Friday, September 25, 2009
Superman Lives! Thankfully, No!
Have a peek at the above video carefully. That is supposedly the costume test for the aborted Superman Lives film, which was in production for a number of years, and for which Tim Burton pocketed a cool five million dollars, with Nic Cage getting two million just for his autograph, oh, and to pose in a costume that you’d expect to see at a sex party, and a few others (such as Kevin ‘Silent Bob’ Smith) shared in a kitty worth an estimated $50,000,000. That’s right - $50,000,000 for a movie that never appeared.
I, for one, believe that $50,000,000 was well spent. I mean, think of what might have been. Trust me, that’d not be a film you’d want to see, and not for the efforts of the film-makers themselves.
On the surface of things a super-hero movie scripted by Smith, directed by Burton and starring Cage might not be such a bad thing. All three have links to the genre, hell when Cage changed his name from Coppolla to Cage, he took his last name from the comic book character Luke Cage – Power Man. Kevin Smith lives, breathes and farts comics – he owns a comic book store. Tim Burton is a comic book geek and managed to virtually save the superhero movie as a genre with his groundbreaking Batman movies of the 1990s, despite the efforts of one man. And that man, who was strongly attached to the Superman Lives project, is why, in my own opinion, the Superman Lives movie would have been the biggest pile of shit this side of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie. Hell, the way Superman Lives was going, it’d have made Batman And Robin look like Oscar material, not to mention that Captain America movie that everyone's forgotten.
That man is Jon Peters, former hairdresser to the stars and one-time partner to Barbra Streisand. Those two previous jobs have given him an open door into Hollywood and his abilities in the sack and identifying dandruff supposedly were enough for him to form a company with Peter Gruber and have seen him become one of the richest, and most famous, of Hollywood directors. They also came very close to taking Sony Pictures down for good, such was the incompetence of the due (assisted by former Sony executive Walter Yetnikoff). Peters, when he’s not yelling, bullying and threatening people, attached himself to the then dormant Superman franchise in the early 1990s and never looked back.
It wasn’t the casting that showed Peters’ flaws. Over the years virtually every male actor other than Dustin Hoffman had been considered for the part of Kal-El. The first movie saw actors such as Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Sylvester Stallone either tested or sounded out. Over the years that list expanded to include luminaries such as Mel Gibson, Sean Penn and Aston Kutcher, along with such hero material as Neil Diamond and, in the most bizarre twist of them all, Muhammad Ali. Most of those considered merely refused knowing that they were utterly wrong for the role, or refusing to be part of something as trashy and camp as Superman. It would ultimately take actors Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton to show that the dual roles of Superman/Clark Kent, and Batman/Bruce Wayne (in the case of the latter) could actually be acted with success, and the casting of respected actors such as Marlon Brando and, in the case of Batman, Jack Nicholson for superhero movies to be taken seriously. Naturally you don’t get multiple Oscar winners for peanuts, and both men cleaned up. Brando didn’t make as much as he could have, having sold away any profit sharing in the first movie for the quick dollar, but Nicholson still makes money from the first Tim Burton helmed Batman movie, and rightly so. When Jon Peters wanted to sack Burton from the director’s chair, it was Nicholson who took a stance and sided with the director against the producer (Jack knew Peters from way back and knew what he was like anyway) and guaranteed the film’s completion. So it wasn’t Nicholas Cage and his limited acting abilities that would have brought this film down. If an inability to emote was a crime then most of the people you see in motion pictures would be in jail. Hell, I’m still wondering how Halle Berry won an Oscar for one of the worst performances in a bad movie I’ve seen, let alone how Robert Downey Jr could be nominated for a film with the worst Australian accent since Natural Born Killer. I can understand the sympathy vote that Mickey Rourke managed to get, even though The Wrestler is one of the most boring, insipid movies in recent times, but still…nope, the problem still lies at the feet of Jon Peters.
We know Tim Burton can direct. Watch any of his movies and you’ll see that. He can do slapstick comedy (Mars Attacks) through to deeply emotional films (Edward Scissorhands). His gothic films are his best feature, from Sleepy Hollow through to, well, anything really. Seen Ed Wood? As entertaining as anything Ed Wood ever made. And we know that Kevin Smith can write. Dogma remains one of the finest movies I’ve seen in a long time. If you can get past the many fart, dick and homosexual jokes in the films you’ll find material that can make you think. So it’s not either of those two. Nope, it’s still Jon Peters.
In the words of the immortal Deane Hutton, I’m glad you asked. Here’s the first stumbling block. Jon Peters never, NEVER, wanted to show Superman flying. That’s right, one of the things that drew all little boys to Superman wasn’t to be seen. You’d not believe a man could fly, because, well, he’d not be flying. No, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, It’s SUPERMAN!!” Nope, it’d have been a bird, or a plane, or a stockbroker leaping from a tall building, but it’d not be the man in blue with a red cape. Peters also had a stiffy for a story where Superman would die and be resurrected and made that an essential part of any storyline It gets worse, really. The first script had Superman impregnating Lois Lane. Now before people get too excited, this wasn’t to be seen, because Superman would do this via Immaculate Conception. You’ve read that right. Just before he’d ‘die’ at the hands of Doomsday he’d infuse his ‘spirit’ with Lois, thus making her pregnant. Sort of like a ghostly rape. Once that script got rejected Peters turned to a writer better known as Hugh Jorgan – yep, a man who ‘wrote’ porn movies* for John T Bone would be writing Superman. In this script not only does Superman not fly, he doesn’t even wear his famous suit. He would throw that out in favour of a martial arts style pyjama outfit.
No flying. No trademarked suit. No instant logo recognition. Could it get worse? In any project where Jon Peters is active, the answer is always, you betcha! Peters, in a wise move (for him anyway, obvious for anyone else) brought Smith on board to script, which Smith duly did. Smith’s choice as director was Robert Rodriguez. Now that’d have been a movie to see, but Rodriguez was tied into such quality fare as The Faculty instead and bowed out. Damn! This brought Burton on board, who promptly had Smith removed. Burton, despite admitting that he’d never read a Superman comic in his life, also favoured a de-powered Superman, only so de-powered that he’d rely on various gadgets to operate. And he’d wear a futuristic black outfit. Kind of like Batman really.
In a casting move that hasn't been seen since David Hasselhoff was cast as Nick Fury, Jim Carrey was cast as Brainiac, and if that doesn’t kill you, picture this – Tim Allen was cast as Lex Luthor. Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Allen as Lex Luthor. During this time Peters filled his production days with such activities as wrestling various staff members for shits and giggles and abusing anyone that came within earshot. He’s a whacky guy, that Jon Peters, but all of that came between fighting with Burton, who favoured Ralph Finnes as Superman, Hulk Hogan as Doomsday, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen and Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane. Now the latter two ideas would have been very interesting indeed. The first costume test for Cage was completed and consisted of a black rubber costume with a black wig. Kinda of like Edward Scissorhands really. You can see the image in the video.
And that’s where it died, thankfully. Peters managed to drag the dying dog along with him for a few more months until someone thoughtfully bashed a hammer between its eyes and buried it in their backyard next to the goldfish. So when you go to bed tonight and say you’re prayers – even if you’re an agnostic – thank the maker that Superman Lives was killed on arrival.
And that's why I'd have happily paid $50,000,000 to see that movie never made.
* How does one 'write' a porn movie anyway? Is there a style guide? "Insert dialogue here, just before insert penis"?