Not rated, but Kevin Smith says the f-word a lot. But that's just because it's Kevin Smith. It's asking the sun not to shine. Some of the people in this film treat this like a professional interview. Some of the interviewees love swearing like sailors. But really, the only thing that is really objectionable is the occasional intense swearing. You can go through long sections of movies without any language. Then there will be an interviewee just going off on the English language.
DIRECTOR: Jon Schnepp
I've been obsessed with the unmade film. In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Morpheus has an entire library entirely devoted to books that haven't been written. There's something really intriguing about what could have been. I have to warn you that I also spent this weekend watching Jodorowsky's Dune. I got this blood boiling, friends, and I wonder what the world would have been like had these movies been made. Like Jon Schnepp, the creator of this documentary, there's been this splinter under my craw about Supeman Lives. I love(d) Superman. I give it the caveat because I loathe what the DCeU has done with that character. But when I heard that Tim Burton was going to be making Kevin Smith's Superman script with Nicholas Cage as Superman, I was all over the place emotionally. Only once have I really seen a train derail as hard as that. It was the most recent adaptation of Fantastic Four. I don't know what it is about knowing that a movie would crash and burn so hard that I just had to see it.
I was so confused when I heard that Superman Lives was going to be made. I'm such a fanboy for the Christopher Reeve incarnation of that character that I just wanted more. I think Kevin Smith is a better writer than he is a director. Actually, to go a step beyond that, I think he's a better personality than he is anything else. I really like his comics writing, but there's some steps between him and great filmmaker. (In high school, I was obsessed with him. That's a sweet spot for Kevin Smith.) So when these images started popping up on the internet, I couldn't stop looking for more. It was just a trainwreck. There's the image of Cage, clearly not ready to be photographed, in one of the ugliest costumes I had ever seen. I mean, Nicholas Cage wasn't ever meant to be Superman, except in Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. I think that most people probably felt the same thing. When Jon Schnepp decided to make a documentary about this movie, I'm sure that he had the same curiosity. I get the vibe from having seen the documentary now that he was on the opposite side of my coin. I had actually known a lot of the content of this documentary before it came out. Years ago, Kevin Smith released a hybrid stand-up / Q & A bit called An Evening with Kevin Smith. In that special, he talks a lot about Superman Lives. He tells the story of Jon Peters and his nutball ideas. We get the idea that this was a doomed idea from the start. The documentary really doesn't take a different path than that. The one thing that Schnepp kind of fights for is that all of these ideas would have brought about an interesting film. Schnepp definitely has his opinion about this movie clearly laid out both in the text and in the subtext. I know that Schnepp isn't just anybody. He worked on Metalocalpyse and has friends in the industry. But Schnepp is more civilian than celebrity. He has a very human response to interacting with his heroes. I get the same vibe. My film critic gig has weirdly put me into the path of interacting with people above my station. I am pretty decent at keeping my cool, but my brain is screaming when these things happen. I really don't want to offend. Schnepp isn't exactly objective with this documentary. Understandably, he thinks that Jon Peters is a weird dude who may have helped tank this movie. But he also is completely in love with the other creators of this movie. Now, I want to backpedal a little bit. I really think he wanted to see Tim Burton's Superman Lives unironically. But the movie keeps unrolling all of these moments that seem like they would have been terrible and then...
...he would imply that it would be great. There is such a disparity between the way that Schnepp would treat everyone else and the way he would treat Jon Peters. I don't deny, Jon Peters seems like a terrible liar. Every single testimonial aside from Peters claims that Peters and his general personality put a strain on every element of this film. It's not his fault, at least not single-handedly, that the movie. But The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (A clunky title, to say the least) is almost a love-letter to an unmade movie. I really don't like Tim Burton. I think he's fairly terrible. But there have been moments over the past decade that made me question my assessment of him. If there has ever been a moment where I have gone back to my original opinion of Tim Burton kind of being a hack, it is this documentary. He's one thing. He's one thing and he does that thing over and over. He calls it art. But I don't think I've seen a director who is so in love with his own brand like Tim Burton. I kept hearing this phrase over and over again, "Tim Burton doesn't read comic books. Tim Burton doesn't like comic books." Now, I get where this is going. I get the idea that a comic book should be one thing and a film should be another. But a disdain for an entire medium shows that Burton seems really closeminded. This felt like a burden for him the entire time. It's very odd how The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is kind of a check list of #metoo offenders, but Bryan Singer's Superman Returns was used as a litmus test for how not to do a movie. I have come around to the fact that Superman Returns is not a great film. But calling it a bad film is far from the truth. It isn't perfect, but it gets the core of its movie right. It understands Superman and it understands Clark Kent. Yeah, the movie isn't great. Okay, I can make peace with that. I'll watch it again sometime soon and I'll write about it. But to use that as an example for what sucks is rough. Tim Burton seems to loathe what that movie brought to the table. I think that Tim Burton really just likes showing off how weird he is. I think that his sensibilities tend to align with Batman. There's this concept that Tim Burton shaped Batman into the character he is today. I don't deny that he holds a lot of responsibility for making Batman a grim character. But that's the way that the comic books were. I don't know why Burton rallies against the idea of a comic book when they seem to have all of this great stuff in it.
But I'm going to play against my own philosophy. There are a few moments in this movie that actually justify the idea of a Tim Burton being made. This is Jon Schnepp's success element to his film. By the end of the documentary, I realized that I wanted to see Tim Burton's Superman Lives. I didn't want to see Superman Lives as a Superman film. That seems really confusing. I think I wanted to see what this movie could have been. There's one moment that sells the idea of Nicholas Cage as Superman and that I've never really considered. Nicholas Cage might have worked as Superman because I never really saw him as Superman. Okay, I'm going to give that a little bit of context. Do you know what other casting gig never really made a ton of sense to me? Michael Keaton as Batman. That is still absolutely bananas to me. I wonder how Schnepp got all of these people to come back and talk about the movie, but didn't manage to get a hold of Nicholas Cage. Cage confuses me. I know that the guy is a huge comic book nerd. He named his kid Kal-El for goodness sake. But there are moments where Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage are doing some character stuff with costumes and I don't think I have been that uncomfortable with watching something awkward like when I saw the "Scott's Tots" episode of The Office. What Nicholas Cage was playing for Clark Kent was just full Cage insanity. I actually really like Nicholas Cage in a lot of things. The only solace to Cage being cast as Superman was the fact that I thought a comics nerd would really get what made Superman tick. Yeah, he's a goofball a lot of the time and looks nothing like I imagine Superman should look like. But then there's this bizarre full Cage thing going on and it bummed me out. I'm listening to the score to Superman Returns right now and it is so motivating. I've had a hard time writing this because this writing seems to just suck the life out of me a bit. But I watched so much of this movie in storyboard form. There are so many moments to what would have been this movie that are kind of cool sounding...if it wasn't really Superman. It's bizarre. Yeah, I want to see the movie just so I can leap over some of the more challenging ideas. But honestly, this might be a bullet dodged.
The documentary really doesn't look great. I know that it was a Kickstarter project and I think I remember hearing that it just kept clearing goal after goal. It never really looks great. I think the biggest pull for the documentary is getting Tim Burton to talk about this picture, let alone Tim Burton talking about this picture in his dungeon home. Yeah, the movie really explains what really went wrong with this film and I can get behind that. I still only want to see this movie as a carnival freakshow. It kind of hits the same button for me as watching the Turkish Superman movies on YouTube. I know that this is completely a terrible idea, but I don't understand how a whole team of people could say that this was going to be brilliant. There are few moments that actually really sell the piece and I think that this would have ruined yet another superhero property.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.