There are few topics in the world of comics or in the lore of Hollywood filmmaking that interest me to the point of near-obsession quite like the development purgatory (though some may call it hell) inhabited by DC Comics properties at Warner Bros in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As a matter of fact, there was a time a few years ago when I even considered writing a book on the topic. The funny thing is, I in no way claim to be an expert or an insider in regards to the development or alleged going-ons of any of these films. What drove me at the time to consider writing a book on these cinematic almosts was the prospect of finding out all that I possibly could from the people most that were actually involved.
While there are a few notable cinematic balks included in this list, including a top-secret adaptation of Batman Beyond, a cringe-inducing adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (its borderline satirical take on an unstable Dark Knight would pave the way for Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin run years later), and, last but not least, the first of a seven film Superman narrative pitched to the WB in 1998 by aspiring writer and avid fan, Alex Ford, entitled Superman: The Man of Steel.
There is one film, however, which overshadows all of the others. One film which simultaneously intrigues and repulses. A film which divides even the most loyal of fans like the Mason-Dixon. A legendary cinematic bullet which we all dodged, yet, whether we’ll admit it or not, all want to see.
That film, of course, is Superman Lives.
Written in 1996 by fanboy demigod Kevin Smith, Superman Lives, to put it gently, was destined to fail. Depending on who you ask, the overall storyline of the movie wasn’t terrible (recall that this was circa the Batman and Robin era). What made it terrible, however, were the conditions under which Mr. Smith was allowed to craft his tale. As the story goes, the main criteria for the script was the Superman had to wear a black suit, he couldn’t fly, and he had to fight a giant spider at some point in the film. Before you knew it (and depending on your source), Tim Allen was reportedly the frontrunner for Braniac, Chris Rock was confirmed as Jimmy Olsen, and Michael Keaton was set to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne, probably as a cameo. To make matters even more strange, Tim Burton was directing. While it wasn’t exactly a bad choice given the tone of the film and the overall critical and commercial success of Burton’s Batman films, Superman Lives had its wheels fall off quickly. To further complicate matters, Tim Burton’s interpretation that didn’t really fit the mold of what we expect from a Superman story. Not fitting the mold is fine, just not when it’s the most recognizable superhero of all time and a potential tentpole summer blockbuster for Warner Bros. Studios.
So here we are in 2013, with Superman Lives seemingly long forgotten. While concept art, scripts, and even some production materials have surfaced over the years, most of the story of the doomed production remains widely untold.
Enter Jon Schnepp.
Mr. Schnepp, best known to casual nerds for his work on Adult Swim standouts Metalocalypse and Venture Bros., has begun a campaign via Kickstarter to fund a documentary on the production of Superman Lives, which he is calling, “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?” . While I could go through the details and try to win support for the man, I feel it’s better for you to hear him plead his own case.
Clearly, he’s fascinated by the material. Like many of us, he wants to know as much as he possibly can about this doomed project. As someone who is passionate about this stuff, I get the vibe that he is too. This does not strike me as a way to cash in on the forthcoming Man of Steel, nor does it appear to be something done solely to further his own career. Besides, I could certainly think of better ways to do so than by making a documentary targeted at a few thousand in-the-know comic/movie nerds. This is a documentary by fans for fans.
He’s even going as far as to have a $50k stretch goal (meaning a $50k on top of the $98k required to make just the documentary) with the hopes of animating/otherwise bringing key sequences of the film to life. While it may not exactly be the crazy Nic Cage awesomeness we were supposed to get back in the late 90’s, it’s certainly a cool idea. Who knows? Maybe Mr. Cage would be willing to provide some voice acting to this animation? After all, he did name is son Kal-El.
If nothing else, this documentary will serve as closure to the fans who feel slighted by the fact that this movie never came to be, as well as offer insight into just how far comic book adaptations have come in such a short amount of time. In the Nolan-era, nobody would ever dream of making this movie, and that’s why I want to see this documentary so badly. I’m personally hoping that this documentary is an incredible success, because I would absolutely love to see a documentary made one day on the numerous proposed Batman films between Batman and Robin and Batman Begins. I think the timing for that is perfect when you consider that a Batman reboot doesn’t appear to be happening for some time.
For the record, I’m available if you want to make this happen, Jon.
In all seriousness, I’m not telling you to go and donate to help fund this movie. What I am telling you, however, is that if you have any interest at all in exactly what the hell happened to this movie, Jon Schnepp may very well be the man to find out. The project has 39 days and a little over $50k remaining at the time this article is being published, so if you want to help, you still have some time to save up. Some of the pledge rewards are actually really freakin’ cool.
Check out some of the links provided in this article and see if you don’t become enchanted by the mysterious Kryptonian magic that was (almost) Superman Lives.