Stars of several Superman television and film incarnations were on hand Sunday at Warner Home Video’s “Superman Through the Ages” panel at this year’s Comic-Con International In San Diego. The panel was primarily focused on the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, to be included in the upcoming DVD release, “Superman: The Christopher Reeve Collection.”
Noel Neill (Lois Lane from later seasons of “Adventures of Superman”), came out and immediately copped to being the infamous Superman curse.
“All the Supermen I’ve worked with have died!” she said.
Surprise guest Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen from “Superman Returns”) was next in line, who said of his fandom, “I would be sitting in the audience if I wasn’t sitting up here today.”
Jack O’Halloran and Marc McClure (Non and Jimmy Olsen from “Superman,” respectively) came out together. Jack was the only one present who’d had the rare privilege to act a scene with the late, great Marlon Brando, and he said of the star, “Marlon was incredible. When you walked on set, you could hear a pin drop if he’s there.”
Marc McClure, for his part, had something say on behalf of the late Christopher Reeve. McClure’s was a plea for the audience to support stem cell research, which activist Reeve had been a staunch supporter of.
Michael Thau, producer and editor of the Donner cut of “Superman II,” took the podium next and talked a little about the project. He characterized it as a “milestone in cinema history, the first time a filmmaker after 20 years could reconstruct a vision that was taken away from him.” Their goal was to follow screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz’s script and Donner’s vision as closely as possible, and the new cut is 80 percent Donner footage. They even cut together screen tests of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder to include a scene that Donner had never shot.
With that, they showed the first clip, the original opening to “Superman II,” that was to bridge the two films. It opened on the sentencing of General Zod, Ursa and Non by Jor-El on Krypton. Their banishment to the Phantom Zone was then intercut with a recap of the end of the first “Superman,” culminating in the Man of Steel redirecting Luthor’s rocket into deep space. It is the explosion of this which is responsible for the release of the exiled Kryptonians.
Then, finally, Richard Donner took the stage, and was welcomed with a standing ovation. The first thing Donner did was attempt to set the record straight on his own exile from the franchise. The plan was always to shoot “Superman” and “Superman II” concurrently, but when the studio realized they couldn’t finish all of “II” before the release of the first film, they decided to wrap with Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman and put the rest on hold.
“I was going to come back and finish it,” Donner said. “If ‘Superman’ had been a failure, they’d have made me come back. But since it was a success, they fired me.”
Donner proceeded to piggyback on McClure’s earlier statement. The director asserted that, “if we’d gotten into stem cell research earlier, I believe Chris would be alive today.”
Donner said he was happy that Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” as a sequel to those first two Superman films.
“Very much so,” Donner said. The project had been on the table for years, and had gone through a plethora of directors, but when he heard Singer was attached, Donner believed the studio had finally found the right man for the job. “The other guys were just shooters, but Bryan brought a lot of heart.”
Donner was then asked how he’d originally become involved with the franchise.
“I was sitting on the john and the phone rang,” Donner began. A quiet Hungarian voice, that of Alexander Salkind, was on the other end of the line.
“I’m making ‘Superman’ the movie,” Salkind had said. “Do you want to direct?”
Donner was quick to say “yes.” That was in 1976, and the rest was history.
The panelists were asked what their favorite Superman moments had been. Neill immediately quipped, “It wasn’t the payday.”
“Being here, doing this, sitting with the company I’m here with today,” a less-jaded Huntington responded.
“I’d have to thank Donner for getting the group of people together for two years in ’77,” said McClure. “We’re sitting here today because of Mr. Donner.”
Thau’s favorite moment had been hearing the audience applaud for the recut scene they’d just shown.
And finally, it was Richard Donner’s turn. He recounted the whirlwind of premieres he’d attended on the opening weekend of “Superman Returns,” first in Washington at the Kennedy Center, then in London. But en route from London to California for the Los Angeles premiere, the captain of their plane came on the intercom and announced, “We have run into trouble with one of the engines. But not to worry, Superman is in seat 1A.” That, he said, and “meeting Chris [Reeve], loving him and missing him.”
The panel concluded with another clip from the Donner cut of “Superman II.”
Lois Lane, in the Daily Planet newsroom, casts furtive glances at Clark as she studies a photo of Superman on the front page of the Planet. She grabs a marker and draws glasses and a fedora on the picture of Superman to match Clark’s, a wry grin of satisfaction on her face. After dropping not-so-subtle hints in a meeting between her, Clark and Perry White, Lois confronts Clark about her discovery.
“That’s very amusing, Lois,” Clark says, brushing off the allegation.
But Lois is so sure that she leaps from the window, asserting that Clark/Superman would never let her die. Clark rushes to the street, uses his breath to slow Lois’ descent, and opens an awning, which further breaks her fall and bounces her into a fruit stand on the street. By the time Lois realizes what has happened, Clark is already back in the Daily Planet office she’d jumped from, looking down in astonishment. Perry White enters and asks if Clark has seen Lois.
“She just stepped out for a minute,” Clark told his editor.
“You have no idea how proud I am of my fan base,” Donner said at the close of the panel. “I thought this would never happen. I thank you all, each and every one of you.”
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