Fans will finally be able to experience the mysterious, longed-for “Superman Lives” movie … well, about as close to that ill-fated film as they’ll probably ever get.
The Comic Bug shop in Manhattan Beach is teaming up with two production companies to bring fans “Superman Lives!: A Development Hell Table Read,” a dramatic reading of the original unfilmed script on Saturday, July 13 at 7 p.m..
Hard-core comic nerds and superhero lovers have long been fascinated with the project which — though never completed — inspired torrents of rumors, wild pre-production tales, leaked concept art and test images — and a documentary, “The Death Of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened,” available via streaming services.
Proposed in the late 1990s, the concept was based loosely on the DC comics crossover comic series “The Death of Superman,” published from December 1992 through October 1993.
In the series — spoiler alert! — the seemingly indestructible Man of Steal defends the Earth against Doomsday, a relentless, spike-skinned, voiceless titan from another world. The Last Son of Krypton defeats the monster, but the battle costs him his life. As we know, Supes didn’t stay dead, but the reports of his demise snagged much media coverage and rekindled lots of attention for the comics world’s original hero.
The comics also, not surprisingly, sparked interest in a feature film. An all-star team started to emerge:
Writer/director Kevin Smith – who built a solid audience with such snarky, low-budget comedies as “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Mallrats” — is also well known as a comics lover. He penned a screenplay based loosely on the DC stories.
Tim Burton – the edgy, wildly popular auteur of “Beetlejuice,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the 1989 “Batman” movie – took an interest in helming the project.
And Oscar-winning actor and action-flick icon Nicolas Cage expressed interest in the lead role.
For comics fans, this convergence of creative superpowers swiftly spurred major buzz. And the tales of how it spun into “development hell” and was inevitably shelved left many with an enduring sense of remorse for what might have been.
“This film included important players in Hollywood, but they just couldn’t get it off the ground,” said Adam Marcus, director, producer and narrator for the table reading of “Superman Lives!”
Marcus’ Skeleton Crew Productions, in partnership with Cattywampus Productions, are at last bringing this long-stalled story to fans, if only for an evening. Declared Marcus: “We wanted to honor this project.”
For Marcus, table reads provide a creative way to present “films” for the audience – without the multi-million dollar budgets, months-long marketing campaigns and other movie-industry complications.
This is Marcus’ seventh table-read event. His first, a 2015 reading of an unfilmed Indiana Jones script, wooed an audience of about a dozen.
Other events have included renditions of a George Miller “Justice League” script and a James Cameron take on “Spider-Man.”
Now, more than 100 people generally attend such shows, he said. “Let’s be honest, we’re all nerds who love comic books,” Marcus said.
All cast and crew roles are volunteers, Marcus said. “It’s for the love of these movies.”
For Marcus, table reads are a kind of “alternate universe” in which long-lost projects get found.
“There’s a series of Marvel comics called the ‘What If’ series,” Marcus said, “exploring the alternate realities in the Marvel Universe. This is our ‘what if.’ What if these movies could get off the ground?”
The project’s high-profile influencers are why fans still can’t get the unrealized movie out of their heads, Marcus said.
Burton is a powerful mogul with a “cult” of millions. Smith — a beloved figure among comics fans and a familiar figures on podcasts and at entertainment “con” gatherings — talks about this film often. And people just can’t over the off-filter casting of Cage as Superman.
Casting for the table read was the highlight of the endeavor, Marcus said. His team auditioned a wide array of actors — ranging in age from 14 to 80. Diversity was crucial, he said.
“Everyone in (the 1930s media, when Superman first took flight) was a middle-aged white person so we wanted to throw in diversity,” he said. “It’s important to have (diversity) so we can bring in a wide range of fans.”
Megavillain Lex Luthor — played in the movies by such actors as Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey — is portrayed by a black man, Nigel Lawes. It’s the first time an African-American has been cast as the character, Marcus said.
“Everyone involved has been huge fans for all our lives,” said Curtis Fortier, president of Cattywampus Productions. “This is the closest any of us will ever get to playing these roles.”
Candidates for table-reading events are read through by the production teams and chosen based on what they believe will be best received by the audience. Music and sound effects are also included — right, just like in the movies.
Saturday’s event leads right back to Kevin Smith, Fortier said. “I’m a huge fan of his movies and he’s known for embracing geek and nerd culture, embracing science fiction fantasies,” he said. “People want to see what (Smith) would have done.”
And you can’t undersell the power of nostalgia, he said.
“Like Disney remaking the classics with twists,,” he said. “It’s fandom run amok, in the best way. If we can give just the words some light, I’m excited to be apart of the team who does that.”
“Superman Lives!: A Development Hell Table Read,” starts at 7 p.m. on July 13 at the Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, 1807 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
The table read is free for everyone.
Information: On the Comic Bug’s Facebook page