Geek Doc: The Death Of Superman Lives (2015)

the-death-of-superman-lives-posterDirector and documentarian Jon Schnepp asked the question many of us have been wondering since the 90s: What happened to Tim Burton’s Superman Lives? Back then, word got out that the Batman Returns helmer would put his stamp on the Man of Steel with star Nicolas Cage. Most of us didn’t hear much else aside from the film’s eventual demise, Kevin Smith’s recollection of writing the film’s first draft and later design images that would find their way online. Enter The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

As the film got rolling producer Jon Peters hired a slew of people to work on the project. Smith and two other screenwriters worked on the script, Burton invested himself in the story and a variety of costume designers and artists started working on the ever-changing visual elements.

But, even with so many people working hard on the film, it ultimately fell apart. The doc doesn’t necessarily place the blame on any one individual person involved, though its hard not to put Peters’ name up there with some of the chicanery he pulled. Ultimately, though, the answer to the question posed in the title comes down to some simple facts: Burton’s weird vision made the studio nervous. That same vision also would have cost a bunch of money to bring to life and the studio eventually decided to go another direction that lead to Superman Returns.

Even so, this doc isn’t really about why Superman Lives didn’t get made, it’s about all the work that went into it while the creative people involved thought they were making it. Everyone from Peters and Smith to Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood. It’s fascinating to see how they all attempted to bring each others’ visions to life and maybe a little tragic that it was all for nothing. Except, it’s not really for nothing because this public record of their work now exists. I think that might be the great thing about this era of “why didn’t it get made” documentaries. They take something that a lot of people put a lot of effort into and bring it to your attention, even if it’s not in the originally intended way. With that in mind, I’m even more excited about eventually seeing Doomed and the one about George Miller’s Justice League movie.

For all the effort he put into the film, I give Schnepp huge buckets of kudos. Cage is the only major player who did get interviewed for this thing, but he still shows up thanks to some filmed segments of him trying on the costumes with Atwood and Burton. Those clips really bring the whole thing together because the represent the in-the-moment as opposed to the looking-back. I’m not personally a fan of the animated sequences in the film and think it’s super awkward for the interviewer to be on camera nodding when the subject is answering questions, but altogether I can’t recommend this movie enough for anyone who’s ever been even remotely interested in Superman Lives or the process that goes into making these big, blockbuster superhero films.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Beetlejuice’s Creepy Cruiser

While looking around for last week’s Toy Commercial Tuesday offering which featured a variety of Beetlejuice toys, I came across this one for the Creepy Cruise as well. Next to the Vanishing Vault, this car has got to be her favorite piece of Beetlejuice merchandise from Kenner.

I don’t know if there’s anything about this car specifically that she loves, but she does enjoy having such a large car to push around. It’s currently sitting in my office next to previous TCT entry the praying mantis bug car from Ghostbusters which she and I will roll across the floor filled with any variety of toys I pull out of boxes and hand to her. What’s your favorite toy car in that scale?

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Beetlejuice Vanishing Vault

I hope you’ve noticed that posting around here slowed way down for a few months there. Between the huge rush of work I had in October, moving throughout most of November and then all the usual craziness of December, it’s been tough setting aside time to blog. But, I’ve been busy ready, watching and playing which brings us back around to this latest Toy Commercial Tuesday entry: Beetlejuice and the Vanishing Vault.

As a kid I was both freaked out by and obsessed with Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. So, when a toy line that was actually based on the film and not the animated series popped up from Kenner, I was all over it. As it turns out I have everything seen in this commercial except the Otho figure. A few weeks ago, I was looking through some of the boxes filling our garage and came across the Beetlejuice toys. Since then, my three year old daughter has been playing with them when she hangs out in my office. She’s a big fan of the Vanishing Vault and even puts other larger figures in there to turn into tiny Beetlejuice. I never thought I’d say this, but sharing my toys has been a lot of fun!

Christmas Stories: Batman Returns (1992)

While I do love traditional Christmas movies like White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf and even Love Actually, I’m also quite fond of genre flicks that happen to be set around the holiday like Gremlins (in fact, I wrote a whole list about just that over at Topless Robot). All of which reminded me that Batman Returns–the movie I almost wore out on VHS from watching so much–is set around Christmas time with major moments revolving around tree lighting and other festivities. It’s been a while since I watched this flick and the first thing I was surprised by was how well I know this movie. I don’t just know scenes or lines, but how people are posed in scenes. I knew the exact way that Michelle Pfeiffer was holding herself when she used the taser on her would-be attacker. It’s kind of crazy.

The next thing that stood out to me was how unlikely it would be to see another Christmas-based superhero movie. Even though this one, directed of course by Tim Burton who readers will remember I think is Awesome, doesn’t get into any of the religious aspects of the holiday, it still seems like the kind of thing that studios would shy away from now (what would foreign markets think?!). Heck, I’m surprised they did it back then, frankly.

Anyway, I love how cartoony this movie is without ever being too silly. It really is a comic book movie with a gang of evil circus performers, a mutant being carted around as a mayoral candidate and penguins with rockets tied to their backs! What Burton does, though, is that he makes it all seem real and plausible by creating a world like our own, but clearly different. Yeah Penguin’s kind of ridiculous, but the scenes of him researching his background are pretty heartfelt and you can’t help but be on Selina Kyle’s side because she’s being bullied by the real villain of the movie: corporate crazy asshole Max Schreck played pitch perfectly by the one and only Christopher Walken.

The action’s not as cool as you might see in a recent Batman flick (though you can always tell what’s going on at least) and it might seem kind of over the top, but I would completely recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it and you’re a big fan of Grant Morrison’s run on the book. I highly doubt there’s someone out there reading Morrison’s Batman who hasn’t seen this movie, but I guess it’s possible for people who missed out the first time around or might be younger. Anyway, this is an all time, childhood favorite of mine that I will always cherish, but I think still holds up as a particular kind of movie that will probably never get made again. At least I’ve got it on DVD, plus a butt-ton of toys so I can recreate it on my own if the world ever looses power. I’m pretty sure I could recreate at least 75% with little trouble.

Quick Movie Review: Alice In Wonderland 3D (2010)

Tonight the missus and I decided to do something we don’t do often: go to the movies. It’s not that we don’t like going to the movies, it’s just that we prefer to go and see something big and crazy and exciting instead of the usual winter fair. Seeing as how we’re both Tim Burton fans (as you know, I find him awesome) and Em was pretty interested it seemed like a no brainer for us to check this one out. Assuming the 3D would add to the experience, that’s the way we went.

Unfortunately, neither of us liked the movie too much. For one thing, without doing any research, I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of movie where they just separated the foreground from the background. It looked marvelous, but with the glasses on I had trouble focusing on scenes like when Alice falls down the rabbit hole, but more on that later.

The main problem I had with the movie was a lack of emotional connection, which is funny because, according to the IMDb trivia page for the movie, that was a big focus for Burton. Here’s the full text from the segment: “Despite the fact that there have been many other Alice in Wonderland films, Tim Burton has said he never felt a emotional connection to it and always thought it was a series of some girl wondering around from one crazy character to another. So with this, he attempted to create a framework, an emotional grounding, which he felt he never really had seen in any version before. Tim said that was the challenge for him – to make Alice feel like a story as opposed to a series of events.”

To me it seemed like the movie relied solely on very basic storytelling and character traits as well as previous versions of the movie to establish an emotional connection to the characters. Sure we get that the Red Queen is a bitch. She’s probably the most developed character thanks to all of our encounters with her and what we see of her palace (she has monkeys holding up table tops and lights in every room she’s in, presumably just to be a pain in the ass). But why should I care about Alice? Because she’s a non conformist in stuffy old England? Maybe I’ve seen and read too much, but that’s not good enough for me.

I can’t say exactly what I didn’t like which probably makes this a bad review, but there just seemed to be something lacking that other Burton movies haven’t lacked, even Sweeny Todd, which I didn’t like had more depth of character. If you can see the regular version without the 3D glasses for a cheaper matinee or a cheap theater, I’d recommend it, but I don’t feel too happy with dropping $21 on this movie. It might actually be worth it to see the Tron Legacy trailer in 3D.

I do want to comment on the actual 3D experience. The only other movie I’ve seen in complete 3D at the theaters was Avatar. Now, while Avatar did a better job with the 3D itself, I liked the experience of watching the Disney 3D better. The glasses themselves were different, more futuristic and less Buddy Holly, but when I put my glasses on underneath them, I could actually see unlike with the Avatar glasses which gave me a headache. I’m sure if this whole 3D thing takes off we’ll have prescription 3D glasses which I would like to pick up a pair. If they’re cheap enough. Or maybe lenses you can just clip on. That would work.

Tim Burton Is Awesome

Over the past two days I’ve had the pleasure of watching two Tim Burton movies on the train and realizing how much I like his directing. Monday I watched childhood favorite Beetlejuice (1988) and yesterday I checked out Mars Attacks (1996) for the first time. I also recently realized that Burton is probably the first director I was a fan of before I even realized what a director did. I remember watching Frankenweenie on the Disney Channel, I liked Batman, but Batman Returns was my favorite superhero movie for years and I have memories of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure like anyone else my age, but wasn’t too obsessed with it. In fact, Burton was probably the first director whose work I did recognize. And, perusing his credits on IMDb and realizing I’ve really enjoyed most of what I’ve seen, I’ve decided to give him the “… Is Awesome” tag, I’m sure he’s super excited.

Before jumping into the movie reviews, I do want to note that I still haven’t seen Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, but I have seen all of his other big movies. I didn’t really like Sweeney Todd (apparently, I have a fear of razors against throats, who knew?) and I’m not particularly partial to Nightmare Before Christmas (which he didn’t direct, but produced) or Corpse Bride, but I think that’s because I resented paying full New York prices for a 76 minute movie. Anyway, not liking three movies and not seeing two movies puts him in that rare category of directors with a lot of movies which I have seen and liked. It’s easy to say I like Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but they don’t have all that many movies.

So, now onto Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks specifically. When I say I was a Beetlejuice fan as a kid, I’m talking full-on. I had the movie on tape of course, watched the cartoon, got as many of the toys as I could (I’ll take pictures of what I have and do a separate post soon) and even dressed up as him for Halloween one year (Mom made the suit and we bought the official Beetlejuice toy mask with pop-out snakes!). And, the craziest thing about all this is that I was a fan even though I saw something on TV about Beetlejuice that scared me so much I had nightmares.

I’ve been searching YouTube and the internet for any reference to this, but can’t find it. Around the time the movie came out, I saw this talk show aimed at kids either on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel where they interviewed some of the ghosts and monsters from the movie. I think the shrunken head hunter was on there, but I definitely remember the file clerk who got run over by a truck. There were a few others but I can’t remember them. I also don’t remember the details, but it scared me so bad I had nightmares for a while. Also note that this was well before I even entertained the idea of watching horror movies. Just the previews scared me. Ah, how far I’ve come.

It’s been probably 10 years since I watched Beetlejuice all the way through (I picked the DVD up on the cheap sometime in the past year, but hadn’t watched it). I still really dig this movie. It’s got a great mix of comedy, action and horror, plus great performances by everyone involved from Michael Keaton as the Ghost With the Most down to Jane, the annoying real estate woman.

The only part that doesn’t hold up is the special effects, which, according to the internet, Burton did on purpose as a reference to older sci-fi and horror movies (hence the stop motion animation of the sculptures and sandworms). But, other effects still look great, and mostly because they’re practical. I love the ghastly faces Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin, he looks so young and thin!) put on to scare Lydia (Winona Ryder, also super young).

A couple of funny things I realized while watching this movie before Mars Attacks. First off, this is the second movie in two weeks I’ve watched where rich New Yorkers move away from the city to a quiet place somewhere north of the city. At least in Beetlejuice, they eventually tell you they’re in Connecticut so I wasn’t driving around trying to find the school house. Also, I realized while watching that Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones will always be “the people from Beetlejuice” in my head. I remember when O’Hara lated played the mom in Home Alone, I was psyched. And, while Jones will always be Ed Rooney to most, he’s the dad from this movie and the bad guy from Who’s Harry Crumb and that’s the way it is.

Which brings me to Mars Attacks, which doesn’t have single character/actor who I haven’t seen in something else. Hell, even Jack Black’s in this bad boy and he looks only a little less svelte than he did in Airborne. Heck even the kid from Solarbabies is in it, but to me he’s still the whiny kid from that movie (though he’s way more awesome and less girly now).

I can’t think of a recent movie that has brought together so many famous actors in one flick (check out the full roster here). Sure, you could argue that some people like Sarah Jessica Parker or Lisa Marie weren’t really all that famous at the time, but you’ve got Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Natalie Portman (also probably not super famous at the time) and Pam Grier! For the record, that’s also the Joker, Cruella de Vil, James Bond, Penguin, Amidala AND Foxy Brown. That’s a pretty epic team-up. (Any artists out there want to draw that up? It’d be rad?) Anyway, what I liked most about this star studded cast is the fact that so many of these big time starts got killed in really great and kind of gruesome ways. You really don’t see THAT nowadays.

I know I’m late to the game by 13 years on this one. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it when it came out or why it took so long for me to finally see it, but I’m really glad I did. It was very slow going at first and I kept wondering how all these different characters were going to fit together and really just wanted to get to the aliens blowing shit up, but I see why it all works. It’s a satire on movies like it, but also society. Parker’s character could be taken out of this movie and put on the NYC streets I walk everyday to get to work (I might have seen her last week actually, she just has a Blackberry now). That Burton fella’s ahead of the curve methinks. Plus, the effects are cool and it’s damn funny.

And dammitall if those aren’t the cutest little aliens blasting the crap out of humanity. I loved their “ack ack ACK” dialogue and loved it even more when their heads exploded. Watching the second half of the movie really made me want to play whatever the latest Destroy All Humans game is. It also made me want to check out the original card series that the movie is based on (huh, basing a movie on a card set seems just as crazy as basing one on a board game, no?), which brought me to Zelda’s Mars Attacks site, check it out!