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Script Review by Chad Farr
My first thoughts upon reading this script were that it was very ambitious for the time in which it was written. I believe this was intended to be the 5th movie of the Donner/Reeve era of Superman films. Ilya Salkind (the producer of the first three Superman films, Supergirl, and the Superboy TV series), was involved in writing this script, and it shows. It reads like a direct sequel to the other films. Every character involved seems to have progressed in a logical manner. Lois and Superman seemed to have developed a relationship, and it's suggested that she knows his secret (very similar to 2007's Superman: Doomsday).
This script was being developed around 1992. This was a primitive time for CGI special effects, and many of the scenes in this movie are very elaborate and would require many special effects shots. The development of this movie is clearly an attempt at repairing the damage done by Superman III and Superman IV, by cramming lots of action and cool ideas into a two hour movie, and utilizing a villain other than Lex Luthor, who is completely absent from this draft, that originated in the pages of DC Comics: 'Brainiac!'
The first pages of the script take place aboard Brainiac's Skull ship, where we witness Brainiac (described as a "fearsome, towering robot machine") observing multiple transmissions of various American icons including Ricky Ricardo, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and The Lone Ranger on an array of floating monitors. Brainiac's alien assistant 'Kosmo' enters and attempts to direct his attention to the live monitor screen on the far side of the bridge. The monitor displays images of a damaged ship full of extraterrestrial children accompanied by a distress signal. Kosmo informs Brainiac that they have plenty of room for the stranded occupants of the shipwreck, but Brainiac seems disinterested. He scans the wreckage and determines that his reference banks contain all known data pertaining to their species. To Kosmo's dismay, he destroys the wrecked ship along with its inhabitants, and quickly turns his attention back to the monitor displaying images of the Lone Ranger. These first several pages do an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Brainiac. He's a cold calculating collector of knowledge. When Kosmo protests his destruction of the wrecked ship, his only response is "My function is to learn." The scene ends with the Lone Ranger proclaiming "Hi Ho Silver.... Awaaay!", which segues to Superman flying high over the Metropolis skyline.
As he flies we view the action from his perspective. I found this particularly interesting, as I could really see this working out terrifically in an IMAX theatre, which seems to be a recurring trend with films of this caliber.
Next we're in the Daily Planet newsroom, where we observe some humorous banter between Clark, Jimmy, and Perry White, including a scene where Jimmy refers to Perry as the "chiefmeister" (and no, I'm not making that one up) and Perry uses his trademark "Great Caesar's Ghost" line. Lois Lane is nowhere to be found. There's some allusion to the fact that Superman and Lois have established a romantic relationship. And Perry is clearly agitated by a tabloid on his desk with a cover story that states: "SUPERMAN ON SECRET DAILY PLANET PAYROLL." He dismisses the headline as ridiculous, threatening to sue the tabloid that wrote the article. He quickly burns it with the tip of his cigar.
In the next scene we're in Brainiac's Skull ship once again, where he is viewing various broadcasts from Earth including footage of Superman. Kosmo sees this as an opportunity to oust Brainiac, liberating himself as well as the various civilizations housed in bottles aboard the ship. He exploits Brainiac's limitless thirst for knowledge, and Brainiac's curiosity compels him to set a course for Metropolis to extract the being known as Superman.
A battle between Brainiac and Superman ensues over Metropolis. The Man of Steel is seemingly destroyed, unbeknownst to Brainiac, he's actually been transported to the bottle city of Kandor aboard the Skull ship where he is powerless due to the absence of a yellow sun. After witnessing Lois, embracing Superman during their battle, Brainiac becomes curious about human nature. He shrinks the city of Metropolis and places it among the other bottled cities aboard his ship, and he abducts Lois, hoping to learn more about human affection. In his pursuit of human knowledge, Brainiac transfers his mind into a human body and attempts to woo Lois.
The body of the script is occupied mostly by Brainiac's failed attempts to court Lois Lane, and Superman's rediscovery of his Kryptonian roots in Kandor. While Superman looks for ways to escape and regain his powers, Lois attempts to find him and restore his powers. With Lois' help, he does escape Kandor and another battle ensues.
As I read the script I tried to make a mental list of pros and cons regarding plot and characterization. I think what I like most about this script is that for the time in which it was written, it really reflects the overall tone of the comics. I grew up reading Superman during the 1990s so this really feels familiar to me. This was a pivotal time for the character as his death and ultimately his return seemingly made him more popular than ever. I feel that this is also a big downfall because it's important for a Superman film to have a 'timeless' feeling to it. That is what Bryan Singer was ultimately striving for with "Superman Returns." If this script had been developed into a feature film, it wouldn't have been the greatest Superhero film of all time, but I it would have ultimately been very fun and entertaining.
Here is a short list of notably cool things included in the script:
The use of an authentic DC comics villain, and then occurrence of two gargantuan battles between Superman and Brainiac is great.
Superman finally reveals the secret of his dual identity to Lois, and asks her to marry him (this is the final scene of the script, and it's very evocative of a scene from the Superman: Doomsday animated film).
Many things that were seen in Superman Returns are in this script. The scene with the Daily planet globe, and the 'New Krypton' idea are both used, they are just executed differently.
There's a lot of action, but I don't feel like substance is sacrificed for mindless battles. I think there's a good balance of plot and characterization, and it doesn't feel like a re-hash of the previous films.
Some things I didn't like so much:
The absence of Lex Luthor. I always felt that even if he isn't the primary villain, he should at least be a supporting character. He's just as important as Lois, Jimmy, or Perry White in the Superman universe.
Superman spends the bulk of the story powerless.
Brainiac had a lot of goofy robot/alien sidekicks that were really only there to emphasize the breadth of his evil nature. They also seemed to be poor attempts at fodder for action figures.