Most comics fans know that Kevin Smith came close to writing a Superman movie in the '90s, but during a recent episode of Fatman Beyond, the filmmaker revealed that at least one person at Warner Bros. was apparently incredibly impressed with the 40-page treatment for his screenplay, calling him an inspired choice to update the Superman movie mythology for the '90s and comparing the work to Star Wars. Joking that the story analyst who wrote the glowing "coverage" -- that's essentially the Cliff's Notes fed to studio executives who don't have the time to read a full script or treatment -- was the smartest person in Hollywood, Smith more seriously appreciated how much she seemed to "get" what he was going for.
The Smith draft didn't last particularly long; the film would have starred Nicolas Cage, with names like Cameron Diaz as Lois Lane and Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen circulating at the time. Smith suggested to studio heads that Tim Burton would be a good choice to direct the movie -- and Warner Bros. so agreed that when they brought Burton on board and he didn't like Smith's screenplay, a new one was commissioned based on the same basic story, but written by Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy.
Written on October 16, 1996, from Susan Craig (Cregg?), a story analyst at Warner Bros., Smith read the coverage on the show: "Superman battles Brainiac who teams up with Lex Luthor to kill the Man of Steel and subjugate the Earth -- but Superman has friends. He's aided by shape-shifting Eradicator, who guides him like Dad Jor-El, and his true Lois, who leads a rebellion against Luthor's attempts to steal their freedoms and destroy their hero." After expressing his appreciation for that succinct and exciting-sounding logline, he continued on to the analysis.
"This is what Susan Craig wrote about Superman Lives in October of '96. Ready?" Smith started, and then read, "Kevin Smith is an inspired choice to relaunch the Superman franchise....In his own rebellious, rock 'n' roll, human-oriented way, he has succeeded in reinventing the Man of Steel by reminding us what a hero is, and why we need one. In every way, this treatment is a tantalizing promise of good things to come. Lois smartly knows Clark is Superman. They want a family but can't find the time. Superman feels welcomed by Earth's acceptance of him, even though he's an alien. His affection for his adoptive home is clear, convincing, and even moving. Now the battle is to keep fascists out of power and freedom in sight. Even the Daily Planet suffers at the hands of the villains, who fear the truth of their exploits will be exposed and therefore go after Lois and the free press. The struggle is to keep Brainiac from overtaking the world via mindless technology while trickster Lex Luthor works in tandem, to fool everyone into believing they need protection from a false enemy, while he shields the sun and becomes the lone source of energy for sale. Streamlining the story allows the collision of forces to stand for more. We now see via Lois and Jimmy's rebellion that Superman stands for the spirit to keep the world safe. One of the most appealing aspects of this treatment is the balance between human elements and huge hardware, action-type elements -- between suspense and humor. Between battling the bad guys and watching intriguing relationships like Superman and the Eradicator and Superman and Lois unfold. Because this story grows out of likable characters who share convincing ideals, this one has a Star Wars-ian greatness to it."
More details of the Superman Lives movie can be seen in The Death of Superman Lives, a documentary film on the aborted reboot.