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

2015 #95
Jon Schnepp | 104 mins | download (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | *

Jon Schnepp’s widely-reviewed documentary about the batshit-crazy Nic Cage-starring Tim Burton-directed Superman movie that almost happened in 1999. If all you’ve seen are the photos of a stoned-looking Cage in a light-up abomination of a Superman costume that leaked onto the internet a few years ago, prepare to be amazed. Indeed, those infamous photos and footage are an aberration that this documentary explains.

Schnepp guides us neatly through the film’s protracted development, from the early script stages — initially penned by Kevin Smith — right up to costume fittings and special effects tests. It’s remarkable how late in the day the film was canned. A wide array of interviewees means the documentary offers a genuine insight into the entire process, with the likes of screenwriters and concept artists offering details on specific elements, to producer Jon Peters (certainly a ‘character’) and director Tim Burton sharing more of an overview of the project. Indeed, the only significant absentee is Cage.

Some have said Schnepp puts himself in the film too much. He’s a long, long way from the worst example of a documentary maker intruding too heavily, in my opinion, though it’s true that at times he could pull it back a bit. A sequence where someone takes a phone call mid-interview while Schnepp patiently has a drink is presumably supposed to be some kind of comedic interlude, but it’s obviously an inside joke because it’s a narrative-interrupting pause with no worthwhile effect. Thankfully, such indulgences are few and far between.

There seem to be an increasing number of “making-of documentaries about films that didn’t get made”, to the extent where it’s almost turning into a sub-genre. The highly-praised Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fixture of my “must watch soon” list, while one looking into George “Mad Max” Miller’s very-nearly-happened Justice League movie is in the works. Schnepp has said that while producing The Death of “Superman Lives” he also uncovered information on a variety of other well-known didn’t-happen superhero movies (like J.J. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby, Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs Superman, and Darren Aronofksy’s Batman: Year One) and is considering turning those stories into a TV series. I hope he does.

No one outright claims Superman Lives would have been a huge success, as you might expect they would (especially Peters). Instead, as the documentary comes to a close, an interesting consensus emerges from its contributors: that Superman Lives would have been either a completely revolutionary hit or a critical and commercial bomb, but, either way, it would certainly have been interesting. Although this documentary is only really worthwhile for anyone already intrigued by the project or fans of behind-the-scenes-of-blockbusters tales, it’s hard to disagree with that opinion.

4 out of 5

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is available to purchase in a variety of digital packages, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, from tdoslwh.com.

* There are no certificates because it’s not officially been released in the UK and it’s “not rated” in the US. If you’re bothered, it would probably be a 15 / R for language. ^