During my play session yesterday I was talking to Talented Owl and pseudonem8 (sp?) and mentioned I knew a long post about the saga of getting "Superman Returns" to the big screen. They said they were interested, so blame them for the huge post that is to follow.
The original post covers the seven years of development hell that "Superman V" went through. It is very biased, but if you can see past that, holds an interesting tale. After that, I'll throw up another couple of bits that came out of the original thread's discussion about "Superman Returns".
The whole thing started in 1987. The Israeli producing team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (who were cousins, by the way) had bought the film rights to Superman from Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the obnoxious father-son duo who made the first three films. WB gave Golan and Globus’ production company Cannon Films $40 million bucks to make Superman IV, and Golan-Globus took the money and spent it all on their other pictures. They only spent $17 million on Superman IV, chopping out key plot sequences (a grand total of 45 minutes’ worth of critical story material was excised) and gutting the FX in order to keep the costs down. Anyway, Superman IV bombed because of the hack job Golan-Globus did on it. But since they still had the rights to Superman, they decided to make a fifth film for release in 1989, with Captain America (the one with Matt Salinger and Ronny Cox) director Albert Pyun at the helm. They also planned to reuse all the edited material from Superman IV and to recast Superman with another actor (their antics on IV left Reeve outraged with them). However, Cannon fell on hard times and Golan left to make his own company, 21st Century Films (which went under in the early ‘90s—he’s since re-founded Cannon), and the rights to Superman reverted back to the Salkinds. This was when Superboy was in full swing on TV, and the Salkinds decided to restart the Superman film series using Superboy as the prequel. Hence, Superman comic scribe Cary Bates and his Superboy writing partner Mark Jones were drafted to write a script pitting Superman against Brainiac in a story set in the bottled city of Kandor. Under the working title Superman: The New Movie, this film was to have been released in 1994, with Superboy star Gerard Christopher taking over for Reeve as Superman. (To this day, the deleted footage from Superman IV remains unaccounted for.)
Well, 1993 rolled around, and WB bought all the non-comics rights to Superman lock, stock, and barrel. WB forced the Salkinds to pull Superboy from the airwaves completely so as not to interfere with the planned Lois & Clark series (which Gerard Christopher auditioned for, and was turned down because he’d played Superboy—that’s how Dean Cain got the part), and scrapped the Bates/Jones script. Deciding to base the movie on the "death and return" story from the comic books (they figured that the big sales figures the story racked up would translate into box office success), WB turned the project over to their pet producer Jon Peters—an illiterate, violence-prone wild man (I wish I was making this up, but I’m not—this is all true, every word of it) who got his start as Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser/lover and produced the Tim Burton Batman films. Peters, who hates the classic Superman in every way imaginable, set out to reinvent Superman in the "sex, killing, rock & roll, and whatever movie was a hit last weekend" style that all of his movies are based in. So he hired Jonathan Lemkin to write the script.
Lemkin’s draft had Superman dying in battle with Doomsday, but managing to impregnate Lois as he’s dying by way of Immaculate Conception. Lois is killed off later in the story, but not before giving birth to a baby who grows 21 years in three weeks’ time, and takes over as the new Superman and saves the universe from Armageddon. Lemkin’s script—which even he proudly boasted was campy and silly—was scrapped because WB thought it was too similar to Batman Forever. So Peters hired porn veteran Gregory Poirier—who scripted Peters’ Rosewood, and has since written the bomb See Spot Run and served as writer-director on the much-derided Tomcats—to start over. Poirier’s script had an angst-ridden Superman visiting a shrink in order to deal with his feelings of being an outsider and a freak by virtue of his alien heritage, ditching his red and blues for a black suit, using Kryptonian martial arts, and being killed by a Doomsday who bled kryptonite, Brainiac, the Silver Banshee, and the Parasite. WB liked the script, but when Kevin Smith was offered to be a consultant on the film, he blasted the script for its lack of respect for the source material. (Poirier took offense at Smith’s reaction, claiming that he "would never stoop to Kevin’s level by dissing another writer’s work.") Smith made such a convincing case that WB hired him to write the film.
And this is where things got REALLY ugly. First off, Smith was taken aback when Peters asked him, in all sincerity, "‘Kal-El’? Who’s this ‘Kal-El’ guy you keep mentioning in the script?" Then the insanity really started to take over. Peters demanded that Superman be stripped of his red and blue suit, arguing that the suit was "too pink, too f@ggy." 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 "‘90s-style." So Smith was forced to have Superman ditch his red and blues (which he grudgingly deemed "‘90s-style") early on in the script and switch over to the black and silver suit from the "death of" story as his permanent gear (ironically mirroring Poirier’s earlier script). Peters also hated the FX in the 1978 Superman film with Chris Reeve, so he wanted to get rid of Superman’s ability to fly. So Smith tried to get around this by portraying Superman as a red blur while in flight, creating a sonic boom every time he took off (he took this from The Dark Knight Returns). Peters then told 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. Then Peters demanded that Brainiac give Luthor a hostile space dog as a gift, arguing that the movie needed a cuddly Chewbacca character that could be turned into a toy. Then, after watching Chasing Amy, Peters liked the gay black character in the film so much that he ordered Smith to make Brainiac’s robot servant L-Ron gay, asserting that the film needed a gay R2-D2 with attitude. Then Peters demanded that Superman fight a huge spider at the end of the film, which Smith refused to do—he used a "Thanagarian Snare Beast" instead. (However, Peters did manage to recycle his spider idea and use it in Wild Wild West.)
As if that wasn’t enough, WB tried to force Smith to eliminate a critical story sequence where Lois and Clark’s relationship hits a standstill during a picnic dinner at Mount Rushmore—the most acclaimed moment in the script—because they thought it ran too long and distracted from the "toys, toys, toys" mentality Peters was aiming for. Smith protested, and the studio finally gave in, allowing the scene to stay. When all was said and done, Smith’s script was severely compromised by the time it came to its second draft (and it reads that way, too), but WB liked it enough to give it the green-light. When it came time to cast Superman, Peters wanted to cast Sean Penn, because he "has the eyes of a killer and the charisma of a caged animal," per his performance in Dead Man Walking. But when Nicolas Cage offered his services as either Luthor or Brainiac, Smith pleaded with WB to cast Cage as Superman, feeling that Cage had the gravitas to pull the role off. Peters agreed, for totally different reasons. "Being an outsider and feeling like we don’t belong is the essence of Superman," Peters boasted, saying that Cage could play up the alien side of Supes. (In later interviews, Smith changed his story, claiming that he had suggested Cage as Brainiac and that it was Peters’ idea to cast Cage as Superman.) Smith tried to get his friend Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spy Kids) to direct the film, but Peters and WB saw the film as a vehicle for Tim Burton, who they hired shortly after Cage. Burton, having been given almost total creative control, hated Smith’s script because it was too faithful to the comics (Burton doesn’t read comics, and he always brags about it). So he fired Smith and trashed his script, hiring his Batman Returns crony Wesley Strick to "reinvent" Superman per Burton’s vision. All the while during Burton’s time on the project, WB promoted it by claiming it was "not the Superman you know." (According to AICN, Akiva Goldsman of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films and Spider-Man scripter David Koepp were briefly considered for the job before Strick was chosen.)
So what was Burton’s vision? Not much different from Peters’, in fact. 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. (Seven years later, AICN revealed that Burton and Peters had also planned on having Superman teleport from place to place in lieu of flying.) He also hated the classic costume, too, hence the oddball designs he proffered in its place, all of which would have featured silver-relief versions of the ElectroSupes S-shield and armored, treaded boots similar in design to what Michael Keaton wore as Batman:
1. A partially translucent suit that would allow full view of Superman’s internal organs, as reported by Cinescape in late 1997 as Burton’s plans for the film kicked into high gear. (Although word from within the Burton camp confirmed that Burton was indeed hoping to do this, the design was apparently never committed to paper—leaving some people following the project wondering if Burton was really going to use the translucent suit or if it was just a hoax. Nevertheless, Burton’s diehard fans adored the idea, praising it as total genius and the height of coolness. Superman fans, on the other hand, were left scratching their heads over it.)
2. An all-black, alien-looking suit that would have resembled a "cool cross" between Edward Scissorhands, the WB movie Batman, and a Borg. (At one point, this was what Burton’s Superman would have started the film off in.)
3. A metallic silver healing suit/body armor with details that would have made Superman’s body look robotic. (An action figure prototype of Nic Cage as Superman wearing body armor was made, but it looked nothing like the design as described and featured the usual red/blue/gold Superman color scheme.)
4. An all-dark blue suit with a "blood-red" cape. (This would have been the standard Superman suit used in subsequent films.)
(I should probably mention that the last three of these designs were reported by Superman CINEMA and the Superman Homepage.)
As if that wasn’t enough, Burton was also opposed to the casting of Cage, who’s a diehard comic book geek and was protesting Burton’s planned changes. Even though he put on a public face of being delighted with the casting of Cage, Burton was privately trying to get Cage fired and replaced with Ralph Fiennes, and he kept trying to do so all the while he was on the film. Hulk Hogan was then approached to play Doomsday, and he immediately agreed (this was reported on the WCW/NWO site at that time by NWO spokesperson Jeff Katz). However, Burton envisioned Doomsday as being "kinda chunky" and told Hogan to gain weight for the part. Hogan blew a fuse and turned Burton down flat, so Burton had Doomsday redesigned to look like a cybernetically-enhanced Rancor (the design was shown at Fabio2’s now-defunct Superheroes at the Movies site and at former Superman comic book artist Kerry Gammill’s web site—he was one of the film’s conceptual designers) and dropped the idea of casting Hogan. Jim Carrey was briefly considered to play Brainiac—envisioned by Burton in a variety of weird forms, one of them an Independence Day rip-off (the design of which was also shown on Fabio2’s Superheroes At The Movies site) and another a green head in a glass ball balanced on a black pyramid—but Burton made a handshake deal with Tim Allen to give him the role. (Allen said to the Chicago Sun-Times, "I’ll shave my head in a second!") Burton also made a handshake deal with Chris Rock to cast him as Jimmy Olsen, who Burton envisioned as a smart-@$$ street-punk type. (Burton had wanted to cast Marlon Wayans as Robin in Batman Returns, but WB wouldn’t let him.) In a related story, Comics2Film reported that Jack Larson, who played Jimmy on the George Reeves Superman TV show in the 1950s, expressed interest in playing Perry White because he was a huge fan of Rock, but nothing came of it. Then Burton made similar handshake arrangements with Kevin Spacey (who had previously been rumored to voice Brainiac at one point) and Cameron Diaz to cast them as Luthor and Lois, respectively. AICN reported that Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) offered to play Perry White, but no official casting for the role was ever made public. He also intended to shoot the Metropolis exteriors in Pittsburgh, making use of the Gothic buildings there.
Meanwhile, Jon Peters saw a group of Shaolin monks performing on Jay Leno, and liked them so much that he tried to get them cast in the film. He also tried to have the Eradicator—now renamed "K" by Burton (to be voiced by Jack Nicholson, who had been previously rumored to play Luthor) and reinvented as a shapeshifting robotic Alfred to Superman’s gadget-dependent Batman (swear to God, I’m not kidding; Burton and Peters’ Superman was to be reliant on Batman-esque Kryptonian gadgets and technology, as reported by Superman CINEMA and Superman-V.com)—tote around an "Eradicator Stick," because he saw visions of posters and toys based on it. And the Eradicator wasn’t the only computerized character to be radically reconceived; Burton planned to end the film with Luthor and Brainiac amalgamating to become a single villain called either "Luthinac" or "Lexiac". (The concept art by Pete Von Scholly, shown at the Superman V.com site, depicted "Lexiac" as a gigantic slug-like creature with Luthor’s face.) But the most controversial thing Burton did was brag to a radio news service in Texas during an interview that he intended to play up "Superman’s darker, more murderous side" and that he hoped Cage was up to the task of portraying that aspect of Superman. Also, Michael Keaton announced to MTV that he was going to be in the film (he and Burton are pals—he only did the Batman films as a favor to Burton; he actually hated playing the role and said so to E! when Jack Frost was released), but when asked if he was going to play Batman, he said, "Not exactly." In fact, Burton had cut Kevin Smith’s hoped-for Batman cameo out of the film, so nobody has any clue who Keaton was to play.
[Before I go any further, I should probably explain why Burton and Peters’ Superman was going to be gadget-dependent. A scoop from Ain’t It Cool News in November of 1997—believe it or not, I actually printed some of this stuff out and saved it when it first broke—discussed Burton’s plans thusly: "Burton’s master plan is to reinvent the Superman franchise with this film. Tim is aiming to change the current comics’ idea of Superman by blending his style with some of the earlier ideas in the Superman comics. Meanwhile, some Superman elements he’s completely getting rid of. Now, I’m not privy to those changes yet, but I am told he will be getting a ton of flak for doing so…." Superman CINEMA confirmed this, saying that Burton’s plan was to shave Superman down to his 1938 power levels. Which explains the Supermobile and gadgets, I suppose.]
Anyway, the Strick script—which Burton adored—was rejected by WB. (In fact, low-level WB execs—then-WB head honchos Bob Daly and Terry Semel were in total support of Burton-Peters—were calling up Kevin Smith and complaining about how Burton and Peters were screwing up the project.) So Burton hired Akiva Goldsman—one of the writers initially considered to replace Kevin Smith—to rewrite Strick’s script. Goldsman’s rewrite was rejected. Then Burton hired Ron Bass to rewrite Goldsman’s rewrite of Strick’s script. Bass’s rewrite was rejected. Then Burton hired Dan Gilroy to rewrite Bass’ rewrite of Goldsman’s rewrite of Strick’s script. For the moment, WB was appeased. Meanwhile, Burton kept changing his mind about the film’s design scheme, and was constantly ordering the art teams to change whatever it was they were doing every day and telling them they weren’t doing things the way he wanted. Cinefex Magazine ran an article about Burton’s slave-driving the art team, and concept designer Sylvain Despretz went on record as saying that the designs Burton and Peters wanted had little or nothing to do with either the comic books or with the traditional Superman image.
[However, Despretz thinks that movies based on comic books are what’s dumbing down cinema—he doesn’t believe comics deserve to be translated to film—and he said flat-out that the fans’ complaints about Burton’s attempted changes to Superman were petty and unimportant. "It’s just a movie, everything they were complaining about was inconsequential," he claimed. So really, he and Burton-Peters were on the same page the whole time. Ditto for his fellow concept artist Rolf Mohr, who shared his lack of respect for the Superman character and stated that he went out of his way to avoid being influenced by the comics. Concept artist James Carson was even more anti-fan, asserting that if the fans don’t like WB’s intended radical changes to Superman, they should pony up the money and make their own Superman movie. Toy designers for Hasbro who were working on the film also complained about the fans, asserting that they should just get over the changes and accept them. Another designer, Brian Lawrence, justified the changes by saying that it was best to think of Burton’s Superman as a completely new character who just happened to share the same name as Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation. The only member of the art team who had any respect for the material and the fans was the aforementioned Pete Von Scholly, who openly stated that Burton and Peters were going about the project the wrong way and that it should have been turned over to fans of the comics from the start. He still feels that way, especially in light of the recent developments on the film.]
Nicolas Cage, having been fighting tooth and nail against Burton and Peters’ vision of Superman (even though he’d been putting on a happy public face about working with them), angrily demanded that he be allowed to wear the classic Superman costume and fly. So WB relented much to Burton’s dismay, ordering up a rubber Superman suit and flying FX tests. (According to Superman CINEMA, a chintzy, Sam Jones-as-Flash Gordon-type Superman suit was dished up as well, but it went over like a lead balloon.) However, when Cage tried on the rubber suit, it looked stupid. And when they stuck a long-haired wig on him, it looked even worse. And after Burton and Gilroy were finished with their rewritten script, WB looked it over and loathed it. Even worse, all of Burton and Peters’ screwing around and causing trouble resulted in the film being budgeted somewhere between $140-190 million. So, in April 1998, just weeks before the film was to start shooting, WB put the film on indefinite hold. By this time, about $30-40 million (including the pay-or-play contracts for Burton and Cage—$20 million for Cage, $5 million for Burton) had already been spent on the project, with nothing to show for it. [It’s well over $50 million now, given all the stupidity that occurred beyond this.]
It was at this point that Lorenzo DiBonaventura, a then-WB exec who was a long-time ally of Peters, joined the production and openly supported everything Burton wanted to do with Superman. It was with DiBonaventura that Burton and Peters had Gilroy rewrite the script completely, mixing and matching elements from the Strick, Goldsman, Bass, and Gilroy drafts into a single script. The end result had Jor-El inventing Brainiac, only to abandon him when Kal-El is born. Brainiac is jealous of Kal-El, so he blows up Krypton. However, Kal-El is sent to Earth, so Brainiac vows to hunt him down and kill him. Jump forward 30 years. Superman—who’s been having a full-blown sexual affair with Lois—is forced to reveal his true identity to her when she finds out that Superman’s escape rocket landed on the Kent farm. (In this script, the Kents were long dead, and Superman himself had absolutely no clue as to his origins—not even knowing about the existence of the rocket—until Lois found it.) Anyway, Brainiac comes to Earth with a kryptonite-bleeding Doomsday and merges with Lex Luthor—who in this draft was basically portrayed as the Joker in a business suit, and who also found out about Superman’s rocket landing in Smallville in this draft—to become "Lexiac." So Lexiac tricks Superman into coming to the LexCorp tower, where Doomsday kills him in combat and runs off. (He never shows up again in this draft.) Then Lexiac seizes control of all the world’s nukes and seduces Lois…who’s pregnant with Superman’s love child!!!!! Meanwhile, Superman is revived by "K," the combined, still-living essence of Jor-El and Lara. Initially powerless upon his rebirth, Superman is told by "K" that all he needs to do is have faith in himself, and so regains his powers by sheer force of will (yes, yes, I know he’s supposed to get them back by exposure to sunlight, but bear in mind what we’re dealing with here). And so Superman engages Lexiac in combat and saves the world with one second left on the nuclear clock, separating Brainiac and Luthor, who has no idea that he was possessed by Brainiac. And while Lois and Clark are undecided if they want to get married or just live together, all that matters is that they’re happy.
This was the script Burton proffered in late 1998. WB loved it, but Burton’s egotistical attitude was wearing thin on them. It came to the point where Burton started smart-mouthing them, trying to bully them into giving him his way. As such, WB finally fired him in late ‘98/early ’99. (Burton was furious over this, and tried to pin every bit of the blame for Superman Lives’ lack of progress on WB and paint himself as a total innocent in his book Burton on Burton. Needless to say, everyone knew he was lying thru his teeth, and blew him off. Burton also claimed to Howard Stern that the WB execs at one point wanted Superman to wear basketball shorts and flame-boots. Considering that he was still trying to play the total innocent, I’d say this claim is pretty suspect.) Peters and DiBonaventura—who had become Peters’ co-producer on the film—continued to polish the Gilroy draft, deleting the Lois pregnancy at WB’s behest. Meanwhile, an aspiring screenwriter/comic book geek named Alex Ford tried to talk WB out of the Peters/Burton/DiBonaventura plans for the movie, instead proposing a series of 6-7 Superman films. He went so far as to write a "Year One" script heavily based on the comic books and featuring Luthor and Metallo—posing as a superhero—as the villains. But WB, being so enamored of Peters, refused to even consider the Ford script and trashed it. Peters then tried to get Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Steven Norrington, Shekhar Kapur, and Martin Campbell to take over as director, but they hated the script and turned the project down. So the Gilroy script was dumped in late 1999, and William Wisher was hired to start over. (Around this time, comic book writer/artist Keith Giffen tried to sell Peters and DiBonaventura on a Superman script treatment he wrote featuring Lobo as the primary villain, but was snubbed. Of course, his Superman was the classic version, which may explain why Peters and DiBonaventura blew him off.) However, with The Matrix being a big success, Peters and DiBonaventura decided that Superman should ditch his red and blue in favor of Matrix-like duds. As such, press blurbs for the new script announced that Superman would be killed off and reborn in a brand-new incarnation, and that the new script would recreate Superman "sans the tights and more Matrix-like." Oliver Stone was then approached to direct the film from the Matrix-ized Wisher script, but he ultimately turned it down.
In the meantime, WB heads Bob Daly and Terry Semel—Peters’ best friends and staunchest supporters—jumped ship from the studio after Wild Wild West bombed, and were replaced by the equally pro-Peters team of Barry Meyer and Alan Horn. Cage got fed up with the whole thing, and finally quit in mid-2000. So Peters reportedly offered Russell Crowe $30 million to play Superman, but Crowe wasn’t interested. (And if you thought the backlash against Cage was bad, the backlash against Crowe was even worse—people were hoping Dennis Quaid would be cast as Luthor so they could root for the bad guy to win.) The Wisher script was tossed out, and Paul Attansio was then hired to rewrite the script, now retitled Superman Destruction (boy, THERE’S an ironic title). Then in July 2001, as Planet of the Apes was being released, the now-defunct Coming Attractions site reported that WB made a handshake deal with Tim Burton to rehire him to take over the film should POTA make over $150-200 million at the box office, with Dan Hill, David Nutter, Benjamin Melniker, and Michael Uslan as his producing team. (In fact, WB wanted to rehire Burton after Sleepy Hollow proved successful.) Promising Burton even more creative control than he had the last time, WB apparently offered to cast Jim Carrey as Brainiac and David Duchovny as Superman to sweeten the deal. However, POTA didn’t do the big business WB was hoping for, so Burton was given the boot again. And so Peters and DiBonaventura hired McG of Charlie’s Angels to direct the film, and McG was (a) aiming to make a Superman movie in the spirit of Charlie’s Angels and Tomb Raider and (b) had offered the role of Lois to Catherine Zeta-Jones (formerly one of Jon Peters’ many girlfriends), Cameron Diaz, and Jennifer Lopez. (This news hails from Superman CINEMA, by the way.)
Along the way, Attansio delivered a 50-page treatment for the film, but it was never used. For a while, it was rumored that Scott Rosenberg (Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, Con Air, Gone In 60 Seconds) was going to rewrite the script, but instead Peters and McG hired JJ Abrams (Felicity, Armageddon, Alias) to write a new script that reportedly ignored the "death of" story and remade Superman in a "lighter, funnier McG-style." This was expounded upon in the February 6, 2002 news report run by Superman CINEMA, in which a source within WB not only confirmed McG’s hiring and first brought up the campy music-video approach he was said to be taking, but that he was being given a limited amount of time to get the project up and running. If he didn’t get the project going, the story went, he’d have been fired, albeit paid for his services in full. USA Today reported that both Brendan Fraser and Will Smith were rumored to be candidates to play the Man of Steel. (The Smith rumor bore some credibility, as he’s already done two pictures with Peters: Wild Wild West and Ali.) And Abrams said that his Superman would fly and wear a costume, which ultimately proved to be true. However, he—working alongside Peters and McG—changed pretty much everything else about Superman. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
At any rate, WB adored the Abrams script, which is planned to be the first in a trilogy, and scrapped comic book junkies Wolfgang Petersen and Andrew Kevin Walker’s planned World’s Finest movie (a Batman vs. Superman project) in favor of the Abrams material…although they later hired Akiva Goldsman—who seems to keep showing up like a bad penny in this grisly mosaic—to rewrite Walker’s script. (Making matters uglier, Lorenzo DiBonaventura, who supported the Petersen project and was lobbying to replace Alan Horn as WB’s top dog, clashed with Horn over the decision and finally quit his executive job, opting for a producing career. It was a bizarre case of two Peters-pushers vying for control of the company.) However, with an increasingly busy schedule and not having any interest in making the film in England at Pinewood Studios, McG bailed from the project. Michael Bay was offered to direct the film again, but he felt the script violated the essence of Superman and refused the offer. Rob Bowman, Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Kevin Reynolds, and Stephen Sommers were all considered as possible directors, but Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner—once rumored to be Burton’s replacement—signed up, gushing with praise over both the script and over Peters, whom he claimed "reminded" him of himself.
During the "who’s gonna replace McG" fiasco, it was rumored by Coming Attractions that Peters was bailing on the project and would be replaced by a three-man team consisting of longtime Superman geek Richard Donner (the director of the 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeve and the director of the Lethal Weapon movies), David Heyman (producer of Harry Potter), and Barrie Osbourne (producer of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings)…which, of course, proved to be totally false. In fact, Donner had begged WB to let him take over Superman from Peters (and also Burton, during his time on the project) and let him make a faithful rendition of the character, just as he did in 1978. For those very reasons, WB turned him down SEVERAL times, standing by Peters’ revisionism. M. Night Shyamalan (writer-director of The Sixth Sense and the comic book themed Unbreakable), who adores Donner’s Superman and is a comic book geek, also tried to wrest the project away from Peters and make a faithful version of the Man of Steel. Again, he was turned down by Alan Horn in favor of Peters. Comic book fan Joel Silver (producer of the Lethal Weapon series and The Matrix) also tried to take over Superman from Peters on the very same grounds that Donner and Shyamalan did, but was again turned down in favor of Peters. (It didn’t help that Silver is a longtime enemy of Peters, either.) Yes, folks, you heard me right. WB HAD NUMEROUS OPPORTUNITIES TO LET FANS OF SUPERMAN MAKE THE FILM, AND MUFFED THEM BECAUSE THEY CAN’T AND WON’T SEE PAST PETERS. Rumors abounded that Anthony Hopkins would play Jor-El and that Keanu Reeves would play Superman. Ratner confirmed Hopkins but refuted Reeves, claiming that he wanted an unknown. And then Ain’t It Cool News got a hold of Abrams’ script…
…and all hell broke loose. AICN’s review by Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny blew the lid off the Peters/Abrams/McG teaming by revealing the MASSIVE changes planned for the trilogy. The details of the script were as follows:
1. Krypton doesn’t explode. Instead it’s a Naboo rip-off overrun by robot soldiers, walking war machines, and civil war (can you say, Star Wars: Episode I?). Jor-El is literally the king of Krypton and leader of the Kryptonian Senate (thus Superman is a prince), and he and Lara send Kal-El to Earth because he is "the One" whom a prophecy states will save Krypton from destruction (rip-off of The Matrix). The villains, Jor-El’s evil brother and nephew Kata-Zor and Ty-Zor, take Jor-El prisoner and send probe pods out to find and kill the baby Kal-El. 14 years later, Lara and her shell-less turtle servant Taga (shades of Jar Jar Binks) are found by Ty-Zor, and Lara gets tortured to death.
2. Superman’s costume is a living entity housed in a can, and it climbs onto him when he needs it. He first discovers it in a closet when he’s 14 (Jor-El visited Earth and picked the Kents out to be Kal-El’s new parents, leaving them his picture, some S-shield metal pieces signifying the virtues Kal-El must represent, and the costume), and the costume rips his clothes off and stuffs him into itself. So teen Clark is flying around in a suit that’s way too big for him.
3. Lex Luthor is an evil CIA agent obsessed with UFO phenomena. When Superman reveals himself to the world, Luthor demands that the government allow him to hunt Superman down and kill him. The government refuses, so Luthor allies himself with the evil Kryptonians out to kill Kal-El…because Luthor himself is an evil Kryptonian, working undercover as a human to set up an invasion of Earth!
4. All the Kryptonians get into airborne kung-fu fights straight out of The Matrix. Even Luthor gets in on the act at the end of the script.
5. An aerial kung-fu fight between Superman and Ty-Zor results in Superman being lured into a trap: Lois is drowning in a tank filled with kryptonite. (This begs the question of how there can be kryptonite when Krypton didn’t even explode, but….) Superman is given a choice: save her and die from radiation poisoning in the act, or stand by and watch her drown. So he goes in, saves her, and dies. Jor-El magically senses Superman’s death from across the galaxy, commits hara-kiri with a rock he sharpens in his prison cell, goes to Heaven, and talks Superman into coming back to life so he can fulfill the prophecy of saving Krypton from its civil war. So Superman’s soul returns to his body, and he proceeds to trash Ty-Zor and his cronies. And at the end of the film, Superman flies off in a rocket to save Krypton (which is where the second film is planned to take place).
6. A dialogue scene at The Daily Planet implies that Jimmy Olsen—a horny skirt-chaser in the comic books—is gay, as Abrams describes him as "effeminate" and Perry White rags on him for having a boyfriend.
At any rate, this script sparked a horrific backlash in which the feedback was 95% negative (very, very, very few people liked it). An Internet petition was soon set up, garnering over 12,000 signatures and angry comments to date (including outraged responses from comic book pros Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Ron Lim, Kevin Smith, Tom Sniegoski, Ian Hannin, Tom Orzechowski, Mike Allred, and Larry Hama). But the outrage was swiftly silenced when WB dispatched Abrams to call up AICN sitemaster Harry Knowles—who himself reacted negatively to the script—and spin-doctor him into supporting the project. (An October 1, 2002 scoop at Superman CINEMA exposed Abrams’ call as a PR stunt by WB to shut the fans up.) In his call, Abrams admitted that the script was the real deal, and claimed that the negative reaction to his script was due to Moriarty "having an axe to grind." The reason he gave for the script’s poor quality was that he wrote it in four weeks, and he justified the changes he made to Superman by claiming that he doesn’t want to "plagiarize Richard Donner’s Superman" (which is a pretty neat trick, as every other incarnation of Superman followed the source material just as much as Donner did, and since the destruction of Krypton and the like is in the comics). At any rate, he claimed that the death scene was cut solely for time and pacing reasons, that WB ordered him to change Luthor back into a human, and that the "gay Jimmy" stuff was intended as verbal humor. Otherwise, he dismissed inquiries about the script’s most visible flaws (Krypton not exploding, Superman’s costume being alive, etc.) with a "We’ll see."
Well, his "we’ll see" turned out to be a "screw you," when WB sent out press releases touting the new script as a bold "re-imagining" of Superman and lavished praise on Peters and Abrams for masterminding said "re-imagining" together. (Abrams later bragged that he wasn’t the least bit bothered by the negative feedback, and that he’d gotten far more accolades for his script than brickbats.) Furthermore, AICN’s 10/2/02 "Weekly Recap" reported that WB immediately began pre-production on the film, with more talk of the film being the first in a trilogy. Even worse, the spin-doctoring worked, as Harry Knowles sold out Moriarty and reversed his stance completely, praising the Abrams script to the skies and bringing the fan uprising to a screeching halt. In fact, the fans did a total 180 and started supporting the script, proclaiming that change is good and so long as Superman himself stays the same personality-wise, any change WB makes is OK by them. Pretty soon, those opposed to the "re-imagining" were reduced to a much-mocked and derided minority. (The fans also started voicing claims that the traditional Superman "has had enough of a chance and is now a failure," and that these changes were just what the doctor ordered to make the character a sensation again. Any criticisms of the project were condemned by the fans as ignorant, ignoble, needlessly negative and faithless, and "being afraid of change." Worse still, many fans adopted the attitude that anyone unhappy enough with WB’s plans to avoid the Superman movie has no right to utter one word of complaint about the project, that you can only complain about the movie so long as you go to see it anyway—in simpler language, you must be a two-faced, spineless WB tool in order for your opinions to be respected. This attitude is still in full swing, most notably on the message boards at Superhero Hype and Superman CINEMA.) As a capper to this whole mess, Superman CINEMA reported in a 9/27/02 scoop that the current brass at WB knows absolutely nothing at all about Superman; not only have they never read the comics, but they’ve never even seen the Christopher Reeve movies or any other incarnation of the character. This is why they’re so supportive of the Peters/Abrams script; they’re every bit as ignorant about the character as Peters is. Anthony Hopkins signed up to play Jor-El in the film soon afterwards, but admitted that he had yet to read the script. Which should have been a warning sign….
However, the short-lived backlash left a mark on WB, as the spin-doctoring became even more desperate. Brett Ratner, in a web interview following Abrams’ snow job on AICN, claimed that the script would feature the explosion of Krypton and Luthor being a human. However, he tried to claim that the Abrams script was a fan-made phony cooked up "by someone with too much time on their hands"…which, of course, was a bald-faced lie, as Abrams shamelessly admitted to AICN that the script was legit. He also claimed in that same interview that he had the power to "do whatever the **** I want" on the film, which the few fans still opposed to the project took as an insult (and rightly so). Furthermore, Alan Horn claimed to the Dark Horizons site that WB agreed with the fans about Luthor needing to be a human, but he still praised the script to the skies, gushing about how "fresh, funny, and action-packed" it is, and he made a point of avoiding any mention of the script’s other controversial elements. (As you might have already guessed, WB was slinging a line of BS.) Speaking of AICN, a report on The Passion of the Christ indicated that Ratner was eyeing Jim Caviezel for the role of Superman. Nothing ever came of it; nor did discussions with British actor Ian Hart (Professor Quirrel/Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone), Aussie actor Ryan Kwanten, Kip Pardue (Driven), Dominic Purcell (John Doe), Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me), Tom Guiry (U-571, Black Hawk Down), and Barry Watson (7th Heaven) for the role. Rumors of Jeremy Piven (Black Hawk Down) as Jimmy Olsen and Val Kilmer as Ty-Zor went nowhere. In the meantime, the project was slated to begin shooting in January 2003, which some fans spoke out against, voicing concern that the project would be rushed. However, Ratner pushed on, hiring Dante Spinotti (Red Dragon) as the film’s cinematographer, Jay Stern (Rush Hour) as the executive producer, Vicky Thomas (High Fidelity) as the casting director, and Arthur Max (Gladiator) as the production designer. That, and the announcement (via Dark Horizons) that the film might be called Superman: The Flight and that the flying scenes would be accomplished by having a stunt double do a series of "super poses" and superimposing a CGI Superman "skin" over him. Peters also pulled a major scam job on Christopher Reeve when he offered him a consultant position on the film; Peters claimed that Petersen and Walker’s World’s Finest movie was HIS project, and that a documentary on Reeve "inspired" him to drop the idea and go with a "more uplifting, spiritual story." And Reeve fell for Peters’ snow job, hook, line, and sinker. (The truth is, Peters had no involvement whatsoever with Petersen and Walker’s film…but given his bond with Alan Horn, it’s very likely indeed that he had a part is giving those two men the shaft in favor of his own project.)
[As a odd side note, the WB TV series Smallville, which at one point was believed to be WB’s stealth plan to recreate Superman in Peters’ vision due to its following Peters’ old "no tights/no flights" dictates, was endangered by WB’s infatuation with the Peters/Abrams script. Prior to AICN’s scathing review of the Peters/Abrams material, WB was heavily considering canceling Smallville to make room for the new movie, feeling the film would make more money if there wasn’t a TV show competing for the same audience. Smallville’s production company Tollin-Robbins was furious over WB’s plans, but it wasn’t until the Peters/Abrams script leaked that the show was saved from early cancellation. As soon as AICN ran its review of the Peters/Abrams script, WB’s plans to axe Smallville in favor of the movie were aired out in the open by Coming Attractions, and the resulting backlash forced WB to renege and loudly proclaim that they weren’t going to can the show. They did, however, impose a significant restriction on Smallville; because the "re-imagining" is so dependent on having lots of living Kryptonians around, the show is not allowed to use any live Kryptonians for its own purposes. This resulted in a proposed General Zod episode being scrapped in its infancy.
Don’t you just love studio in-fighting?]
However, from January to February of 2003, Ratner was strongly rumored to be on the outs with WB and ready to leave the project, with such names as Michael Bay, Joel Schumacher, Tarsem (The Cell and a bevy of MTV music videos), Joseph Kahn (Torque and a plethora of MTV music videos—he was a favorite of WB exec/Peters-pusher Jeff Robinov), David McNally (Coyote Ugly and Kangaroo Jack), and Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers and Training Day) being bandied about as his replacement. Bay was the director most talked about, with AICN headmaster Harry Knowles trying to drum up enough support to ensure that he would replace Ratner and loudly asserting that if Ratner was scrapped and Bay took over, Superman fans would have cause to celebrate. (Of course, having been bought and sold by Peters and Abrams, Knowles made sure to conveniently avoid recognizing them as the other two-thirds of the problem.) Talk of Bay taking over escalated when casting negotiations with Josh Hartnett for the title role sparked rumors that Hartnett wouldn’t do the film unless Bay was attached. Further, rumors spread that Joel Silver—one of the many comic book fans/filmmakers given a hearty "FU" from WB on this project in favor of Peters—was going to take over as co-producer and rein in the stupidity. Well, as with the Donner/Heyman/Osbourne rumors, the Silver rumor turned out to be utterly false, and Ratner came forward and claimed the rumors of Bay replacing him were equally phony. Additionally, he blamed AICN for the rumors, claiming it’s nothing more than a "gossip site."
As if that wasn’t enough insanity, Evan Marriott—Joe Millionaire himself—was approached to read for the title role, as were Ashton Kutcher, the aforementioned Hartnett, and Jude Law. Marriott later denied any involvement with the project, and the other three rejected WB’s offer outright. (Oddly enough, out of all those casting choices, Kutcher and Marriott ended up being the candidates with the loudest and strongest fan support.) Additionally, longtime comic book fan David Boreanaz (Angel), who has long cited Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man as his dream roles, tested for the part but was barred from being cast due to Angel’s shooting schedule. This angered Peters and WB, who wanted a big-name star in the role. According to the March 6th, 2003 edition of The New York Post, not only did WB voice its anger with Ratner for not being able to get a hot name attached to the film (they claimed to have "lost faith in him" when Hartnett turned the project down, claiming that Ratner was obviously "in over his head" on this film), and blame him for the slow progress of the "re-imagining," but Peters and Ratner were said to have had a massive shouting match in which Peters accused Ratner of getting too big for his britches. (I’ll leave the irony of that scenario for you to judge.) In that same article, AICN’s Harry Knowles took still more potshots at Ratner, claiming the director doesn’t know squat about Superman (which we all knew already, given his enthusiasm over the Peters/Abrams script) and asserted that Ratner was so incompetent that he had to call up AICN to find out who and what the characters were.
As for the JJ Abrams script…well, nothing much changed between September 2002 and March 2003; Krypton still didn’t explode (that was apparently being saved for the end of the trilogy), Superman’s death and Jor-El’s suicide/heavenly pep talk was still intact, Jimmy was still gay, the bad guys were still Superman’s evil uncle and cousin, the Matrix-wannabe prophecy was staying intact, etc. The only thing that changed was Luthor, according to the now-defunct Last Son of Krypton website on 2/04/03; instead of being a Kryptonian masquerading as a human CIA agent, the December 2002 draft of the script (most likely the 3rd draft, as Abrams was working on the 2nd draft when the script was leaked to AICN) featured Ol’ Baldy as a failed shoe salesman who’s granted super-intelligence—and loses all his hair—when he’s possessed by the spirit of a dead Kryptonian. It bears mentioning that the LSOK site, like AICN’s Harry Knowles, was one of the loudest supporters of the "re-imagining" (as were Coming Attractions and Fabio2’s Superheroes at the Movies—and as previously mentioned, Superhero Hype! and Superman CINEMA were and still are sympathetic to the Peters/Abrams approach), posting up a rave review of the first draft roasted by AICN. In this review, the site loudly proclaimed that while the "re-imagining" would stay 90% intact and WB is pushing ahead with this trilogy, the end result would still resemble "a more familiar, fresher Superman," citing Krypton’s being destroyed at the end of the trilogy by the civil war as proof. The review also bashed recent comic book films like Spider-Man and Daredevil by claiming that these films will be soon forgotten because they’re "too faithful" to their source material, and gushed that Peters and Abrams’ changes to Superman were so good that "they could cast a kangaroo as Superman and the public would love it!" (Of course, this begs the question of how this movie could resemble the traditional Superman when it was clearly going to be the Peters/Abrams/McG/Ratner "re-imagining" and when Krypton’s explosion was being delayed until the end of the trilogy….) However, the fans STILL refused to accept these reports, loudly insisting that WB already scrapped the "re-imagining" and that there was no reason whatsoever to be "hateful" toward the project. Even as late as July 2003, some fans were stupidly determined that the Abrams script was either a fake or had been scrapped, and asserted that there was only reason to be hopeful and excited about the movie. Nice to know the fans were so well-informed, eh?
(Some bizarre hearsay about the script popped up in the Talkbacks at AICN in early February 2003. A Talkback member known as "NeofromtheMatrix" claimed that he’d found out what Abrams’ final draft script entailed. According to this guy, Luthor had been changed yet again, this time 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 use an ancient satanic ritual to create kryptonite, a force of pure evil—represented by its green glow—to counter the pure good of Superman. And like the evil of Sauron’s ring attracts and tempts the Fellowship, this kryptonite attracts the evil Kryptonians hunting for Superman. This guy also claimed that the Superman costume is not only a living thing stored in a can that climbs onto Clark when he needs it, but it’s now the actual source of his powers as well, like the super-suit in The Greatest American Hero and the living black catsuit in WB’s planned "re-imagining" of Wonder Woman.
I e-mailed this "NeofromtheMatrix" THREE times, asking where he got this information, and never once got a response. So file this guy’s claims under "BS.")
The casting lunacy for Superman continued, with candidates for the part including Brendan Fraser (again), Paul Walker (She’s All That), Hayden Christensen (the Star Wars prequels), and Jerry O’Connell (Kangaroo Jack). However, two unknowns surfaced as potential candidates for the role: Matthew Bomer (Guiding Light) and Victor Webster (Mutant X). Webster in particular was very excited about the "re-imagining," gushing about how "moving and action-packed" Abrams’ script is and discussing his vision of the Superman character…which, I’m sorry to say, was a rehash of Tim Burton’s "Superman should be a lonely freakish misfit whose powers make him feel like he doesn’t belong" shtick. He also talked at great length at how he would make Superman dark and gritty if he had creative control of the project…more Burton/Peters thinking. While Ratner liked Bomer and recommended that WB give him a look should they start considering unknowns, WB and Peters were hell-bent on putting a big-name star in the role, ANY big-name star (it wouldn’t matter if he was appropriate to the role or not), so long as he’d agree to sign up for the entire trilogy. In an odd twist of fate, Superboy star and lifelong Superman geek Gerard Christopher wound up briefly involved in this gruesome fracas when Peters ran into his parked car, causing $7,000 in damages. Christopher offered Peters his services as the Man of Steel, but Peters blew him off with a "don’t call us, we’ll call you" line. (In retrospect, it’s probably better this way; I doubt a hard-core fan like Christopher would have been all too thrilled with the Peters/Abrams "re-imagining.") Meanwhile, Lara Flynn Boyle and Keri Russell (who worked on Abrams’ Felicity) were both been mentioned as potential candidates for Lois Lane, Charlie Sheen and Rob Lowe were both approached about playing Lex Luthor (Sheen told the Superhero Hype website that he was willing to shave his head for the part—shades of Tim Allen being chosen by Tim Burton as Brainiac), and both The New York Post and Access Hollywood reported that WB sent N Sync frontman Justin Timberlake a copy of Abrams’ script in the hopes of persuading him to play the newly gay Jimmy Olsen.
Further, production of the film was pushed back to either August or November 2003 (there was some conflict over the dates) due to the lack of progress in the casting. Dark Horizons added more fuel to the fire with their March 11, 2003 scoop on the film, reporting that…
1. The rumors of Peters and Ratner having at it were all true, with Peters blaming Ratner for the re-imagining’s failure to attract big-name stars.
2. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti was dropping out of the project.
3. A total unknown named Jeremy Lister (hailing from Australia) was WB’s last-resort choice should none of the big-name actors they so desperately wanted all turned the film down.
4. The long-standing rumors of WB sinking a $170 million starting budget into this project were also true.
However, Variety and Superhero Hype painted a slightly different picture of the casting/budget fracas (while confirming the reports of Peters and Ratner going at it, complete with threats of gunplay and bodily harm), reporting that the casting was down to Fraser and Bomer (with The Count of Monte Cristo’s Henry Cavill emerging as a dark-horse candidate), and that the budget for the movie was as high as $225 million, with WB trying to scale it down to $200 million (still a Titanic-level amount of money, but WB is 100% convinced the "re-imagining" is a sure thing). As far as the Superman costume, Superhero Hype reported that at the time, the suit—designed by Batman veteran Bob Ringwood—was dark blue, had a red and black S-shield (much like the Max Fleischer cartoons, Kingdom Come, and the post-"OWAW" Superman comics), would have muscle padding similar to the Spider-Man movie costume, and had no cape. Additionally, The Hollywood Reporter’s March 17, 2003 scoop reported that Ratner’s option to direct Superman expired the previous Saturday, and WB was planning to replace him on the project…which, of course, sparked Peters-puppet/AICN guru Harry Knowles to resume his campaign for Michael Bay, asserting that Bay was the answer to all the film’s woes and Ratner was "WB’s road to destruction." Then The Hollywood Reporter reported the very next day that Fraser and Bomer were both dumpstered, and that the casting process would be starting over from scratch. As if that wasn’t enough, the film’s targeted release date was pushed back from Summer 2004 to Summer 2005. According to the LSOK site, the replacement director list of Tarsem, Joseph Kahn, David McNally, and Antoine Fuqua was floated about again, this time with former director McG—who co-authored the offending "re-imagining" with Peters and Abrams—being listed among the hoped-for replacements (shades of Tim Burton being re-considered post-Sleepy Hollow). The Abrams script remained, though, and according to the LSOK site, "WB’s dream Superman film is Michael Bay directing from a JJ Abrams script with Jon Peters and Joel Silver producing and Josh Hartnett as Superman." Never mind that Bay and Hartnett already turned them down hard, never mind that Peters and Silver hate each other and have totally incompatible sensibilities, and never mind that Alan Horn has already slammed the door in the faces of any and all potential producers not named "Jon Peters." However, MTV’s website ran a scoop that same day where Ratner said that he wanted to cast Ralph Fiennes (Burton’s pet choice for Superman, ironically) as Jor-El, Christopher Walken as Perry White, and Anthony Hopkins as Luthor…very bizarre, given that Hopkins was already locked in as Jor-El to begin with. Even weirder, The Westmeath Examiner reported that Steve Martin was in talks with WB to play Perry White. The Moviehole site confirmed rumors that Aussie actor Joel Edgerton (the young Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels) was being offered one of the Kryptonian villain roles, and even Edgerton found it odd that WB was re-writing the Superman canon. Also, with Bomer’s Guiding Light contract expiring later in the year, rumors abounded that he could still be in contention for the title role.
Ultimately, Ratner admitted to Variety that he was off the film, and Superhero Hype! ran a story where Billy Zane was rumored to be one of the candidates for Luthor. In a June, 5, 2003 report, WB told Esquire Magazine that it was Ratner’s fault the budget ballooned to $225—not counting the $50-75 million marketing plan or the pre-production costs Peters and his various cohorts incurred over the past ten years. (Of course, WB went out of their way to slant the story to make Ratner look like the bad guy….) And in a weird twist of events, the LOSK site’s final update before closing down included the following:
"By the way, I hear the script is gradually improving. Krypton blows up, but a part of it survives and Luthor is a millionaire businessman—not CIA."
Of course, given the way this site defended Peters and Abrams, it goes without saying that they were lying, especially with Alan Horn’s later comments on the script.
In the meantime, the Superman Homepage ran a rumor that Peters would announce on April 4th that Dominic Sena—one of the directors pitched as a possible replacement for Ratner—was hired to take over the film and that Bomer was once again a candidate for the title role. Well, April 4th came and went, and both rumors proved false. Then Alan Horn told AICN that the Abrams script—which he still praised to the skies—had been amended so that Superman would visit and liberate "remnants of Krypton" in the sequel (a half-baked compromise between the "re-imagining" of Superman as a Neo-wannabe messiah and the traditional origin, as well as totally ignoring the fact that Krypton’s "remnants" were transformed into kryptonite when the planet blew) and that he wanted "a great actor" in the role. (Of course, considering WB was hell-bent on casting Ashton Kutcher and Evan Marriott, you have to wonder what exactly Horn means by "great.") He also spin-doctored Akiva Goldsman’s World’s Finest script, gushing about how it was "meanspirited but really good" and that he was definitely going to green-light it. Shortly afterwards, WB announced that the Abrams/Peters trilogy would begin shooting in late 2003 in Sydney, Australia, regardless of the fact that they had no cast or crew. However, their marketing campaign was already in full swing…just like it’s been every other time this project’s gotten a green light. On April 29, 2003, AICN dropped a major bombshell when they announced that McG—the very director who helped Peters and Abrams cook up the "re-imagining" in the first place—was in talks to return to the film and shoot the Abrams script. Of course, AICN sitemaster Harry Knowles gushed with praise over McG and the script (again), and supporters of the "re-imagining" came out of the woodwork with like-minded accolades. As for Anthony Hopkins, his involvement with the picture came to an end at that point, as he was only playing Jor-El as a favor to Ratner.
Then, Superhero Hype started running a flurry of Superman-related articles, beginning with the news that WB was switching the production over to Canada instead of Australia, with locations in Montreal and Alberta being scouted for a June 2003 start date. (Yes, WB was trying to accelerate the production schedule again, regardless of the fact that they didn’t have a cast or crew.) As for the film’s budget, it bloated even further, this time to $265 million. This time, though, WB didn’t blame it on whatever scapegoat they could find. Then they announced that WB was trying to sucker…er, convince Star Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes to direct the Abrams script, and that Kym Barrett (The Matrix) was replacing Bob Ringwood as the film’s costume designer. Then they ran an interview with Paul Walker in which he gushed the same BS about how "great" Abrams’ script is, and insisted he didn’t take the role for fear of typecasting. (Tool.) But the biggest bombshell of all came on May 15, 2003, in which they reported that Justin Timberlake, previously considered for the role of Jimmy Olsen (confirmed by E! Online), was now a contender for the title role. Worse yet, Superhero Hype got a report from within WB that not only confirmed WB’s courting of Timberlake for the title role, but that he was competing for the part with Jason Behr (Roswell) and that while Behr had been ruled out, Timberlake might not be. (This same scoop revealed that Get Over It’s Colin Hanks was under consideration for the role of Jimmy Olsen now that Timberlake had been upgraded to a Superman candidate.) That’s right, folks…Jon Peters and JJ Abrams were actually considering casting Justin Timberlake as Superman. (So much for Alan Horn’s claims that he wanted "a great actor" in the role.)
Following that bombshell, another scoop run by Superhero Hype claimed that WB was trying to lock down the British soundstage facilities Pinewood, Shepperton, and Elstree, for the film (adding to the location confusion—we’ve now got England, Australia, and Canada as possible shooting sites), and that Stephen Hopkins (Lost In Space) and the previously-rumored Kevin Reynolds were throwing their hats into the ring as potential directors. Stranger still, Hopkins was tagged as the favorite, as he apparently "shares a Richard Donner-flavored, Warner-favored, and Peters-ignored vision on where to take Superman." (This one was obviously untrue; Peters hasn’t ignored any of the directors yet. Hell, all the directors he’s hired so far have either been puppets or like-minded Superman-haters like him. Why the hell would he ignore a small-time director like Hopkins? And Peters and WB are both in total agreement over how Superman should be treated, so there’s no way WB’s going to approve somebody Peters would be at odds with.) Then, in another scoop, they reported that in addition to Justin Timberlake as Superman, Hulk Hogan was being asked by the "director" to rejoin the project, this time as one of Ty-Zor’s cronies. (Who the "director" was, I have no idea. At the time this was reported, WB was still looking for a new Peters-puppet to replace Ratner.) Then McG reared his ugly head again, boasting to the Z Movie Review site on June 4, 2003 that he was on the verge of signing back aboard the project with three potential Superman candidates of his own. Rumors about Frakes and McG competing for the job continued until June 27, when Frakes told Empire that he had never been approached to do the film and would not be involved with it.
In mid-July the Dark Horizons site added Matthew McConaughey and The Lord of the Rings’ Orlando Bloom to the roster of actors WB courted for the title role. Around the same time, the IMDB site reported that Vince Vaughn (Psycho) was another candidate to strap on the S-shield. But come August, Superhero Hype! and AICN both reported that McG had rejoined the project, gotten Drew Barrymore on board as Lois Lane, had started building sets for the film, and was in talks with Ashton Kutcher about playing Superman—again—with Kutcher’s girlfriend Demi Moore (who worked with McG on the Charlie’s Angels films) serving as an intermediary between the two. (WB had also tried to cast Kutcher as Batman prior to McG’s return, but newly hired Batman director Christopher Nolan ignored him in favor of longtime fan-favorite Christian Bale.) Variety confirmed the rumors a month later, stating that McG was signed up, supervising a revision of the Abrams script he helped to co-author, and was working with WB on the film’s budget.
Shortly afterwards, AICN reported that the Abrams/McG/Peters troika was going to be ditched and replaced with writer-director/Superman fanatic Tim McCanlies (who co-wrote the Superman tribute film The Iron Giant and helped to create Smallville—despite getting denied credit by WB in favor of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar), However, Dark Horizons ran a 9/12/03 scoop exposing the McCanlies rumor as false, revealing that the Abrams/McG/Peters team was still running full steam ahead, scouting locations and trying to get lifelong Superman fan Selma Blair—who’s cited Lois Lane as her dream role—out of another film deal so she could join the project. The bogus rumors didn’t end there; DC Comics scribe/insufferable jerk Mark Millar reported that Peters/Abrams/McG were out and that one of his Hollywood buddies was going to be the writer/director of the film, and that his involvement was sure to please the fans. Superhero Hype!, Superman Homepage, and Superman V.com (a newly created—and equally pro-Peters/Abrams/McG—spin-off of the LSOK site) all revealed that the writer/director Millar was referring to was none other than M. Night Shyamalan—who had already been blackballed by Alan Horn in favor of Peters/Abrams/McG—with veteran producer Jerry Weintraub taking over for Peters. Further, Superman V.com claimed that Shyamalan and Weintraub’s involvement with the project was due to a power struggle within WB to get Peters and company canned. And of course, this rumor was proven false by Peters’ newly-hired co-producer Duncan Henderson, as WB yet again threw its vocal support behind Peters/Abrams/McG, voicing the hope that production would begin soon. [It wasn’t the only bald-faced lie Millar dished out; just a month later he pulled a Peters-worthy scam job by fabricating evidence of an abandoned Orson Welles Batman movie from 1946 and completely duping the entire Batman fanbase. Needless to say, he’s since lost any and all credibility as a source of information on comic book films.]
On October 6th, 2003, Superman V.com ran a scoop revealing that WB/Peters was setting up the budget for the film and that Abrams’ script was in final revisions…with a start date due fairly soon. Casting choices were once again pitched: Brendan Fraser, Matthew Bomer (who was revealed to be 5’9"), Henry Cavill (who, according to Superman V.com, was being considered by WB in the hopes of rallying fan support around the Peters/Abrams/McG troika—he was being used as nothing more than a power play to shut the fans up), Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama), and Scott Speedman (Felicity). Bogus rumors of an alternate script were debunked as well (a fan script had been mistakenly identified as an escape plan should the "re-imagining" fall thru), as were rumors that Peters was bringing in his Wild Wild West screenwriter friends SS Wilson and Brent Maddock to help Abrams and McG punch up the "re-imagining." Also refuted were false reports that WB was turning the project over to the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) and IMDB’s recent listing of Richard Donner—the Superman veteran WB has repeatedly stiffed in favor of Peters and his cohorts of the moment—as the film’s director. What was confirmed, though, were reports that Peters was going to become more actively involved in the revising of the script in order to "improve" it. Immediately following that was an offhand rumor naming another Voldemort actor from Harry Potter, Christian Coulson (the young Tom Riddle/Voldemort in Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets), as another candidate for the Superman role, and confirmation from Superman V.com, Natalie Portman.com, and McG’s production house that Star Wars pinup girl Portman was now the Peters/Abrams/McG troika’s prime choice to play Lois Lane. Costume designer Kym Barrett also chimed in on the casting, claiming that "a gorgeous unknown" was being looked at for the lead role. (She also announced that she and her costume team were developing an alien-looking fabric for the Superman suit.) Barrett ended up being wrong, as WB made Justin Timberlake a firm offer to cast him as Superman…which he turned down cold, saying "whatever it is you’re smoking, I don’t want any part of it" (Superman-V.com got the scoop).
Following Timberlake’s rejection, New Zealand actor Martin Henderson (Torque) was briefly considered for the part following Timberlake’s rejection, but once again WB decided to pursue Ashton Kutcher, putting him back on their shortlist of pet actors. This news came from Superhero Hype, as did reports that Selma Blair was in serious talks to play Lois and that JJ Abrams was desperately hoping that the film would start shooting soon, because he loved working with McG and thinks he’s the best possible director for the movie. Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp were later reported to be under consideration to play Luthor by Superhero Hype, with Depp being switched over as a candidate to play Jor-El shortly thereafter. But the nastiest casting news came when Beyonce Knowles of Destiny’s Child revealed that McG had offered her the role of Lois Lane, and gushed over how much she desperately wanted the part. (Jessica Biel was briefly mentioned as Beyonce’s competition for the Lois role, but she soon dropped off the casting radar.) And in one of the most pathetic situations this project’s seen, people started e-mailing Superman-V.com in the hopes of getting auditions for the title role, most notably Christopher Showerman of the direct-to-video George of the Jungle 2. It was around this time that AICN, in discussing the Beyonce-as-Lois situation, broke the news of Burton-Peters’ idea that Superman should teleport instead of being able to fly.
Then another crash-and-burn appeared to have happened. Superman-V.com reported that executive producer Duncan Henderson, art director Mark Mansbridge, and production designer Owen Paterson had all jumped ship and that the Abrams script was undergoing MAJOR surgery, resulting in an indefinite delay before filming could commence in Australia and talk that Peters’ hold over the Superman film rights might be coming to an end. Then the next day, Superman-V.com ran a report that refuted everything they said earlier, insisting that the crew was intact and that the Peters/Abrams/McG script would be good to go shortly. However, McG had already signed on to direct an Evel Knievel biopic, bringing into question his status as the film’s director. Lo and behold, Mark Millar reared his head again, insisting that the project was dead in the water and that the Peters/Abrams/McG team was doomed. And as before, he claimed that one of his "boyz" was taking over the project, only this time he identified Christopher Nolan’s Batman co-writer David Goyer (the Blade series) as Peters/Abrams/McG’s replacement. Shortly following this claim was a spate of rumors that the movie was realigning itself to dovetail into Smallville’s continuity, and that Tom Welling—who has been outspoken in his disdain for the Superman costume and his total lack of interest in playing the adult Superman—would be cast in the lead. Both Millar’s claim and the Smallville rumors were proven false shortly afterwards, as McG was confirmed by Superman-V.com to have gotten the directing gig on the film locked up by wowing the WB brass with the storyboards and pre-production planning for the Abrams/Peters script he helped to write. Once again, Superman-V.com, gushing over with enthusiasm over McG’s being rehired, stressed that Peters/Abrams/McG want the film to be THEIR vision of Superman, without any ties to any other versions (especially Smallville, which was originally going to be canceled to make way for the movie). However, while Patrick Tatopoulos (Sony’s Americanized Godzilla) confirmed that he’d been hired as the film’s creature designer, executive producer Duncan Henderson did eventually jump ship from the project as previously reported.
And this is where the film is at now. Just for laughs, I calculated how much this thing's going to cost if it ever gets released (the wasted $50 million in pre-production and $75 million marketing plan have to be included). If this turkey ever gets off the ground, it's going to cost WB $320-390 million to make it. And as horrific as the buzz is on this thing, WB's got itself a major money pit on its hands.
My update to the above:
- Bryan Singer takes over the role of director in July 2004 after McG (again!) claims he doesn't want to film "Superman V" outside of the US. Singer immediately leaves the pre-production of "X-Men 3" and takes a number of his people with him. Brett Ratner, who has also been attached to the "Superman V" project at some point, takes over on "X-Men 3". McG later indicates that it was his fear of flying that meant he didn't want the project to be filmed in Australia.
- A general casting call for Superman goes out, with Singer looking for an unknown to play the part. James Caviezel (best known for playing the title character in "Passion of the Christ") really wanted the part, but Singer felt he was "too famous" (according to IMDb.com).
- The open casting led to Brandon Routh winning the role of Clark Kent / Superman, leading to a lot of people going, "Who?". This announcement was made around October 19 2004 (according to IMDb.com). I'm guessing that after this point a lot of other casting decisions were finalised, with Kate Bosworth getting the Lois Lane part, Sam Huntington getting the Jimmy Olsen part, Frank Langella getting the Perry White part (after Hugh Laurie's "House" commitments had him quit this project) and Kevin Spacey getting the Lex Luthor part. Parker Posey is also linked to the project in the role of Luthor's assistant and appears to be the last person cast in mid-March 2005 (although the same IMDb report has James Marsden as Perry White, so perhaps not...).
- Singer elects to go with the tradtional Superman costume. Publicity photos of Routh in the suit elicit a lot of comment, with the costume being more of a Golden Age Superman (small 'S' on chest, hotpants instead of Speedo-style pants) and Routh not being nearly as muscular as Superman appears in the comics. Photos can be seen here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0746125/photogallery-ss-0
- Filming started March 16 2005 and the estimated budget is $250m. Expected release is June 30 2006 (according to IMDb.com).
- As of November 2005, Jon Peters is still one of the producers of this movie, with the story and screenplay apparently re-written as the story is now credited to Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (screenplay by Dougherty and Harris) (according to IMDb.com). Dougherty and Harris both worked with Singer on "X-Men 2" and together have a number of co-author credits on future projects (including a remake of "Logan's Run").
- According to Bluetights.net, James Marsden is actually Lois Lane's finance.
- According to CountingDown.com, the revised plot of "Superman Returns" is:
Following a mysterious absence of several years, the Man of Steel comes back to Earth. While an old enemy plots to render him powerless once and for all, Superman faces the heartbreaking realization that the woman he loves, Lois Lane, has moved on with her life. Or has she? Superman's bittersweet return challenges him to bridge the distance between them while finding a place in a society that has learned to survive without him. In an attempt to protect the world he loves from cataclysmic destruction, Superman embarks on an epic journey of redemption that takes him from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of outer space.
From another poster:
UnknownSubject left out of a couple of important points: Number one, this movie isn't supposed to be a complete reboot of the franchise like Batman Begins. Apparently, it takes place in the same continuity as the first two Christopher Reeve movies, and pretends (like most Superman fans do) that III and IV never happened.
Number two, Jor-El is being played by... archive footage of Marlon Brando [!]. Remember in Part II, when Supes had an extended coversation with his dead mom Lara in the Fortress of Solitude? Well, it turns out they originally filmed that scene with Brando, but had to cut him out of the film due to the legal issues. Singer is now taking that cut footage and using it in his movie.
Recent update from:
* When a gentleman asked if the goofy aspect that he loved about the old Superman flicks would be in Returns, Bryan answered that he is trying to steer clear of "goofy" but it is definitely the most romantic and humorous film he has done to date.
* There is no truth to the rumor that there is a clause in Brandon Routh's contract to do a Superman/Batman crossover flick, only a standard Warner Brothers multi-picture deal. Although I was later told that even though it most likely will never be seen in the movie, the set was so detailed that the Daily Planet newspapers were all filled with stories, including a "Bat Creature" being spotted in Metropolis with a picture of a shadowy Batman jumping off of a building with Jimmy Olsen photo credits. Very cool. Bryan also mentioned that the only time he ever considered a Batman/Superman movie was when Wolfgang Peterson was attached, and just thought how he would do it. "Who would be the bad guy? It'd have to be Batman. But he can't be that bad...he's Batman!" He said tonight was the first time he had thought about it since then.
* As confirmed already Noel Neill (The Adventures Of Superman's Lois Lane and Lois Lane's mother in Donner's '78 film) will be making a cameo, which Bryan described as a important one, in addition to Jack Larson's cameo featured on Bryan's Video Journal #25 and in the Comic-Con footage.
* When asked about Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Lex Luthor (whether he was a scientist, billionaire, etc.), Bryan said that Lex is "fresh out of jail" and that his history with Superman and/or Clark doesn't tread one way or another over the groundwork left by Smallville. Only that the two characters have some kind of history as we join them in the movie.
* Bryan agreed with someone in the audience that the biggest change to the Superman mythos he made was giving Lois a kid with James Marsden's character (not a raised S logo). He thought this was something that you've never seen Superman deal with before that his version brought to the table. You've seen Superman save every disaster, but how would he deal with this? The world has moved on a bit, but it seems Lois has completely moved on.
* To keep Clark's disappearance under wraps, Martha Kent sent postcards to Lois during his Daily Planet hiatus. In the Comic-Con footage Martha asks Clark "What about that nice girl you used to talk about? The one you had me send post cards to?" or something to that effect.
* There's roughly 1,400 effects shots to be completed to the movie, and although obviously an expensive movie, the budget has been exaggerated a bit on the net, and is still roughly under 200 million.
* The opening credits will feature John Williams classic Superman march, with a new score by editor/composer John Ottman integrating old and new themes. I believe I also caught a mention that the opening credits will feature some of Superman: The Movie.
* There's a huge plane action scene, briefly seen in the Comic-Con footage, that may run 20-25 minutes and is going to be BREATHTAKING and UNBELIEVABLE.
* A huge amount of time and effort went into fighting gravity so there wouldn't be any "droop-age" when Superman flies, including clever camera maneuvers and several green covered men puppeteering the cape at any given time.
* Superman being able to breathe in space (and underwater) is addressed in the movie, and yes he has to breathe in Bryan's Super-World. He is "too logical" in his thinking to let these things fall under the suspension of disbelief category.
* The raised S under the suit is addressed, as is the costume's origin in some way.
* The sets are incredibly detailed, down to the stack of business cards on Perry White's desk, and some of the props have already gone on sale at the prop department for cheap as heck. (Someone has already snagged Lex Luthor's smoking jacket for twenty bucks.)