by Adam Riske
Schnepp’s new documentary, The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?, chronicles the pre-production of a movie that never came to fruition – 1998’s Superman Lives, a feature film that would have been directed by Tim Burton, written by Kevin Smith (among others) and starred Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. The material is there for an interesting documentary; just look at last year’s excellent Jodorowsky’s Dune for an example. But The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is nowhere near as good as that movie. It’s entertaining at times but could have been much more.
The movie consists mainly of talking heads describing what it was like in the pre-production stages of Superman Lives, including concept art, storyboarding, the various drafts of the script and the costume design. There are also animation sequences peppered into the proceedings to liven up the visual style. It sort of works. As for the talking heads, some of them are great. Always an engaging public speaker, Kevin Smith nearly steals the movie, which is a problem because his contributions are mostly limited to the first third of the movie since his draft of the script was the first written and the first thrown out. His absence is felt in the latter two-thirds of the documentary.
1989 Batman. Peters is a great personality, the prototypical Hollywood producer, and some of his ideas (which he doesn’t shy away from) are hilarious and bizarre and I wouldn’t dare spoil them. His involvement is the best thing that The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? has going for it. He’s a great villain to the piece, but also sort of an anti-hero since his heart seems to be in the right place. Among the other interviewees are Tim Burton, who is sort of dull and looks like he’s 100 years old. My favorite comment about Burton’s involvement in Superman Lives is that he saw the movie as a challenge to change up his career with something lighter; however, all the evidence of the pre-production work seems to indicate that vision would not have been realized if he made Superman Lives – it would have been the same old wacky shit.
I also enjoyed screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy) piece because for some reason he’s shouting the entire time as if he cannot modulate the volume of his voice. It’s inadvertently funny. Missing, though, is Nicolas Cage, whose interview would have been so clutch here but it’s nowhere to be found. What insight we have into Cage’s feelings about the production are all gained from archival footage. It would have been great to have his input now that it’s in hindsight. The rest of the interviews (mostly from production people) are kind of meh. They’re not storytellers in the verbal sense and the energy lags during this long portion in the middle of the documentary.
So here’s the part where I pick on Jon Schnepp. I’m sorry in advance, Mr. Schnepp. He puts himself in front of the camera way too much like he thinks he’s Michael Moore or something. This is a problem because he never justifies any reason for him to be in front of the camera, so it comes across as vanity. I appreciate how much detail and effort he put into the project but all of that is undermined because he looks like a fanboy, interviewing people while wearing character t-shirts and grinning at his good fortune that he’s in the same room with the likes of Smith or Burton. He never pushes them and I wish he did – from behind the camera.
How can you see this documentary? The movie is available on the filmmaker’s website for a $14.99 purchase. I would recommend renting it instead, but since that is not an option (boo!) you’re pretty much stuck with buying it if you have any interest in seeing this movie. I don’t think it’s worth it, but that’s just me.
Nicolas Cage would have given this documentary a significant boost. Maybe it was just me but The Death of Superman Lives What Happened seems to spend most of the time trying to explain that famous picture of Nicolas Cage in the superman suit because there is a tremendous amount of time in this documentary about costume design. Also its possible that they spent a lot of time on it because that's basically the only Nic cage footage they have. I too wanted to hear more about why the movie was canned, storyboards and casting ideas. Those were the highlights of this film for me. . To be fair the Superman lives was only pre production so I guess there is only so much available.ReplyDelete
Oh and that phone call scene was just plain awkward.ReplyDelete
I really dislike when documentary filmmakers put themselves on screen. I don't mind hearing them narrate, or ask their interviewees questions, but when they just stand around on camera, it seems vain. Nobody wants to look at you, man. You are not interesting. Your subject is.ReplyDelete
You know who I never see on screen in his documentaries? Werner Herzog. And that man is fucking magnetic.
I'm ok when documentary filmmakers put themselves in but only if there is a reason for it. Sounds like there's no reason for it in this documentary (grrr). You're right adamarmour, Herzog does it right, even when he does put himself in the movie it's memorable and awesome (I'm thinking the scene in Grizzly Man when he listens to the recording).Delete
I was interested in this too, how can you not be? Kevin Smith from a time where we liked him more and Nicolas Cage as Superman, Damn, its like a high concept film, Smith and Cage, im in! What a shame it was not the Documentary we hoped for and if they managed to get Nicolas that might of saved it? Cheers for the review, I will probably watch it but with lower expectations now
The Narrator already got off to a bad start from the first line and I did get sick of seeing him, Kevin was good to see like you mentioned and a few titbits here and there but overall very easilly forgettable,Delete
Every review is skewing mediocre on this one, but I'm still gonna need to buy it. This Superman project a topic I'm very interested in, whether we're talking about Kevin Smith's version or the version Tim Burton almost brought to fruition. I can listen to Kevin discuss his history with Superman Reborn for hours and hours and never get tired of it.ReplyDelete
Hopefully the Collider (formerly AMC) Movie Talk fans never see this review. Otherwise the trolls will descend upon this site.ReplyDelete
This is ok, screams Youtube production though despite the big names present.ReplyDelete