Richard Donner on Superman, Directing Again, and The Goonies Musical
To give you an idea about what kind of mark Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie left on the pop culture landscape, think of it like this: 33 years later, the Donner origin story -- and its sequel, which he didn't get to finish -- is still being talked about in reverent tones. No disrespect to this summer's overloaded crop of superhero films, but: Does anyone think that 33 years from now people will still be talking about Thor?
Despite what Donner accurately described as a "shitty connection," the legendary 81-year-old director phoned Movieline late last week to discuss the Blu-ray release Superman The Movie Anthology 1978-2006, Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot, his own future plans behind the camera, and just when fans can expect to see that Goonies musical.
This December marks the 33rd anniversary of Superman: The Movie. This week, the film and the subsequent sequels, get released on Blu-ray. There's another Superman reboot in the works. In 1978 did you ever imagine that Superman would still be so relevant to pop culture in 2011?
Hell no! No, no, no, no, no. I was hoping just to get a movie in the theaters and see it do well and have people enjoy and keep Superman alive. I had no idea whatsoever.
Why do you think Superman still resonates as a character today?
That's a tough question. I just think he's very much a personification -- a memorial of -- Americana. He's something the world was brought up on, but America, specifically, was brought up on him. Because when you say, "Truth, justice, and the American way" now, that sounds so stupid; but there was a time where that really meant something, and I think that time somewhat still exists. And you're talking to a liberal. I think he was really the living shape of that period of time. I think if he was alive and back on Earth, he would have some very interesting things to say about America today.
I ain't getting into that! No way, baby!
Ha! Well, then back to Superman: The Movie. Nowadays there seems to be a new superhero movie in theaters every week, but back in 1978 it was an anomaly. What was the reaction you received when you told people you were directing Superman?
When I said to my friends, "I'll see you, I'm going away for two years," they said, "What are you doing?" (whispers) "I'm doing Superman." They said, "What?!" I said, "I'm doing Superman. I'm going to make the film." My friends, who were real filmmakers, said, "Wow, what a great opportunity." The ones that really weren't -- y'know, I'm not going to knock anybody. Most of my friends said, "Go to it, what a great opportunity." And it turned out to be just that: a great opportunity. And I've never heard anything but niceties from them.
It might have been a great opportunity, but then you ran into some trouble when trying to complete Superman II. That story is Hollywood lore, of course, but how does it feel to have your version of Superman II available, again, for the masses.
I made one, and I made two at the same time. We had to because, supposedly, the time wasn't there to complete both and deliver the picture on time. I never actually thought that -- I had full intentions of going back and finishing it. But when the producers felt the picture was such a success, they didn't need me anymore, I figured well, that's it -- nobody will ever see that again. Then, a young filmmaker named Michael Thau kept pursuing the fact that there's an audience that wants to see it. I would say, 'You're nuts!' He says, 'No, I'm telling you, there's a fan base.' So I said, 'Look, Michael, if you can get it going, fine.' And sure enough, one day he called and he said, 'People are pressuring the studio that they want to remake it now. They want to take all your footage and release a cut of yours.' I was thrilled! It was something that I never thought would happen, and I quite honestly owe to Michael Thau.
When you revisit your cut of Superman II on occasions like this anthology Blu-ray release, do you find things you would have liked to have done differently?
When we made Superman I and II, we put most of it away. If I had gone back -- and I wanted to: there was a lot of II that was never shot by me, and there was a lot of II that I would have reshot, given the opportunity; I either shot it on the run or tried to get it in before somebody left or something happened. We were always against the clock. So when this thing came along, I was thrilled because it was pretty well patched together. But there are scenes in there that are actual screentests with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, both with each other and with other people, that are part of that film now. It's not exactly the way you want to make a movie, but that's the way I had to.
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