A $30 million Superman movie that was planned to be made and released in the late 1990’s but never got completed has been the subject of interesting rumor for years and is now the subject of a crowdfunded documentary finally released. I have been following the rumors for years and the making of the documentary since it was announced last year and just finally watched it.
My reaction is that I would have utterly hated Tim Burtons vision of Superman, but I desperately wish he got to make it. I hate all the Superman movies, so that’s no big D. I would have hated this one for the same reasons I think the Christopher Reeve versions are campy garbage and the 2000’s attempts are melodramatic wastes trying too hard to suck the joy out of a fun character and go for a “realistic” emotional disaster drama. Yawn.
The movie would have focused on a version of the Death of Superman story, which in the 90s was a big deal and would have been a big draw on film. In the comics, Superman is confronted by a new character named Doomsday who, like Soops, is similarly indestructible but bent on killing everything. They fight for awhile, weakening each other in a meta-bar room brawl similar to the way Soops vs Zod was depicted in the most recent iteration Man of Steel until finally they punch each other to death in a mutual loss. Superman is buried and then there’s a couple offshoot storylines where a kid, a cyborg, and a couple other pretenders to the throne try to take the mantle until Superman comes back, now with long black hair and a black uniform. Turns out Superman was only dead-in-name-only by being beaten into a recovery hibernation mode and was able to be revived in the Fortress of Solitude and returned at a weaker power mode to save the day like always.
For a good depiction of the story, I recommend the animated 2007 film Superman: Doomsday.
So in 1996 Warner Bros gave Kevin Smith the opportunity to write a screenplay for either a movie version of The Outer Limits (a forgettable Twilightzone ripoff), a Bettlejuice sequel titled “Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian” (finally answering the questions posed in the first Beetlejuice of “but what would he be like in a tropical setting?”) or friggin Superman (an American icon and comic book legend). Smith picked that one and wrote a script where the alien Brainiac invades the Fortress of Solitude (fighting polar bears in the process) and deprives Superman of his powers, allowing the whole come-back thing and so on.
Tim Burton signed on to direct and retooled the vision entirely ditching Smiths script for a more….Burtonesque approach.
The comics at the time had Superman looking like this:
Long haired sortov mullet, buffed out, boxy Termantor style chin and cheek bones.
This is what Tim Burton had in mind:
It sucks that we were so close to getting a Superman Scissorhands movie and it all fell apart with its budget going to the 1999 Will Smith flop, Wild Wild West.
Warner Bros really dropped the ball here by that fact alone. Because even if Burtons Superman movie flopped, 1) it wouldn’t have been as low as Wild Wild West, and 2) it would have had decades long staying power as an item of interest (where as WWW faded to obscurity outside of notation of its financial and critical negative reception). It would have been the utmost of cool to have the 90s Batman movie series directed by Burton cross over with Superman in a combo sequel like Warner is trying to accomplish with Batman vs Superman in 2016.
And to make it even more deliciously bizarre, the Man of Steel was to be played by real-life SuperWeirdo Nicolas Cage, of whom test footage exists to drool over.
All this and more is in the previously mentioned documentary “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened” which I just watched. It’s okay. There are animated recreations of storyboards and concepts from the original treatments that I wanted to see much more of, the story isn’t told in an easily discernable beginning-middle-end like I would have appreciated, and the directors distracting head nodding while his interview subjects speak on the topics raised could have been drastically cut for my tastes, but the base material is good and its a good watch for comic, Cage, Smith, or Burton fans.
Here’s the trailer:
If that sort of thing appeals to you, watch the first 10 minutes below and consider buying the full doc itself:
Image credits: the Death of Superman Lives