These days it's not uncommon for major studio movies to be reworked, extended and generally altered by filmmakers from what was originally released in theaters.
The innovation of DVD and Blu-ray discs in this century has afforded an opportunity for studios to release multiple versions of movies by adding a few deleted scenes or, in some cases, allowing the director to fiddle with the entire film.
The ubiquitous “director’s cut” is today as much a marketing tool as it is a filmmaker’s artistic choice. (Some would say more.)
But back in the day — which is to say, before George Lucas began tinkering with his original Star Wars trilogy and Ridley Scott came up with five different versions of “Blade Runner” — there was the rare but not unheard-of practice of restoring deleted footage to extend a movie for broadcast television.
One reason you don’t see these versions on video today is that we now have high-definition TV screens that give us widescreen images and stereo sound. When widescreen/stereo theatrical movies went to television back then, the soundtrack had to be monaural and the picture had to be reduced to pan and scan, with the image sliding back and forth to focus on pertinent action or dialogue on a squarish frame.
Take, for example, “Superman,” or “Superman: The Movie” if you prefer the advertising title over the title that appears on the film.
When Christopher Reeve’s debut as the Man of Steel landed in theaters in December of 1978, it had a running time of 143 minutes — eight minutes of which was the closing credits (the longest in movie history at the time).
Normally, a film of this length would have been shown over an entire three-hour prime-time evening, squeezing in as many commercials as feasible and possibly deleting a couple of scenes.
In this case, however, ABC aired the three-hours-plus “Superman” in two-hour blocks over two nights in February 1982, which allowed for even more commercials.
And now, that version is coming to home video for the first time in “Superman: The Movie: Extended Cut & Special Edition 2-Film Collection” (DC/Warner, 1978, two discs, two versions of the film, bonus features for the “Special Edition”).
What really makes this interesting is that Warner Bros. has gone back to the extra footage and restored it to its original widescreen and stereo format, so that it runs uninterrupted (and without commercials, of course) for more than three hours, just as it would play in a theatrical release. Only in this case it’s a hi-def Blu-ray release.
The 40 minutes-plus of footage that had been left on the cutting-room floor does have an impact on the pacing, making the overall experience more sluggish than either the original 143-minute release or the 151-minute “Special Edition” version included in this set.
But it nonetheless includes some nice gags and little moments that are fun to watch, ranging from the expanded sequences on Krypton to scenes of Clark Kent (Jeff East) as a teenager and more of Lana Lang (Diane Sherry) to extended scenes in the frozen Fortress of Solitude to more banter in the Daily Planet’s newsroom.
A lot of the extra footage, however, revolves around Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), his bumbling assistant Otis (Ned Beatty) and Lex’s floozy Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) in a series of farcical sequences that many — including yours truly — consider to be the film’s weakest link. And by that I mean in its shorter, original form.
In fact, there’s so much more of this trio in the “Extended Cut” that a real case could be made that it’s the poster child for the argument that less is more.
Having said that, however, there is a simple remedy — the fast-forward button on your remote.
“Superman” is still a great movie, and for me it was fun to watch this longer version — and if you’re a fan or a collector or a completist, you may feel the same way.