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[Review] ‘The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?’

Lately we have been lucky enough to receive a few great documentaries about unmade genre pictures, from Jodorowsky’s Dune to Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.  Now we have another.  While its subject is nowhere near as influential as the former or as chaotic for its crew as the latter, the subject matter The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? was no less fascinating for me.  It’s a startling look back at a chaotic blockbuster motion picture project and a tantalizing glimpse into how such films are sometimes made, or in this case, not made.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking that some of today’s blockbusters are made in similarly insane ways.  Sometimes we hear about such crazy goings-on behind the scenes, sometimes we don’t.  More often than not, what we do hear is only a tiny smidgen of a much larger story.  It’s impossible to tell what a full puzzle will look like by simply viewing a couple of pieces and the same could have been said about Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, until now.

I could go on and on about how insane infamous producer Jon Peters comes off at times, both in descriptions of his past actions and within his current interview in the documentary.  I could talk about how it still seems like Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage had their hearts in the right place, but don’t quite seem to understand the character.  I could prove and disprove various rumors, theories, and “facts” about the project, now that all the cards have been laid out on the table.

I won’t be doing any of that.  If you want such insight and information, then you simply need to watch this film.  Instead, I’d rather focus on my ultimate takeaway: a sense of awe.  Looking beyond whether or not they would have nailed the character of Superman and his world, the sheer amount of wild ideas on display in incredibly interesting to me.  It’s big idea after big idea and an absolute melting pot of influences and inspirations on display.

More than anything, it’s a fascinating glimpse inside the core creative minds at work on the project and I had a lot of fun spending time within them.  I’m not sure if Superman Lives would have worked at all as a Superman film, had it been made, but I guarantee that it would have been unforgettable.  It probably would have been a crazy mess, but it looked to have been the kind of beautiful mess that I obsess over in other instances.  So much so that I kind of wish that Burton would pull together a lot of the conceptual artwork and his personal ideas for the project, hire a screenwriter, and produce his own weird original space opera adventure tale.  Tim has never really done full-scale science fiction, despite playing in it to different degrees in both Mars Attacks! and his remake of Planet of the Apes.  I sincerely hope it’s a road that he finally travels done some day.

In the meantime, if you have any interest at all in the subject, you should seek this film out.  I’m not certain of where it sits at the moment in terms of streaming, digital rental, or physical rental, but it is currently showing on Showtime.  It’s also available through their On Demand service.  Regardless of how or when you see it, it’s sure to entertain.

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