A timeline with commentary
Few films have been in development hell longer than Superman Returns. The whole sordid story is far too long and involving to be done justice with anything less than a book, so what we’re just going to do a timeline, showing the starts and stops on a project that was on the boards for almost 20 years before it actually got into theaters. There were at least two or three lawsuits resulting over the film over the years, hence the title.
The journey begins even before Superman IV hit theaters.
1984—Supergirl flops. The the father/son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkinds rent the rights to the franchise to Cannon pictures, run by the notorious team of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan.
DC comics kills off Supergirl as part of it’s famous “Crisis on Infinite Earths” housecleaning project.
1986–Christopher Reeve comes up with a politically correct idea to revive the series, and works on a script with writers Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who did “Romancing the Stone” and it’s sequel. Golan and Globus say “why not?” and Sidney J. Furie, who did the “Ipcress File” and the original “Get Carter,” is set to direct.
1987–Test screenings for a 134 minute version Superman IV result in over a half hour of film being cut out. Golan and Glubus decide that this excess footage may be used for Superman V, with cheaper actors playing the main roles.
July 24––Superman IV opens to scathing reviews.
1988–pre preoduction begins on Superman V with Captain America (1988) director Albert Pyun at the helm.
Oct 8––Superboy premiers as a TV series. [the Salkinds still have the TV rights]
1989–Cannon pictures goes bankrupt, and Superman V, version one, is cancelled. The movie rights revert to the Salkinds.
1989-92––The Salkinds commission Cary Bates and Mark Jones to write a script for a Superman V, version II based on the Superboy TV series. Gerard Christopher, who played Superboy/Clark Kent, on the series since season 3, is set to star, and is slated for 1994 release.
1992—DC comics kills off Superman, and immediately repents by bringing him and three imposters back.
1993–The Salkinds sell Warner Communications, which also owns DC comics, all rights to Surperman., and Version 2 is cancelled. Christopher auditions for Lois and Clark, the next Supes TV show, and is told he didn’t get the part because he was in the Superboy TV show.
2001—In“ Pueblo Film v. Warner Bros”: the corporate successor to the late Alexander Salkind’s interest in the Superman movies says studio intentionally delayed production of Superman V in order to get out of contract turning profits from Superman VI over to Salkind companies. Pueblo also claims that Warners used the extras without it’s permission.
Versions 3, 4 and 5
1994-96—Warners’ gives the Superman V project to producer Jon Peters, who commissions a script from Jonathan Lemkin.
…Lemkin’s script, which was based on the comic book series “The Death of Superman”
is dumped, and the job is given to Gregory Poirier, who had previously done porn.
…Piorier’s script is dumped, and the job is given to Kevn Smith, who after much wrangling and a couple of drafts comes up with something acceptable to the suits. Nicholas Cage is cast as Superman and Tim Burton is hired to direct.
1997—Burton fires Smith and hires Wesley Strick to “re-invent” the whole deal. Pre-production of Superman V, version III officially begins.
DC comics changes Superman’s costume. Fans howl, and blue suit is returned less than a year later.
1997-8— While the various toy companies with licenses try to design various contraptions, there is problems with the script.
Strick’s script is rejected by the WB. Akiva Goldsman is hired to rewrite it. Goldsman’s rewrite was rejected.
Burton hires Ron Bass to rewrite Goldsman’s rewrite of Strick’s script.
Bass’s rewrite was rejected.
Burton hired Dan Gilroy to rewrite Bass’ rewrite.
1998—Despite the chaos, construction of sets begins.
April —With less than two months to go before shooting starts, Warners’ rejects Gilroy’s version and puts the whole thing on hold. At this point, over $50 million had been spent.
April-Nov—Burton, Gilroy and exec Lorenzo DiBonaventura rewrite yet another script.
Dec/Jan 1999—Burton fired.
1999—Peters tries to get, among others, Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Steven Norrington, Shekhar Kapur, and Martin Campbell to take over as director, none want the job with the Burton/Gilroy script.
Burton/Gilroy script dumped, William Wisher hired to start over.
2000—Nick Cage takes his $20 million pay or play fee and leave the project. Version III is officially dead, however, Paul Attansio is hired to do yet another treatment.
Wolfgang Petersen and Andrew Kevin Walker begin work on Superman Vs. Batman(version V).
2001—WB in negotiations to bring back Tim Burton, but this comes to nothing.
Peters and DiBonaventura hire music video and Charlie’s Angels director on board, this marks the beginning of what we might call Superman V. IV.
The lawsuit is settled for an unknown sum later on.
2002-3—Attansio’s script is rejected. J.J. Abrams his brought on board to give it another go.
The Abrams script is leaked like most of the others. The reaction is vicious, and is made even moreso when Abrams admits that it’s real
McG is replaced by Brett Ratner.
June 2002—Superman Vs. Batman (version V) is announced by Warners’ for summer 2004
Sept 16—Superman vs. Batman is officially cancelled.
2003—Everyone from Bryan Frasior to Ashton Kutcher are rumored to be the next Superman. Justin Timberlanke is reported to have been asked to play Jimmy Olsen.
March 15—Michael Bay’s contract expires.
June—Jonathan Frakes in talks to direct.
July—McG back on board.
Dec—Beyance Knowles rumored to play Lois Lane, not true
Early 2004—Constructions on sets begins sometime in Austrailia
April 13—McG gives presentation to Warner’s brass.
June 10—Brandon Routh tests for Superman.
June 17—Warners’ announces that McG may not actually direct.
June 24— Josh Schwartz signs on to script doctor
July 9—Brian Singer in talks for version IV, agrees to take job if script is dumped and he can start from scratch.
July15—McG leaves project for good, and is replaced by Brian Singer, who brings in Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris to write a completely new script. version IV is now dead, although set construction continues.
Sept 15—first draft for Superman V, version VI is finished. It is based on the original movies from the 1970s.
Oct. 20—finished script approved.
Oct 2—Routh gets the lead role.
Nov 5—Superman V, Version V, or Superman Returns is given the official greenlight for a June 2006 release.
March 16, 2005—Filming starts at last.
At this point, Warner Bros. has already spent over $60 Million. The total costs clealy will make it the most expensive film to date.
My review of version six
It’s all about suspension of disbelief. A film like this is a success when you can get really into it and don’t really care about stuff like the villain planning to destroy half the world in order to increase his real estate holdings. Sure, it’s ridiculous, but this is fantasy, and an iconic one at that. This is the result of decades of work and hundreds of millions in development costs. If Bryan Singer and company can’t make you believe a man can fly, then its all a waste.
It’s not a waste at all.
Okay, Clark/Supes(Brandon Routh) has been gone for five years on a pilgrimage to the remains of what was once the planet Krypton, and when we get past the wonderful opening credits, we see his return to Earth, crash landing in his adoptive mother’s(Eva Marie Saint) farm in Kansas. Then we have what, in my opinion is the only major screw-up in the entire film, in a flashback, the teenaged
Clark(Stephan Bender), has glasses. He doesn’t need a disguise yet, why the heck does he need glasses? I mention this because the rest of the film is near perfect.
Clark/Supes then heads back to Metropolis, where he gets his old job back. It’s good that Singer decided to base the film on the Chris Reeve versions because it has a familiar lived-in look. Perry White (Frank Langella) looks like Perry White and Jimmy Olsen(Sam Huntington) looks like Jimmy Olsen, they even brought Jack Larson out of retirement as a bartender for comparison purposes. The acting is indeed dead on. Kate Bosworth is sooo good as Lois Lane that she makes you forget that Margot Kidder ever had the job. The conservatism of the film’s design is one of its strengths. We don’t have to get used to anything really new.
There’s obviously new stuff, of course. Lois is a mother to an illegitimate kid named Jason(Tristan Leabu) and has been engaged to Perry’s nephew Richard White(James Marsden) for years. Rich is actually one of Supe’s greatest rivals for Lois’ affections because he’s actually a wonderful guy, close to being a super-hero himself.
The other not-so-great thing about the film is Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor’s(Kevin Spacey) love interest. It’s not that Posey is BAD in the role, far from it, it’s just that Spacey’s Lex is a genuine villain this time, not a cartoon from the old “Batman” TV show like Gene Hackman was. Lex’s henchmen look like thugs, even the one(David Fabrizio) who does a piano duet with Jason. Luthor’s plot to take over the world doesn’t seem as completely silly as it does when first mentioned in various spoilers. It actually makes some sense in a twisted sort of way.
The special effects are perfect. As Peter O’Toole once said, the power of the computer has finally gotten strong enough to replicate the human imagination. The action sequences are all that one hopes for. Brian Singer has hit one out of the park.