02 December 2006

Gods of the Yellow Sun

Took a longish lunch today, with side trips to try to find a second Wii controller for my friend. Walking through Best Buy, I spotted a movie I'd been looking forward to seeing - Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut - and figured I'd buy it. Popped it in back at the office and half watched while I worked through the afternoon.

A few bits of disclosure: when I was a wee lad I actually liked the boy scout better than the vigilante; I loved the original Superman, but even at 10-years-old I had massive problems with the stupid conclusion; I quite liked II (and more than liked Ursa) but likewise had problems with the flick. Still, it's a part of my low-culture heritage and I figured it would be good to see Donner's vision as it compared to Richard Lester's. And for about an hour forty, it was much improved.

Apparently, Richard Donner was way ahead of the curve. Long before Robert Zemeckis and Peter Jackson, Donner filmed both films at the same time.(1) His original intent, on display here, was for the first movie to segue to the second. Gone is the lame-o Parisian nuke that frees Zod, et al from the Phantom Zone; instead, the missile diverted from Hackensack blows apart the PZ. With a few establishing scenes from the first movie, we're off and running with very little setup.

This is the first of many improvements, large and small. The gee-whiz tone remains, as does the winking performance from Christopher Reeve as Clark. He was an underrated comic performer who rarely got to show his chops.(2) Great performances across the board, especially Gene Hackman's smirking monkey of a Luthor. Sure, I might prefer The Kurgan's turn in the various animated series, but Popeye Doyle gets a lot of laughs per mile.

The biggest improvement is Jor-El. I don't know if there were contract disputes, budget constraints, or idiots with their notes that pushed Donner and Brando out of the sequel, but he was sorely missed. I didn't realize how much until I saw this cut. The father-son bond is central to the story here, and even with no scenes shot together, Reeve and Brando make me believe a man can cry.(3) God bless Susannah York, but she ain't no Brando. In addition to the gravitas he brings to the proceedings, we finally get to see how Kal-El got his groove back.

Remember that hour-forty comment above? The movie (sans credits) runs about five or ten minutes longer than that. Shame. A much improved movie was right in Donner's hands...and then he screwed the pooch. Imagine the very worst ending to a movie ever. This movie has it. I won't explicitly spoil it, but it should be obvious how the movie ends from what I've said. Really pissed me off.

* * *

Of course, it's Friday, so tonight was BSG. Ahhh...now, maybe the title makes sense. Kal-El and Apollo: Gods of the Sun in their own special ways. And an excellent case in contrasts.

I'd been dreading this episode for the past two weeks. Goddamn it looked lame. Boxing? Unresolved conflicts, magically brushed aside? Bruised egos assuaged with broken bones? Surely, this was going to be yet another weak bottle episode. Unclear whether Ron Moore had lost his way (or blown his budget) after Exodus and the surprisingly excellent Collaborators, or there were just a few weaker episodes mid-season, I went into tonight expecting finally to be let way down. Foolish, foolish me.

Penned by Michael Taylor, this episode cleverly intercut flashbacks throughout. Mid-fight, we'd cut back to New Caprica and see things from a character's perspective - one of the fighters or spectators. There really was a lot still unresolved. The old man shocked me by grappling with Tyrol, clocking him but good a few times before being bloodied himself. Another great speech from Adama on duty, responsibility, and honor followed the fight. I didn't expect such drama from an undercard, but it was a tasty lead-in to the Apollo/Starbuck throw-down.

Kara kicked the crap out of Hotdog first (I suppose because it seemed less misogynistic than the more desirable Kara/Kat fight) and Helo beat on Lee. They were both primed and ready to go. Oh my, did they go. Like most movie fights, there was little clinching anywhere in this episode. In the real world, boxing tends to involve more hugging than punching, but that's pretty boring to watch. Instead, it's a lot of haymakers. This was no different...until...

Starbuck has really fucked up Apollo. We've always known that, but tonight we get to see just how badly she did it to him. He gets back his pound of flesh in the ring. They both do. Finally, wearied, worn down, and broken, they collapse in post-coital embrace. The repercussions from this fight will echo for quite some time, though the immediate effect on Anders' is clear and obvious.

What's truly sad is seeing how BSG succeeded where Donner failed. With a few weeks of thought, work, and effort, the BSG crew gave us a silk purse. From a bottle episode, we get drama, excitement, and character development. No cop-outs, no do-overs, and true lasting impact on characters we've grown to love. Donner could have saved his cut with one simple change - character growth - but he chickened out.

1 I don't actually know that he wasn't trying to create a four-hour Superman, but I'm going to assume that wasn't his intent.
2 Man, it's worse than I remembered. I just scanned his CV at imdb and he did mostly mediocre dramas. What a waste of a great ironic actor.
3 Sorry.