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Comic-Con 2005: Superman Returns

The first of many controversies...
When you face over 6,500 rabid Superman fans on their home turf, you had better be prepared. Nobody knows this better than Bryan Singer, and despite once accidentally referring to Superman as "Jor-El" (and getting immediately called on it), he came loaded for bear, stole all our hearts and forced me into using one or two metaphors too many.

His appearance at Comic-Con wasn't meant to persuade us that everything was done. In fact, Kevin Spacey had just started filming his role of Lex Luthor when Singer jetted to San Diego from Australia. "But this... is Superman. I had to be at Comic-Con," he told an appreciative crowd.

A few might have been skeptical. Despite Singer's freely admitting that he did not grow up reading comic books, still a questioner (from grouchoreviews.com) pushed him on what Superman comics the director would recommend. Do you need to know chapter and verse in order to tell the story? At any rate, Singer's allegiance does really seem more to be toward Richard Donner's vision than anyone else's, and that one worked just fine.

As you might expect, though, the first real challenge came on the issue of the costume, which had caused a stir on the internet among fans. Singer easily defended himself.

"You don't want to play with the costume too much," he admitted. "It would be like giving Wolverine two claws instead of three." But he went on to explain the new look.

"In terms of raising the 'S' I felt that the silk-screen felt a bit dated when filmed now. There's also some factoring into how the suit is made, with Kryptonian technology, although that's not a big part of our story.

"It was also the suit that the fit man. First we made the suit. But after we cast Brandon, we started modifying things so it looked right. I went back and looked at the other suits. If the 'S' was too large or silk-screened, I must tell you it would have looked, at this point, like a billboard or something. It had to be just the right proportions for his head and chest and things like that."

Singer's crystal just started blinking...
Someone followed up asking if he would mess with the classic costuming in Logan's Run, the film Singer is currently scheduled to do after he finishes Superman Returns. The director laughed and assured the audience that that look still worked. In fact, a designer had tried to mess with the concept of the palm crystals, and Singer flatly refused to consider it.

As for where this film really fits into fan's continuity (which we must have), Singer clarified that the most solid connection goes to Donner's Superman: The Movie. He did meet with the Smallville producers in an effort to make sure both projects wouldn't tread on each other's territory, and offered that Spacey's Luthor would split the difference between the portrayals in Smallville and Superman: The Movie. (Ironically, Michael Rosenbaum's Deadshot on JLU splits the difference between his portrayal of Luthor and Kevin Spacey.)

Though he would be willing to accept pieces of Superman II, and wants to see Donner's director's cut of that as much as any fan, he assured the audience that Superman would not have the power of a super-cellophane shield as parodied in a recent episode of Family Guy.

Perhaps the most surprising link between Singer and Donner lies in the use of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Yes, he's dead. But infamously, there was a decent amount of unused footage with him. More personally to Singer, Brando was always the face and voice of Jor-El, so the director did the re-creation of the role "...for certain reasons."

Though Singer's oft-used composer (and editor) John Ottman will be doing the score to Superman Returns, the director also assured fans that John Williams' themes will be referenced - and indeed, in the clip Singer showed, the familiar strains helped bring the audience to its feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Despite looking back to Donner's 70s version of Superman, Singer himself is trying to create something a bit more timeless. Using a camera called the "Genesis," a digital camera with a single chip, Singer is able to make the film look like a 1940's love story. He singled out Rebecca to the audience, but admitted that it also has more than a little of the Fleischer cartoon look to it.

If you start cringing at the thought of romance, tough. Singer made it clear that he feels the trick to the Superman franchise is to make it first and foremost a love story. But Superman Returns also has a bittersweet touch to it, playing as it does on the notion of an already established relationship that Clark Kent observes from an invisible perspective. At the outset of his presentation, Singer firmly stated his belief that Clark is the disguise.

Then he showed two minutes. The screen brightened onto a Kansas wheat field. Shots of the empty Kent farm and then Clark's room. Williams' haunting notes played as Brandon Routh's profile came into view.

Is this your Superman?
(Picture courtesy of superherohype.com)
Just as he did two years ago with X2, Singer cobbled together a trailer that really showed very little in terms of effects and still completely blew the audience away. (Okay, actually this time the credit goes to co-screenwriter Dan Harris. Thank you, Dan.)

Unlike the soft focus of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Singer's 40s tribute does not suck your attention. If you know that's what he's doing, it's a nice nod, but otherwise, it just looks cool without being distracting.

The trailer showed snippets of just about every major character, including a sound bite of Brando as Superman hovers outside of Earth's atmosphere, ready to return for another round of the never-ending battle. James Marsden got a nice spotlight moment, once again proving that he is doomed to play the nice guy that gets dumped. Already you could feel the heartbreak of the moment. In another nod to the past, Harris included a shot of Bibbo, played by Jack Larson, the 1950s Jimmy Olsen.

Cleverly, Singer had just enough time to capture a shot or two of Spacey as Lex - and gang, Lex has his hands on the crystal that built the Fortress of Solitude.

Both Routh and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane still do look a little young for their roles, but Singer had an answer for that. In today's studio mentality of building a franchise, he has to ask for our suspension of disbelief, so that the actors he thinks are right will not actually age out of their parts. Considering that Routh and Bosworth could be playing these characters for ten years for a return of only three movies, it makes sense. And the trailer looked cool enough for us to be forgiving.

Bryan Singer discovers Red K...
When the lights came up, Singer was met with a standing ovation and cries of "AGAIN! AGAIN!" Nonplussed for a beat, he nodded. "I guess we're gonna show it again."

It felt just as powerful a second time.

Clearly, Singer has an affinity for the project. When asked how Superman could still be relevant today, he stated strongly, "I am adopted. I am an only child. I am an American."

He went on to state the case that Superman does represent the best of us. Perhaps unlike us, though, Superman "...fights the urge to be cynical."

After seeing Singer's presentation, I'm fighting that urge. Like many fans, I entered into Hall H not particularly happy with the costume. I thought Routh and Bosworth were too young. I wasn't even that into the idea that Superman would have been gone from Metropolis for five years. And Brando? Come ON.

At the risk of getting mocked forever by certain Fanboy Planet staffers, though, I'll admit that I choked up at those two minutes. Watching them made me feel like I was 11 again, believing a man can fly.

I'll continue fighting the urge to be cynical.

Derek McCaw


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