Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut (Warner; Movie •••½; HD DVD Picture •••, Sound •••½; Blu-ray Picture •••, Sound •••½; Original Extras ••••, New Extras: None). The first two Superman films were, for the most part, shot simultaneously, but once Superman: The Movie was in the can and edited, Dick Donner got replaced by Dick Lester, who shot his own film from scratch. Donner's abandoned footage, not seen since 1979, has now been dug up and reintegrated into the film, using some screen-test scenes and Lester sequences to (grudgingly) fill in for what Donner had yet to shoot. The result is a whole new (and better) movie, with the action balanced by much more romance and background on Superman, and a greater emphasis on Jor-El's relationship with his son (Marlon Brando's entire performance was deleted from Lester's cut to save paying him, so now there's 15 minutes of wonderful, formerly unseen Brando acting.)
The 2.35:1 1080p images, compressed on both HD formats with the VC-1 codec, are a mixed bag - not surprising, given the movie's patchwork composition. Some scenes are very crisp and detailed, others less so, and some are very grainy or have crawly artifacts in lighter backgrounds. Colors are very rich - maybe too rich, actually, as the skin tones are rather orange.
The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 soundtrack has lots of bass oomph as the bad guys mess with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, and there's nice separation and movement across the front channels. The Blu-ray Disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has a bit less clarity, but slightly more bass. Its picture is virtually indistinguishable from the HD DVD's.
Extras on both HD discs include a wonderful commentary by Donner, who is funny, passionate, and generous, aided by Tom Mankiewicz, who did all the restoration and editing and is full of enthusiasm. Both deliver plenty of interesting background information along with the laughs. You also get an introduction by the director; six additional scenes (totalling 9 minutes) that don't really add anything, but are fun to see anyway; and a fascinating featurette on the restoring and re-editing of Donner's movie that includes comparisons of the two Director Dicks' takes on the same scene. It hints at the possibilities had Donner been allowed to shoot the third and fourth Superman movies as he originally intended. Up, up, and away ...
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