It’s funny to think that in an alternate reality so many radical ideas were likely able to flourish. In some reality Jodorowsky made his version of “Dune,” and in an alternate reality perhaps we had “Superman Lives.” I wasn’t keen on exploring the story of the lost production of “Superman Lives,” the failed reboot of the Superman movie franchise initially. But the documentary proves that the enduring fascination with its potentially disastrous development is just, and very much a worthwhile exploration of too many cooks in the kitchen. There was a time where superhero movies weren’t a common place in cinema, and those that were in theaters were low tier barely marketable characters that almost always guaranteed to flop.
Superman was set to be rebooted in the late nineties, and this set off a chain of events within the underbelly of Warner Bros., who went on to hire various people to tailor a brand new iteration of the Man of Steel, all led by the ambitions and arguably narrow minded likes of Tim Burton and producer Jon Peters. What occurs within this development time is a series of fascinating ideas, wacky promises, and massive egos clashing to create what could have been a mind fuck adaptation of Superman. The story behind this failed re-invention is indeed fodder for one hell of a fun and interesting documentary that doesn’t just reveal how movies are developed, but how the developers behind the film just didn’t understand Superman. The director of “The Death of Superman Lives” never quite manipulates his interview subjects, but opts to get their ideas of what occurred during the development of the film, and what they thought of the direction it was going in.
Jon Peters and Kevin Smith both have clashing anecdotes about what went down during the initial script stages, but it’s fascinating to see how Peters just didn’t really comprehend the mythos of Superman and instead just wanted a balls to the wall superhero movie that didn’t have to stick to Superman by the letter; whether or not that was a good aspect of the development is up to the viewers to decide. “Superman Lives” is painted as a roller coaster ride with a lot of activity and very little substance. Every single aspect of the development is taken in to account, from the trio of screenwriters, producer Jon Peters’ thoughts on the ideas that clashed and transformed in to whole other new concepts, right down to casting decisions from the obvious (Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor) to the out there (Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen). No detail is spared. What unfolds in “The Death of Superman Lives” is an obvious love and utter fascination for the topic and the thought on what could have happened to the comic book movie as a whole if “Superman Lives” ever made it to theaters.
Surely whether it flopped or made history, it would have changed the canvas of the genre as we know it, and director Jon Schnepp loves to ponder on that thought again and again. It’s not so much a love for the idea of Nicholas Cage as Superman, but a whole “What if?” peek in to a movie that came painfully close to being produced in to a big budget feature. What’s fun to witness is that none of the ideas included really are in the spirit of Superman, and derive influences various sources that don’t directly tie in to comics. There are endless diagrams and concept sketches about monsters and robots that were set to appear during the movie, and everything but the kitchen sink is included. All things considered it’s fascinating to see so many ideas struggling to come to the surface, and how they would have fared in a live action movie. It certainly wouldn’t have been Superman, but it might have been something very one of a kind.