But I submit that cinemaphiles and fanboys (and I include myself in both camps) are better off without these features finished.
Currently two trailers are making the rounds for a documentary called The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? The film intends to bring to light what ended the production of a Superman movie written by Kevin Smith, directed by Tim Burton, and starring Nicholas Cage. However, the trailers, at the very least, seem to purport that this movie may have been a lost masterpiece of some kind. People associated with the film regularly make statements about the wild and wonderful directions the movie planned to go in as well as casually dismissing any sneers at early production materials since the film was, at the time, testing possibilities as opposed to solidifying a vision. In other words, since the movie never came about all the things which seem to cast it in a negative light should be dismissed because of course the filmmakers wouldn’t’ve gone in unappealing directions. In addition, everything individuals think looks cool would have definitely been in the film. It doesn’t matter if people have differing opinions on what that all entails – one group sees a negative another views as a positive – both points of view are correct.
Since the movie never happened it can be all things to all people. Never mind the plethora of shit performances Nicholas Cage has turned out over the years. If Superman Lives had come to fruition Nicholas Cage would have nailed a performance worthy of an Oscar. And this is without saying anything about the film’s look – sets, effects, lighting – which could only end up being a so spectacular a person would be able to watch the movie without sound and still be entertained.
That may sound a tad sarcastic, and though it’s meant to be, at the same time I have had, from time to time, similar optimistic hopes. Despite the titanic brain aneurism Dune turned into, I still wish David Lynch got a crack at Jedi. And ludicrous as it may be a part of me has a guilty lust for Gladiator 2, wherein Russell Crowe murder-stomps his way through the afterlife, back to the world of the living, and proceeds to slaughter across time in a plot that can only be described as God of War: Bastard Life or Clarity. I’m not above the cinemaphile hope beloved directors will always craft great movies. Yet, I sometimes worry a belief is being established through such hopes, the idea that a film can be everything to everyone.
This belief carries with it a cancerous notion, especially when applied to unmade films. The uncompleted works influence the notion that the best chance to do something is lost in the past. We lament missing the chance to make a great work instead of looking forward to greatness on the horizon. Though Orson Welles never got to make Heart of Darkness, that freed him up to do Citizen Kane. Also, those who stare back at these uncompleted “masterpieces” are establishing an uncontestable standard – “Man of Steel was okay, but Superman Lives woulda been amazing.”
(Full disclosure: I’m only using these two because they sync up for comparison. Personally, I thought Man of Steel was like watching a failed abortion being resuscitated with a hammer. That said I suppose I might just as easily create a quote like, “The greatest comic book movie of all time is Superman Lives… if it’d ever been made.”)
Some may contend they didn’t or don’t expect these movies to be cinematic triumphs, though such disclaimers beg the question why do they wish the film was made? If it wasn’t going to be great what was the point? Granted, no one sets out to make terrible art. Somehow it just happens along the way. But is the desire simply to have one more Hitchcock thriller, one more Coppola vision, one more Russ Meyer flick (albeit one starring The Sex Pistols in a punk rock A Hard Day’s Night) regardless of quality? I, for one, doubt it since any list involving these and other unmade movies often allude to potential greatness. The whole point of considering what might have been is to play with the idea of what epic majesty has been lost.
And therein lies the second aspect of why it is better these films were never made. Those unutilized elements, the surrealism, daring camera work, symbolism, unconventional actor choices, taking established characters in strange new directions are all still possible; what has not been made can still be made. The movies that never were should inspire the course of the movies that may yet be. Instead of using missed opportunities to contemplate lost excellence perhaps they should be fueling artistic ambitions – rather than staring at the void, fill it.