Review | The Death of ‘Superman Lives’

Review | The Death of ‘Superman Lives’

Who’d have thought that Nicholas Cage would’ve made a fantastic Superman? The film was brilliant and director Tim Burton easily surpassed his earlier Batman films! This of course, never happened…but it almost did!

It has been well known amongst film fans that Nicholas Cage was at one stage set to play Superman in the late 1990’s with a script that originally started with a draft written by director Kevin Smith.

To accompany this story was a single image of what appeared to be Nicholas Cage in a blue shiny rubber Superman costume. That single image alone struck fear into the hearts of many a comic book fan.

To further complicate the story were several YouTube videos released by the Steve Johnson FX special effects company working on what could only be described as the strangest Superman costume ever seen with pulsing lasers and pearlescent skin.

Little did we know how wrong we were and what we missed out on.

Producer and director John Schnepp was so intrigued when he first saw the Nicholas Cage/Superman picture that he wanted to find out more. What was the truth behind the rumours? What were Warner Brothers really up to with the Superman franchise?

These questions and more are answered in John Schnepp’s new documentary, ‘The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?’

John Schnepp has travelled the world to interview many of those involved including Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Head of Warner Bros. in the 90s) and producer Jon Peters. That list extends further with discussions with concept artists, wardrobe designers and special effects technicians and more.

The final documentary provides us with a fascinating look inside Hollywood and the life of a movie stuck inside development hell.

The most prominent of the interviews is with producer Jon Peters. Whilst he produced many films including Tim Burton’s 1989 release of Batman, his other famous trivia fact is that he started out as Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser! Somehow he managed to transfer into the film business.

I mention Jon Peters because as you’ll see, the guy is on a different planet. One of the stories he recalls, and is now one of my favourites, concerns the 1989 release of Batman. He claims that originally at the beginning of the film, when Batman confronts the thief who asks, “Who are you?” Batman was to reply, “I’m Batman Motherfucker!” According to Jon, the fans would’ve of gone wild to see that moment!

The documentary is not just about Jon Peters though. Discussions with concept artists reveal the films proposed plot and a lot of this great imagery is shown. A lot of these concepts are beautiful whilst others are downright strange.

An interview with Steve Johnson reveals the true nature of the Superman suit footage that he released onto YouTube. This was to be a regeneration suit that brings Superman back to life after his death at the hands of a powerful character known as Doomsday. The suit is a combination on healing technologies and Superman’s Kryptonian robot helper. Don’t worry it all makes sense when you hear the whole story.

What has been referred to as the Holy Grail is also shown at great length. This is the video of Nicholas Cage during various wardrobe tests as Superman including the moment where the infamous photo was taken that was the genesis for this whole project.

As a film nerd, I loved this documentary to bits and found it fascinating from start to end. It showed us that everything we’d seen so far had been taken out of context. When I saw the final image of Nicholas Cage in his Superman costume that was to be used for filming, I felt like this was a film I wished had made it to the big screen.

The Death of “Superman Lives”; What Happened? Is a great documentary and I highly recommend it whether you’re a film or comic book fan.

The Death of “Superman Lives”; What Happened? Is available to view now on VOD or you can order the DVD/Bluray over at

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John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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