In the summer of ’98, the blockbuster films competing for box office supremacy included Armageddon, Godzilla, and Lethal Weapon 4… but Warner Bros was supposed to have another dog in the race that year: Superman Lives. Over the past 15 years, tidbits of this abandoned production have become public through leaked photos and evenings with Kevin Smith.
Now director Jon Schnepp (Metalocolypse) is giving us the closest thing we’ll ever see to what could have been in his aptly titled crowdfunded documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? Obviously he talks to the notoriously loquacious Kevin Smith, but also interviews Tim Burton who up to this point has not been very outspoken about his involvement. Plus there are insights from production designer Rick Heinrichs, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, 2nd screenwriter Wesley Strick, costume designer Colleen Atwood, special effects supervisor Steve Johnson and pretty much everyone attached to the project except Nicholas Cage. With storyboards, concept art, test shots, and insider tidbits, this is easily the fullest picture we’ve ever seen of this unrealized Superman project.
If it ended being as bad as the studio feared when they got cold feet, it’s clear that it would have been bad for the opposite reasons Superman Returns (2006) was bad. Tim Burton was keen on playing up the alien, sci-fi elements of Superman and has admitted many times that he does not have any interest in what is considered comic book canon. This would have been a radical re-interpretation, but instead we got a bland rehashing.
It’s interesting to think of what could have happened if this movie was made. If it flopped, maybe Fox would have had second thoughts about making X Men two years later, the film that kickstarted the super hero movie boom that we are still in the throes of. If it was a success, perhaps studios wouldn’t be trying to ground their heroes in reality like The Dark Knight trilogy, and we would have been getting more outlandish films like Guardians of the Galaxy much earlier in this movement.
The Death of Superman Lives is technically still filming, so perhaps the trailer will stir up enough interest to help Schnepp land that sought after Cage interview after all.