Superman Web Central 2000: The Michael Thau Interview


The Michael Thau Interview


Certainly a lot of work has to be done in restoring a cult classic, and "Superman" represents one of those cult classics. And now, 23 years after its original theatrical release, it is coming back better than it has ever looked or sounded, better than in previous theatrical releases, and even better than on TV or video.
For the new Special Edition, a crew headed by producer/film editor Michael Thau spent over a year renovating Richard Donner's 1978 epic blockbuster. And truly this new 151-minute version will no doubt satisfy "Superman" fans all over the world who have helped campaign so hard for such a re-release.
I had the opportunity to talk via phone with Michael Thau the day after the press screening in San Antonio, Texas. This interview reveals just some of the amazing feats that were made in preparing the re-issue, and a lot of secrets unveiled.

SWC: What was the most difficult part of the "Superman" restoration?
Michael Thau: I think finding all the elements.

SWC: With all the hype on the "Superman" DVD, what materials are going to catch people by surprise?
MT: I think first of all, the amount of new material that is on the DVD the sheer amount of it and the quality of it as well hour and a half of brand-new documentaries made with behind the scenes footage that no one has ever seen before. And new interviews with almost everyone...the only old interview that we had to use for the documentary was Marlon Brando. The screen tests are amazing...and I think just the quality of the DVD as well too, not only the transfer and the new sound but the quality of all those special features.

SWC: What input did you have with Richard Donner on the selection of the extended scenes in the film? I understand 45 minutes was added to the longest known version of the film which was put together by Alexander Salkind for TV stations around the world, and this new cut has about 8 minutes added back. What was the factor in that?
MT: That's a very good question. "Superman" has a very strange history because of the financial deals that were made and put in place to get money. Back when the Salkinds were selling features to television, they paid by the minute, and television stations and networks were paid by the minute. So, I guess it was Alexander Salkind or someone in his organization decided to throw every bit of footage that was shot into a cut to sell to syndicated markets around the world. Most films that are shot have lots of extra material that people don't see because it's deemed not right for the story or it's poorly shot and in the case of "Superman" on a lot of things that were in those longer cuts were never intended for anyone to see. There were maybe experiments or shot by some second or third or eighth unit director who might have been a stuntman or something like that...and you can see in a lot of the extended versions that there's just tremendous amount of just bad footage and normally a director in a studio would never have shown anyone that footage...the editor would have seen it, put it on a shelf, told the director it looks bad, maybe showed it to him, and they would have decided instantly that they would never even put it in a cut of the film, but unfortunately with "Superman"...the director was pushed off the project as soon as the feature was finished, and never talked to about making any of these long extended cuts, and a lot of footage put in it that just very embarrassing...or sometimes they made up sequences out of shots that really didn't exist and maybe shot one additional shot, to add back into it. For instance, there's a scene of a Sentry that talks to the council of Elders, and they send him to go find out why Jor-El's Quarters is using too much energy. There was a really amatuerly put together sequence that kind of intercuts with Jor-El's quarters as Jor-El is making preparations, saying goodbye to the baby, etc. etc., wide shots is just more destruction of Krypton, and then really tight shots of a guy in a mask with some lighting effect on the's just like his eyes...a little bit piece of a mask and they put lighting effects on the mask...that's like that's amateur, you know, and even kids going to first-year college film schools don't do--teach like that...and whoever put that sequence together, they were just doing it to...expand another 30 seconds out of the feature...of course, it was nothing that Dick ever shot, it looks horrible, it looks stupid. And of course, the climax of that sequence with him getting killed, is his eyes go "bug up", never see anything of how he's traveling, or any ships that he's flying around, it's just a totally cheated, made-up sequence. And, a lot of the other sequences that were made much longer to get the running time up, were well shot, but are just padded out scenes. Like for instance, right now there's around three or four cuts in the film of the teenagers that leave Smallville High School in a car driving down roads listening to rock and roll music, and then eventually they come across Clark in front of his house in the while that he got there so fast. In some of these other cuts, there's about ten or fifteen shots of the car driving by, with different rock and roll songs on the radio...well, you get it, the kids are driving listening to rock and roll music and there's no scenes or interaction with the kids or anything important the kids are doing, just more and more shots of them, it's just total padding. If the movie had been presented that way originally in its theatrical release, it would have been much slower than it is, no one would have liked's only because of Donner's and Stuart Baird's "fast pacing" of the picture that keeps it moving along the whole time, you stand out these scenes and you just got a long "blah" picture. So, the scenes that Donner decided to put back in the picture were ones that he always loved, but were pretty much forced to cut because the film was really long to begin with anyway, even at it's original length it was 2:20. But now, you've had a chance to put it back in and everyone can kind of understand why it's a little bit longer now.

SWC: How much new music will be put into this new cut of "Superman"?
MT: If you had seen those scenes that you know are in the film again, the music that you are familiar with those scenes in whatever television cut or whatever, that's the music we used...the music that is in these additional scenes were there when John Williams recorded his score...he recorded his score to a much longer version of the picture than the theatrical release. And so, we just used the music as was recorded to these longer scenes. We also have on the DVD 10 stand-alone music cuts in 5.1, where we found a cue that was much longer but they had cut down the sequences and forced the music editor to cut down the will find those longer versions of those cues on the DVD in 5.1.

SWC: Will the music cues be played against the scenes in the film or will they just be by themselves?
MT: No, they will be music by themselves. There's like alternate main titles... there's another song that is kind of a really funny jazzy version of "Can You Read My Mind", where the music behind her voice is drums and keyboards and sleazy guitar, sleaszy lounge act, it's very funny. So there's a couple of those things...

SWC: What about the remastering of the film's legendary score?
MT: We found in the inventory in England (before I went over to England) a item that said "Miscellanous One-inch Masters", and I had them sent out from England over to Los Angeles, quickly, so we could take a look at that, cause we were wondering why it was listed that way...and in the box what we found was 1-inch tapes that had John Williams' original mix-downs of the whole score..and these mix-downs were mix-down--they would bring in the orchestra and record it to 24-track, and then a week later or two weeks later they would go to a mixing studio and mix these tracks down, and instead of mixing them down to just a left track and a right track, key mixed this music down to six separate tracks. I think two sets of left, center, right. What that allowed us to do when we were remixing the picture is to actually ahve a true 5.1 spread on the music. So you will hear from the left surround speaker different instrumentation that from the left front speaker from the center speaker, from the right speaker, and the right rear speaker, diffferent instrumentation during parts of different cues which allows us to surround you and the music, and not have to synthsyze the 5.1 from just the left track and the right track and the whole music score. And it was in pristine condition, much more vibrant than the Rhino CD source materials..."

SWC: How do you think fans will compare the new SE with the theatrical version or any extended version?
MT: It's unfortunate that people have seen a lot of this junk footage on these other versions, but I think that they're going to really like this version bcasue it has a lot more Marlon Brando in has some cute, fun little moments here and there that have been spread out, and it has of course the fire and ice sequence which is really cool action..I guess it was deemed at the last second to be a little redundant when it first came out..I think it was one of the last cuts that did come out of the film right before the '78 these are things that I think people will enjoy and and like to see. I haven't seen many complaints about the scenes that were put in, very few people have complained that not all the stuff that they had seen in these other versions are in.

SWC: With the impending success of the "Superman" SE, what would be the next film you would restore?
MT: Someone has to give me the money to do it...but I think if this film does well, then maybe more of the work will become available.

SUPERMAN Web Central wishes to thank Michael Thau for taking the time to talk with us, and for allowing this interview to be presented on our pages. We wish Thau the best of luck in all his endevours.

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