I’ve got a fun habit of watching a kind of “alternate” Superman. We all know that the first two movies were filmed mostly back to back and were intended to stand as a unified whole. Most people are fine watching the theatrical cuts of 1 and 2. It’s a good 3-4 hours. My preference however is to throw in the Salkind international cut ( this is one that was shown on TV, with a good hour of extra footage) and then follow it up with the Donner cut of 2. It’s a long 5-6 hour block to do it, but you get an experience like no other.
To be fair, I’m not a Lester hater. The theatrical cut of Superman 2 is still one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. There’s a strength to the script and a mythology that’s just remarkable. We may sense more magic from Donners parts – Lester was really just a hired gun. In fact there are scenes that Donner filmed that Lester reshot, and shot exactly the same. No different angles, just a different color necktie or something.
The biggest differences are things the studio interfered with. The ending, and more importantly – Brando. Having Jor-El in Superman 2 changes the whole tone of the film. It changes the feel when Superman gives up his powers. You can almost see accusation in Jor-El’s eyes, aimed at Lois as the de-powering occurs. The loss at the end of the movie as Jor-El restores Superman’s powers has a different flavor. Brando’s contribution to this film cannot be overstated. He may be more important to this movie than he was to the first.
The Salkind International cut of Superman 1 isn’t commercially available, but tech savy people can probably track it down. otherwise, pick up a copy of the extended version and pair it with the Donner cut of Superman 2 and watch this movie again for the first time.