In the late 90s, a perfect storm of Hollywood’s best and brightest came together to re-imagine America’s cherished superhero. Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage were set to bring the Man of Steel back to life until a spiralling budget and increasingly preposterous story gave Warner Bros. cold feet. What happened was one of the greatest near misses in movie history. But what if…just what if, it wasn’t?
There are two huge might-have-been movies I remember from my younger days. James Cameron’s Spider Man and Tim Burton’s Superman Lives.
While Cameron tackling Spidey might have made for entertaining viewing, Burton’s take on Superman was undoubtedly the more intriguing of the two. Today’s discerning moviegoer might recoil in horror at the thought of Nicolas Cage as Superman, directed by Burton, but back then Cage was a genuinely talented, edgy, alternative leading man. Burton himself had already reignited the movie going public’s appetite for superheroes with Batman and Batman Returns, making the genius decision of casting Michael Keaton.
When those grainy shots of Nicolas Cage, bleary eyed, longed haired, in what looked like a shiny runner S&M suit leaked onto the internet a few years ago it looked as though we had collectively dodged the speeding bullet of a truly terrible movie. Director Jon Schnepp (who is definitely one to watch) has delved deeply into the story behind Superman Lives talking to Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, producer Jon Peters, costume designers, artists and a revolving door of writers. Though meticulously put together and dripping with detail, he manages to tread the fine line of entertaining and educating without straying too far into geek lore and discouraging the casual viewer.
Getting Burton involved is a great coup. He’s clearly still affected by the experience, suffering from some post-Superman PTSD. Jon Peters, the extremely successful producer is definitely the star of the show here. While you can’t argue with his successes or impressive rise through the industry, he comes across at best as a kind of gaudy producer stereotype and at worst the greatest foe Superman ever faced. Throughout pre-production he demanded ‘no suit’, ‘no flying’ and a giant spiders to be involved.
A first class look at a movie that may have changed the movie/comic book universe as we now know it. What’s surprising is just how close this film came to being made before they pulled the plug. Mere weeks. More surprising still that the budget was then funnelled into Wild Wild West. Make of that what you will.
Director: Jon Schnepp
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: 9th July 2015. Available at www.tdoslwh.com