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The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? (2015) - Blu-ray Review

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The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? - Blu-ray Review

4 stars

Fascinating.  Truly fascinating.  The behind the scenes story of Tim Burton’s take on Superman is a thrilling and wondrous rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs.  It is as profound disappointment that all we have of the production are a handful of items, a couple of sculptures, and a whole bunch of bizarre looking illustrations.  This is before the internet; n the years after Burton silenced critics about the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman.  Anything was possible so why not let him helm a Superman movie? 

Imagine it:  It’s 1996.  Kevin Smith’s screenplay is getting re-written.  Burton – who did Warner Bros proud with Batman and Batman Returns – is on board to direct.  Nicholas Cage is already signed on to play Clark Kent/Superman.  Chris Rock is cast as Jimmy Olsen.  The lead consideration for Lois Lane is Sandra Bullock.  Kevin Spacey is Lex Luthor and Christopher Walken in talks to be Brainiac.  The arts department is working on suit designs.  Almost $20 million has been spent and then…and then…the bottom falls out.

Superman Lives never happened.  Audiences got Will Smith in Wild Wild West instead.  Yeah, that’s the world we live in.  Fortunately, we have an impressive documentary that helps put the pieces of the movie back together.  Writer/director Jon Schnepp’s The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? recounts the highs and the lows of one of the most interesting movies that never was. 

Maybe, as Cage suggests, they didn’t have to make Superman Lives in order for Superman to truly live again.  But fuck the internet chatter about the ONE photo of a stoned-looking Cage in the suit.  This documentary proves – without a doubt in my mind – that Burton’s movie, had it been made, would have been an absolute blast of epic weirdness.  It also shuts down the trolls who have to say something negative about Cage as Superman.  He looks badass.

The film has some of the BEST authentic footage of Cage in the Superman suit – filmed in various hotel rooms as Burton and Cage talk about the character and his trajectory as an alien on earth in the movie – that no one (to my knowledge), until this documentary, has ever seen.  Cage is scary good moving inside the suit and the ideas – including the death and regeneration of the beloved character – would have simply rocked audiences.  I was bummed about not having Superman Lives before I started watching but, after seeing the documentary, I am completely saddened by its loss.  What a trip it would have been.

And, yes, I do blame Joel Schumacher.  After wrecking what Burton had done so successfully with Batman & Robin, Warner Bros began to get cold feet about superhero movies and, after a string of financial bombs, ultimately pulled the plug on Burton’s spin on Superman.  Boneheads.  They then – believing they had a chance with Will Smith – channeled all the funds for Superman Lives into yet another bomb: Wild Wild West.  That was a super bad idea on their part. 

Hosted by Schnepp, the documentary is a mix of privately recorded videos, models, animation, photographs and on-screen interviews with most of the behind the scenes creators (including Burton).  His kickstarter-funded documentary is a certifiable blast and, for interested parties of the doomed movie, full of information that we’ve never heard before.  It single-handedly puts to rest a lot of chatter and rumors about the project as all three of the writers are interviewed about their involvement on the project and – with a skull-shaped spaceship full of creatures Superman has to fight hurling itself toward Earth – it would have been epic.

Hollywood says they want original ideas…until they get one and decide they don’t.  They don’t like taking chances on creative properties or authentic artists.  Most of the people involved with the Superman movie that never was agree on that point.  Hollywood can only reference what Hollywood has seen before; they want marketable material, complete with its own theme song.  And even then, as was the case for Superman Lives, they STILL get cold feet. 

Superman fans should eat this documentary up.  It’s a delicious blend of dirt and dilemma.  It’s riveting material and illuminates the problems of the production and the current problems, as they’ve only compounded, with Hollywood. 

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is currently available for purchase only at the official site of the movie (www.tdoslwh.com).

The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
104 mins
: Jon Schnepp
Jon Schnepp
Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith
: Documentary

Memorable Movie Quote: "Why are you bringing up such painful memories?"
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:

DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 9, 2015
Synopsis: A documentary about the proposed 1998 Superman Lives feature film that would have starred Nicolas Cage.

The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 9, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
English: DTS 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-50)
Region Encoding: Region-reee playback

Schnepp’s well-researched documentary arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer courtesy of Super Skull Ship.  The image doesn’t pop out and is quite standard for a talking heads feature.  Clothing appears undefined and faces, too.  Color is sharp.  No defects there.  Blacks are solid and reds are quite bright.  There are some nice animated moments with some of the artwork from the storyboards of the movie.  Overall, it’s a good transfer.  The DTS-HD 2.0 lossless soundtrack; however, is incredibly ambient and provides a good boost to the picture.



  • There is a LOADED crew commentary from Schnepp, producer Holly Payne, and Editor Marie Jamora which details how the documentary was researched and put together.  Interesting information.  Schnepp is also solo on his own commentary.

Special Features:

  • Full of deleted scenes and extended interviews with Jon Peters, Colleen Atwood, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steve Johnson, Wesley Strick, Derek Frey, and Sylvain Despretz, the supplemental material – including more Kevin Smith than thought possible – is definitely worth digging into.  Bring a shovel.  You’re gonna need it.
  • The Featurette
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The Birth of the Death of Superman Lives
  • Kevin Smith's "Superman Lives" Story 2014
  • Resuscitation Suit SFX Footage
  • Grant Morrison Interview
  • Red Carpet Premiere
  • Premiere Night Q&A (and marriage proposal)
  • TDOSLWH/Kevin Smith Q&A
  • Kevin Smith & Jon Schnepp talk Comics
  • Comic Artists, Writers & Fans talk Superman
  • Sylvain Despretz’ Bonus Audio
  • Tim Burton Word Association

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