In the years preceding the release of the original X-Men film in 2000, comic book cinema was still trying to find its legs in the mid-to-late 1990s. Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin had effectively killed — or at least tranquilized — the Batman film franchise, Marvel was unable to make any major headway into getting films based on their properties created after enduring bankruptcy in 1996, and the technology we now take for granted that allows the likes of Iron Man and Thor to fly and do amazing things on screen wasn’t anywhere near being ready.
That basically meant that the only major game in town that could get a comic book movie made was Warner Bros., with their DC Comics properties. Throughout the entire decade, after regaining the Superman film rights from the Salkinds (producers of the original film and the 1988 Superboy TV series), the Man of Steel would languish in development hell, but an odd and quirky project was nearly made from the minds of Jon Peters, Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick, and Tim Burton — the project now known as Superman Lives. For a multitude of mysterious reasons, even after a greenlight and the construction of lavish costumes and sets, it was never made. Filmmaker Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse) successfully crowd-funded a documentary on the very subject of the abandoned film to find out exactly what happened in his film The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?.
While you can listen an episode of our own Gecken podcast that featured Schnepp as a guest, he recently revealed even more details about his upcoming film in a new interview with VICE. Over the course of making the film, he’s learned a lot about what ultimately killed the project, and shares some of the details and his own opinions on it. Check out these excerpts:
Burton worked on it for two years. He told me, “I basically made the movie, it just never got shot.” As a filmmaker, I can totally relate. You make the storyboards, designs – actors were cast, sets were being built. There’s such a heavy amount of pre-production. Films are such a collaborative medium. When you’re making something with all these different people, it becomes a transformed thing.
I can tell when I read some of these early drafts of Superman Lives… things would’ve changed and transformed, especially when you see the designs that came even from Kevin’s script. If the film came out in ’99, it would have been a hit. It had a lighter feeling that [Burton’s] other films didn’t have. He wanted to show flight how it had never been seen before. And Cage had all of these great ideas of Superman as an outcast – what nerds feel like. It would’ve touched upon that in ways that no one had ever touched upon in any other superheroes.
Superman was more like a kid in the corner who got laughed at all the time, but taking that to the extreme – being a visitor from another planet. You see that in all of Tim Burton’s movies. He said, “I always felt like I was an alien, growing up in Burbank,” and that was exactly what Nic Cage saw, too. People laughed at Nic Cage from the costume test footage, but, in the final costume, Nic Cage looks badass. I had a picture of it on my phone and would show it to people, and every skeptic says, “You know what, that’s not bad.” It makes me happy. You get that flip-flop.
It’s not currently known when the film will finally release, but it should be soon. As a 90s kid and a massive Superman fan, this was basically a movie that I had waited most of my childhood for, and now that someone like Schnepp has decided to seek out some answers about it, I couldn’t be more pleased, and can’t wait to take in a lot of answers to questions I’ve had for so long. For more, be sure to listen to our own interview with Schnepp on the Gecken episode, and to read the rest of the interview at VICE.
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