I am an optimist ladies and gentlemen. While some passionate film fans may stare at their theatrical poster of David Lynch's 'Dune' and lament the fact that a true director's cut of that film will never happen, I remain convinced that it lies just beyond the horizon and will be sprung upon us when we least expect it.
Just last week, my good friend Jamie Williams and I were chatting about the legendary Eric Stoltz footage from 'Back To The Future' that was almost certainly just lying in some heavily secured film vault at Universal. Jamie said that there was no way we would be seeing that footage on any future release of the film. Literally a day later, producer Bob Gale told us we would.
We may have a fair few reservations in relation to double dipping, only putting special features on Blu-Ray releases of new movies, terrible looking restorations on archive films, the politics which can keep us from getting the supplemental material we really want etc. But we also have to admit that we have never had it so good. Even films which require us to cling to our big box VHS copies due to lack of a DVD release eventually get one (such as Joe Dante's 'Matine'). Classic films which make us wait an age for a proper special edition release often blow even its most ardent fans completely away with the results (such as Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner'). And beloved film franchises like 'Back To The Future', which were somewhat lacking excellence on their initial special edition release, have the real deal waiting just around the corner.
To that end, my new series of articles 'Dream Specs' is designed to pitch exactly that; the definitive compendium of supplemental material that we would wish to see on a future Blu-Ray/DVD release of a beloved series of films filled to the brim with fascinating production histories, legendary lost footage and juicy studio/filmmaker clashes.
I certainly cannot think of a better one to tackle than the Superman motion picture series, starting from Richard Donner's 'Superman: The Movie' in 1978, three sequels, the spin-off 'Supergirl', and the agonizing journey through development hell to bring the character back for a fifth outing, culminating in Bryan Singer's requel 'Superman Returns' in 2006. Right now you are saying to me that you bought a Superman DVD boxset that same year and it was pretty stuffed with extras (including the long awaited 'Superman II: Richard Donner Cut') thank you very much. It was certainly a fantastic effort on the part of Warner Bros. but any die-hard fan of the films will tell you that there is still so much further to go.
So join me if you will as we conjure up the definitive twenty disc Superman film boxset that, if dreams come true, we would get to pluck from store shelves around Christmas 2012 to coincide with the release of the much anticipated Christopher Nolan produced reboot; 'Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology (1978-2006)':-
Disc 1 - 'Superman: The Movie' Theatrical Cut
When the beloved theatrical version of my favourite film made its DVD debut in 2006, it was actually greeted with derision by some of its die-hard fans. The reason for this being that, despite initially announcing it, the film's original sound mix was not included, only a chopped down version of the remastered soundtrack from the 2000 special edition by its producer Micheal Thau. To the less discriminating, the sound mix is suitably bold and epic. To those who grew up with the film on television and VHS, it contains badly misjudged moments, most notably during the opening credits. As each cast and crew name whooshes through the screen in a powerful blue blur, the original sound mix offers a restrained rush of air which allows John Williams theme to be heard in all its glory. The remastered mix replaces this restraint with a violent "boosh" every time a credit appears, almost drowning out the theme. 'Superman' is an important American film which deserves proper restoration and preservation. Please re-release it with its original soundtrack.
Disc 2 - 'Superman: The Movie' The Final Cut
I will admit right now that this is just anal retentiveness on my part being that it is my favourite film and I will never be completely satisfied. You know how there are fans of 'Blade Runner' who can carefully explain the pros and cons of all five released versions? Well that's me with 'Superman: The Movie'. My dream final cut of the film would extend it to its epic three hour length, as seen on television in the eighties, giving us as much of Richard Donner's world as possible. Most importantly, it would be able to restore John Williams complete score back into the film. For whatever reason, Williams wrote his score to a longer cut of the film and restoring it turns a great comic book movie into a mini operetta.
Disc 3 - 'Superman: The Movie' Supplemental Material
WB have done us fans proud with the treatment they have given to the first film. We have been given two all-encompassing documentaries (three if you count the section on 'Look Up In the Sky'), behind the scene footage and screen tests. I cannot ask for more.
Disc 4 - 'Superman II' The Richard Lester Cut
Smoke Richard Lester out of hiding, plant a big bag of money and get him to record audio commentary for the film. Better yet, have Richard Donner co-host it with him. Even people who don't listen to commentaries will crank that one up.
Disc 5 - 'Superman II' The Richard Donner Cut
Oh boy, it wasn't exactly up to scratch was it? I'm not exactly sure how to feel about the alternate 'Superman II' that we ended up with. On the one hand, one of the great fan wet dreams of all time was finally realised. On the other hand, unless you have an actual budget at your disposal, you cannot make a complete film with unfinished footage. Donner never shot the villains conquering the world and he never figured out the ending he was going to use all the way back in 1980. Neither of those can just be conjured out of thin air. Passionate fans continue to try and finish the film to this day. The work of one particular editor by the name of Seultron (which you can check out right here) has proven to be so impressive and inspiring that even us exhausted fans have gotten excited again at the prospect of an improved, final cut of Donner's work. If you can go back and edit the film properly, create a sound mix which doesn't re-use the same cue five times in the space of thirty minutes and use organic special effects to show General Zod actually taking over the world as opposed to a dinky little middle American town then we can finally put Superman II behind us as a 'finished film'.
Disc 6 - 'Superman II' Supplemental Material
The journey of 'Superman II' to the screen is surely worthy of a two hour documentary all by itself. Shooting even higher, I would love an on-screen reunion of the actors who played the three Kryptonian criminals as well as a face to face interview between Donner and Lester........or a caged death-match. I'm flexible about it.
Disc 7 - 'Superman III' Theatrical Cut
Richard Pryor's super computer finally in the glory of Blu-Ray.
Disc 8 - 'Superman III ' Extended Cut
The most unnecessary extended cut of the series as all of the deleted material can be seen on the most recent DVD release and it adds nothing but further out of kilter comedy to the film. The extended cut is actually a 140 minute version of the film which was produced by the Salkinds for television and contains one vital ingredient missing from the theatrical version; an actual opening credits sequence set against a star field, matching the continuity of the rest of the series and actually starting out with the pretense of being a Superman movie (you can see it here). That alone makes it my preferred version of the film.
Disc 9 - 'Superman III' Supplemental Material
I want to see an in-depth featurette examining the abandoned early versions of 'Superman III' as written by Ilya Salkind and featuring Supergirl and Brainiac. I'd also love to see that legendary appearance by Richard Pryor on 'The Tonight Show' which started the ball rolling on the film we got, not to mention the downhill spiral of the series.
Disc 10 - 'Supergirl' Theatrical Cut
Anchor Bay initially produced a fantastic DVD of 'Supergirl' containing both the international version of the film and the never before seen director's cut. But during its initial release, the film was actually distributed in the US by Tristar Pictures who cut the film down to below two hours, almost rendering it incomprehensible and certainly eliminating a great deal of the title character's screentime. I don't think that particular version of the film has ever been released on DVD and, in the interest of giving the viewer an appreciation of just why it was received so badly upon release, it should be.
Disc 11 - 'Supergirl' Director's Cut
The 138 minute director's cut (get through the thing in one sitting if you dare) as released by Anchor Bay a few years ago.
Disc 12 - 'Supergirl' Supplemental Material
When WB actually re-released 'Supergirl' on DVD themselves in 2006, they included the international version with its audio commentary track as produced by Anchor Bay but didn't release any of the other supplemental features. We need the hour long 1984 TV documentary, a new retrospective (as opposed to five seconds mention on the 2006 boxset) and a look at writer David Odell's initial script which featured both Brainiac and the legendary Christopher Reeve cameo where he welcomes Supergirl to Earth.
Disc 13 - 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' Theatrical Cut
Oh the pain, the pain of it all!
Disc 14 - 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' Extended Cut
This is quite a tricky topic because, after reading about the huge chunk of footage which was removed from the film, as well as being one of the few people on the planet to believe that 'Superman IV' is a better film than the third one, I was adamant that an extended cut should be produced. Then I saw the deleted footage and I realised that the material was cut most likely because it was so cheap and badly shot as to be un-releasable in the opinion of the studio. Then 'Film Score Monthly' released Alexander Courage's superb score, a piece of work that is so strong it actually elevates the quality of that horrible footage. I have finally resumed my opinion that cutting the deleted scenes back in and restoring Courage's score with a proper sound mix would, at the very least, make the film comprehensible. As the last performance of Christopher Reeve as Superman, I feel very strongly that the film should be repaired as best it can.
Disc 15 - 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' Supplemental Material
Featuring 'Memoirs Of A Nuclear Man: The Mark Pillow Story'.
Disc 16 - 'Superman Lives'
This is the big one. This is the disc film fans will spend two hundred dollars on an entire boxset just to own. I am talking about an all-encompassing, no-holds barred documentary detailing the entire development period of the 'Superman V' project and all its various incarnations. This would include the Salkinds planned fifth film in the series possibly spinning off from their 'Superboy' television series, the infamous 'Superman Reborn' which opened with Supes visiting a shrink and had his son being born through immaculate conception, Kevin Smith's 'Superman Lives', Tim Burton's 'Superman Lives' (something quite different), the Oliver Stone/William Wisher version, the planned seven film saga by unknown Alex Ford, 'Batman vs. Superman' directed by Wolfgang Peterson and 'Flyby' by JJ Abrams. As well as interviews with all the major players in the story, the documentary would show us the pre-viz sequences created by McG when he was attached to the project, screen tests of actors auditioning for the man of steel (including some punk called Brandon Routh), secret video diary footage of Jon Peters dancing around the production offices with a copy of National Geographic as shot by one of the lowly concept artists and the holy grail of test footage; the Nicholas Cage costume test.
Disc 17 - 'Superman Returns' Theatrical Cut
With audio commentary by Singer and with an isolated score track so people can appreciate just how amazing John Ottman's work on the film really is.
Disc 18 - 'Superman Returns ' Extended Cut
'Superman Returns' is clearly a three hour epic squeezed into a two and a half hour running time. An extended cut offers the opportunity to restore the much demanded 'return to Krypton' sequence, provide more meat to the otherwise rushed Smallville section and add the vital missing plot point that Luthor was responsible for setting up the idea that Superman's home world was still out there for him to find. When Luthor creates 'New Krypton' on Earth, the shots of its landscape are practically identical to the ones we see in that opening sequence. When Superman calls Luthor's plan "an old man's sick joke", that is what he is referring to. That wonderful subtext is lost without those moments being restored to the film.
Disc 19 - 'Superman Returns' Supplemental Material
No improvements necessary here as the documentary created for the initial release was fantastic. One cool addition would be a glimpse at whatever vague story ideas Singer had conjured up for his planned sequel before it got the axe.
Disc 20 - 'The Fortress Of Solitude Archive'
Finally, for the sake of completion, absurdity and the fact that twenty is such a lovely round figure, the final disc (inspired by the 'Zion Archive' disc from the Ultimate Matrix boxset) would contain all of the trailers, TV spots, concept art, storyboards, production and publicity photographs, concepts and released theatrical posters from the entire series. It would also be a fantastic opportunity to include material created by the fans themselves. Over the last few years, the Superman movies have inspired so many people to create their own artwork, posters and fan videos, some of them quite splendid. It would be a great way to generate interest in the boxset from fans, if nothing else, to offer them the chance to have their work included in on the DVD. It isn't without precedent either. The band Guyz-Nite created their own independently produced music video based on the 'Die Hard' trilogy. The video became such a success on Youtube that Fox included it as part of the 'Live Free Or Die Hard' DVD. The disc would also be a wonderful opportunity to digitally recreate the Fortress of Solitude for Superman fans at home. Imagine having the option on the disc to turn the menus off so the fortress can act as a TV/desktop screensaver, with the John Williams/John Ottman soothing you to sleep, right before a Marlon Brando a-like voice yells at you to pick a special feature.
So there you are. If you feel the urge to label me insane after reading some of these ideas then feel free to do so. The word 'dream' in the title of the series is meant to be taken literally. I have a pragmatic side like everyone else and know that there is slim hope that any of the above will come to be. I just know that come this Winter when I see Eric Stoltz as Matry McFly, I'll be reminding myself that anything is possible. I hope you will too.
If you have any suggestions for future title that you would like to see in this series then please email me or leave a comment below.
Special thanks to Jay/Mac for the boxset image. You have great powers, my son.