zone shrieking through space as it approaches the three villains used to scare the crap out of me as a kid. The new sound is not as scary and seems very computer-generated. But what's worse was the fact that the cool sound effect that plays when the Phantom Zone finally traps them is gone altogether, with nothing at all to replace it.
There are many more examples like this, in fact too many to describe in detail. Suffice it to say that problems with the sound effects became a regular bother as I continued to watch the film. In general, it seemed as though the music score had been softened while the replacement sound effects were louder than the old ones and seemed to call attention to themselves rather than fitting in naturally with the scenes. There are a lot more whooshing sounds when Superman takes flight, and they're all louder than the old ones.
I should probably address what most people want to know about, and that's added scenes. There were a few scattered here and there, though not as many as were in the TV extended version. The first one comes immediately after the Phantom Zone scene, where Jor-El meets with a council of Kryptonians to discuss his belief that the planet will explode. There is some added dialogue, where the council points to contrary findings from another prominent scientist, but this does not really add anything constructive to the scene.
There is another bit just before Jor-El and Lara meet to launch the rocket, where the council calls some kind of Stormtrooper-looking guy (you'd recognize him from Superman 2) to prevent him from launching. This scene also has no real purpose for being in the film, as the Stormtrooper-looking guy never shows up to stop Jor-El. He never appears again at all, even when the people are scattering because of the massive earthquakes (during which the new sounds made Krypton sound like it was basically made of glass, and most of the screams were gone as well).
The extra dialogue between young Clark and Lana Lang at the football field that was in the TV extended version is *not* included here, which is a shame, because that's one scene I thought actually added something to the character. Oh well. The good news is that the Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn cameos aboard the train do make it in: when the little girl sees Clark running faster than the train, she tells her parents about it, and they dismiss her. (They also call her Lois Lane, establishing that Superman goes for the young ones.)
The next change comes after Pa Kent's funeral, and that beautiful sweeping musical score as the camera pans up to show the fields beyond the cemetery. We get to see Ma Kent come down to the kitchen and get out the box of Cheerios while she calls up to Clark to get out of bed. Once again, not anything of real importance, but a good few seconds of added footage, and one of the most effective bits of product placement for me when I was a kid ("Superman eats Cheerios?").
I must say that another scene that usually gives me goosebumps was nearly ruined for me by unnecessary tampering with the sound. It's the special effects montage where Superman's father sort of narrates us through a tour of the galaxy and explains why he sent his son to Earth. At the end of the scene, when Superman is revealed in costume for the first time, just when the music was supposed to be rising to a crescendo, they added a loud whooshing sound to the big Jor-El head and softened the music to mere background noise. This is totally backwards! The emotion of this scene comes from the music, not the sound effects!
Anyway, things are pretty much the same when we get to the Daily Planet. A few scattered seconds of footage pop up here and there, especially during the Otis-descending-into-the-Underground-Lair scene. Overall this serves mainly to slow things down. Nothing of real value is added to the story. The "Otis, feed the babies" scene is *not* added (where Luthor has Otis feed some nasty-sounding beasts who remain off-camera; this was in the TV version).
Superman appears, as per usual, as Lois is dangling helplessly out of the helicopter, and embarks on his night of rescues. Of all the sound effects to do over again, I don't know why they didn't do something about the gunshots in the cops & robbers scene at the boat dock. I always thought they kind of sounded like fire crackers, and they remain pretty much the same in this version.
Now here is where a big change comes in: after Superman rescues Air Force One, he returns to the Fortress of Solitude for another scene with Jor-El. Here, he basically tells his father (or the giant transparent head representing his father) that he enjoyed making his first appearance as a superhero, and his father responds with some advice as to why he should maintain a secret identity. I, for one, do not like this scene. I think the dialogue is heavy-handed and obvious, and the whole thing interrupts the narrative flow. Now, instead of getting the impression that Clark came to Metropolis with the whole thing planned out, he seems more dependent on his father, less decisive, and generally less intelligent. At least to me.
When the new Fortress scene ends, we go back to Metropolis, where some folks are watching numerous news reports of Superman's first appearance. This was in the original version, but is expanded here when the camera pulls back to reveal Clark Kent among the spectators. A stranger approaches him with a comment about how he can't believe a man can fly, and Clark replies with a grin.
The movie goes along as normal for awhile after that. This is the slowest spot of the film, where we get Perry White ranting to his reporters, Superman's date with Lois at her Penthouse, and the "Can You Read My Mind" scene. By the way, the filmmakers failed to fix one of the film's most glaring mistakes: where they're flying around the Statue of Liberty, and all of a sudden it becomes dawn, and then nighttime again.
Anyway, the next big addition of footage doesn't come until Superman goes underground to find Luthor's lair. Instead of just waltzing in without incedent, he goes through machine guns, flame throwers, and some giant ice machines, all while Luthor taunts him through a loud speaker. This is a nice addition to the movie for me. Even though it doesn't add much to the story, it does provide some cool effects and a little action, which the movie has been lacking for a few minutes.
Most of the extra earthquake footage that was seen in the TV version doesn't make this cut. There's more of Superman flying through the Earth's crust, and we do get to see the Hollywood sign almost fall on a troupe of Girl Scouts. Most everything else is as it was originally. The bit where Superman flies in front of one of the rockets to try and catch it is *not* added. Neither is the part where the President is alerted to the problem while he's on the golf course, or the part where the folks living beneath the Hoover damn start playing in the water after Superman saves them from the flood. These were mong the extra scenes in the TV version.
The film's ending is preserved as it was in the original version. The scene where Superman saves Ms. Tessmacher from being fed to "the babies" back in Lex's underground lair is *not* included. I was hoping that maybe the whole ending would be miraculously edited in such a way as to make logical sense, but no. Superman goes back in time (or turns the Earth backwards, I could never figure out which) and comes back to find Lois miraculously unharmed, even though the rocket still struck and she still ran out of gas in the same spot.
So that's pretty much it. From what I could tell, some color correction has been done in spots to keep Superman's costume from looking too green. Of course, things could still change between now and the actual release. I still have the screener for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and that's *nothing* like the final product. I hope someone finds this information useful. Cheers,
- General Conquest