The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (PG)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith & Jon Schnepp
Running time: 104 min
In 1998 Warner Bros invested time, effort and, more importantly, their money in bringing to the big screen Superman Lives. This would be an adaptation of the famous comic story in which Superman died and was then brought back to life.
This grabbed headlines in trade journals and attracted big names in the industry. You never heard of this movie? Well that’s because it was shelved during pre-production and the ramifications are still felt in the comic world to this day!
The death of Superman Lives delves deep into all aspects of the movie that was never made. Right from the project’s infancy, Jon Schnepp (writer, director and narrator of this documentary) rounds up a list of scriptwriters but a lot of the focus is on comicbook geek Kevin Smith as his was the first draft of the script that got the ball rolling.
Armed with a draft script, Superman Lives Producer Jon Peters brings on board film director Tim Burton to bring this vision to the silver screen. The documentary speaks to a great number of artists who show the varying stages of visual concepts, costume concepts and proposed set designs. Add to this mix the attachment of Nicholas Cage, a man passionate about Superman, and this could have been something very special. Or at least different.
Through archive footage the viewer gets to see a vision of Krypton, proposed villains such as Lex Luthor and Braniac and, more importantly, an incredible makeover for Superman. The creators of the movie in 1998 were openly told to let their imagination run wild, and they most certainly did!
Sadly, the film never saw light of day and in the documentary you hear from various viewpoints on why the production was shut down. Tim Burton recalls the stages he went through with scriptwriters, concept artists and studio heads. Producer JonPeters recalls the hiring and firing of scriptwriters, the meetings (and the “wrestling/beatings” he dished out to the Art Department!) and his talks with studio heads. Sadly, the biggest disappointment in this documentary is that Nicholas Cage only appears in archive footage… but in costume! Which is a plus. Sort of.
Having viewed the archive concept work, I can’t help but feel that perhaps there may have been a valid reason why the production was closed. Some of the concepts just seem too ridiculous, such as Superman having Polar Bear Guards or, in one scene, fighting ninjas! True, there are some incredible ideas there as well such as The Skull Ship, but I found the footage of Nicholas Cage dressed as Superman simply uninspiring… then again, it’s difficult to judge on what could have been an interesting movie. The costume however looked very radical and advanced for its time, but Cage looks awkward in his stance, rather than the proud defender of humanity.
This is a documentary made by a fan for fans of the comic books and comic book movies, It’s interspersed by snippets from previous Superman movies and television shows and gives the viewer a great insight into the movie business. They say that movies are dreams on the silver screen; in the case of Superman Lives, the dream will always be just a dream.
4 out of 5 Nerds