The Odyssey of ‘Superman’

– more than you want to know –

Superman V ‘ or ‘ Superman Returns ‘ had been in development for about a decade . I first heard about it back in 1996, when I was teaching art school down in Georgia and one of my students was going on and on about Kevin Smith of ‘Clerks’ fame writing the screenplay for it.

Again, that was about 1996 and the development process seems to have gone through a number of writers and producers since that time, no fewer than 5 directors have come and gone – Tim Burton, Oliver Stone, McG, Brett Ratner and finally, landing the chair last fall, Bryan Singer — and then Singer only because Fox spun their wheels for too long after ‘X-Men 2′ had come out, and no one had bothered to guarantee his participation in X-3.

Fox’s loss. Their studio chief, Tom Rothman, had been trying to sabotage the X-Men franchise from the very beginning , up to and including the renewal of Singer’s contract. So, if X-3 is over-plotted and overcast (pun intended) and over-villained, it’s all on Fox management, even down to the fact that X-3′s sole reason for existence seems to be about competing with Warner-Bros.’ upcoming ‘Superman’.

Funny then that the X-Men director jumped ship to work with a production house that was willing to write up a contract, much less a studio whom he hadn’t already earned $700 million for. But that’s another story.

Since 1996, Sean Penn, Justin Timberlake, Aston Kucher, Will Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Orlando Bloom, Vince Vaughn, Brendan Fraser, Russel Crowe, Ben Affleck,Liam Neeson, Paul Walker and Scott Speedman have all been considered for the role of Superman/Calrk Kent, but Nicholas Cage hung on the longest, despite the fact that early directorial contender Tim Burton preferred Ralph Fiennes for the role. But Cage had signed a play-or-pay contract as early as 1996, so it was only down to Burton and hairstylist-turned producer Jon Peters to finally drive Cage away from the project.

Among Burton and Peters’ planned ‘re-imaginings’ for Superman:

  • Peters demanded that Superman be stripped of his red and blue suit , arguing that the suit was “too pink, too faggy.” WB also demanded that Superman undergo a costume change, even ordering Smith to describe the soon-to-be-trashed red and blue duds as being “’90′s-style.”
  • Peters then told [Kevin] Smith to have Brainiac fight polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, demanding that the film be wall-to-wall action. Smith thought it was a stupid idea, so Peters said, “Then have Brainiac fight Superman’s bodyguards!” Smith responded, “Why the hell would Superman need bodyguards?” Peters wouldn’t let up, so Smith caved in and had Brainiac fight the polar bears.
  • Burton hated the flying FX in the 1978 film, too, so he didn’t want Superman to fly. Instead, he put Superman in a Supermobile.
  • Burton also wanted a partially translucent suit that would allow full view of Superman’s internal organs and an “all-black, alien-looking suit that would have resembled a “cool cross” between Edward Scissorhands, the WB movie Batman, and a Borg”.
  • Burton also apparently considered a “metallic silver healing suit/body armor with details that would have made Superman’s body look robotic”.

Cage finally got tired of Burton and Peters’ nonsense and walked away from the project sometime in 1998, taking his 20 million pay-or-play dollars along with him. Burton left soon afterward having already wasted $50-70 million dollars in preproduction, trying to re-imagine Superman without his trademark ability to fly, fighting giant spiders, gay robots and Lex Luthor/Brainiac hybrids.

Having lost Cage and Burton, Producer Peters worked the years between ’99 and ’02 trying to find a new director. During those years, Oliver Stone, Michael Bay, Charlie’s Angels ‘ McG, Brett Ratner, Tarsem Singh and Wolfgang Petersen were all named or solicited to take up directorial duties under Peters. Some went in for meetings, others simply punted, until 2004 when Bryan Singer — the guy who finished X-2 in 2003 was still looking for a next gig, after having made $406 million for Fox the previous year. Is it any wonder he said, “Yes”?

With Singer on-board, Peters was shown the door, as Singer brought his own producer, Tom DeSanto, thus they dispensed with all of the previous Kevin Smith, Paul Attanasio and J.J. Abraams drafts that had been edited, elided revised and compressed going all the way back to 1996.

SIDEBAR: Shortly after the success of Lord of the Rings , there was apparently a draft of the screeplay that changed Luthor into a Sauron-like leader of the Brotherhood of the Illuminati whose plans for world domination are disrupted by Superman’s arrival. So He and his followers were to use an ancient satanic ritual to create kryptonite, to counter the pure good of Superman. And this Sauron-Luthor had a ring, too.

In a pre-post colloquy with some Amphetamemers, one of you asked, “Why now for another Superman movie? What implications does this have for American culture as a whole? Is this following current political and social trend, leading, or merely an indicator?”

Well, besides the fact that Marvel has been beating DC’s ass in the feature-film category since ‘ Batman and Robin ‘ failed to impress audiences back in 1997, I think it’s curious that now, as in 1979 we’re on the verge of a national malaise and the dents in our national self-image are starting to show, again. Is this some sort of collusion between Hollywood and Washington? I somehow doubt it, though there were some line-item Pentagon appropriations for Hollywood last year.

Will it be successful? I don’t know — and to make a full disclosure, I’m not sure I care. Most of the comic book movies made are, in my opinion, complete and utter pap that’s been created to draw in the lowest common denominator in terms of audience intelligence and education. I live in a post- Watchmen world, whereas the Hollyweird dream factory still seems to be resolutely stuck in the Golden Age.

One thing’s for sure — my heroes aren’t invulnerable. And they swear.

Sources: The Agony Booth ; Ain’ ; Greg’s Previews .

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