Chapter Two: Superman II
By Brett Ballard-Beach
January 3, 2013
With all of the sequels, would-be sequels, “sort-of” sequels, tangential sequels, thematic sequels, and even prequels that I have touched on over the last three and a half years, the one test case that I haven’t yet broached is the rarest, as this week’s selection(s) are the only ones that I can think of that truly qualify: two versions of the same Chapter Two, by two different directors with the surname Richard, released nearly 30 years apart.
There have been all sorts of similar (and similar-ish) scenarios in Hollywood over the decades, both in the director’s chair and as the finished product. In 1931, a Spanish language version of Dracula was shot simultaneously with the Tod Browning-Bela Lugosi classic, at night using the same costumes, sets, and props, but a completely different cast and crew. I have never had the pleasure of viewing it, although it sounds like a fascinating complementary experience, longer (by 30 minutes) and more sensual.
There have been instances where a director was replaced on a project and the new director shot enough of the finished feature that both received credit. Gunther von Fritsch, making his feature-length directorial debut with the 1944 Chapter Two, Curse of the Cat People, was replaced with editor Robert Wise, also making his directorial debut, after von Fritsch fell behind on shooting schedule and went over budget after only a few days.
There are numerous notorious instances of director/star feuds, producer/director feuds, or producer/director/star feuds in which it is acknowledged - covertly or explicitly - that the non-directorial parties ended up doing some of the filming or wrangling control of the film’s production or its vision, but not enough to petition for credit (The dustup between Kevin(s) Reynolds and Costner on the set of Waterworld immediately comes to mind).
There are cases where the director effectively disowned the project and chose the nom de plume of alienation, Alan Smithee. This allowance was in effect from 1968-2000. It was discontinued (in one of the most perverse and fitting ironies ever) after director Arthur Hiller, working on a Hollywood satire entitled An Alan Smithee Film, clashed with producer/screenwriter Joe Esterhazas, and successfully argued to have his name taken off and replaced with… Alan Smithee.
The cases that the saga of Superman II (the 1980 Richard Lester version) and Superman II (the 2006 Richard Donner cut) remind me of, oddly enough, both involve Warner Bros (the studio that also released the Superman films, and the music division respectively). In 2004, Paul Schrader stepped in for the recently deceased John Frankenheimer to direct a prequel to the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist. On a $30 million budget, Schrader gave production company Morgan Creek a psychological horror film with little to none of the bloody slasher-film violence the producers were expecting.
The production company refused to release such an “uncommercial” finished product and shelved it. With the film more or less completed, Renny Harlin was brought in to reshoot the entire thing. Cast members had to be replaced, the script was rewritten (though a lot of the same sets and costumes were used) and $50 million was spent on Exorcist: The Beginning, released in late summer 2004 to dreadful reviews and so-so box office ($41 million final domestic tally.) Several months later, Morgan Creek relented and gave Schrader $35,000 to finish post-production on his vision, titled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. It was given a perfunctory release in about 100 theaters for a couple of weeks and received marginally better notice.