Friday, May 8, 2015

The curse of Superman can be transmitted by spider bite.

Roughly two years ago on the website What Culture, Simon Gallagher wrote about the latest Superman movie, Man of Steel, and noted that the "world engine" General Zod deploys in the Indian Ocean in the movie's third act is "basically a giant spider machine (incredibly Jon Peters wasn't involved)."

The world engine's resemblance to a spider didn't occur to me as I was watching Man of Steel in 2013, but it is a reminder that producer Jon Peters (Batman, Caddyshack) wanted Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy) to include a battle between Superman and a giant arachnid in his screenplay for "Superman Lives," a mid-'90s reboot of the Superman film franchise that, pardon the expression, never got off the ground (but Peters didn't want Superman to fly in the movie anyway, so the cliche is apt), even with Tim Burton signed up to direct and Nicolas Cage set to star as Superman in Warner Bros.'s anticipated summer blockbuster for 1999. Instead, the studio released the Peters-produced Wild Wild West that summer, in which Will Smith and Kevin Kline battle a giant mechanical spider in the film's third act.

(When Clark first enters the old Kryptonian spaceship discovered in Canada and comes across a hovering robot assistant in Man of Steel, I did recall a particular anecdote of Kevin Smith's about Peters, who, having seen the box-office results for the "special edition" of Star Wars that was released in January 1997, told him to give Lex Luthor a Chewbacca-like dog sidekick in his rewrite and, having also seen Smith's film Chasing Amy, create a robot character with a voice similar to costar Dwight Ewell's in that film, i.e., black and effeminate.)

Peters is credited as an executive producer on Man of Steel, as opposed to the producer credit he received for Superman Returns (2006) despite being more involved in that film's development than its production, judging by what I've read. (An acquaintance of mine who worked on the previsualization effects for Superman Returns said Peters was at least present at that stage of production.) I would imagine that when "Superman Lives" fell apart in '98, and again in 2002 and '03, Peters negotiated a contract with Warner Bros. that guaranteed him a credit on any future Superman movies the studio happened to distribute.

In his well-researched, entertaining book Superman Vs. Hollywood (Chicago Review Press, 2008), Jake Rossen mentions that director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) met with up-and-coming stars such as Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher when he tried to launch a new Superman film in 2003 (this was after McG bailed out to direct Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, though McG returned to the project once Ratner dropped out; neither director could solve the problem of the $200 million-and-climbing budget attached to J.J. Abrams's script). He also met with an actor who was part of a new film franchise centered on street racing:

Ratner moved on to Paul Walker, whose surfer looks didn't seem well suited to Superman. The actor was working with Richard Donner on Timeline, and he approached the director for advice. Donner told him to avoid doing it purely for financial reasons. Walker, who envisioned an eclectic career, refused the offer, even though the salary would've effectively set up his family for life. "I don't think I want to die as Superman," he told reporters.

Geez, even when you turn down the role of Superman, "the curse" can follow you. As Rossen mentions earlier in the book, Kirk Alyn, who played Superman in a 1948 film serial, "had failed to find work following his participation in the franchise"; George Reeves, who starred in Adventures of Superman on television from 1952 to '58, "had either shot himself or been murdered" the year after the series ended; and Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in four feature films from 1978 to '87, starting with Richard Donner's '78 original, "would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, unable to breathe on his own," after a horse-riding accident in 1995.

Paul Walker died in a car accident in November 2013 while on a break from shooting Furious 7, the latest entry in a series that began in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious.