For whatever reason, the failed Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage Superman Lives is making news again. Each little detail we get is slightly weirder than the ones we started with. And given that one of the ones we started with was a giant mechanical spider, that’s saying something.
Making the rounds last week was an old post from concept artist Rolf Mohr, who identified Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman as actors in the running to play Braniac. He gave a bunch of details about the one-time villain of film:
For Superman Lives I was working mostly in the dark based on vague descriptions without seeing a script. At the time it all sounded rather crazy and confusing, with Brainiac’s Skull Ship that could absorb anything it came across, Brainiac himself inside some sort of alien shape-shifting ‘hybrid technology’ which would open up and engulf people and grow ever larger, more limbs, etc, then Superman also had alien tech in the form of the Eradicator, which could become a suit as well as transform into an ‘Interceptor’ ship... A giant biomechanical alien spider thing which had a body that could open up and smaller ones came out, etc, etc...
At the time I had no idea who had written it or that Tim Burton was on board to direct, but they told me Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman were being considered for Brainiac. It was interesting to read the script years later and see that Kevin Smith had actually done a pretty impressive job by introducing the Eradicator as a transforming suit in order to weave together all the requirements the producer wanted: “No Superman suit, no flying... and a giant spider in the 3rd act.” He even managed to include 2 polar bears
Oh, well, if there are two polar bears, I’m in.
The other thing we’ve now learned is from Dan Gilroy, writer/director of the just released Nightcrawler, who did the final pass on the script. Gilroy told Indie Wire that he came into the project after Kevin Smith and Wesley Strick had written their drafts. His was more introspective than the two-polar-bear-giant-spider version:
I was very much taken by Tim’s approach, which was that Kal-El was not told by Jor-El, before he got put in the little spaceship, who he was or where he came from. So poor little Kal-El, when he winds up on earth, he has no freaking idea where he came from. His biggest fear is that he’s an alien. Our Superman was in therapy at the beginning of the film. He’s in a relationship with Lois Lane and he can’t commit. Or he was maybe in couple’s therapy. But he can’t commit because he doesn’t know who he is or what is going on with him. He’s hoping that he has some physiological condition that gives him these powers but that he’s still human. It becomes very apparent, though, early in the script, when Lex Luthor uncovers the remnants of the spacecraft, he suddenly realizes – “Oh my god, I’m an alien.” It was all about the psychological trauma of it. I loved it.
We may never get over the trauma of missing out on Clark Kent and Lois Lane in couples therapy. Nor missing out on Cage’s Superman, Courtney Cox’s Lois Lane, Chris Rock’s Jimmy Olsen, or some version of Tim Allen/Gary Oldman/Jim Carrey as Braniac. Gilroy blames Warner Bros.’ financial straits for the movie’s demise:
And unfortunately, while we were working on the script, Warner Bros was hemorrhaging. Every big movie that was coming out was bombing and failing and when it came time to step up and bankroll our script, they didn’t have the financial wherewithal or desire. Which is a shame because Tim would have knocked it out of the park. And Nic Cage, oh my god! I was so ready for that. ... They pulled the plug right when we were doing camera tests. We were doing camera tests. It was very far along.
This film is rapidly gaining legend status alongside Terry Gilliam’s attempt to make a Don Quixote film. All of which makes Jon Schnepp’s The Death of Superman Lives documentary an even more fascinating process.