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Subj: A "Superman: The New Movie/Superman Reborn" Script Review
Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2009 at 02:33:53 am EDT (Viewed 211 times)
For those of you who do not recognize either title in the header, these were two titles used in production for what would have been the fifth Superman movie and the fourth Salkind produced Superman film.
This was a film that after Superman IV came and went from the theater, the Salkinds got the Film rights back from the Canon Group and went ahead to make a new Superman film before the rights permanently folded back to Warner Brothers.
I first came to learn of it in the Wizard "Death of Superman" special that they printed, with interviews of creators, glossary of characters Pre/Post Crisis, plans for the books and also a timeline of his TV/Film career. In that portion, it was mentioned that a new Superman film was in production, which at that point it was called "Superman: The New Movie". They mentioned the plot and stated Christopher Reeve interested in the script (with rumors being that he wanted to star again, feeling this would redeem the character and his portrayal after Superman 4 and others saying he wasn't interested in acting in it, but rather directing it with a new actor as Superman). Sometime shortly after that, it morphed into the title Superman Reborn before being folded because the rights reverted back to Warner Bros (which then took the title for a draft in which Superman dies and comes back as a virgin birth via Lois).
A while back, I discovered it had been released to the Superman Cinema site in three parts (which you can go to download and read here). There is a page missing from the script in the second PDF. From what I can gather, Superman flings a car at Brainiac which his force-field deflects. Due to all the hullabaloo about WB pushing a new Superman film through the pipeline for 2011, I thought it would be interesting to read about a film that almost was.
The plot was by Ilya Salkind, Mark Jones, and Cary Bates. Yes, the same Cary Bates who wrote an unbelievable amount of Superman content (for both Action Comics and Superman, with my personal favorite "The New Adventures of Superboy").
So let's get down to it shall we? Although this is now 27 years old, there will be spoilers, so if you'd like to read it without knowing particular plot beats, just follow the link I provided up above.
Plot: The psychotic robot called Brainiac, obsessed with gathering knowledge, comes to Earth in order to shrink Metropolis and gather information on Humanity. In the thick of it, Lois Lane and Superman drift apart, with her about to take a job in Los Angeles to find a normal life. As Brainiac manages to shrink Metropolis, he becomes fascinated with the human condition and actually clones a human body in order to process the 'raw emotion of being human', ultimately finding himself attracted to Lois Lane. Superman and Brainiac battle, only to find himself saved from Brainiac's onslaught and transplanted to the Kryptonian City Kandor, which is one of Brainiac's many bottled cities. Superman has to decide whether to live an idyllic life in a Kryptonian Society or to go back out and face Brainiac again to try to save Lois and Metropolis from certain death.
The overall story. I mean, it's pretty dang epic. From Metropolis being shrunk, Superman's adventures in Kandor, him and Lois flying in Brainiac's ship while shrunk to the final battle, this film is by no means small in what Superman does or where he goes. With Cary Bates pulling duty as a co-scripter, it reads like what you'd find in one of his usually great Superman comic books.
For those Superman fans who felt that some of the previous movies lacked enough 'action' this film would have had you covered. This has three big battles with Brainiac (with one of them having Superman use the Daily Planet Globe as a bowling ball to squash Brainiac), what would have been an amazing flying car chase from out of the Matrix Revolutions .
Then there's the fact that the script has Perry mention that Clark is one of the best reporters at the Planet... and if Lois Lane doesn't walk in with a Page 1 scoop, then it's Clark Kent who does. About dang time a Superman film actually goes out of its way to acknowledge Clark as a damn good reporter, instead of a competent one (like Superman: The Movie) to downright ignored/ridiculed (Returns).
The overall romance arc of Superman/Clark/Lois. Because the film treats them as if Superman & Lois have gotten back together since the time of Superman 4 and rekindled their romance. And in keeping with one of the themes set forth by the Donner/Lester versions, which is that Superman isn't sure if he can be with Lois since as Superman he has to protect the world, which ultimately drives Lois to break up and move to LA in order to start life anew. It's an interesting dynamic (which Cary Bates did explore somewhat in his 80's 'Superman' run, with them breaking up and Lois going back to her Parent's farm to find herself) and one that leads to the ending, where Clark finally re-reveals he's Superman to her and proposes marriage.
Unlike a lot of the spec scripts and commissioned Superman scripts out there (including all the terrible Superman Reborn/Lives iterations out there), this has got a great overall portrayal of Superman. He's thoughtful, intelligent, stands firm on the things that are important to him (as in one scene, he keeps an alien resident from killing the Kandorian Lyla Lerrol but then saves the alien's life when he realizes that his means of defeating it was causing the alien to die). It was refreshing to see.
This version of Brainiac is both unique (in that it pays homage to both the original humanoid Brainiac with the force-field belt and the robot) and in many scenes, quite creepy and off-putting. With the right actor, it would be a memorable performance for the most part.
The script is, in many respects, too big. It would take a lot of money... probably more than any studio was willing to spend back then and even now to do it right. Take for instance you have Metropolis, then you have Brainiac's gigantic space arc, you have Kandor, you have a multitude of alien races you get glimpses of, you have robotic servants, other worlds, many instances of super-speed, super-strength, heat-vision, showing Metropolis grow and shrink, Superman and Lois shrinking/growing... there's more special effects work in this film than probably all 5 current Superman movies combined! For a comic book these aren't any problems, but for a film... you start getting into whether or not they can be accurately created (which for 1992, I'm not sure a lot of these effects could have been convincingly done) and if you've got a budget for it.
Because as much as I love the scene where a microscopic Superman flies into Brainiac's robot body with a miniature metal shard, then takes his shrink/grow band, wraps it around said shard, presses the 'grow' button and lets it rip Brainiac apart from the inside out... I don't know if it could have been accomplished back then.
Remember how I said the script treated Clark like one of the Daily Planet's best reporters? Well, the rub to that is that once again, we never see Clark actually doing any reporting but rather told he's one of the best. And at the end of the film, Perry states that Clark brought in a great page one article but we never see it or even get a title (so while it's safe to assume it's about the whole Metropolis Shrinking/Superman/Brainiac scuffle, nothing states that it is). All we're told is that this thing is great and it's so good that Perry gave Clark two weeks off and two plane tickets to wherever he wants to go. For something that fantastic, I expect the script to mention SOMETHING about the article other than Clark wrote something that was utterly fantastic!
The script is never too clear on when/where this takes place. While it never directly contradicts anything (with the possible exception of Superman/Lois having been in a long enough relationship that Lois wants something more from it), it never directly references anything either, with one exception of a direct homage to a scene from Superman: The Movie. This isn't so much of a flaw or a real problem, but it something that at times you're drawn out of the story instead of into it if you view it within the context that every film so far has been canon. If this film started with an all-new cast (rumors had Gerard Christopher putting on the tights) one could just roll with it as if certain films didn't happen (like Superman 3 and 4). Because if you read it as if Christopher Reeve were to be in it with any of the usual principle cast of the previous films (as was also rumored), you'd be scratching your head as to when Lois/Superman got back together since they've been somewhat distant to each other since the end of Superman 2.
Brainiac comes off way too campy in too many scenes. A lot of menace is generated with him processing human emotions but then it's deflated by having Brainiac give some kind of sarcastic or witty quip. It works against the character because it seems insincere for him to be doing such things and it's more to give the audience a cheap laugh.
Also, one has to wonder why Brainiac in all of his travels only decided to craft an organic body via intercepting Earth communications. He states because their behavioral patterns defy description, except virtually every other humanoid character acts or speaks in style very similar to Earthlings (one alien who deals with Brainiac to get one of the shrunken cities for their planet says, "For your sake Brainiac, I hope we never meet again" which is not in any way different from a human in terms of speech or emotional state) so it comes off as a ridiculous plot point since everyone in the film tends to act like a human being, with a human being's emotional state.
Also, the script has two deaths that aren't realized as well as they could be, because the two in particular are with characters who aren't fleshed out too well. It would also get everyone listed on the "Women in Refrigerators" site since both of them are female. One of them is the wife of Kosmo (who is Coluan who acts as Brainiac's servant) named Krynna. In the story, she is shrunk and is stuck in a pendant which Kosmo keeps on him at nearly all times. She ends up acting as his conscience, but we never learn how she came to be that way, why she's there... and in the end, Brainiac re-enlarges her but the process causes her to molecularly disassemble into slime before his eyes. I can understand the plot point of the scene (it's the defining event that allows him to finally go against Brainiac openly when Lois Lane confronts him) but I couldn't really care because she wasn't built up too well.
Same thing with the other character, Lyla Lerrol. For astute Superman fans, you'd remember her as the Marilyn Monroe of Krypton that Superman almost married in the original "Return to Krypton". In this, she's just an ordinary citizen that Superman saves from a 'Slubber' (an alien transplant into Kandor), who as it turns out, she stole money from. She takes an immediate liking to Superman, but he ignores the advances. And when Brainiac comes to Kandor to find Lois and Superman (as Lois shrunk herself and entered the city there), Lyla offers help to him to find Superman, only to be atomized on the spot. For a cult but fan-favorite character in the mythos, her brief cameo and quick dismissal is rather disconcerting. I know I would have enjoyed Superman being attracted to her and having more of an issue with if it's better to stay on Earth after it's all over or going back to Kandor to be with his people and a woman of his own species.
There wasn't a whole hell of a lot of interaction of the Daily Planet staff, so if you love seeing Jimmy and Perry, you'd be disappointed, as they're rarely seen.
For a film that was meant as a re-start to the series, it certainly ended with a scenario I know most script-writers would balk at (and most comic book writers shriek at as well), with Superman and Lois engaged to be married. While maybe not getting as much vitriol as Superman and Lois having a kid out of wedlock and being forced to have the kid in every new film, I could still see some madness going on in comic shops and early usenet boards over that decision...
It's a tie between two scenes.
The first scene is when Superman confronts the Kandor Elders, which is a recreation in respects to when Jor-El confronts his peers in S:TM. They use much of the same dialogue, Superman is dressed in an outfit that is much like Jor-El's reflective clothes, except that when told "Any attempt by you to create a climate of fear and panic amongst the populace must be deemed by us an act of insurrection. You must pledge to remain silent and make no attempt to leave Kandor", Superman in no uncertain terms tells them to shove it, unlike his Father. It's a great scene and I would have loved to see how Christopher Reeve would have played it.
The second scene is the one I described above, which is how Superman takes out Brainiac's robotic form by causing a small sliver of metal to englarge inside Brainiac's body, which causes him to spit apart. With the right practical and CGI effects that scene would be awesome.
All in all, I'd say this is probably the best Superman script I've read out of the ones produced after S:TM (it clearly beats out Superman 4, which is a script I enjoy but some of the flaws I assumed were made due to budget cuts were actually in the script and is better than Superman Returns at being a 'fresh' launch of the franchise) and spec. ones I've glanced at.
It is by no means perfect, but a lot of the flaws I had I would put down as nitpicks rather than serious problems, with perhaps only one more re-write needed to tone down Brainiac's camp factor while he was in human form and giving a bit more screen-time/value to the characters of Krynna and Lyla. I think if made today, this could be a profitable film for Warner Brothers, giving enough romance and drama for those who crave characterization but definitely giving fans a whole hell of a lot of action. It would take something really special to screw this up to the levels of, say, Superman 3 (which I don't care what others say, for me that is the worst Superman film out of them all). But considering Ilya Salkind was Producing and he was responsible for Superman 2, 3 and the Superboy series... then yeah, it was possible for this to suck.
If you didn't decide to read this before when I gave the link, hopefully this will entice you if you can stand reading a film script. It's entertaining and I believe worth your time.
I can only hope that whatever script comes next actually aims to craft a story that could actually be a good Superman comic plotline...
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