Episode 196 - Die, Superman!!
Published August 13, 2015
MOVIE REVIEW: The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? In this episode, we take a look at another urban legend/failed Hollywood project, this time the attempt to bring Superman back to the screen by such creatives as Tim Burton, Kevin Smith and Nic Cage. Horrible disaster averted? Or missed opportunity to revitalize an American icon? Tune in and find out. Recorded 8/9/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
The Death Of Superman Lives on IMDB
The Death Of Superman Lives on Wikipedia
The Death Of Superman Lives on Kickstarter
Superman Lives (SupermanWiki)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #196. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And today we wanted to talk about a documentary that has, well, it recently came out officially, I think, but it started as a Kickstarter. The name of the documentary is The Death of "Superman Lives": What happened? In case you didn’t know, “Superman Lives” is the ill-fated, directed-by-Tim-Burton Superman project that was around throughout the ‘90s and it finally died. But The Death of "Superman Lives": What happened? is a documentary, it started life as a Kickstarter. So, that’s what we wanted to talk about today. So Matt, since you found this documentary, how did you first run across it and what did you think of it?
MB: Well, I don’t know, you’ve probably, over the years, seen that weird picture of Nicolas Cage in the Superman outfit with the long hair, and he looks kind of strange.
That picture has kind of been—I know I’ve seen it for years—floating around the internet, and people always talk about, “Oh, you know Nicolas Cage is going to be in this Superman movie,” and I never really realized exactly how close they were to making it. I thought maybe it was just like a test thing and they were toying with the idea. But this movie actually… I was surprised, after watching the documentary, how far it had gotten along. But I had heard about the documentary actually on a movie review site and I hadn’t heard about it up until that point, and I was really impressed with, for a Kickstarter movie and stuff, how many of the people involved in this thing that they actually got.
MJ: Oh yeah, that was definitely impressive. I think when you were telling you’d seen it, you described it as similar to Jodorowsky's Dune, which we reviewed back in episode #131. But I thought there was a very similar flavor to the documentary, between Jodorowsky's Dune and The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? But like you said, they got so many people that had been involved in the production to talk and to talk on camera, and even a little bit to contradict each other. I thought that was kind of interesting.
MB: Literally, everybody who was involved in the movie, other than Nicolas Cage, he wasn’t in it. But yeah, the Kevin Smith interview I thought was really interesting, especially when Kevin Smith started saying, “They wanted this and not that,” and the next guy was like, “No, he’s full of shit. I never said any of that.” [laughs] So, I thought that was kind of funny.
MJ: Yeah. I’ve got to say, I found Kevin Smith a little more credible. To be honest, my overall impression is I think “Superman Lives” would’ve been a shit project if it had come to fruition. I mean, the documentary was interesting, but… I think it’s John Peters, who was the producer, and even Tim Burton to an extent, in listening to them talk, my god they’re arrogant about how much they understand film—well, and even Kevin Smith did it. They put down fanboys on the internet living in their mom’s basement, and I thought they came off as condescending pricks.
MB: Yeah, no, I agree. Tim Burton is one of those directors where I think you either really like his stuff or you really dislike it. I’ve never been a huge Tim Burton fan. Tim Burton I think was okay with Batman because Batman is a much darker character, and Tim Burton’s movies all seem to have that dark, kind of foreboding theme to them. Whereas Superman I’ve always thought of as more upbeat and lively, which is probably why “Superman Returns” was such a weird flick, because that was kind of a dark movie. So you kind of wonder how close Tim Burton’s would’ve been to the one we just got a couple years ago.
MJ: Well, like you said, I think Superman is a much more upbeat character, and Warner Bros. in general seems to have this dark and gritty sensibility stuck in them. I mean, look at Man of Steel, look at what they’ve already shown for “Batman v Superman.” The biggest thing that I got out of the documentary was this horrible frustration that Hollywood keeps giving these projects to people that are dismissive of comic books. Like Tim Burton kept saying, “I don’t even like comic books,” and the producer, he started in the film industry as a hairdresser. These are like the worst people to hand over this kind of property to, and all I could think of when I was watching it was, “Thank god Marvel hasn’t come about this way.” I think one of the reasons Marvel has been successful is that they have comic book people calling the shots, you know?
MB: Yeah, and I think that’s really important. You know, several years ago, remember they had The Hulk, which was done by Ang Lee. And while Ang Lee is a great director, it just seemed like a really odd person to have in charge of a movie like that. And then the movie wasn’t very good. I think you really have to have people who are very much into whatever it is, either comic books, or I know that the new Star Wars movie, J.J. Abrams has always said he’s been a huge Star Wars fan, we’ll obviously seek how good it is when it comes out, but. I think that’s important; you have to be somebody who reads comic books and knows all the details and that kind of thing in order to be a director of a decent movie.
MJ: I think that it’s a question of respect, and that’s why I bring up the way they talked about fanboys, the way they talked about comics. You know, the thing that came across to me from the people involved in this whole project was, “We don’t respect the source material, we don’t respect the people that might’ve wanted to see this movie. We’re just going to do it our way, and they’re going to just take it.” And I can think of so many comics-based movies, or even as you said, other things, whatever the source material is—if you have no respect for it, I think you’re setting yourself up to make a pretty crappy movie. I mean, not that it hasn’t been done, that their artistic sensibilities come in and they do some fantastic new take on it that nobody ever thought. But comics in general, they have this concept called retroactive continuity, and it’s basically going back and revising history. So, for example, in the Spider-Man movies, if you remember the Sam Raimi ones, 1, 2, and 3—in the first movie, they have a guy who kills Uncle Ben and Spider-Man gets his revenge on him and that’s sort of core to who Spider-Man is. And in the third movie, they introduced, “Oh no, it wasn’t really that guy, it was this other guy who shot Uncle Ben.” That’s retroactive continuity, and nine times out of ten when it’s done in comics—or actually, 99 times out of 100—it’s not done well. There’s 1 in 100 writers who can pull it off and have it not suck. What’s happened in comics is they do this so often, and it has built up into such a clusterfuck, that they have retroactive continuity on their retroactive continuity, and it just turns into a mess. I think Hollywood, the way that they hand off projects, is a similar issue.
MB: Yeah, no, I agree. We’re also getting into kind of the less known comics because they’re chewing through all of the ones that everybody knows, not just fanboys. Now you’re getting into some of the ones that people, unless you’re a big comic book fan, you’ve never probably even heard of or whatever. You’re kind of running out of people who actually know what they’re doing, so I think you’re going to start seeing more of this, where you get kind of the crappy movies just because… Who did this latest Fantastic Four? I forget which studio.
MJ: It was FOX, but the director was Josh Trank, and what he’s known for is a film called Chronicle, and it was done in that sort of handheld style, or found footage style, and it showed people adapting to super powers. But the Fantastic Four is a perfect example. It seems to have been treated completely with disrespect. And not that you can’t change the race of a character, because they got some crap for changing Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, to a black actor. I don’t really have a problem with that, per se. I have a problem with the way it’s executed and the way that—the whole thing is Johnny Storm and Sue Storm are brother and sister. And yeah, you can do adopted things, that does sort of modernize it a little bit. But I think it’s in how it’s executed. And everything that’s been said about that movie—and granted, I haven’t seen it—is that the characters suck, that they never click, they never have any reason to get together and be friends or like each other, even.
MB: Yeah. Well, the other thing too is I mean, this is, what, the third Fantastic Four movie we’ve had in the last eight or nine years? And Superman did this too, where it’s like, “The actor doesn’t want to do anymore so, hey, guess what, we’re going to reboot the thing AGAIN.” I didn't like reboots anyhow, but I can see if a movie is 30-40-years-old and you want to reboot it or bring back characters or something. Well if a movie is less than 10-years-old and you’re already rebooting it and redoing it… You can fool some people some of the time, but to me it just seems like it’s almost, at that point, you’re like going for a cash grab or whatever.
MJ: In a lot of cases, it has to do with the copyright and the film rights. So, prepare for my little copyright rant here, but this is why I think it’s such a bad thing that most copyrights are owned by corporations, because a lot of these characters, if they were in the public domain the way that Robin Hood or King Arthur or Shakespeare was, anyone could do an adaptation and it wouldn’t be, “Oh no, only this set group that we’ve chosen.” And, you know, there may be room in the world for a Tim Burton take on Superman. I don’t particularly want to see that movie, and having seen this documentary, that’s really what it said to me, is that this would be a terrible movie, à la this new Fantastic Four or à la “Superman Returns,” or I didn’t even really like the “Man of Steel” particularly, you know? There should be room, though, in the world for all those different takes and then people can find the version that works for them, like King Arthur, like Robin Hood, like Shakespeare. And because of the way we’re doing copyright, I think that a lot of this stuff gets artificially held, and then you have corporations that make a movie to hold onto the rights, like Sony with Spider-Man. Half the reason they rebooted Spider-Man this last time was just so that Marvel couldn’t have the rights back, because if they didn’t make it within a year of when it got released, those rights would go back to Marvel.
MB: Yeah. Well, and you saw the turd fest that came out of that. But getting back to the documentary though, I actually liked the documentary, despite the fact that I think the movie would’ve been a huge colossal pile of awfulness. I thought the documentary about it was really good. One of the parts of the documentary that I found fascinating was the fact that they kept saying they wanted the giant spider in this Superman movie. And then they didn’t make the Superman movie, and they put the giant spider into "Wild Wild West,” which I don’t know if you ever saw "Wild Wild West"…
MJ: I unfortunately saw it in the theatre. [laughs]
MB: [laughs] Luckily I only rented it back in the day. I think I rented it on VHS back in the day or whatever, but. That actually ranks as one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
MB: So yeah, it’s kind of funny, the fact that they—because I thought the giant spider actually kind of ruined… I mean, "Wild Wild West" was a bad movie to begin with, but that was the icing on the cake, was the giant spider, and they seemed to be all excited.
MJ: Yeah. I thought it was interesting what that guy said, though. The giant spider was the one thing that, for “Superman Lives,” sounded like it could’ve been interesting in its execution. But he even said they did sort of a comedy take on that idea in "Wild Wild West" and it didn’t turn out too well. But I don’t know, maybe there’s a place for that guy’s movies, but it’s not a place that includes me. It sounds like that guy, to me, is what’s wrong with Hollywood, is that you’ve got your hairdresser making movies and making decisions and his ideas are terrible. But like you, I thought The Death of "Superman Lives": What happened? the documentary itself was awesome, that it was a Kickstarter that went over its funding goal and was able to be made, and actually, like we said earlier, it got so much participation from the people involved. I thought some of the behind-the-scenes and the tests of the different suits that they were trying to build and how they were doing that was fascinating.
MB: Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely, I think for anybody who saw Jodorowsky's Dune, which we were talking about earlier in this podcast and we reviewed, if you liked that, I found this to be very similar, and I think anybody who liked that movie will like this one. Or if you see this one and you like, go see Jodorowsky’s Dune. I think they’re definitely worth checking out. I’m with you, I thought the whole thing with the suits was fascinating, despite that leaked picture that’s been floating around on the internet for years, of Nicolas Cage in that ridiculous-looking outfit.
MJ: Well, and you mentioned earlier that Nicolas Cage wasn’t really in this, but he sort of was via archival footage.
MJ: I mean, they didn’t have anything current with him, but they did use some archival footage to kind of get across what he had said at the time. I don’t know, I thought he would’ve been a terrible Superman. He didn’t seem to have any respect for the character. And I guess people like Nicolas Cage; I mean, I’ve liked him in some things and other things no. But to me, he’s always Nicolas Cage, he’s not particularly a great actor. And they had a couple people say, “Oh, he’s such a great actor.” I mean, I don’t want to dog on the guy necessarily, but to me he’s a celebrity and he plays Nic Cage, and he doesn’t really seem to have a lot of range.
MB: No, not at all. And the other thing about Superman movies is it’s always been the person who’s played Superman, and I think basically every Superman movie I’ve ever seen, has been an unknown actor going into it, and I think that’s almost important because it’s… I can’t imagine Nicolas Cage playing Superman. I think you’re right, he is Nicolas Cage, and trying to put him together with Superman, I don’t think it would’ve ever worked at all. It would’ve just been too odd, especially with his acting style and everything. I know he’s tried to do tough guy roles in the past and stuff, but that’s where I don’t buy him, is like the tough guy, and Superman is kind of a tough guy, so.
MJ: Yeah. Probably his best chance to do a superhero was Ghost Rider I thought, and those movies were terrible too. Again, I get back to this trend of people in Hollywood, I don’t think they really grasp superheroes, and the thing that bothers me about that is you watch a project like this, The Death of “Superman Lives”: What happened? and they don’t seem to learn the lessons about why that project, I think, was doomed from the start, why it would’ve gone over like an enormous gold-plated turd. They don’t learn these lessons and so they keep making the same mistakes. Everybody is trying to do what Marvel has done without really looking at what Marvel has done. I mean, we already mentioned sort of the “Batman V Superman” project. And I thought it was really interesting how in the documentary they even talked about that and how when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton in the original Batman, how there was sort of an outcry about that, and they related it to now that they’ve cast Ben Affleck as Batman, and then they also tied that into Nic Cage’s Superman.
MB: I think you’re always going to get people who are not going to… You know, it happened with James Bond. When you have an iconic character like that, you’re always going to get pushback, especially from people who have been reading the comics, and I think a lot of times they have somebody in their head that they think would be better. So I think when you come out with whoever you’re going to use, people get upset no matter what you say. But I remember when they said it was going to be Michael Keaton and I thought, “Seriously, Mr. Mom is going to be playing Batman?” But I thought he did a good job, and that was years ago, so.
MJ: I don’t know if you’ve watched it lately.
MB: I have not.
MJ: They last time I saw it, it had not aged well. I remember liking it at the time. And like you said, my initial reaction was, “Michael Keaton? Mr. Mom? Gung Ho? Give me a break.” But, you know, I think he did it well enough. The problem is I think that’s really hard to pull off. And yeah, there’s always going to be an outcry whenever you try to do something even a little different, because people get committed to their own concept of it. But I think a lot of times when there’s a huge outcry, it’s because the fans as a whole are right, and that is a wrong decision. I mean, the only one I can think of where fans turned out to be wrong is really Daniel Craig as James Bond, because I remember people outcrying that and then Casino Royale came out and everybody was like, “Oh, he is kickass!”
MB: [laughs] I thought you were going to say George Clooney as Batman, but no…. [laughs]
MJ: No, because I thought George Clooney pretty well sucked as Batman.
MB: I was being sarcastic. He was terrible as Batman. [laughs]
MJ: I thought I would like Val Kilmer as Batman and I thought he sucked as Batman.
MB: See, I didn’t mind Val Kilmer as Batman. But going back, I caught a portion of that movie and then the one with George Clooney, whatever it is, Batman and…
MJ: And Robin.
MB: Yeah, on TV, and I only watched about ten minutes of each one and I honestly could not believe how awful they were. I mean, like worse than the ‘60s TV show awful. Not that the TV shows were bad, but I meant that in a campy—they were in that campy, awful whatever, so.
MJ: I think campy can be done okay. I mean, I thought Ant-Man had a certain element of camp to it, but I was entertained by it. And it’s not an example of great filmmaking, but it nailed the character; it had a certain amount of respect for it, the characters were funny. I don’t know, it just seems like a lot of these other movies, they’re going to conclude, “Oh, these fickle fans, they’re too critical. They dog on it for no reason.” Well, I think the fans dog on it for a reason. You take Fantastic Four, you take any of those—well, the later Batman movies, certainly in the ‘90s, and this “Superman Lives.” I think you can say the same things about all of them.
MJ: But it’s definitely a good documentary, it’s worth checking out. And like you said, if you liked Jodorowsky’s…
MB: However you say it, yeah.
MJ: But if you like the Dune documentary that we reviewed in episode #31, you would definitely like this. And if you like this, you probably would like that one too.
MB: Yeah, definitely.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.
Image Credit: The Death of Superman Lives poster, by VHX Productions