A brief history of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE alternate cuts

A brief history of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE alternate cuts

Following yesterday’s announcement that Warner Archive will be releasing a new extended edition Blu-ray of Superman: The Movie, I saw some confusion online re: different versions of the film available. (Not counting fan edits, that’s a whole other can of worms.)

There are at least the following official cuts of Superman: The Movie.

-The original theatrical cut runs 143 minutes and was released in the US on December 15, 1978.
-The initial VHS release runs 127 minutes to fit the movie onto one cassette. No dialogue was cut.
-The Extended TV Edition runs 188 minutes** and premiered on ABC on February 7-8, 1982.
-The Special Edition “Director’s Cut” DVD runs 151 minutes and was released May 1st, 2001.

The creation of a three-hour cut broadcast TV version of the film was the brainchild of producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind. The Salkinds, who conceived of a mega-budget live-action Superman film before “superhero” was a film genre, were accustomed to unprecedented ringmaster-like publicity stunts, and this was no exception.

You have to remember that at the time options for re-watching movies were very limited. VHS was primarily an educational tool, and not in most homes. Cable was likewise in its infancy. Most people did not have a library of films they could just watch whenever they wanted to.

Networks were starting to experiment with alternate film cuts, as they had to be edited to fit commercials and broadcast standards anyway. But no one had ever broadcast a popular recent release with almost an hour of added footage. Enter the Salkinds, who came up with a scheme to create a two-night event (with a cliffhanger!) and sell almost twice the commercial time.

The Extended TV Edition was reportedly mastered in 16mm with a mono soundtrack, as standard TV resolution at the time was pretty poor. Screen sizes were smaller, and many people didn’t have stereo TVs.

**Networks were given the option to re-edit this version for other broadcasts in order to fit their time slots, so there are a few alternate versions out that have only aired once. They’re all derived from the master 188-minute cut, which has never had an official home video release until now.

In 2000, when Warner Brothers was creating the first DVD release, the studio took a more measured approach to adding back missing footage. Only a few of the deleted scenes were replaced, as well as some new digital restoration to clean up shots where Superman’s suit looked greenish instead of blue.

The Special Edition DVD also added surround sound for modern home theatres, which included replacing original sound effects with entirely new ones. Suddenly the destruction of Krypton, instead of sounding like giant oak trees falling, sounds like someone shaking a dainty chandelier… and this was why I had to part ways with the DVD release.

Someone asked online if the Extended TV Edition is worth getting. I think if you just want the best version, then get the original theatrical cut and call it a day.

The Salkinds took a kitchen sink approach to adding deleted footage. They really didn’t hold back, and tonally, you can see why some of this stuff was initially removed. Some of it adds value. Some of it’s just downright silly, and some of it simply pads the runtime and should’ve been cut for pacing. Your mileage will vary.

For me and I think for many fans, the extended version is a must-own. Not because it’s better. Because it’s just more of a thing I love. When you love a thing, truly love it, then you even love its flaws. I know the Can You Read My Mind scene is corny. But I love it. I wouldn’t have the film without it.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray will contain both the Extended TV Edition, remastered in HD for the first time, as well as the Special Edition cut from 2001.

Blu-ray.com lists the release date as October 3rd.

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