Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?

Written, co-edited, and directed by Jon Schnepp, The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is a documentary that revolves around the making and un-making of Tim Burton’s attempt to make Superman Lives in the late 1990s with Nicolas Cage in the role of Superman. Featuring interviews with Burton as well as several collaborators including filmmakers Kevin Smith and Dan Gilroy who both were involved in writing the script in different stages. The documentary plays into what happens when a group of people including producers, designers, and writers all band together to get a film made only to see their work not see the light of day. The result is one of the most fascinating and exciting films about a film that could’ve been one of the greatest superhero films ever made.

In the mid-1990s, producer Jon Peters had just returned to Warner Brothers where he had just acquired the rights to make film versions about Superman as he wanted to revive the franchise following the critical and commercial failure of 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Yet, Peters wanted to do something different as an update of sorts of the Superman story where he had filmmaker Kevin Smith, a noted comic book fan boy, pitch some ideas as he would turn in a draft that was based largely on the 1992 comic book storyline The Death of Superman. Smith would be out of the project once Tim Burton came on board to direct the film as he brought in Wesley Strick to write a new draft as the cast would feature Cage as Superman/Clark Kent, Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, Christopher Walken as Brainiac, and Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen.

With many of Burton’s collaborators such as production designer Rick Heinrichs and costume designer Colleen Atwood as well as a team of effects designers and such. The project to develop the film began in 1996 and ended in 1998 as a lot is revealed into what is made where director Jon Schnepp interviews many including Burton, Smith, Strick, Atwood, Heinrichs, Peters, producer Lorenzo de Bonaventura, and filmmaker Dan Gilroy who became the third screenwriter to write a new draft after the studio forced Burton to fire Strick. With the aid of co-editor Marie Jamora and the sound work of Stephen Chesney, Schnepp doesn’t uncover some rare footage including footage of Cage in the Superman suit which Atwood revealed was an evolution into what could’ve been. Even as Schnepp also create some animated sequences and mock-footage with the aid of cinematographer Carl Millard King about ideas of what Burton wanted visually as it features some unique background music from Frederick William Scott that ranged from orchestral bombast to somber ambient music pieces.

There are also many questions into why the film never made it pass the developmental stage as de Bonaventura, Burton, and Peters reveals a lot about what happened. Some of it isn’t surprising with what usually happens when studios find themselves dealing with projects that goes beyond the parameters of mainstream filmmaking. Yet, there is a lot of things that are revealed about why the film fell apart as it relates to behind-the-scenes issues within the studios as well as what was happening to Warner Brothers in the late 1990s due to the some of the films they had released which were some major flops. It plays into not just these great opportunities being wasted but also the fact that projects like this film could’ve been a game-changer or something that people will talk about. The fact that it still exists and people are interested in what this film would’ve done goes to show exactly why some of the most daring and off-the-wall projects should be made at times when people need something new.

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is an extraordinary film from Jon Schnepp. Not only is it an interesting look into a film that had so much promise and potential to be something more but also a look into the process of what it took to make something that was daring from the people who were there. Especially from those who are fans of Superman and were interested in seeing something that was new and great. In the end, The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is a marvelous film from Jon Schnepp.

Superman Films: (Superman) - (Superman II) - (Superman III) - (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) - (Superman Returns) - (Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut) - Man of Steel - (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

I really want to see this. I mean, the idea of this movie/cast/everything is so bizarre and yet not so bizarre to the point where it feels like one of those things that was never meant to be but that we all kind of wish it were...even if it were destined to be a HOT MESS.

thevoid99 said...

If it was a hot mess, it at least would've been an interesting and noble one. I would've rather see that than Wild Wild West.

keith71_98 said...

I literally cannot look at Cage in the Superman suit without erupting into uncontrolled laughter. It is beyond comprehension!

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-It is funny to see Nic in the Superman suit but what they were going for was quite daring and it could've been the film that would make Nic Cage better than he already is. It's a shame that he never got to do that and look at the shit he does now.