REVIEW: “Superman Returns: The Complete Shooting Script” book

Superman Returns: The Complete Shooting Script book (Titan Books, 2006)
Screenplay by:
Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Story by: Bryan Singer & Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Interviews by: David Hughes

While waiting for my Superman: Special Edition-Disc 1 and Superman III: Deluxe Edition replacement DVDs to arrive, I figured I would delve into my ever-increasing backlog of material to review.

I have definitely been in a Superman mood lately, so up today is Superman Returns: The Complete Shooting Script. This book compiles the Final Production Draft screenplay of Superman Returns (AKA Red Sun), interviews with writer/director Bryan Singer and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, and some storyboard selections.

Being a movie nut, I love these kinds of books. The fact that this one happens to be about my favorite movie of 2006 makes it all the better. Still, I must admit that I was skeptical of the non-script parts of the book. I assumed the interviews would be minor fluff pieces and that they would throw in 3 or 4 storyboard panels.

The interviews were actually a fairly decent length and, along with some of the more common stories, went into some things I have not read elsewhere. The Singer interview is first, about eight pages long.

The best parts deal with Singer’s thoughts on Warner Brothers’ many aborted attempts at Superman V prior to his landing the deal for Superman Returns. He admitted jealousy to his friend Kevin Spacey when he heard rumors the actor had been attached to Tim Burton’s premise (“not confirmed,” Spacey told him). Though the Burton movie never panned out, Singer later signed Spacey to play Luthor in his film.

Singer thinks a Batman vs. Superman movie, which was another of the abandoned concepts, would have posed problems. Which of them would have been the villain, he asks. He guesses Batman, but states the character would have been a weak villain because he would have to be redeemable by the end. If such a film flopped, Singer notes there would have been a real danger of killing both movie franchises.

Interviews with Dougherty and Harris round out the opening, about twelve pages between them. I have not read or seen nearly as many interviews with Dougherty and Harris, so both were quite interesting and held new information. Dougherty mentions that Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale was a huge comic book influence on the script, particularly for how it humanized Superman.

Peppered throughout all three interviews are comments about the influence of Richard Donner and his 1978 Superman film. I think the respect of the Superman Returns team for the previous generation of films really worked to their advantage. There was no air of superiority, as often turned me off to Star Trek‘s TNG-era team, for instance.

Even six months later, I still cannot believe how well Singer, Dougherty, and Harris managed to pull off Superman Returns – making it both new and familiar.

Oh yeah, the script! I get side-tracked so easily these days. The script was fun to read, including looking for changes and additional scenes compared to the released movie. As one of them pointed out in the interview section, even after a “final” script there are story changes during filming and the editing process.

For most of the script versus movie variations, I think what we saw on screen for Superman Returns was the right choice. An example is that in the script, when the shuttle is crashing and Clark leaves the bar to change into Superman, he rips open his shirt in classic style only to remember that it is just a plain, white t-shirt underneath. Oops!

He hurries back to the Planet to his suitcases (I knew the suit was in there, clearing up the question of why they made such a big deal of him bringing them in) and puts the suit on in a janitor’s closet. He steps back out as Superman, but everyone at the Planet is too engrossed with the shuttle footage on TV to notice him. Which is fortunate, since he has accidentally left his Clark glasses on. Oops, again!

Though I can see what they were trying to do, this sort of scene would have ruined the introduction of Brandon Routh as Superman. The movie’s take on it, just having him already wearing the suit when ripping open his shirt the first time is much more effective and allows Superman to get right to work.

One variation I side with the script on, though, is the opening — which would have featured scenes from Donner’s Superman, and then the modern Kal-El’s return to Krypton. These deleted sequences did not make the recent Superman Returns: Special Edition DVD, either. Hey, they gotta save something for the inevitable re-release around the time of the sequel. Maybe we will get an alternate cut — or at least a complete, alternate opening even if it is not placed onto the film proper.

Though people like me would have loved it, additional use of Donner footage would have only added more fuel to the fire of those misinformed souls who criticized Superman Returns for paying too much homage to Donner.

Anyway, do not take me wrong about the movie generally being better than the script in places where it varies. This is a great script, and the improvements are just a natural part of the process. The majority of the variations are not nearly as drastic as the ones I have highlighted above. Most are just subtle dialogue changes.

The storyboard selections are: “Lex gets funded,” “The bank robbery,” and “Catching the Daily Planet globe.” About 65 pages in all. “The bank robbery,” for obvious reasons, is probably the most interesting of the three.

As usual, the quick two or three paragraph review I planned to write has turned into . . . this. Anyway, great book, definitely worth checking out. I would love to see additional books like this one–maybe an “Elseworlds” of sorts for the movies, with scripts and storyboards/concept art for each of the key, abandoned Superman V plots. Not likely to happen anytime soon, though.

Overall Experience: 9 (out of 10)
Recommended: To all Superman Returns fans that are fellow movie buffs