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The Death of “Superman Lives”; What Happened?

The Death of “Superman Lives”; What Happened? 2015

It seems that I’m finally getting around to some of the backlogged non-theatrical releases that have come out this year. This film was originally launched as a kickstarter by John Schnepp a couple years ago to chronicle his quest to find out what happened to this multi-year project that ended up never getting made. He gets interviews with many of the major players including all three script writers, producer Jon Peters, director Tim Burton, and plenty of concept artists. Enhancing the interviews are snippets of the film recreated in animation or in a couple cases live action as well as plenty of concept art and behind the scenes archival footage. It’s not really an investigation of how this film got cancelled, instead it’s more like a look back on the making of the film that ends just before they would have started filming. As someone who has heard a little bit about this project, and probably from the source that most people would have heard it from: Kevin Smith, I thought it was generally fascinating, though it did run a bit too long for my taste and especially for my wife’s taste.

The Death of Superman Lives What Happened

For those of you who might not know, Superman Lives aka Superman Reborn was supposed to be the Superman film that came out after Batman & Robin and restart the Superman franchise after the first four Christopher Reeve movies with Nicholas Cage as the lead. It was loosely based on the Death of Superman comic book arc that was an absolute phenomenon when it came out, but a string of box office failures combined with a huge projected budget made Warner Bros. pull the plug on the film and make Will Smith’s Wild Wild West instead. Jon Schnepp was able to get in touch with many people who worked on the film with the biggest exception being Nicholas Cage himself, but his absence isn’t missed too much as he appears in several costume test and other archival footage where he shares his opinion of what’s going on.

Jon Schnepp with hairstylist turned producer Jon Peters

Jon Schnepp with hairstylist turned producer Jon Peters

One of the most fascinating things is to hear the story of how the concept of the film continuously changed and evolved over the course of a couple years, as well as how much time and effort was spent on what would have been a very small part of the film. Specifically the light up costume tests for Superman’s time in the Kryptonian regeneration chamber. As someone who has seen every season of Face Off, the SyFy effects make up competition show, I did get quite a kick out of seeing the bits of trial and error for this suit and its several different variations. There’s also a great moment where you get to see the video footage during the moment where the infamous picture of Cage in the costume test suit which was taken at the absolute worst possible timing, and yet that was the one that leaked out and made the internet think that was the suit that was camera ready.

There are many different tidbits about the various scripts that are told with plenty of passion that helps sell the audience on how viable the finished film could have been. The way K is described is something that really hasn’t been done in a Superman film yet, the closest would have been Jor-El’s floating personal assistant robot on Krypton in Man of Steel. Here it’s described as almost a robotic nanny and teacher that evolves as Kal-El grows up to suit his changing needs.

Schnepp with Tim Burton

Schnepp with Tim Burton

The one minor downside to this film is honestly Schnepp himself. He is a constant presence during most of the interviews, yet his voice doesn’t really make much of an appearance. He appropriately let’s the interview subjects tell most of the story but there is plenty of footage that includes him sitting across from the interviewee mainly just nodding like a bobblehead. The effect of having a second perspective does help to break up the talking head effect, but there is just so much more footage of him listening than there is him asking questions or adding value to the conversation that it becomes a little distracting. There’s also a pointed effort at making Jon Peters appear to be an out of touch executive, specifically when he takes a couple calls during the middle of their interview while Schnepp focuses on himself chugging a bottle of water. The other low point was most of the conversation with Kevin Smith. Even though some rehashing of the story that he told on his Q&A DVD, it felt like much of it was almost verbatim from that story with very little new information added for this doc.

TDOSLWH cage pic

Even with the downpoints, this was still a very entertaining and informative documentary. The interviews with both Jon Peters and Tim Burton were definitely the highlights and are spaced pretty evenly throughout the film. The concept art is also quite gorgeous to look at and there is a ton of it shown at various points. It’s still very difficult to tell whether or not this would have been a good film or a successful film, as the recent Fantastic Four film shows, sometimes taking it too far in a new direction is disastrous, but there is enough here to make you wonder what could have been. Very much with a watch if you’re a fan of behind the scenes docs, Superman, or even just Tim Burton. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

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About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 300 superhero and comic book movies in the past four years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on August 11, 2015, in 10's movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I really NEED to see this.

  2. I’m reasonably sure it would have been a disaster. Tim Burton didn’t entirely grasp Batman; I doubt he would have understood what makes Superman work at all. And to be frank, The Death and Return of Superman was a pretty lousy story — it may have been an important event, but the actual narrative was an utter mess.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that before about the Death and Return of Superman but since I haven’t really read it I decided to use phenomenon to refer to the hoopla surrounding it. And while Burton might not grasp Superman as we know it, there’s always a chance that he could have taken him in a different direction that wasn’t exactly Superman, but was good in its own right. Who knows.

  3. Top review, saw this doc a few days ago myself and thoroughly enjoyed it (although I do agree with what you say about Schnepp, the bobblehead comment was very apt). As fascinating and enjoyable as it was, I certainly came away thinking that Superman Lives would have been a terrible film, the vision for Superman was just too radical for my liking – but an interesting footnote in comic book film history non-the-less.

    • The nodding was one of those things where it wasn’t a big deal until I noticed it, and then I couldn’t stop noticing it. I don’t know if it would have been terrible, I don’t think it would have been great, but the world may never know how many scripts it takes to get to the center of a Superman Lives plot.

  1. Pingback: 100 Essential Superhero Movies: 2016 Edition | Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

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