Sunday 27 December 2015

The Death Of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (2015) - Movie Review
Every year, thousands of films go into production all over the world. Some get global releases, others are more local, some go straight-to-DVD, others to online outlets, and some just don’t get released at all or, at the very least, get delayed countless times from being released. But then there are times when, for one reason or another, production just stops dead. All that work done by the numerous cast and crew members to realizing an artistic vision, all those man hours that goes into the concepts and attempts to actualize them, all that potential for could very well be a masterpiece; just gone to pot. There are a lot of stories like this, particularly in the realm of superhero movies: The third Joel Schumacher-helmed Batman film with Courtney Love as Harley Quinn; the Green Lantern film starring Jack Black in the lead role; all those Spider-Man spin-offs and sequels Sony had planned before Amazing Spider-Man 2 turned off the entire world. However, far more than any other, there is one story that has captured the minds of a lot of film and comic book geeks: A collaboration between the poster child for modern-day Goths, the biggest comic geek-turned-filmmaker and an actor known for his legendary scenery-chewing.

The plot: In 1996, Kevin Smith approached producer Jon Peters with a different take on a Superman film, based on a script he had obtained called ‘Superman Reborn’. Based off of the classic Superman comic book story ‘The Death Of Superman’, it was set to have Tim Burton as director and Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel himself. Director Jon Schnepp, through access to the many writers and conceptual artists that were attached to the film as well as the original artworks, looks into the behind-the-scenes story of Superman Lives, the film that was never was.

There were three key writers involved in the production of Superman Lives: Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick who wrote not only the Doom movie but also the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, and Dan Gilroy, who wowed everyone with his work on Nightcrawler last year. Knowing Smith’s history concerning his Q&As and the fascinating stories he has to tell, bringing him on to talk for a documentary is already an amazing step forward. He recounts his now-infamous story about meeting Jon Peters and his reactions to the guy’s phenomenally weird and pretty stupid ideas, only now we have footage of Peters himself corroborating most of it. Something about the notion that Peters legitimately wanted a giant spider fighting Superman or polar bears fighting Brainiac or that he would have liked Tim Burton’s Batman to have the titular hero say “I’m Batman, motherfucker!” is instantly hilarious. Strick gives some decent tidbits about his involvement in the crux of the film’s production after Smith had left, but he does seem to fall in-between two far more interesting interviewees because Gilroy gives some great insight into why production ultimately got pulled. Considering how badly Warner Bros. was doing financially at the time, and how much of a risk they were taking on Burton’s vision of Superman at the budget they had projected, it unfortunately makes sense that it didn’t go forward.

Since this film largely exists in the conceptual stage, it makes sense that a lot of the original conceptual artists would be asked to give their two cents on the production. This is easily the most fascinating aspect of the film, as the audience is given a surprisingly in-depth look into what ideas were being put into it. The concept art showed a lot of promise for what would have been at the very least an interesting take on the character, which is helped by some animation and even a bit of live-action re-enactments of some of the more visual ideas. Said live-action segments literally look like they were filmed alongside an episode of the Nostalgia Critic, but that attempt to visually present those ideas for consumption is appreciated nonetheless. The amount of effort that was put into the suit alone is great to watch, as they detail the different materials and lighting configurations that, when you see the suit itself, actually look pretty damn good. Like, even considering this was all done during the late 90’s, this holds up. It also helps that there is no bias when it comes to what ideas are presented in the documentary, as we get a good sampling of the good (Drawings for Krypton), bad (early concepts for the black Kryptonian suit) and just plain weird (Brainiac with Christopher Walken’s face).

Were it that this film was made, it certainly would’ve been a paradigm shifter given how ambitious it is. However, what makes this even more compelling is just how influential this non-existent film has become if you really think about it. A lot of the concepts for Brainiac where he is essentially a human head with spider legs ended up being used in another fashion, given how Humma Kavula turned out in the 2005 Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie. Kevin Spacey was originally slated to be Lex Luthor, a role he would end up taking in Superman Returns and ultimately becoming the best part of that entire film. But probably the most telling, and the reason why this film was released at easily the best time possible, is the approach to Superman himself. The crew behind the production clearly wanted to create a darker version of Superman than people were used to, similar to what Burton himself did with Batman. This idea of treating Superman the same way they did Batman, at the end of the day, is the same mindset that went into 2013’s Man Of Steel as well as the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman film. Burton did agree to the project because, given how Superman is more a creature of sunlight than the gloomier characters that he is used to, he wanted to challenge himself and learn from the experience. However, that doesn’t affect how that aspect still remains in a lot of what the other interviewees mentioned: A darker, possibly grittier version of the character that would be based on a story line where the character would die. Given how badly Man Of Steel turned out, and how extremely disheartening BVS looks just from the trailers, it’s kind of disheartening that this didn’t get made but that film is going ahead.

All in all, this is an utterly fascinating look into the filmmaking process for a film that, unfortunately, didn’t even get to the stage of filming. The use of concept art and expert use of editing (seriously, this might be the best edited film of the year) to further illustrate what the film could have looked like is excellently handled, the interviewees all bring interesting quips about its background and the timing, given how close we are to the latest iteration of Superman on film, couldn’t have been better. For those with any interest in what goes on behind-the-scenes for a film, or just those that wondered how Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel could’ve gone, I highly recommend checking this one out. It’s better than Straight Outta Compton, purely based on how well this did at portraying a story that never reached its finale as opposed to dramatizing a true event. However, it ranks just below Truth because, as well-constructed as this film is, it falls short of the genuinely amazing dialogue of that film.

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