In late April, curious fans and stars gathered for the premiere of “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?” at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA. Among the star-studded attendees was legendary wrestler/actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who perhaps best summed up the prevailing sentiment shared by those gathered to view the film. “I’ve come to this to look at the style of shooting and what [‘Superman Lives’ director] Tim Burton had in mind and how he was going to do this.”
The documentary explores the trajectory of the unconventional and ultimately abandoned Superman film through interviews and never-before-seen test footage. Writer/Director Jon Schnepp and Producer Holly Payne were joined on the red carpet by a number of Hollywood notables, including actor/writer Amber Benson, actor James Duval, Adrianne Curry, special effects legend Steve Johnson, mixed martial artist/wrestler Josh Barnett and Wesley Strick, one of the screenwriters for “Superman Lives.”
Strick told CBR News he has been surprised by the enduring interest for the film. “I’m excited that people care,” he declared. “When Jon Schnepp asked me to participate, I was stunned that there was any interest at all and the idea [that] this is an important chapter in film history…the lost movie. I was kinda tickled I was part of that. I only took the job really because I had worked with Tim on ‘Batman Returns’ doing the shooting script…we got along so well he wanted to bring me back. That was my main motive in taking the job. Less about Superman, more about Burton — and Nic Cage, who I admire a lot. The three of us had a lot of fun collaborating,”
It is a rarity that a film that was never made would continue to capture people’s attention decades after it was abandoned. Schnepp believes it is Burton’s unorthodox vision that has kept people interested. “It would’ve changed everything,” he told CBR. “I think having a Superman movie like this that was very different, radically different… People would’ve appreciated it. It was different enough that people would’ve enjoyed it.”
Though he didn’t know exactly what he would learn when he began filming his documentary, Schnepp did find one thing particularly surprising. “It was just how many people involved in the production really were supportive of the film and really believed in the film,” he said. “When the plug was pulled, it really crushed a lot of people involved… Most of the people I interviewed were really into making this thing, making this newer version of Superman, and believed in the idea. That’s kind of a bummer that rides a little throughout the movie, what could’ve been. When you’re talking to the people who actually worked on it, they have that melancholy attitude.”
“Face Off” finalist and effects artist Cig Neutron told CBR News he was “blown away” by the special effects tests done for the film. “The suits that they were making — they had these crazy lights and a lot of innovative light work with these clear suits… It was going to be a really cool film; I’m really bummed it didn’t get made.”
As for whether the Internet and fan interest could have helped the film become a reality if more information about the movie had leaked online, Schnepp expressed his belief that there was simply no saving the movie. “In fact, I’m of the opposite mindset, because look at ‘Batman’ with Michael Keaton,” he said. “It’s in the film, we talk about this. Michael Keaton’s ‘Batman’ would’ve never happened if we had the Internet, because the Internet is a forum for people to just hide and have their opinions, which are very reactionary and not thought out and not thought through and they just stay stuff. Believe me, the hatred of Michael Keaton as Batman was very rich and abundant.”
Schnepp notes the same reaction happened with the casting of Cage, who didn’t meet many people’s mental image of Superman. But, as he points out, “People forget Nic Cage won an Oscar just the year before. He’s an amazing actor and has been in so many incredible films — ‘Raising Arizona,’ ‘Con Air’ [which had just come out at the time] — he just proved himself to be an action hero.”
While Strick hasn’t written a superhero film since (his current script being a psychological horror project in the genre he calls “Crumbling Hollywood Mansions” like “Sunset Boulevard” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”), his experience on “Superman Lives” had nothing to do with shifting his focus to other genres. “I wasn’t put off,” he said, “It’s just that having written two sort of back-to-back, I was done. I felt like I’d given it my best shot. I needed to move on with my life — and I think Warner Bros. felt the same way.”
Asked what he took away from the documentary, Strick paused, thought and replied, “I think in a movie like this, you stick with the director, if he’s a genius like Tim. You do his bidding, and you can’t go wrong.”
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