While talking with Dan Gilroy, the writer/director of this week's superb (and perverse) crime thriller "Nightcrawler" (you can read the rest of the interview here), we couldn't help but bring up one of the more notable projects that he worked on that ended up not coming to fruition -- "Batman" director Tim Burton's big budget revamp of the Man of Steel, entitled "Superman Lives." This is a project that would have seen Nic Cage (!) donning the red-and-blue tights and battling a host of intergalactic foes (it's unclear who he would have ended up wrestling with but early drafts featured Braniac and Doomsday, who had felled the famous superhero in a best-selling comic book event in the nineties). Read on to hear what Gilroy had to say about the project, especially since it seems like it still stings to this day.
Some additional background: before Gilroy became involved, Kevin Smith had worked on the movie (as had hotshot Hollywood scribe Wesley Strick). Smith has been very public about his battles with producer Jon Peters (who had also been involved in Burton's successful comic book adaptation "Batman") and his feelings upon being replaced first with Strick and later by Gilroy. But to hear Gilroy talk about it, not only was the production running smoothly but it was incredibly close to filming. He seems confident enough to describe the project as having been "a Superman for the ages." Alas, it never came to pass. But read on to hear what Gilroy and Burton's take would have been. It's fascinating stuff.
So before we go I just wanted to ask you about a weird piece of your filmography – you had written a draft of the Tim Burton-directed "Superman" movie, right?
What was your take?
Well I came in after Kevin Smith and Wesley Strick had written drafts. I was very much taken by Tim's approach, which was that Kal-El was not told by Jor-El, before he got put in the little spaceship, who he was or where he came from. So poor little Kal-El, when he winds up on earth, he has no freaking idea where he came from. His biggest fear is that he's an alien. Our Superman was in therapy at the beginning of the film. He's in a relationship with Lois Lane and he can't commit. Or he was maybe in couple's therapy. But he can't commit because he doesn't know who he is or what is going on with him. He's hoping that he has some physiological condition that gives him these powers but that he's still human. It becomes very apparent, though, early in the script, when Lex Luthor uncovers the remnants of the spacecraft, he suddenly realizes – "Oh my god, I'm an alien." It was all about the psychological trauma of it. I loved it. We had Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen. And unfortunately, while we were working on the script, Warner Bros was hemorrhaging. Every big movie that was coming out was bombing and failing and when it came time to step up and bankroll our script, they didn't have the financial wherewithal or desire. Which is a shame because Tim would have knocked it out of the park. And Nic Cage, oh my god! I was so ready for that.
You see photos of what the costumes would have looked like and everything and it seems like it would have just been fascinating.
They pulled the plug right when we were doing camera tests. We were doing camera tests. It was very far along.
So your draft would have been the one they were working from?
Oh yeah. Tim had a handle on it. Tim understood everything about it. Tim would have created a Superman for the ages. I really feel that.
Would you want to work with Tim again and would you want to work on another superhero thing?
I just turned in a script for a Stan Lee project, yes. And I would work with Tim in a heartbeat. I'm an enormous Tim Burton fan. Again: what a unique, original voice. Time and again he reveals himself to be unique and groundbreaking in one way or another. I haven't seen him in a long time. I thought we became friends while working on this but unfortunately what happens when something like this falls apart, you walk away and you don't even want to think about it. It was so painful. There were so many people working on it.