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"The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?" Review

In the late-20th Century an attempt was made to reboot the moribund Superman franchise with Superman Lives, a Jon Peter-produced movie with Tim Burton directing, Nicholas Cage starring and Kevin Smith writing the first draft. With tens of millions expended on pre-production and pay-or-play deals, the production was shut down three weeks before it was to start shooting.

As bizarre-looking costume test photos leaked out showing a stoned-looking Cage in a shiny blue rubber suit leaked out - Superman Lives director Bryan Singer would keep that photo handy to shut up anyone who questioned what he was doing with his film - and Kevin Smith's recounting of his involvement with the project (Parts One and Two here) became legend, the true story of what killed Superman Lives was mostly speculation and conjecture until now as writer-director Jonathan Schnepp has pulled together the threads and woven The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?

Stunningly getting the participation of every main and secondary participant but Cage (who appears in fitting videos), Schnepp interviews Peters, Burton, Smith and the two screenwriters who followed him, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and the army of illustrators, designers and artists, showcasing an overwhelming amount of illustrations and test models. Everyone seems candid and honest, though Peters flat out denies Smith's claim that he asked that Superman not fly or wear the costume.

While the copious artwork and deep-diving will probably satisfy uber-nerdy Superman fans, it drags out the feel of the 104-minute documentary making it less suited to more general audiences. It's fascinating to see the ideas being pitched around like the Kryptonian Skull Ship which is exactly as it sounds, but struck me as possibly being too goofy-looking for a live-action movie.

Ultimately, Warner Bros.' string of box office bombs ultimately killed the project (ironically, the money went to fund another bomb), but for those who've always wondered what could've been, for better or worse, The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened? definitely sets the record as straight as could be hoped. A must-watch for superhero movie fans; slightly less so for general audiences.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable. (It's currently on Showtime.)


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