Special Edition Superman DVDs on the Way
By Barry M. Freiman
This is no fantasy.
The Superman Homepage has learned exclusive details regarding Time Warner's work on new DVDs of the five Superman films released between 1978 and 1987. Ilya Salkind, who co-produced the first three "Superman" films, "Supergirl", and the "Superboy" television series, confirmed that he is indeed working with Michael Thau, the Producer and Restoration Supervisor on the 2001 Special Edition of "Superman: The Movie", and others who've been retained by Time Warner to produce new versions of the original Superman films (and Supergirl) for DVD release in conjunction with marketing plans for 2006's "Superman Returns".
"[T]he five DVDs are coming out," Salkind said in a recent telephone interview. Along with his late father, Alexander, and childhood friend, Pierre Spengler, Salkind produced the original Superman films (all except 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" produced by the Canon Group in a one-shot film deal they had with the Salkinds).
Salkind is working with Time Warner on the DVDs. According to Salkind, Time Warner now owns all of the footage shot for 1978's "Superman", 1980's "Superman II", 1983's "Superman III", 1984's "Supergirl", and 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" including distribution rights. This is consistent with last year's announcement by director Bryan Singer that he had purchased rights to all of the footage shot for "Superman" and "Superman II" so that he could incorporate the voice and image of Marlon Brando's Jor-El (Superman's biological father) into the upcoming "Superman Returns." A recent teaser trailer for the new film uses both Brando's voice and the original musical score by John Williams to connect the new film with the original franchise rather than attempt to supplant it.
According to Salkind, "I'm in touch with Michael Thau and I'm also in touch with another guy who does the documentaries and [DVD special features]." Thau declined to comment and referred all inquiries to Warner Home Video.
Salkind plans to "do commentaries of [Superman] I, II, and III [and] Pierre [Spengler] did his already." In addition, Salkind would like to do a commentary track for "Supergirl", which was released on DVD previously by Anchor Bay Entertainment. "I'm going to do a commentary [on "Supergirl"] and this time hopefully Helen [Slater] will do it..." Time Warner has acquired all distribution rights to "Supergirl" from Anchor Bay, according to Salkind, and plans to release that film along with the four Superman movies.
While "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" was not a Salkind production (Salkind and his father have a credit for initiating the Superman film series in "Superman IV"), Salkind believes Time Warner owns that film's footage as well and is in touch with director Sydney Furie.
The biggest revelation of the interview concerns plans for "Superman II". Scenes shot by fired director Richard Donner (who directed "Superman: The Movie"), including all of Brando's work for the second film, may finally see the light of day. "There will be a Donner cut [of "Superman II"] from what I hear," Salkind said. "There will apparently be an original cut with the original music and more stuff." Whether the extra footage will be presented as an alternative version of the film or included as a supplement has not yet been determined.
Actor Jack O'Halloran, who played mute super-villain Non in "Superman" and "Superman II" confirmed that Time Warner interviewed him about his work on both films. Like Salkind, O'Halloran believes there will be a Donner version of "Superman II". "I understand they [Time Warner] are letting Donner do his cut of Superman II," O'Halloran said. "We spoke a lot about Donner, whom I like a lot."
The theatrical version of "Superman II" that Richard Lester directed will also receive special attention on the new DVD. Though Lester - who also directed "Superman III" - has steadfastly refused to give interviews about his work on the Superman movies over the years, Salkind believes that "Lester might make an interview," he said. "[A]pparently Pierre convinced him to [consider it]," Salkind explained.
Virtually all films have footage that ends up on the cutting room floor and the five Superman films are no different. Before DVD technology gave life to deleted scenes as supplemental material, it was impossible to see what didn't make it to the theater screen unless you had connections in the movie industry. The Superman films were slightly different.
When ABC-TV aired the television debut of "Superman: The Movie" in 1980, they split the film into two parts and added over 30 minutes of footage not seen in theaters. A syndicated version of the film aired in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. in the 1990s that included most of this added footage and two additional scenes never seen before, including an entirely original scene featuring one of the few bits of dialogue between Christopher Reeve's Superman and Brando's Jor-El.
A special edition DVD of "Superman: The Movie" was released in 2001 with eight minutes of footage added back to the film. It is unclear which version of the first film will end up on the new DVD. Salkind did not participate in the preparation of the 2001 DVD.
ABC-TV aired "Superman II" in 1984 and again in 1985 with almost 20 minutes of previously unseen footage. None of Brando's footage was included in that cut of the film. Brando died in 2004.
"Superman III" and "Supergirl" likewise had their debut television airings with added footage not seen in theaters.
The Salkinds originally retained Donner to direct "Superman" and "Superman II" simultaneously. Budget over-runs and personality conflicts eventually led the Producers to replace Donner with Lester. Lester had previously directed "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers" for the Salkinds and joined the "Superman" production as an uncredited producer and intermediary. "Lester contributed two gigantic ideas," Salkind explained. "Drop the second part because we had missed summer 78 and take the end of the second part for the first part." This permitted Donner to finish the first film without worrying about filming for the second, with the rationale being that, if the first film bombed, there'd be no reason to have a second film ready to go. After the first film's release, work resumed on the sequel with Lester in the director's chair.
The original idea was to end the first film with a cliffhanger - the first of the two nuclear rockets that Superman threw into outer space explodes and frees the three Phantom Zone villains. After the Salkinds decided to hold off finishing "Superman II" till after the first film's release, it was decided that it made more creative sense to present the sequel's story independently of the first film. This necessitated plotting changes such as the addition of the scene where terrorists attempt to hold Paris hostage, which results in the freeing of the Phantom Zone baddies, and the deletion of scenes that referred to events from the first film as being recent.
The most significant change to what had already been shot by Donner, however, concerned the decision to cut Brando's Jor-El from the second movie. Salkind acknowledges the decision to cut Brando was partially financially motivated. Brando received $3.7 million up front for his work on "Superman". He also received 11.75% of the first film's grosses. Had he appeared in "Superman II", it was likely he would have been entitled to that same back-end participation on the sequel.
"Of course the 11 points had a lot to do with [cutting Brando]," Salkind admitted. However, Salkind insists that they never would have cut Brando out of the film had it not made creative sense. Salkind suggested to his father "What if it's the mother [instead]? She talks about love to her son. And it kind of made sense creatively... Jor-El had done his thing if you want."
Salkind and his father acquired the rights to make the "Superman" films in the early 1970s from Warner Publishing of which DC Comics is a wholly owned subsidiary. Their original agreement gave the Salkinds the right to make films featuring Superman and the Superman family of characters for 25 years. Time Warner essentially held a right of first distribution on any "Superman" films made by the Salkinds. In the mid-1980s, the Salkinds licensed the right to produce one Superman film to the now defunct Canon Group.
Salkind briefly considered a return to the character in the early 1990s with a "Superman V" but Time Warner had their own plans for the Superman characters. By 1993, Time Warner reacquired the rights to produce Superman film and television properties from the Salkinds to pave the way for ABC-TV's "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman".
The Superman Homepage will publish a full length interview with Ilya Salkind in the next few weeks. Also stay tuned for another big announcement later this week.