Friday, July 24, 2015

'The Death Of "Superman Lives": What Happened?' Makes Me Wish 'Superman Lives' Was Made

Back in the mid to late 90’s, a Superman movie starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Tim Burton was undergoing development.  “Superman Lives” is what would have been the title.  It was scheduled for a 1998 release date – and then 1999 – but Warner Bros. decided to pull the plug while ongoing production.  Forward years later into the Internet Age, Superman Lives somewhat gained an “urban legend” status, and the general perception about it is that it would have been a godawful film.  The major points raised were that Tim Burton’s knack for weirdness would have bastardized the Superman mythos, and that Nicolas Cage was a giant miscast, that he would have been like the “George Clooney as Batman” version of Superman, only worse.  It also didn’t help that the Nicolas Cage photo that was being circulated was this…
…which was taken during the earliest of the development process.  Hence, Superman Lives is enveloped with notoriety in the collective Internet consciousness.

But it was also enveloped in intrigue.  There was genuine curiosity for the story behind it and how it could have turned out.  Through the years, details have surfaced in the Internet that provided us glimpses of what might have been, but there has never really been a comprehensive, easily accessible source of the backstory of Superman Lives.

Until now.  And that is Jon Schnepp’s The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?.

In this documentary, Schnepp was able to interview several key people behind Superman Lives – producer Jon Peters; director Tim Burton; scriptwriters Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick, and Dan Gilroy; and other contributors to its production – which, accompanied by concept arts and archival footage, gave us a fascinating picture on how the movie would have looked like during its different stages of production.  And from what I got from it, Superman Lives would have been awesomely convoluted and different.

The story was going to be a loose adaptation of the epic 1992 comic book storyline “The Death of Superman.”  And it was going to have a couple of insane elements.  Here are some of them:
  • Lex Luthor, Brainiac, and Doomsday were all going to be in it. 
  • Lex Luthor and Brainiac would combine into one entity. 
  • Kevin Smith’s early draft – which he himself admitted was fan fiction-y in quality – had Batman giving a stirring speech during Superman’s interment. 
  • Kal-El would have had a Kryptonian A.I. companion growing up, which would serve as his “teddy bear”, confidant, and mentor at different stages of his life, which would then serve as Kal-El’s armor while he is healing. 
  • Jon Peters insisted that a giant spider should be in it, and Smith complied by writing the “Thanagarian Snare Beast” into the script. 
  • Peters apparently also made a horribly stupid suggestion of not having Superman fly in the movie (though this was probably overruled later).

But though the documentary effectively details how much Superman Lives would have departed from the Superman mythology and how bizarre it would have been, Schnepp also made sure that the documentary would also draw attention on some of the cool things that the movie had, as well as raised some points on how it wouldn’t necessarily suck.  There are also parts that kind of criticize fans who tend to collectively rage and prematurely judge a movie whenever they get hold of a piece of information with little or no context at all attached to it.

Personally, I was apathetic or impartial whether Superman Lives should have been made or not.  But after watching this documentary – as the title of this article have already stated – I now do wish that Superman Lives was made back in the 90’s.  Of course, I wouldn’t want to have such movie made at the present time.  But back in 1999?  That would have been great.  It’s going to be a weird and different take on Superman, but I felt in my bones that it would have its moments of entertainment regardless of how the quality turned out to be.  At worst, it could have been the Superman version of Batman and Robin.  And being at this point of time, I wouldn’t mind its awfulness because it would have already been a thing of the past.  We could have made fun of it and go enjoy hating it as we do with Batman and Robin.

On the other hand, it could have been epic.  Tim Burton’s take on the Batman mythos was weird, but it worked really well.  Fans hated the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but he turned out to be awesome, and is now considered by many (including yours truly) as the greatest live-action portrayal of Batman so far.

And just like Keaton, Cage might have turned out to be unexpectedly awesome, too.  Yes, in present time, he is considered by many as someone that has fallen from grace after starring in too many godawful films (guy needs the money).  But remember that back in the 90’s, Cage was a hot property.  He had won an Oscar in 1995.  And he starred in several beloved 90’s action films like Con Air, The Rock, and Face Off.  Personally, I’m a fan of Nicolas Cage as an actor.  He has genuine talent and could project a lot of acting depth when doing good movies.  And on bad movies, he hams it up so incredibly well (e.g. Vampire’s Kiss, The Wicker Man remake) that his presence would ensure an entertaining time nonetheless.  So whether he would have made a terrific or terrible Superman, it’s almost a guarantee that he would have done an entertaining job.

In the end, we can only really speculate on how Superman Lives would have been.  Thankfully, we now have The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?.  Not only did it give us more fuel for our speculations, but watching it is also the closest thing we’ll have on experiencing Superman Lives – and this documentary is quite an enjoyable experience.  

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