Douglas Adams once said that getting a film made in Hollywood is like “trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.”
It’s hard not to agree with him after watching The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?, a fascinating documentary that’s as much about Kal-El as it is a peek into the bizarro world of film development.
Presented by director Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse, The ABCs Of Death), it sees the affable superfan explore why the summer of 1998 never got its scheduled release of Superman Lives, the first proposed reboot of the hero since 1987’s The Quest For Peace.
Loosely based on comic-book story The Death Of Superman, it would have been directed by Tim Burton – only six years after Batman Returns – and starred Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. It was, however, axed three weeks before production.
Schnepp charts this rise and fall through interviews with Burton, those hired-and-fired to write a script – Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy – and numerous designers and artists who worked during pre-production (Cage declined to be interviewed).
The best of the bunch, though, is producer Jon Peters, who demanded that Superman was not to fly, wanted him to have polar bear bodyguards, and insisted on there being a third-act fight with a giant spider (because he really likes spiders). No work of fiction could pull off a Hollywood exec this far-fetched.
Of course, Peters’ indifference for superheroes was typical of the Nineties, but not typical of Burton, whose vision for the fantastical world of Superman looked bold and imaginative.
Via concept art and nifty animated interpretations of scenes, Schnepp thoroughly (often a tad too thoroughly) sells each aspect – from the body-horror of villain Brainiac to a beautifully Burton-esque Krypton. Hell, even Cage’s final Superman suit (not that one you’ve seen on the internet) will colour you intrigued.
But alas, Warner Bro s suffered a timely string of financial disasters, leading them to pull the plug on Burton’s ‘risky’ project and divert its budget into something safe: Wild Wild West. A film, as you may recall, that features a giant spider.
The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened? is available to buy now at www.tdoslwh.com.