Any comic book junkie or film fanatic worth their salt can tell you that Warner Bros. released films based on Superman in 1978, 1980, 1983, 1987, 2006, and 2013 — and a lot has been written about each and every one. But there’s at least one failed, fascinating effort that we seem to know very little about, and it sounds pretty wild. How wild? Well, how about a Superman film…
…directed by Tim Burton,
…written by Kevin Smith,
…and starring Nicolas Cage? Really?
Yep. It almost happened — and while we’ll never know if Superman Lives would have been A) amazing, B) ridiculous, or C) somewhere in between, we now have a colorful and informative documentary that chronicles the (brief) life of a project that (probably) would have changed Superman cinema forever… for better or for worse. The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? comes from writer/actor/animator/mega-geek Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse, Aqua Teen Hunger Force), and it feels like a legitimate passion project for Schnepp. Most Super-fans would be content to gather up all this information simply because they’re curious about a movie that never got made — but it takes a high-level Super-geek to collate all their research into a consistently informative and entertaining documentary.
If you’re going to make a documentary about a failed film project (and I wouldn’t recommend it because most of those behind-the-scenes explanations are usually pretty boring), be sure to interview as many of the key players as possible. And it sure looks like Mr. Schnepp did his due diligence. Not only does he get extensive interviews with director Tim Burton, producer Jon Peters (aka the producer who loves giant spiders), and screenwriters Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick, and Dan Gilroy — but he also gets some fascinating insights and anecdotes from people like costume designer Colleen Atwood, former Warner Bros. executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and about a dozen different comic book / concept artists who worked on “Superman Lives” in one fashion or another. (And did some great work!)
The result is a very geek-friendly documentary that focuses on precisely what happened to the project. Schnepp and his numerous interview subjects still seem endearingly optimistic about how cool Superman Lives could have been — but the viewer also gets the impression that Warner Bros. may have dodged a bullet by canceling the project before it actually started shooting. Either way, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? provides a whole lot of interesting tidbits about the project’s long and convoluted development process, and it does so in a thorough, upbeat, and amiable fashion.
It’s hard to say if this documentary will be all that interesting to people who don’t spend their lives glued to comic books and/or superhero movies, but if you’re a fan of either — or better yet, both — you’ll probably find a lot to like here. That’s not to say that every aborted film project warrants its own feature-length documentary on the subject, but hey, this is Superman, after all. He’s always kind of a big deal. And deep down you have to admit that a Tim Burton/Kevin Smith/Nicolas Cage/Superman movie would definitely be something worth checking out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. This documentary is pretty much the next best thing.
Maybe Schnepp’s next documentary could focus on the failed George Miller rendition of Justice League and/or the (also failed) J.J. Abrams/McG Superman flick that nearly got off the ground but didn’t. Hell, there are almost as many Superman movies that didn’t happen as there are ones that did!
(4 out of 5 giant spider burritos)
The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is now available at TDOSLWH.com.