Have you ever wondered what happened to the intended 1999 Superman reboot? You know, the one starring Nicolas Cage as the Kryptonian hero, fighting off giant spiders and floating space skulls in a neon-lit suit? Chances are, you most likely haven’t even heard of this project. But if you so happen to be one of the fanboys who have been begging for and explanation to this almost mythological motion picture, then here you have your holy grail. A 104 minute documentary from independent filmmaker Jon Schnepp (“Metalocalypse”, “The ABCs of Death”), digging deep into the process of the never-produced “Superman Lives”. A film set to have been directed by Tim Burton, and written and revised by notable screenwriters such as Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy, before eventually being cancelled just few days prior to principal photography.
It goes without saying that the value of this film depends heavily on your interest in the subject that is being examined. This is a movie made for sweaty movie nerds, as the narrator points out in the first few minutes. It’s for the 1 % of the population that wholeheartedly cares about comic books, and more importantly Superman. If you find yourself to be outside of this target group, put those bucks back in your pocket, because this is not the documentary for you. However, if you are one of the before-mentioned sweaty nerds, the experience will be similar to that of a child gaining free access to clear the candy store. It is absolutely incredible how much stuff they’ve managed to cram into this beast, unveiling everything from the tiniest of details regarding artistic inspiration and conceptual design, to old pre-production footage of Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton conversing about the man of steel. You just ask the questions, and it gives you the answer.
It really is fascinating to see how much effort and love actually went into this lost production, but it also kind of saddens me to hear all the stories told so passionately by the people who worked for years and years, only to have their contributions flushed down the toilet of corporate business decisions. It is also quite funny how director Jon Schnepp never directly participates in the discussion of whether or not the idea of this ridiculous Superman adaptation was a smart move to begin with. Instead, he edits his interviews in such way that we can clearly tell who represents the business, and who represents the artists. Specifically, I’m thinking of Kevin Smith here, whose experience with the studio-system differs considerably from that of producer Jon Peters. We can only wonder which side of the story is true, but there does seem to be an undercurrent criticism of Hollywood that tries to add an extra layer of intrigue to the documentary.
There really isn’t much about this film that you can criticise it for, maybe except for the fact that it is slightly messy and disjointed in its structure. But then again, I don’t think anyone is going into this with a hunger for groundbreaking documentary storytelling. The appeal here is information. We crave a ton of it, and that is exactly what we get. In other words, it’s not the presentation that keeps us watching. It’s the content we are being served that really matters. In that regard, this could be compared to really good junk food. Fast, easily digestible, but a delight nonetheless.