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.