Terence Stamp

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970, Alan Cooke)

The Mind of Mr. Soames is preternaturally gentle (which, getting ahead of myself, is kind of the point) but it’s always a surprise how much more gentle it can get. The film doesn’t forebode or foreshadow, even though doing either wouldn’t just be predictable, it might even be appropriate given the subject matter.

The film opens at a private British medical institute, where everyone is very excited because they’re going to operate on star patient Mr. Soames (played by Terence Stamp). Stamp was born comatose due to a super-rare condition in his brain stem and this institute has kept him alive for thirty years. They’ve been waiting for medical science to get to a place where it can help Stamp. And it has. American surgeon Robert Vaughan (sporting a very cool beard) crosses the pond to do it. He’s not interested in Stamp’s recovery process, just the surgery.

At least, not until he realizes Davenport wants to train Stamp like a pet, not raise him like a child. Because even though Stamp’s got an adult brain, he’s pristine tabula rasa.

Also in the mix is scuzzy TV journalist Christian Roberts. He’s got Davenport’s permission to turn Stamp’s “childhood” into a documentary series. Part of the film’s gentle is how much the filmmakers trust the audience. The script trusts them to keep up, director Cooke trusts them to keep up—a big thing in the first act is American doctor Vaughan realizing British doctor Davenport is less concerned with Stamp recovering than with him making the Institute famous. But it never comes up. The whole arc of the film turns out to involve Donal Donnelly as Davenport’s underling, who gradually learns how to be a good doctor. Vaughan’s a big influence on him, but so’s Stamp.

Even though it’s almost a spoiler how much agency Stamp gets in the film given he starts it inanimate, kept alive by a roomful of machines. When Mind starts, it’s a split between Vaughan, Davenport, and Roberts, with Donnelly bouncing between Vaughan and Davenport. But once Stamp wakes up, the film starts its gradual transition into being his story.

It’s a great film, but it’s very hard to imagine it being able to do any more than it already does. Stamp eventually encounters all sorts of other people—most importantly kindly (potentially too kindly) miserable housewife Judy Parfitt—and Mind treats them as caricatures. Only Stamp, with this necessarily reduced agency and potential of it, gets to be a full-fledged character. These people he encounters are caricatures from his perspective, but from the film’s, which I guess is where the only real problems (outside the wrong closing music) occur. Everyone relies on Stamp to handle his perspective, which is understandable, he’s phenomenal. But if the film adjusted the narrative distance to track Stamp more closely, it’d necessarily lose the doctors.

Mind of Mr. Soames can’t be a character study, but it also can’t be a medical thriller because it can’t maintain the medical procedural. It also can’t do straight drama because it’s got a speculative air to it. Director Cooke does that gentle thing instead of trying to hit various intensities. It’s never calm, it’s never placid, it’s just gentle. Mind is based on a novel and there’s definitely the potential for some sort of comparison to Frankenstein, maybe with the book but definitely with the film; whether or not Stamp is going to go Frankenstein is one of the film’s many questions, but never one of Stamp’s and it’s Stamp’s film.

The film doesn’t exactly have charm—it’s too intense, stakes-wise—and it’s never overly stylish, but the deliberate but still surprising way the narrative unfolds is rather agreeable. Mind of Mr. Soames does a lot, provides its cast a lot of great scenes, and it’s not an easy story to do. So when it works out so well… not charming, but nice.

It’s a story very well told.

Outside the occasionally too obviously shot in the studio night time exteriors, Billy Williams’s photography is always good. The actual exterior shooting—when Stamp and the film get outside his “playroom”—is excellent. Really strong direction from Cooke, both with the actors and the composition. The film seems to get a certain patience from Cooke, while it gets a different one from John Hale and Edward Simpson’s script; the story’s about agitated people but the story’s never agitated.

Pretty good music from Michael Dress (except the closing track, which is fine but not good enough for what the film has just accomplished).

Great performance from Stamp (you can’t imagine anyone else in the role after he does it). Excellent support from Vaughan, Davenport, and Donnelly. They’re ahead the other caricatures because, well, they get enough time not to be caricatures.

Stamp, Cooke, and everyone else make something special with The Mind of Mr. Soames.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Cooke; screenplay by John Hale and Edward Simpson, based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine; lighting cameraman, Billy Williams; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Dress; production designer, Bill Constable; produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Terence Stamp (John Soames), Robert Vaughn (Dr. Bergen), Nigel Davenport (Dr. Maitland), Christian Roberts (Thomas Fleming), Donal Donnelly (Joe Allan), Norman Jones (Davis), Dan Jackson (Nicholls), and Judy Parfitt (Jenny Bannerman).



Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the extended cut

The extended version of Superman runs three hours and eight minutes, approximately forty-five minutes longer than the theatrical version (Richard Donner’s director’s cut only runs eight minutes longer than the theatrical). The extended version opens with a disclaimer: the producers prepared this version of the film for television broadcasts (three hours plus means two nights). The director was not involved.

Neither, one must assume, was original editor Stuart Baird because I’m not sure anyone could stand to see their work so butchered. Superman’s already had one somewhat inglorious revision–the director’s cut–and this extended version takes it one step further. Scenes will now drag on and on as actors try one more line. The subtly of the cuts, which enhance the performances, is either gone or severely hampered. The John Williams music is rearranged to fit the lengthened scenes and sequences, with no attention paid to how the music fits the scenes.

Worse, padding the film out changes the emphases. Margot Kidder is far less relevant (Christopher Reeve’s Superman as well) because most of the added footage is Gene Hackman and company. In addition to introducing Lex Luthor (Hackman) as a piano-playing crooner, the extended edition has all sorts of physical humor and lame jokes for Hackman’s sidekicks, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine. Perrine gets a little more character–in fact, she’s the only actor who benefits from the extended material–while Beatty gets a lot less. The constant jokes make his presence drag, especially since he and Hackman aren’t funny with the physical humor.

The extended edition does explain a few things, like why Larry Hagman isn’t with the missile on Hackman and company’s second attempt at it. And Chief Tug Smith gets a whole subplot. In the other versions of Superman, he gets maybe a line or two in an interview with Kidder.

And there’s more at the beginning on Krypton. With everyone except Brando and Susannah York–though, wow, you forget how amazing they are together in their one scene. So good.

Actually, the extended version starts just fine. Terence Stamp’s microexpressions are preserved as well as Baird’s exquisite cuts between them. Then there’s a little more dialogue, here and there, with Brando and the other council members. The scene starts to drag and instead of the drag being corrected, it just gets worse. All the added lines are superfluous (as the two successful versions of the film attest).

Then the flying guard out to bust Brando for using too much power shows up. It’s a pointless addition–I assume it got cut because they couldn’t get the special effects to work or just decided it was a waste of time. But the producers want to waste some time with this cut. Well, executive producers. Original producer Pierre Spengler apparently didn’t have anything to do with bloating the film out. Ilya and Alexander Salkind, however, wanted to get it to those two nights for television.

Most of the added material–after the three major additions (Krypton, Hackman and company, Smith and the Native Americans)–is surplus dialogue. Lines no one would’ve kept. Including the actors. Besides Hackman seeming lost in the slapstick, Glenn Ford’s got a real awkward added line and can’t get any traction out of it. Though the extended scenes of the Daily Planet are interesting. They’re still too long.

After the surplus dialogue, the Salkinds threw in a lot of establishing shots. Lots of second unit. Lots of unfinished special effects–like during the way too long destruction of Krypton. Or special effects director Donner wisely cut just because they didn’t look any good even when finished. There’s some great helicopter footage of New York City though. Sorry, Metropolis. And, actually, Smallville too. It just doesn’t do anything.

Except add time. As scenes play long, even unpadded scenes start to drag–the mono soundtrack with the rearranged score doesn’t help–and subplots stop developing. Kidder disappears for way too long. Reeve gets some added material, which starts the character in a mildly new direction, but then there’s nothing else. The extended material is dead weight. Even when it’s good for character development, like with Perrine. And, to a lesser extent, Marc McClure.

Superman: The Movie: The Extended Cut is a swell curiosity, but nothing more. Maybe it really should be seen in two parts. Except, of course, it’s not like the Salkinds tried to do anything to make it feel like a two-part story either. Because their additive editing is disastrous and an ignoble diss to the film, its cast, and its crew. Not to mention the screenwriters, who clearly wrote some rather wordy, rather unnecessary lines.

However, if you’re a Fawlty Towers fan… Bruce Boa (from “Waldorf Salad”) does show up for a second and gets very angry. There’s also more John Ratzenberger, if you’re an avid Cliff fan.

Anyway. Editing is important. So is not purposely bloating out a film. The extra forty-five minutes are kryptonite to Superman.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).


Alien Nation (1988, Graham Baker)

A film like Alien Nation encourages a lot of thought. For example, I think I’ve decided I want to say the film is badly directed (by Baker) while being poorly lighted (by Adam Greenberg). I already know I wanted to say it was atrociously edited. Kent Beyda’s cuts don’t just jump (there’s a car chase where it appears the cars have turned around and gone back the way they came), they also pop. The sound levels pops, which isn’t exactly Beyda’s fault, it’s more Baker’s fault or the producers’ fault, but there’s got to have something Beyda could do to trying to keep the background noise between shots consistent. Or maybe not. Maybe that base level of post-production care is beyond Alien Nation.

I mean, fixing the editing wouldn’t fix the music and fixing the music wouldn’t fix the script and fixing the script wouldn’t fix the acting. I suppose it’s possible a better script would’ve helped the performances but Baker’s still such a crap director, it’s hard to imagine it.

About the only thing good about Alien Nation is the make-up. Only not so much on the featured cast. Like Terence Stamp’s Mr. Big. His alien make-up is bad. And alien cop Mandy Patinkin’s make-up is occasionally inconsistent between scenes. At least it’s not between shots in scenes, which–really–is kind of a surprise given the way the rest of the film plays out, production-wise.

So Patinkin is the idealistic alien cop while James Caan is the grumpy, bigoted (and questionably skilled) human cop. Writer Rockne S. O’Bannon writes terrible police procedural, but he also writes terrible cop banter. The bonding scenes between Caan and Patinkin are painful. Partially because they’re so poorly written, partially because you just feel so bad for the actors. Caan’s got a lousy part from the opening. Patinkin has potential for a good part but the script is so bad. And the direction, can’t forget Baker’s bad direction. Oh, and if Patinkin does manage a decent delivery–you know, if his makeup isn’t off-center–it’s more likely than not Beyda will screw something up in the cutting.

There are no winners in Alien Nation. There are no gem performances. The production design isn’t special. Maybe the best performance in it is Roger Aaron Brown and only because all he has to do is act like James Caan is a tiresome prick. Caan is a tiresome prick. Alien Nation takes place over like three or four days. It’s about one case. Caan gets Patinkin as a partner for the single purpose of exploiting him being an alien to solve an alien-related murder case.

Odd thing? They never catch the guy Caan is after. They never even try to find out his identity. It’s not only a mess, it’s a forgetful mess.

Not even the short runtime–maybe ninety minutes even–helps things. Because it’s not like the scenes are short. The scenes are painfully long. Watching Baker and O’Bannon try to change tempo during a scene? It’s excruciating.

The whole thing is excruciating. The anguish starts with the opening titles and goes all the way to the finale voiceover.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Graham Baker; written by Rockne S. O’Bannon; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Curt Sobel; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Richard Kobritz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James Caan (Matthew Sykes), Mandy Patinkin (Sam Francisco), Terence Stamp (William Harcourt), Roger Aaron Brown (Tuggle), Peter Jason (Fedorchuk), Tony Perez (Alterez), and Leslie Bevis (Cassandra).


Young Guns (1988, Christopher Cain)

Young Guns is an Emilio Estevez vanity project, which was once a thing. Estevez lacks the screen charisma and acting ability, but it’s a confusing part. He’s Billy the Kid and he’s playing him like a manipulative but somehow still likable psychopath. For about half the film, John Fusco’s script can keep up with Estevez–director Cain is utterly incapable with his cast and does nothing to assist Estevez or reign him in when need be–but it all falls apart in the end. It doesn’t fall apart from very high, but it does fall apart. The script gets worse, Cain responds to the different pace of the film by abandoning all his nods to pretense, which the first half is littered with. They’re not good, but they’re diverting.

Fusco’s script is interesting in how it characterizes the Young Guns of the title. Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland (he’s the sensitive one), Lou Diamond Phillips (he’s the soulful Native one), Charlie Sheen (he’s the godly one), Dermont Mulroney (he’s playing Pigpen from Peanuts only with some bigotry), Casey Siemaszko (he’s the loudmouthed but soulful little guy). Fusco writers the characters for Mulroney, Siemaszko and Phillips as caricatures; he’s nicer to Phillips than the other two, but there’s still no character development. Sheen, Sutherland and Estevez should get it too, but they just get plot points and costume changes.

Terence Stamp is good. Terry O’Quinn is sort of good; his part is just terribly written. Cain doesn’t seem to understand doing his washed-out Western–Dean Semler’s photography is desaturated, which has good and bad results–but Cain doesn’t realize the parts aren’t fitting. Not just the acting–and Cain’s direction of it–but the script and the stupid music. Young Guns has a sax-heavy smooth jazz thing going on. It’s very eighties. In all the bad ways. What’s sad is it’s tolerable in all those defects until the last act; the result of previous hundred minutes don’t add up to what the film closes with. Very obliviously, because Cain tries to ape Sam Peckinpah to risible result.

Young Guns is a bad movie with some earnest and bad performances. But it should’ve been better; throughout its runtime, it shows it should’ve been better. I mean, Christopher Cain wastes a Patrick Wayne cameo. How can you screw up a Patrick Wayne cameo?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Cain; written by John Fusco; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Cain and Joe Roth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Emilio Estevez (Billy), Kiefer Sutherland (Doc), Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez), Charlie Sheen (Dick), Dermot Mulroney (Dirty Steve), Casey Siemaszko (Charley), Terence Stamp (John Tunstall), Jack Palance (Lawrence G. Murphy), Terry O’Quinn (Alex McSween), Sharon Thomas Cain (Susan McSween), Alice Carter (Yen Sun) and Patrick Wayne (Pat Garrett).


Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)

Hi. My name is Andrew. And, from 1999 to sometime in 2000, I was a Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace apologist. When writing out the title, I forced myself to type it Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Because having two colons in a title is too lame.

It was a dark time. But, every day, as the ramifications of Phantom Menace (and its critical and cultural reaction) played out and destined mainstream American cinema into a bottomless pit of cynical opportunism masked as fan service, things got brighter. For my film appreciation, anyway. All the rest of the world got was a couple more Star Wars prequels, which I avoided like the plague at the time.

I refused to return to Phantom Menace, after it had become clear there was no way to justify any of it. Jar Jar Binks, the moron who saves a planet, becomes the scapegoat for a film with a gentle, kindly, oftentimes humorous look at slavery. In his screenplay, director Lucas talks about adorable little Jake Lloyd, who’s so Aryan and sweet, we can’t imagine him growing up into Sebastian Shaw, much less James Earl Jones, being a slave almost as much as he talks about those stupid midi-chlorian. He thinks they’re really cool. Just like slavery. And Jar Jar Binks.

Lucas loves Jar Jar Binks. He doesn’t love a lot in Phantom Menace. He could care less about almost all of it, until he gets to the end and thinks he’s directing a sixties MGM war movie. Because there’s nothing original in Phantom Menace. Lucas is just cribbing from other movies–so much Spielberg, so much Cameron–and trying to put something together. It’s like a demo reel, which–if I was being nice–could be used as a rationalization for Lucas, Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith’s godawful editing, which goes out of its way to distance the viewer from the characters. Because if the viewer has to get close to the character, to the actor, it’d all be over. Lucas can’t be taken seriously, because he’s so disinterested. He’s copping out.

It’s easy to tell the effects sequences Lucas cares about–with the exception of the visuals of the city planet (yeah, I know what it’s called, but can we just pretend for a second I don’t–I’d have to look up the spelling and I don’t want to)–has flying birds in the shots. Just like Spielberg would have. Because Lucas is jealous. He’s seen ILM do amazing work, both practically and then digitally, and none of it really had anything to do with him. But Lucas hadn’t been making movies, he hadn’t been doing anything, with the Star Wars brand for a decade until the twentieth anniversary edition. And what did all those new special effects, which gave Lucas a chance to have ILM aggrandize him instead of someone else, do? They got a reaction. That reaction emboldened Lucas. It probably emboldened him from the first tests they would have had to do. I’d love to know how that project happened.

All of the effects shots in Phantom Menace attempt to top one another. None of them inform the story. Not even the good ones. Those shots just happen not to be some of the awful ones, which usually involve compositions or first person point of view. But for the effects shots to build in expectation, well, you need a plot to back that approach up. Because Ray Park’s idiotically terse villain doesn’t pay off with that build-up. Neither does Lloyd’s space adventure, which is just a bad Top Gun knock-off for kids. Lucas either doesn’t know what to rip off from somewhere else or he does know what to rip off, but can’t rip it off successfully. The direction is awful.

So what’s good about Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace?

Not Liam Neeson. He’s terrible. Not Ewan McGregor. He’s even more terrible. Not Natalie Portman. She’s better than those two guys. Pernilla August is comically bad. Jake Lloyd’s crappy but it’s hard to blame the kid, Lucas didn’t know how to do this movie. He paces the thing like a bad Saturday morning cartoon.

It’s hard to dislike Ian McDiarmid. He’s almost fun. If Lucas had any ambition for the film, he would have made so much questionable at the end of it. He was bluffing. Phantom Menace is a conceptual bluff, which most entertainment ends up being. Only Lucas got called on it because he’s so bad. It’s so bad.

Though it’s hard to dislike Anthony Daniels. His idiotic cameo at least has sincere acting, which isn’t present anywhere else. Not even from McDiarmid. He’s just too bemused.

Then there’s Terence Stamp looking like he’s working for quaaludes. Or Hugh Quarshie, who’s desperate to make an impression even though Lucas refuses to let anyone make an impression except maybe Sam Jackson just because Lucas is a political animal.

Low mediocre score from John Williams. Awful photography from David Tattersall. He’s overconfident, trying to cover for his inability with the effects work.

Is there anything good about it?

No, don’t be silly. It’s awful. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace or even if you were crazy and really thought The Phantom Menace was more important than the Episode I part… it’s awful.

And, just like the original, it’s changed Hollywood. Lucas disrupted the system once again. Only this time, he did it too well. He figured out a way to make movies for everyone, whether they knew it or not. I mean, there’s not a single real conversation in this film. There’s not a single time the viewer has to ask a question or have a thought. Lucas pats your hand and takes your money, one stupid scene after another.

I used to defend this movie. I used to say it was okay. I got people to see it.

You know what, I like Andy Secombe’s Watto. I’m just going to say it. I always have. Even now, when it’s obvious Lucas is painting him as a benevolent slave owner. He’s an endearing rip-off of Quark. I wonder who came up with that characterization for the film. It wasn’t Lucas.

I’ve rationalized this film to people. I shouldn’t have. It was wrong. It’s so lame it’s awful, but it’s so lame it can’t actually be awful, because it can’t be taken seriously. Not as a film. Not as a toy commercial. Not even as an expression of Lucas’s ego. Phantom Menace can’t even be that.

Because The Phantom Menace is in vain.

And to those people out there who tried to tell me I was wrong back in 1999 and 2000 during those dark, apologist days and I didn’t listen to you… well, I was a dirty bird. You weren’t grungy, you were bitchin’.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) with Terence Stamp (Chancellor Valorum) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman)

Red Planet is an awful film. It’s got decent performances from Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, awful ones from Carrie-Anne Moss, Terence Stamp and Benjamin Bratt and a mediocre one from Simon Baker. The script fails Baker, who actually has what should be the film’s most interesting character arc, so it’s not entirely his fault.

Moss, Stamp and Bratt have terrible writing too–Moss gets stuck with the atrocious expository narration–but not so bad it excuses their performances. Of the three, Bratt’s probably the best as the jerk astronaut.

So besides bad writing, lots of bad acting and terrible direction from Hoffman (almost thirteen years after Planet’s release, he still hasn’t gotten another film job–thank goodness), what’s wrong with Red Planet? Well, it’s fundamentally unsound. It’s a big budget action sci-fi movie about a fictional science problem. It pretends to be a real story (Apollo 13 is a major influence) and never acknowledges the artifice. That disconnect–and the awful acting–makes it hard to care about the characters.

Except Kilmer, who’s very appealing in a comedic performance.

The terrible music from Graeme Revell and shockingly bad editing from Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett don’t help things either.

Worse, there are a couple really good scenes in the film–Kilmer’s instrumental to both; Sizemore and Baker help out for one of them–and Hoffman doesn’t know how to make them. They succeed because of the acting.

The 2001 references are sad.

Planet’s real bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antony Hoffman; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, based on a story by Pfarrer; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Robert K. Lambert and Dallas Puett; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Mark Canton, Bruce Berman and Jorge Saralegui; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Val Kilmer (Gallagher), Carrie-Anne Moss (Bowman), Tom Sizemore (Burchenal), Benjamin Bratt (Santen), Simon Baker (Pettengill) and Terence Stamp (Chantilas).


Superman II (1980, Richard Lester)

There are, now, three versions of Superman II. The theatrical, an extended television version (not officially released) and original director Richard Donner’s take on it. Unfortunately, Superman II is–as a narrative and a sequel–rife with problems. Drawing attention to these problems is a bad idea. And the version with the least emphasis on them? Richard Lester’s original.

Whatever Lester’s problem with the Superman character, it’s not really apparent here. Superman II feels like a good Superman movie should feel–some of the campy humor works, some of it doesn’t. I’d say about fifty percent of Terence Stamp’s lines fail. The successful ones, however, are great. And Sarah Douglas is fantastic.

Most importantly, Lester gets some wonderful acting out of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. The somewhat nonsensical romance doesn’t fit in the picture–and never will, no matter how many revisions people make–but it makes the film singular. Superman wasn’t a particularly long film series and the familiarity Lester gets out of Kidder and Reeve in this one, the first sequel, is something television shows usually have to go three or four seasons to achieve.

The special effects–particularly the flying sequences–are occasionally weak. There are a lot more complicated rear projection sequences than in the first film and they don’t work out very often.

Like I said before, Superman II‘s basically a bad idea for a movie. But it works out in the end, thanks to the actors and, yes, Lester.

That Paris opening’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), Susannah York (Lara), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner), the director’s cut

If watching Richard Donner’s director’s cuts have taught me one thing, it’s Donner probably shouldn’t have final cut. His director’s cut of Lethal Weapon, for example, is atrocious.

He adds about nine minutes to Superman and, much like Coppola’s revision of Apocalypse Now, it’s a testament to the original film it can weather the additions. For the most part, Donner’s additions are small–I think the longest sequence is Superman versus Lex Luthor’s weapon gadgets–but these additions all go into the rather iconic sequences at the beginning of the film. In other words, Donner intrudes on the film in progress… it’s kind of like talking during the movie (or a big CG Jabba the Hutt all of a sudden appearing).

Worse, director’s cut editor Michael Thau can’t compare to original editor Stuart Baird (Superman‘s just an exquisitely edited film, an aspect I don’t think it ever gets recognized). And don’t get me started on the awful new sound mix.

But it can’t muck it up.

If anything, the director’s cut just shows Superman is bigger than the director and his troubles with the producers. The elements–the cast, the script, the effects crew and John Williams–are in place. Donner does a great job directing the picture, no doubt, but it’s never fit in his filmography. He’s never made anything half as good as a film and nothing a quarter as good as a director.

So, even though none of the additions add anything, Superman succeeds.

Wonderment outweighs bloating.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman II (1980, Richard Donner), the Richard Donner cut

Superman II might just be broken. Watching “The Richard Donner Cut,” it’s an easy conclusion to come to–the greatly anticipated Marlon Brando scenes feature a callow, selfish Superman–not one who’s bursting with love for Lois Lane, like in the theatrical version. Also problematic is the utter lack of super–it’s a Superman movie, but this version of Superman II doesn’t actually have any real Superman scenes besides the rescue of the kid at Niagara Falls and then the last act city fight (which isn’t any better). He’s not doing anything super… it’s tedious, because so much of the Lois and Clark romance is shredded. I remember a review for the Daredevil director’s cut pointing out, although Jennifer Garner has the same amount of screen time, the film’s so much less painful because of the additional scenes without her. Well, this cut of Superman II has less Superman–and even has less Kryptonian supervillains–but it seems like they’re in it a lot more… and it’s not a good thing. They were shallow characters to begin with and they aren’t any better here.

While it was nice to see the Daily Planet newsroom under Donner’s vision again–and the maligned ending actually works out fine (if you forgive the uselessness of taking away Lois’s memory of Superman, which makes no sense in any version and does a disservice to the romance), well even–the only really nice stuff in the Donner Cut is extra Gene Hackman scenes. There are only a couple, both with Valerie Perrine, and they’re both great. I was hoping Perrine would show up again, but alas, she did not and the film was coasting along–most of the scenes not working because there was nothing connecting them anymore, with all the cuts of Lester-filmed material–until Hackman shows up again.

There’s one scene created from a combination of screen tests and, while the differences are noticeable, it’s a well-acted scene–even if it isn’t better than what was in the theatrical version. There are new special effects, some of which are fine, some of which needed something as simple as a black level fix and didn’t get it. John Williams has sole composer credit now and it’s all music from the first film recycled and you can tell. This version of Superman II sounds all wrong.

It’s unfortunate, after all the hubbub, it didn’t turn out to be a major achievement or something. Like I said, maybe it just doesn’t work in any form.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman, from a story by Puzo, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; directors of cinematography, Robert Paynter and Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird, Michael Thau and John Victor-Smith; music by John Williams; production designers, John Barry and Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler and Thau; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher), E.G. Marshall (The President), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) and Terence Stamp (General Zod).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.

Superman (1978, Richard Donner)

I love how the end of Superman, with the spinning back of the earth, causes so much trouble for people. My fiancée–before Marlon Brando had even gotten the kid into the spaceship–made me stop the movie twice (I had to tell her to stop, though I love her line about Superman having just as many plot holes as the Bible) to make observations about its inconsistency. So, two major inconsistencies in the first ten minutes. I was more concentrated on Krypton’s apparent lack of atmosphere and the effect it’d have on the three criminals (wouldn’t they suffocate before the Phantom Zone got them?). My point being, Superman is rife with dramatic inconsistencies and silliness, the world-turning being one of the lesser ones.

I’ve probably seen Superman six times as an adult, maybe seven (this viewing is the fourth time since 2001), so it’s kind of hard to write about it like it’s tomorrow’s bread. I notice things, every time I watch, and sometimes I’ve noticed them before and sometimes I think I have or haven’t. Superman‘s an incredibly watchable film, because it works so damn well–I can’t think of a film where the music was more important than this one. John Williams’s score literally makes the film. Something about the epical storytelling and Donner’s use of cranes and his short on dialogue, but not short in running time scenes, makes Williams’s music essential. Without it, Superman wouldn’t just not work, it’d be funny looking. There’s music for most of the movie, with the exception of the Daily Planet scenes. The other superior technical aspect of the film is the editing. Donner shot some great coverage for the film and editor Stuart Baird puts it all together beautifully–that scene in the cornfield and the Superman finding Lois in the car scene are both editorially magnificent. I never thought about it before, but in a certain way (not narratively) Superman‘s got a lot in common with 2001.

Other things I noticed this time was Donner’s great close-ups of Terence Stamp at the beginning, which I’m sure I’d noticed before, but never really appreciated, especially since it’s a movie called Superman‘s first real scene. Glenn Ford gets better with each viewing… The infamous “Can You Read My Mind?” flying dance number, which has become, in the last couple viewings, my favorite scene in the film. Also a big fan of the interview scene and the helicopter scene from the cinematography angle. I think the last time I watched it, I appreciated Superman ignoring Marlon Brando for Glenn Ford (something Bryan Singer ditched in the latest “sequel”), and I appreciated it again this time.

It’s amazing to me, the film I’ve seen, man and boy, fifteen or twenty times, about a flying guy in blue tights, still has so much to offer.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton, story by Puzo, from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Stuart Baird and Michael Ellis; music by John Williams; production designer, John Barry; produced by Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Christopher Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Ned Beatty (Otis), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent), Trevor Howard (First Elder), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Maria Schell (Vond-ah), Terence Stamp (General Zod), Phyllis Thaxter (Ma Kent), Susannah York (Lara), Jeff East (Young Clark Kent), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Sarah Douglas (Ursa) and Harry Andrews (Second Elder).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.
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