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'Superman II' can help readers appreciate 'Go Set a Watchman'
"Go Set A Watchman" is a follow-up to Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird." The book was released on July 14. - photo by Jim Bennett
To Kill a Mockingbird is the closest thing to a perfect novel ever written, so I was thrilled to learn that Harper Lee was going to publish Go Set a Watchman, a second novel telling more of the story of Scout and her family. But I was also terrified that it couldnt possibly measure up to the majesty of Mockingbird. And as reviews of Watchman began to trickle in, I saw that other people shared my contradictory emotions.

Many readers are upset that Watchman muddies up all their Mockingbird memories by transforming the saintly Atticus Finch into an aging bigot and killing off beloved characters while inexplicably changing the fate of others. (Tom Robinson is acquitted in Watchman, whereas he was convicted in Mockingbird.) How do you reconcile these two conflicting versions? Whats the best way to read this to appreciate it on its own terms without diminishing what came before it?

The answer, surprisingly, can be found in the tale of how Superman II came to be. (Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but its not. Humor me.)

The first two "Superman" movies starring Christopher Reeve were filmed at the same time, and 80 percent of the second movie was in the can by the time the first one was released. But director Richard Donner and his producers had a falling out, so Donner was summarily fired and replaced by director Richard Lester, who came in and refilmed many of the sequences Donner had already shot. The result was a movie that was still a commercial and critical success, but also one that left many fans, including me, wondering about what might have been had Donner been allowed to finish what he started.

And then, in 2006, Warner Brothers released a DVD titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. The movie restored all of Donners available footage and included one critical scene that was never properly filmed, where Lois Lane fires a blank at Clark Kent to trick him into admitting that hes really the Man of Steel. This moment is cobbled together from both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidders screen tests before theyd even gotten their roles.

The result is a movie with some great scenes and a refreshingly different perspective, but also one that is wildly uneven. The production values of the screen test footage, for instance, are much poorer than those of the rest of the film, and Christopher Reeve weighs about 40 pounds less in the tests than he did when actual filming began. In addition, the Donner Cut reuses the ending from "Superman I," where Superman reverses the rotation of the Earth, because that was originally supposed to be the ending of the second movie.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, then, isnt really a replacement for the original move, but, rather, a commentary on it a gift to fans, but not a finished cinematic product. If taken in those terms, its a satisfying experience. But if you expect it to supplant the original movie, youre bound to be disappointed.

And so it is with Go Set a Watchman. Even though this new novels story takes place after the familiar events of Scouts childhood, it was written before Mockingbird as a first draft of that same story. Its not so much a continuation as an alternate version, which is why the plot details of the two books dont always match up. As such, its like the Donner Cut a welcome view into what might have been, but neither a sequel nor equal to To Kill a Mockingbird. Understanding that will allow readers to appreciate this novel for what it is rather than what they want it to be.

Still, I bought my copy on the first day it was released. Cant wait to read it!
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