If there’s one film that I wish I had the cash to finance, it’s Tim Burton’s Superman Lives. A balmy director, Nicolas Cage in the lead role as the last son of Krypton and some crazy ideas could have resulted in one hell of a film that would have been a cult classic by the standards of today. But alas, it was not meant to be. And according to then-screenwriter Dan Gilry, the film was soul-crushingly close to being filmed before it was exposed to deadly movie executive Kryptonite.
Speaking to Collider, Gilroy explained how he and Burton had worked on the story for more than a year, with ideas on how Clark would feel alienated from humanity because of that inconvenient exploding planet situation at the start of the film:
Tim had this tremendous idea. The premise was that Jor-El did not have time when he put little Kal-El into the meteorite, he didn’t have time to explain to him what was going on. So Tim’s idea was that when we come upon Clark Kent in the present day, he doesn’t know what any of this is. He doesn’t know how he fits in. He’s going through an emotional crisis in his life. He has a relationship with Lois Lane, but he can’t really pursue it because he’s unsure of his own identity. And Tim was really exploring or deconstructing in a brilliant way the psychological aspects of what it’s like to be this character.
So what was more powerful than a Superman movie with an all-star team? A lack of cash for one thing:
Unfortunately, what happened was we were working at Warner Bros. at the time and as we were developing it over the period of a year, Warner Bros. just had one misfire after another. Films that were coming out were not doing well, were not performing, and money became an issue, and at the end of the day they just felt the budget was too big and didn’t feel like they were in a place where they could greenlight the movie.
When compared to one another, the idea of an alienated Superman sounds quite similar to Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. But Gilroy says that the two films would have had miles of differences:
As much as I like Man of Steel, as you know, Tim’s sensibilities are very specific and lend themselves to—I don’t want to say “whimsical” because that doesn’t ground it in the weight of what Tim really does. It was a mix of psychological exploration and Tim’s sense of humor. I think Man of Steel, great as it was, you couldn’t really look back on it and say there are a lot of funny moments in it. I think human reality and the human experiment, which Tim really embodies, is that humor’s a part of it. And as weighty as the character is and as weighty as the character’s dilemma is, which Clark Kent would be going through, that to bring the humor into it, and bring the oblique observational direction that Tim looks at things, I think it would have been very special.
I remember the scenes between Clark and Lois, and obviously they’re very far along in their relationship, but he can’t take that next step in their relationship of commitment because he didn’t know who he was. And in Tim’s movie, when he finds out he’s in alien, it’s an utter crisis. This is the worst news possible. This is like my biggest fear: that I’m an alien! You walk around thinking it’s a pathological thing; maybe I have a tumor that gives me strength. But to find out you’re an alien, that you’re not of this planet, I smile when I think about it because I so enjoy thinking about it and working with Tim and what it could have been.
It’s the kind of film that was ridiculously close to being filmed, before Warner Bros packed up their fat stacks of cash. A production that had already invested many millions of dollars into sets and pre-production:
They built tens of millions of dollars of sets. When they pulled plug, this was very far along. The day they pulled the plug, I went out to the valley where the production facility was, and I walked through a building with several hundred people working in it with sketches and set designs. It was very far along. We were weeks before shooting.
I don’t care how crazy the film sounds, I’d have paid way too much cash to see that movie in cinemas.
Last Updated: October 27, 2014