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“Death of ‘Superman Lives'” Shows What Did and Didn’t Happen

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Poster 1 - CroppedNote: The following review refers to an early version of the film that was incomplete at the time of screening

It may seem strange to make a documentary about Superman Lives, a film that was never made back in 1998.

But interest in the project never fully went away, at least not in the minds of nerds everywhere, and especially not in the mind of Jon Schnepp, who used Kickstarter to fund The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?  He documents the Superman film that could have been and why it all fell apart before it could get off the ground.

Schnepp, known for his work on “Metalocaplyse” and other Adult Swim fare, among several other projects, presents an entertaining explanation of what went wrong, from the multiple scripts written by multiple scriptwriters, to producer Jon Peters’ weird obsession with giant spiders, to a leaked still of Nicolas Cage in the Superman costume that some blamed for tanking the project.

When that still first surfaced, it was widely derided. Indeed, Cage’s long, flowing locks and half-lidded stare, not to mention the modified electric blue super-suit, appeared beyond strange.

The image was so widely derided, in fact, that director Bryan Singer used it as an example of what he would not do in his own Superman feature (which itself was not beloved by many fans of the Big Blue Boy Scout, a sort of karmic payback, I guess).

When you see why a major motion picture fell apart in such a major way, you’ll be even more amazed that any films get made all. I don’t want to spoil all the reasons Superman Lives ultimately died, but I will say that Cage wasn’t one of them. When you see the test footage of Cage in the suit, along with other stills of him at various stages in production, you’ll wonder why that exact photo was chosen when it’s clearly not representative of what Cage-as-Superman really looked like.

Schnepp interviews the major players, with the exception of Cage, who declined to participate and is only shown in archival footage. Included are interviews with original scriptwriter Kevin Smith, Peters, subsequent scriptwriters Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy (the latter of whom was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for last year’s Nightcrawler), and in a very interesting segment, director Tim Burton.

Probably the funniest and most enlightening footage is the juxtaposition of Smith’s side of what went wrong with his script to Peters’. The two men are not on the same page and it’s doubtful they would ever be in the same room together without one of them dropping a spider on the other’s head.

Many others who worked on the ill-fated Superman Lives, including concept artist Michael Anthony Jackson, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and special effects artist Steve Johnson, provide insight into their roles and what could have been possibly the oddest, but greatest Superman film of all. Schnepp also uses recreations of scenes from the discarded scripts to show what Smith, et al, had in mind for the arc of the film. When it was over, I shed a small Supes-nerd tear for what could have been.Schnepp-Burton

The best interview (not counting all the unintentionally funny things to come out of Peters’ mouth) is with Burton at his estate in England. Having the interview framed by Burton’s collection of props, including a skeleton flopped down to the side and what appears to be a gargoyle next to him, gives the discussion a slightly surreal edge. Burton may not have been the best fit for a Superman film (the way he was for Batman), but his ideas and his energy certainly would have resulted in something grandly offbeat.

So what killed Superman Lives? You’ll have to see it to find out. I was hugely entertained by the version I saw (Schnepp stated in a Q&A after the screening that some post-production work wasn’t completed in time for the red carpet premiere and limited release in May), and would definitely recommend this to fans of Superman, Burton, Smith, and anyone who is curious as to how a movie doesn’t get made. If things can go this bad on a major production, it’s amazing that small films get made at all.

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? will be released July 9, 2015 and is already available for pre-order. For more info or to see pictures and footage from the film, try the following:

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDeathOfSupermanLivesWhatHappened

    Official Website: http://www.tdoslwh.com/

    Footage of the first 10 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3B-E-8BuhT0

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