‘The Death of Superman Lives; What Happened?’ Review

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Back in early 2013 Filmmaker Jon Schnepp (Metalocalypse, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The ABC’s of Death) launched a Kickstarter campaign with the purpose of revealing the lost secrets and stories behind the infamously scrapped Superman Lives. The Kickstarter was a success and Jon, his producer and now fiancé’ Holly Payne, and the rest of his crew put together an incredible documentary that not only gives its audience never-before-seen insight into one of the strangest and most daring big budget comic book movies never made, but also a wonderfully voyeuristic look into the magic of collaborative filmmaking.

Jon Schnepp's Kickstarter campaign raised an impressive $115,110.

Jon Schnepp’s Kickstarter campaign raised an impressive $115,110.

The first time I met Jon Schnepp I was telling him how excited I was to see him do a documentary on such a hilariously off base attempt at bringing the Superman franchise back from the dead. Given my knowledge of Schnepp’s previous work, I expected him to turn the project into comedic gold; a This Is Spinal Tap of big budget filmmaking, if you will, but he firmly told me that his intention with the project was to show the world that this would have been an amazing movie and the entire world was robbed out of an astonishing experience that would have changed everything.

The infamous leaked Nicolas Cage test photo awkward, but there are far more traditional images revealed in the documentary.

The infamous leaked Nicolas Cage test photo is awkward, but there are far more traditional images revealed in the documentary.

Most who are familiar with the story of Superman Lives received a majority of their knowledge from Kevin Smith’s hilarious story from 2002’s An Evening with Kevin Smith DVD. The story is recounted in a slightly updated way, but those who’ve seen or heard Smith tell the story before won’t be learning anything new; essentially Kevin Smith stumbled into writing the script for Superman Lives, but before eventually being unceremoniously let go when Tim Burton signed onto direct the film, Smith had to experience several odd encounters with the incredibly eccentric producer, Jon Peters. Peters told Smith that Superman was not allowed to fly or wear his iconic costume, and at some point in the show Superman had to fight a giant spider because “spiders are the fiercest killers in the animal kingdom”.

Kevin Smith telling the John Peters story in An Evening with Kevin Smith.

Kevin Smith telling the John Peters story in An Evening with Kevin Smith.

While originally viewing Smith’s side of the story I found myself thinking that Smith’s interpretation of producer Jon Peters had to be an exaggeration because no person could possibly be that cartoony and disconnected from reality. I’m shocked, and delighted to say that Jon Peters more than lives up to his reputation. Virtually everything Kevin Smith has previously said about Jon Peters is confirmed by his interviews. Seriously though, Jon Peters wanted a street tough Superman played by Nicolas Cage that decapitated ninjas with his cape.

Once Kevin Smith’s part in the story ends, we move on to other engaging interviews with Tim Burton and the people hired to build the unique costumes, sets, and creatures of Superman Lives. Some of the designs are incredible, and you almost wish they’d somehow find themselves worked into other projects, but others go on to absolutely confirm the lunacy of this project. We’re shown a plethora of sketches by production artists such as Bill Boes, Sylvain Despretz, Brom, Jim Carson, and even Tim Burton himself that sets this script apart from anything we’d ever seen in the Superman lore, and it’s all absolutely fascinating. These artistic minds were building worlds intended to compete with Star Wars or Dune, and for better or worse it would have been something completely different than the Superman our existing world is used to.

Concept Art for Superman Lives by Jim Carson

Concept Art for Superman Lives by Jim Carson.

Jon Schnepp’s “Holy Grail”, as he puts it, is definitely the recovered test footage of Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton discussing the character of Clark Kent/Superman/Kal-El, and trying on the various suits that were to be showcased in the film. Most of us have seen the leaked images that found their way onto the internet, but that was just scraping the awkward tip of the iceberg; there’s some amazing looking stuff that’s only coming out thanks to Schnepp’s film, some of it is iconic and spectacular enough to believe that maybe, just maybe, Nicolas Cage could have made this version of Superman work.

One of the more traditional approaches to Nic Cage's Superman costume

One of the more traditional approaches to Nic Cage’s Superman costume.

There are so many reveals in The Death of Superman Lives; What Happened? that I’d really hate to give away any more than I already have. It’s such a wonderfully put together documentary with an incredible story that shows the inner workings of an absolutely bold project that fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, never saw the light of day. My only gripes with the film are very minor; I would have loved to see more comic book creators involved in the film, as the brief glimpses and the delightful part of the introduction by comic book legend Grant Morrison were far too short. Schnepp DID say that there would be more interviews with comic book professionals contained within the special features on the Blu-ray, but the film as is does not represent their presence and opinions very well. Also, I believe that it would have been beneficial to explain the story a bit more to the audience, as most people likely haven’t read any versions of the script and more insight into the story would have served them well.

Filmmakers Jon Schnepp and Tim Burton

Filmmakers Jon Schnepp and Tim Burton

Did Jon Schnepp convince me that Superman Lives was a movie I would have loved to see? No, but he did raise a lot of questions about my own rabid fanboyism and he made me appreciate that the filmmakers of Superman Lives weren’t going out of their way to disrespect the stories and characters I loved, instead they were merely visionaries taking something familiar and presenting it to the world in a new and unique way. I told Jon Schnepp that he was now first and foremost expert on all things Superman Lives, and it was now his responsibility to bring the story to life as a graphic novel; here’s sincerely hoping he takes my advice and brings the story out into the world in a brand new and exciting way.

Stay Tuned! Part 2 featuring the Q&A portions of the screenings coming soon…

Check out The Death of Superman Lives; What Happened? on VOD and Blu-Ray July 9th, 2015 and check out Fandango.com for earlier screenings.

Be sure to check out the official website of The Death of Superman Lives; What Happened? at:

Follow the movies official Twitter account @TDOSLWH
And on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheDeathOfSupermanLivesWhatHappened
Follow Jon Schnepp on Twitter: @JonSchnepp

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