“The Death of Superman Lives” is a documentary that can change your mind on Nicolas Cage as Superman.
When I was just a lad and was getting into this new fangle thing called the internet. One of the first websites I started to frequent was TheTimBurtonCollective.com. It’s pretty basic now but at the time it was great access for a fan. One of my favorite parts was a page for all of his unrealized projects and on there was one (… ok a couple like “The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western”) that caught my eye titled “Superman Lives.” A Superman movie based on The Death of Superman storyline from the comics? Nic Cage starring as the man of steel himself? Then a few pictures or conceptional art came out showing strange designs. Then there was the infamous story by Kevin Smith about his involvement with the script. All of those created quite the mystique around what this film was. So when I heard there was going to be a documentary to explain this film and right off the bat the trailers showed us even more pieces of art we never knew existed, everything came together to make this the documentary for me.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 4.5
“The Death of Superman Lives” has a difficult job. Everyone who has ever heard of this film already has a ton of preconceived notions about what it must have been like. Years of incorrect reporting on it on the internet where most say, “wow we dodged a bullet with this film, it’s the “Batman And Robin” of the Superman film series.” However the director Jon Schnepp certainly seems to feel (and has said so in many interviews) that we missed out on something that could have been a truly epic and unique film that we’d still be talking about to this day. And you know what, by the end of this he had won me over. I now sincerely regret not getting this movie. The film does a good job taking us through the creative process, at times almost feeling like the making-of documentary that surely would have been on the DVD of film if it had ever gotten made. For the most part they do an excellent job of showing us the right concept art, photography, etc. to keep our attention. And like all great documentaries, this film never feels slow. We slowly begin to root for this film happening which then makes it all the more tragic when the film ultimately fails. Even more so when you realize it was more to it being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
All the interviewees had interesting things to say and it was nice hearing from some members like the former head of the studio Lorenzo di Bonaventura. He’s not the kind of person you tend to hear in the making-of’s. However the crowning achievement of fascinating wasn’t Kevin Smith with his storytelling. Nor was it Tim Burton slumped over in his living room that looks like something out of a gothic castle (you expected anything else in his house?). It was the producer Jon Peters. Jon Peters is an incredibly famous hollywood producer and was made even more so by Kevin Smith’s stories of working with him; some of which he confirms, others he claims are Smith’s inventions. But then he goes and says something like, “…to bleed, to taste someone else’s blood. I wanted that in this movie.” Again, he’s talking about a Superman film and you realize this is a guy trying to keep a lid on all his crazy and we see it crack as the interviews go on. Now I do believe every story I’ve heard about him. It makes you see how he would come to the conclusion that Nic Cage would make a great Superman. Speaking of which that’s the one major thing lacking in the interviews, they apparently couldn’t get Cage for an interview (insert Nic Cage never says no to a film project joke here). While lack of perspective from the actor is distracting, they make up for it with the videos of the costume tests and archival footage of Cage in other interviews. But boy would I have loved an elaboration on some of these concepts on this new take on Superman.
The only other faults I have with the film are the changing quality in video and sound. Sometimes it’s completely professional looking other times there’s a huge amount of static or grain or very under-lit and there’s no real pattern, some looks great but but don’t sound as good and vice versa as if the equipment was changed halfway through recording all the different interviews. However I could still hear the audio and see the cinematography as basic as it was. This is director Jon Schnepp’s first film and it was a project funded with kickstarter so these sorts of rough spots are to be expected. Personally I think even with all those faults that’s still part of a point for the film that the rest is done so well that you are willing to over look those faults.
Entertainment Value – 5
Well I can’t say that the comic book purists will be swayed but I think most will agree the film was something different. And it’s worth it to see some of these designs and videos that we never thought we’d ever get to see. Nic Cage’s Clark Kent, which is something totally different but really feels like it could have worked, is so odd. We even get to see the origin of that infamous costume test photo. You know the one with Nic Cage in mid-blink? The image that instantly convinced everyone who saw it that this was a mistake? Yeah that one. Something the film does emphasize is how filmmaking is a process. Of course a lot of this stuff looks silly and most films do during the pre-production but that’s how you find out what works and what doesn’t. In the end we do get to see the final suit and it looks pretty cool and much closer to comics.
I do concede that it is possible that I may have a leg up on some who watch this because I have read the scripts, so I know the story of the film and how the artwork ties into it. I’m not saying you need to do homework before seeing the film but it may enrich your viewing experience to be able to recognize what they’re re-creating in some parts. In regards the re-creation scenes, they are probably the only part that just flat out doesn’t work for me. They look cheap and not at all like how the art or descriptions make it sound. However because they never get too into the story of the film other than some basic plot points it doesn’t really help the viewers understand what the film would have been like. It would have been better if it were cut out. As I said before this is a first time directing effort and it may explain certain things like that and why Schnepp inserts himself into all the interviews. Something many other reviewers have pointed out or more specifically his head nodding. It honestly didn’t bother me as much as others but it was noticeable. However here’s the style of the interviews, big wide shot of the two of them talking, normally Schnepp asking a question… while nodding. Then closer up on the interviewees for their answer and the important information. So it ISN’T like he’s always in the film but it does somewhat come off as “I made this documentary, I may never make another one, but by God I’m going to prove that I did it.” And honestly it would be hard for me not to understand a bit of where he’s coming from. It certainly doesn’t break the film or affect the information that we do get.
Rewatchability – 5
Not only is this film re-watchable, I’m already planning the next time I see it. There’s a ton of artwork throughout so you’ll have to watch it multiple times to get everything. The Blu-ray itself is chock-full of extras so just exploring all of that is reason enough to come back again and again.
"The Death of Superman Lives" is a documentary that can change your mind on Nicolas Cage as Superman, something I doubt anyone thought was possible. Also it's a great look at the evolutionary process of making films themselves. Warts and all (and there are warts to be sure) this is a great documentary. 5 stars out of 5. Note: This documentary is only available on dvd and blu-ray through the official website, so happy hunting.