Review: "The Death of Superman Lives." Part Two.
The documentary shows that there was a lot more to the film than Nicholas Cage in a strange outfit and a giant spider (actually a Thangarian Snare Beast). The film probably would have featured Lex Luthor and Brainiac as the villains (and Doomsday in at least one draft). The designs for the film are impressive and with the right budget (and CGI) could have been visually captivating.
For me, the highlight of the film was the interviews with producer Jon Peters. Peters was a hairdresser who parlayed his Hollywood connections into producing films. Peters was involved with some of the biggest films of the 1980’s (including 1989’s Batman) as well as some less than stellar productions. When you watch the documentary, you get the idea that Peters really affected the film’s direction. Depending on whom you believe, Peters had some radical ideas about Superman. For example, he didn’t want him to fly in the movie and insisted that he not wear his trademark costume. Peters reportedly even asked for a scene where Brainiac attacks Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and has to get past Supes’ “guards” which happen to be two polar bears.
Peters’ thoughts on the film pale in comparison to the man himself. While a documentary can make anyone look bad or good (Triumph of the Will anyone?), Peters doesn’t do any favors for himself with his comments. The best has to be his statement where he boasts of having been in 500 street fights. Gruber’s comments cast doubt on what the film would have been like but there’s no doubt that the guy is your stereotypical Hollywood producer who lives in his own world.
The film stresses that much of what people have heard about Superman Lives! was material from pre-production and that the finished product would have been captivating. The documentary shows that Cage’s Superman outfit was a prototype and that the design for the actual costume was sharp-looking. As for the film itself, the documentary shows that director Tim Burton’s vision of Superman was an outsider struggling to fit in. This is a common theme in Burton’s films and it might have been a fresh approach for Superman. We’ll never know though as the film was cancelled three weeks before filming was set to begin.
The film clicks in at 104 minutes. It’s pretty well paced for a director’s first documentary. I have seen complaints about the film’s audio quality but I watched it on Showtime and had no problem with it. The only annoying thing about the film is Jon Schnepp’s condescending attitude towards fans. Schnepp has worked in Hollywood so I imagine he tires of the nitpicking attitudes of some fans. Still, talking down to your audience isn’t a way to build support for a future film and Schnepp looks and talks like the nerds he talks down to in the film.
Thanks to The Death of Superman Lives!, fans have more fodder to debate over the Superman films of the last decade. There has been plenty of criticism about Superman Returns, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman. Now, thanks to this documentary, fans have more information to debate whether or not Superman Lives! would have jumpstarted the franchise or killed it.