21 April, 2009
Richard Donner is an American film director, film producer, and comic book writer. The production company The Donners' Company is owned by Donner and his wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner. After directing the horror film The Omen Donner became famous for the hailed creation of the first modern superhero film, Superman, starring Christopher Reeve. The influence of this film eventually helped establish the superhero concept as a respected film genre. Furthermore, Donner reinvigorated the buddy film genre with Lethal Weapon and its sequels.
Donner was born Richard Donald Schwartzberg in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Hattie and Fred Schwartzberg; he has a sister, Joan. Donner started his career with hopes of acting but quickly moved into directing commercials and making business films. He moved into television in the late 1950s, directing some episodes of the Steve McQueen western serial Wanted: Dead or Alive and the Chuck Connors western The Rifleman.
He has worked on over twenty-five other television series including The Fugitive, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone (most notably the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner), as well as the serial Danger Island from the children's program The Banana Splits. His first film, the low-budget military drama X-15 (1961) starring Charles Bronson, was not a great success, and he returned to television work.
His break-through film was in 1976 with The Omen, produced in the 'horror boom' following The Exorcist.
In 1978, Richard Donner directed the film Superman: The Movie, starring a then unknown Christopher Reeve. The film became a hit worldwide, projecting both Reeve and Donner to international fame. Armed with two scripts for Superman and the sequel Superman II, he shot principal photography for both films to save on set dressing and actor/crew overheads. However, the original ending for the first film where Superman flew from accident to disaster was deemed to be missing a certain something by the film's independent financiers Ilya Salkind and his father Alexander Salkind. The scripted time reversal ending of Superman II was taken to pad out and fulfill Superman once the film had been identified as a priority with a view to piece together an alternative end to the second film later.
After the first film's successful release in December 1978, Donner was offered the director's role a second time, but demanded that producer Pierre Spengler be removed from the project. Rather than give in to this demand, the Salkinds replaced him with director Richard Lester, who worked with them on The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and as an uncredited producer on Superman. The decision to remove him from the film series, made by producers Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, has been widely viewed by many fans[who?] as a huge mistake on the Salkinds' part, as the subsequent Superman films helmed by their preferred director Richard Lester, while still breaking the $100 million mark for domestic USA alone were perceived as being of poorer quality and quickly resulted in a downward spiral in popularity for the series.
The demands of Marlon Brando to receive the same percentage of cut for Superman II as he received for Superman regardless of how much previous footage was used exacerbated the Salkinds' position to at least walk away from a, by that time, five-year project with profit as Superman was still un-officially paying back creditors. A no-flexibility attitude from both Brando and Donner saw both removed from the series until 2006 when Donner's definitive (or at least, as close to definitive as possible) version of the movie, simply entitled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on November 28, 2006 on the same date as to the DVD release of the summer hit, Superman Returns. The footage includes never-before-seen footage of Marlon Brando, a new opening, a new ending and approximately 83% of Donner footage. Some Richard Lester footage was used to fill in the gaps caused by Donner's never completing principal photography for the sequel before his removal. Michael Thau, the editor of the Richard Donner cut also made some minor use of CGI. However, he did not create CGI villains in order to complete the "villains rule the world scene" which was in the original script, but was never shot by Donner.
Donner has mixed commercial flops (Inside Moves, Radio Flyer) and successes (The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon series and Ladyhawke (1985) - which has enjoyed a large cult following). Donner has received little critical appreciation, although he has a strong following amongst genre fans. In the case of Superman, it was Donner who insisted the subject of the comic book superhero should be treated "straight" rather than "camp", an approach that strongly influenced later genre directors such as Bryan Singer, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan, who have made successful superhero films of their own. The influence of Superman: The Movie can, to this day, be seen in superhero films outside the Superman storyline, and even outside the DC Comics universe. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man film is debatably one of the strongest examples of that influence. In the early 1980s, Donner proposed to Warner Brothers a non-camp film version of Batman, to star Mel Gibson.