Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened? (2015)

This documentary is now widely known because of the fact that some (or most?) of the funding was raised through a Kickstarter campaign, which many fans contributed. So even though Jon Schnepp wrote, directed and edited this project (it was his baby), you could also say, the fans that contributed have rights over this project too, seeing as they backed the film with their own money. Technically its a fan made film, without the fans support, Schnepp might not have been able to complete it. I'm not sure how this all works actually, but wouldn't all the people that contributed towards the film have a claim to royalties? does it work like that? probably not.

Anywho, this project is all about the movie that was never made called 'Superman Lives'. The movie was going to be a different take on the Superman universe, or from what audiences knew to expect from a Superman movie. The main force behind this drastic new vision was none other than Mr goth, Tim Burton. Fresh of success with his dark exploration into Batman's world, Burton was gearing up to do exactly the same thing to Superman...with Nic Cage as his Superman. This documentary delves deep into that failed project, the ideas, concepts, the people involved and basically how far they got. See this as another 'Lost in La Mancha' type documentary film.

At first the doc mainly revolves around Kevin Smith and his early draft for the movie, nothing amazingly unique though as much of this information has been around for years and easily found online. Personally I found it interesting as I have never looked any of this info up (not being a Superman fanboy), so the idea of having a crossover with other characters such as Deadshot and Batman seemed pretty sweet (naturally). We also get a tonne of input from Jon Peters who, dare I say it, is a typical looking over tanned Hollywood slimeball with an effeminate hairdo that looks like a wig. This guy purchased the rights to Superman back in the early 90's and literately set about trying to create a monster, pretty much tried to destroy the Superman franchise with his stupid ideas.

This guy Peters is clearly the type of Hollywood schmuck that just doesn't get it, he doesn't get what popular comicbook characters are about, he's why we often get terrible adaptations with daft alterations. Just watching this guy here, I didn't like him, I didn't like his attitude, he seemed fake, a possible liar, thinks he's a tough guy, the kinda guy that might take credit for other people's work. This is confirmed with the varying comments from both Peters and Smith, Smith says one thing, Peters says another, who is telling the truth is of course not known but I got a real sense of distrust from Peters. It also shows how Peters comes across as a bit of a bully, getting what he wants in the end with the fact he produced the movie 'Wild Wild West' and many ideas he wanted for this Superman project ended up in that bomb of a flick (giant mechanical spider finale).

So all that was a solid insight despite the fact it comes across in a negative light. What is the real highlight here (for me at least), was the concept art from various skilled artists (Sylvain Despretz, Jack Johnson, Jim Carson, Harold Belker, Michael Anthony Jackson etc...). These images really show what could of been, what an amazing visual feast of ideas could have been displayed with Burton's dark mindset. Honesty most of it, if not all of it, is truly stunning to look at, the various ideas for Krypton (loved the neon lights and shifting tectonic plates ideas), action sequences, locations, Superman's little pod from Krypton and of course his suit. All of this being a combination of the various artistic styles provided by the various concept artists and Burton's own uniquely gothic tastes. The best of which easily being Burton's take on Brainiac which basically looked like something from 'Mars Attacks', but still good! loved the creepy spindly spider legs idea. Whether or not any of this stuff would have worked on film is another matter, the million Dollar question, but the artwork sells it brilliantly, you can't help but love it.

The suit is another big focus of the film, probably the biggest as that's what everybody has seen online with Cage looking dreadful. Again there is some gorgeous artwork showing how the finished product would have looked, his final new black suit, his healing suit and various other stages that were looked at. These images are really helpful to see what the aim was and I gotta be honest...I liked what I saw! The exciting stuff comes from actually seeing the partial creation of one suit, the now famous rainbow suit. We see various people trying on the initial designs and how the neon lights would have worked looked great in my humble opinion, really fresh and visually appealing. Having Supes big 'S' in bold silver adorned across the chest plate, with all these neon rainbow lights flashing in a synchronised pattern was awesome to see. Think the aliens in the movie 'Abyss' and how their bodies glowed and lit up for a comparison. 

Another idea they were going with which I believe was totally new, was the little robotic character that would have accompanied Supes from Krypton from the get go. This little guy would have looked after Supes and helped him, not exactly original these days of course, but it was the idea that it transformed into a sort of mechanical exoskeleton for Supes when he was recovering from whatever happened to him. This sounds crazy but again the artwork totally sold me, seeing Superman encased by some robotic suit of armour that enabled him to fly was really unique, and it looked so damn cool!

As for Cage, the big bad Cage, I'm still not so sure about that. According to Burton there was a lot of conflict on casting and its easy to see why. Cage would never have been my first choice, apart from his over acting and lack of chiseled features, for me its that hairline, come on seriously, a balding Superman?! even with that wig he still looked balding.

Me being new to all this, I will admit I loved the fresh new angles and the big gambles they were aiming for, or willing to take. Of course we will never know if they would have paid off, but I think doing something brave and original with such an epic franchise deserves some kudos. I mean really, killing off Supes?...ballsy move right there, having him come back bigger and badder with that black suit, all in the one movie?! the first movie! gotta give kudos on that plot, that blows most origins stories out of the water. I do think these changes were kinda needed for Supes though, because his formula and look can be become stale, especially after the classic Reeve's movies ('Superman Returns'). Just look at 'Man of Steel', that had many new visual elements to it which looked great and did work, unfortunately that movie didn't gel entirely, but it shows this Burton vision could of worked on some levels.

It does appear that this production did get pretty far before it was cancelled, I think it was merely weeks before shooting Warner Bros shut it down. That all being down to the epic failure of Joel Schumacher's 'Batman and Robin' which gave Warner Bros the jitters, so Schumacher did indeed screw up both the Batman franchise and the Superman franchise on one fell swoop. It is a shame because I would have liked to see this movie made, I think it would have been decent, a definitely unique stand alone flick if anything. This doc does give plenty of info about the various stages, if like me you haven't really looked into all this then it will be quite interesting. For others, more dedicated Superman fanboys, I'm not sure this really gives you anything you didn't already know, what's more you can find a lot of this online if you search. 

Still, its a solid documentary, well made, well researched, plenty of old stock footage, lots of artwork and lots of little interviews from almost all involved. The fact many fans got to help out is also great (apparently the Bluray has loads of extras). Well worth your time if you like any of these categories...Superman, comics, superhero flicks or just plain n simple science fiction and fantasy.


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