Dear Warner Bros.
Bryan Hill here. I write comics and screenplays. 1989's BATMAN was a huge inspiration for me, I love the new BATMAN films, so I'm rooting for you with your next stab at SUPERMAN THE MOVIE.
Really, I am. This isn't "internet cynicism". This is a sincere desire to see a great Superman movie.
Now I'm hardly an authority on the Kryptonian, but I am a dude who loves comics, loves movies and wants the marriage between the two to work out whenever possible. Upon hearing that you're getting Christopher Nolan to oversee the franchise, I get the sense that you're trying to rebuild this beast from the ground up and that's good. It needs that.
With humility, I offer 10 suggestions to help frame the effort.
1. Please Don't Make It 3-D
I know. It's tempting. He flies and it's easy to salivate over the potential for 3-D and flight effects...but please don't go there. Since it'll be at least two years before this movie actually reaches theaters, you'll be at the tail-end of the 3-D trend, smack-dab in the middle of the backlash. It'll make the whole effort seem like it's trend chasing, and the franchise is much better than that. Shooting in 3-D is a whole other art form and why make your director's job harder than it already is.
Likely, you're going to get Nolan to produce this and get a less expensive director to make it, so don't throw him/her to the digital lions on their first go-round with the franchise.
And get Kathryn Bigelow. She's clearly a person who feels no fear.
2. Cancel SMALLVILLE and use Tom Welling
I'm aware that people still like SMALLVILLE. Personally, I miss Michael Rosenbaum, but the real problem is that you have two different "Supermans" burning the pop-culture candle at both ends. I didn't like Tom Welling at first, but he's grown on me and more importantly he's Clark Kent for a lot of people, and you don't compare him to Christopher Reeve. He has created his own interpretation of Clark, and that's worth a run on the big screen. SMALLVILLE is currently sailing right over the shark (Dr. Fate? On television? Really?) so give those noble people on the show a graceful exit and let's move Welling into the red and blue on the silver screen.
3. Leave the 1940's camp alone.
Bryan Singer's an artist and he wanted to evoke the feeling of the classic, George Reeves SUPERMAN. He also nodded back to the Donner, and Donner also nodded back to George Reeves. We've paid our respects to the source material, now let's move on. Make it contemporary.
I know why you set SUPERMAN RETURNS in that pseudo-1940's era...you're scared of how Superman will play as a character in our less naive, more contemporary world. It's a valid fear, but it's not a problem without a solution. If you can't take SUPERMAN seriously, then how are we supposed to? Which brings me to:
4. Lois Lane is the most important character in your film.
Superman doesn't really change. He doesn't have to. In fact his unchanging character is a large part of his appeal. He represents the best aspects of who we are as people. Blah, blah blah...your real battle is Lois. Lois is not an annoying woman in high-waisted slacks. She's not a clichéd mess of irresponsibility, moxie and "working woman's charm." It's 2010. There are 100 Lois Lanes on cable news.
I'd use CBS' Lara Logan as a template. She's brilliant. Beautiful and fearless. More importantly, Lara Logan is a real journalist and real journalism has real risks. Ask Veronica Guerin or any journalist currently working the Soviet Union.
Please, no more "Lois Lane goes to the press conference for the new technology thing and it backfires forcing Superman to save her" scenes. If you have her reporting on the unveiling of a giant robot I'm going to throw my soda cup at the screen.
In the real world, it's obvious that giant robots are a bad idea.
Put her in the middle of a war zone. In an organized crime investigation. Interviewing a sociopathic dictator. There are plenty of real situations where she could use Superman. We don't need her on some space shuttle-jumbo jet thingy with the woman from La Femme Nikita the series.
Lois is your opportunity to create a REAL female character in a comic book film that's more than just the Girl the that Hero Kisses in the End. Hell, "Rachel Dawes" is damn-near Lois Lane and Batman doesn't even need a love interest, really. Cast an actress that has beauty and urgency...and give her actual scenes, moments where she has to ACT.
And Lois Lane has dark hair. Not kinda brown hair.
5. Make Lex Luthor a character; not the main villain.
SMALLVILLE taught you that Lex Luthor is more potent as someone who challenges Superman rather than someone who's always trying to kill him with a kryptonite gun. Bring Rosenbaum back. Break continuity with the show and just have him be Lex Luthor, CEO of LexCorp, very rich, Ayn Randian fellow who has questionable morality and a distaste for handsome aliens who think they know what's best for us. Don't make it a big deal of the plot. Save it for one or two key scenes where we see them face off....by TALKING to each other. Make it a battle of perspective, not some stupid vendetta Luthor has against a being he'll never be able to kill in his lifetime.
6. Brainiac, please.
Technology and our dependence on it is a perfect playground for a character like Brainiac to really bring the world to the brink of destruction. If technology makes us think that we don't need a Superman, then the corruption of technology will make us that more desperate for his help.
7. Keep the theme.
Good job on the music. Keep that up.
8. Superman saves people.
We don't want to see him lift a mountain. We want to see Superman saving people. Haiti is where we want to see Superman. Katrina is where we want to see Superman. No more "bank robber" sequences. We get it. They rob the bank. He finds them. They shoot him. It doesn't work. He heat visions their guns...If I see that happen again I'm going to throw my soda cup at the screen. Please replace that with more scenes of him saving people from certain and violent death.
9. Superman is an epic.
JUMPER had more globetrotting than Superman. How's that happen? BATMAN is connected to Gotham much more than SUPERMAN is connected to Metropolis and even BATMAN had a lengthy section in Ra's Al Ghul's camp. DARK KNIGHT put him in China for a superfluous, but still cool scene. SUPERMAN is the biggest superhero in the world. He needs a film that recognizes that and tells a story with the scale we expect.
10. Superman is a battery.
Superman's powers come from our yellow sun. That means that he has a LIMITED amount of power before he has to recharge. It's no fun when the hero is just limitless in his ability. That sucks. It's COMMON KNOWLEDGE in the narrative world that Superman gets his power from the yellow sun, so if you want to beat Superman you force him to expend his powers and then you keep him from recharging.
What if Braniac infects every major mainframe in the world and overloads them all? That forces Superman to speed around the world, saving thousands of people...and draining his energy in the process. Superman is Superman, so he won't quit. He'll push himself to the limit and when he's vulnerable, that's when the villain strikes. Kryptonite has lost it's drama. We can't sit in that theatre and wait for the kryptonite to show up. That sucks and if that happens again, I'm going to throw my soda cup at the screen.
There's more to be said, my friends at Warner Bros., a lot more, but those are solid guidelines for thinking. There's a lot of fear buzzing around filmmaking these days, and people are making rash decisions. Rebooting this, making that 3-D, etc.
Don't get caught up in that. It's SUPERMAN. People like SUPERMAN. We want the film to be good, 'believe a man can fly' and all of that. Take a step back and look at the enduring parts of the franchise, forget expectations in style and tone and just make a pact to develop a SUPERMAN movie that kicks ass.
And make the "S" bigger on his suit. There was too much Super-Torso last time around. Didn't look right.
Bryan Edward Hill
About the Author: Bryan Edward Hill is currently writing BROKEN TRINTIY: PANDORA'S BOX for Top Cow Productions. You can follow him on twitter @bryanedwardhill or his blog at www.thebryanhillproject.wordpress.com