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Death Superman comic book

The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? - H 2015At a time when the comic book craze shows no sign of abating, there should be plenty of fanboys who want to learn more about the backstory behind the proposed Tim Burton Superman movie that was canceled three weeks before shooting was scheduled to start in 1998. Writer-director Jon Schnepp has delved into this story engagingly, if a little too obsessively, in the amiable documentary, The Death of 'Superman Lives': What Happened?. The film will have its main appeal to comic book geeks and Burton devotees, but it offers enough insights into backroom power plays to hold some fascination for Hollywood insiders as well.

Schnepp managed to entice a number of the major players—including Burton, screenwriters Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy, producer Jon Peters and former Warner Bros. executive Lorenzo di Bonaventura—to grant extensive interviews. He was not able to secure the participation of Nicolas Cage, who was Peters' offbeat choice to play Superman, but there are archival interviews with Cage along with fascinating rehearsal footage that was shot at the time.

The film suggests the arbitrariness of so much decision-making in Hollywood. Burton had directed the first two Batman movies with Michael Keaton for Warners, so it was understandable that the studio tagged him to revive the Superman franchise. But the casting of Cage was puzzling to fans at the time and remains no less bewildering today. Cage was probably chosen because he had recently won the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, so he was a hot commodity, even though the two projects could not have been more dissimilar.

Burton hired a full crew, and the studio had spent $10 to $12 million on the project when they decided to pull the plug. This had more to do with a string of costly failures that Warners endured in the late 1990s—including Batman and Robin, Kevin Costner’s The Postman and Barry Levinson’s Sphere—than with the box office potential of a new Superman movie. The project was canceled just as abruptly and arbitrarily as it had been greenlit, leaving fans to wonder to this day how it would have compared with past and future Superman epics.


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