TIM BURTON’S SUPERMAN
Much has been written about the Tim Burton’s failed attempt at a Superman film. Once posted online, harsh criticism surrounded the images from early wardrobe fittings showing a long-haired Nick Cage in an ill-fitting rubber suit, complete with nude body fabric, common in figure skating costumes. We assume the fabric was to cover Cage’s chest hair.
The project’s viability was also doubtful due to the production team’s obsession with merchandising.
Art designer Sylvain Despretz claimed the art department was assigned to create something that had little or nothing to do with the Superman comic book, and also explained that Peters “would bring kids in, who would rate the drawings on the wall as if they were evaluating the toy possibilities. It was basically a toy show!”
Burton gave Despretz a concept drawing for Brainiac, which Despretz claims was “a cone with a round ball on top, and something that looked like an emaciated skull inside. Imagine you take Merlin’s hat, and you stick a fish bowl on top, with a skull in it.” Concept artist Rolf Mohr said in an interview he designed a suit for The Eradicator for a planned scene in which it transforms into a flying vehicle.
By the time concept photos surfaced online, Burton had made a sting of dull by the numbers films including Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes. It was easy to laugh at some of the films concept art and be thankful the film was cancelled. We must be reminded however, that Burton made 1989’s Batman, one of the finest superhero film of all time. To me there are elements from Burton’s previous films that hint this project could have been great. The nostalgic 50’s feel Burton created for Edward Scissor Hands wound have been perfect for Metropolis and Smallville. Brainiac, the villain chosen early on by mega fan boy and original screen writer Kevin Smith, would have been a great fit for the kind of art direction Burton played with in Mars Attacks and Beatlejuice.
I think the casting of Nick Cage was also inspired. Cage’s incredible performance in 2002’s Adaptation demonstrated his range. While playing the twin Kaufman brothers, Cage effortlessly shifted from the bumbling, insecure Charlie, to his arrogant but earnest brother Donald. This range would have worked well for Superman / Kent, and is an aspect of the character that’s been missing in the Superman adaptations since Christopher Reeve held the role. More recent wardrobe test photos also show the final Superman costume would have made Cage look like a much more traditional superman.
In the end project was shelved due to production dithering over the budget.
Ultimately, Warner Bros. chose to put the film on hold in April 1998, and Burton left to direct Sleepy Hollow. At this point in production, $30 million was spent, with nothing to show for it. To this day, Burton has depicted the experience of Superman Lives as one of the worst experiences in his life, citing various differences with Peters and the studio, stating, “I basically wasted a year. A year is a long time to be working with somebody that you don’t really want to be working with.”
The next Superman film Man of Steel is set for release summer 2013 and will be directed by Zack Snider. Snider has yet to make a truly great film, but his handling of the Doctor Manhattan sequences in The Watchman show potential and collaborating with Christopher Nolan (producer) might help to add realism to Snider’s often vapid digital images. Fingers (half heartedly) crossed.