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6 Superman Movies that Didn't Get Made

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By Scott Meslow

In case you've somehow missed the relentless onslaught of commercial spots and promotional tie-ins, Man of Steel—Zack Snyder's massive reboot of the Superman franchise, which stars Henry Cavill—hit theaters last weekend. But for every Superman movie that has hit theaters since the heyday of the Christopher Reeve-starring films, a number of other directors have made failed attempts to get the Man of Steel off the ground and back onto the big screen. Over the past two decades, what are the stories behind the strange, fascinating (and occasionally terrible) Superman movies that didn't get made? Here's a guide.

1. Superman V (1991)

Though both 1978's Superman and 1980's Superman II are widely acknowledged to be classics, the Christopher Reeve-starring films petered out at the end with the disappointing Superman III and the truly awful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. According to comic book writer Cary Bates — who pitched a concept for a fifth Superman movie in 1991 that he says was almost greenlit — the franchise could have been saved by his script for Superman V. He says it was designed "to leapfrog over Superman III and especially IV, and return the series to the high mark achieved in 1 and 2."

The plan was "to do a fully developed, balls-out science fiction story pitting Superman and Brainiac against each other mano a mano," Bates continues at Newsarama. In Superman V, the extraterrestrial android would have arrived on Earth to shrink Metropolis and put it into a bottle as part of a larger collection of miniature cities. Then Brainiac would discover that Superman was in the tiny city, and he would have shrunken himself down to battle the Man of Steel, resulting in a brutal fight that would have left Superman dead years before a similar storyline appeared in the comics. Ultimately, Superman would have been reborn in Kandor — the capital of his home planet Krypton, which Brainiac kept in another bottle. After reconnecting with his roots, Superman would have escaped to resume his battle with the supervillain.

So what happened? According to Bates, producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind — who held the rights to the character at the time — put Superman V on hold to focus on their other project,Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. By the time they were ready to produce the superhero project, Warners Bros. had announced the TV show, Lois & Clark, which killed any other Superman projects in development. In retrospect, Bates thinks it was for the best: Given the rudimentary state of CGI at the time, his screenplay "was probably too ambitious and ahead of its time, given the modest projected budget." Any fans who are still curious can read an original draft of Bates' script at the Superman Homepage.

2. Superman Reborn (1993)

Producer Jon Peters, who made a splash with Batman in 1989, had his own plan to revive the Superman franchise in a post-Reeve era. Once the rights to Superman were reacquired by Warner Bros., Peters hired screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin to write a reboot of the franchise that owed a heavy debt to 1992's massively successful comic book story The Death of Superman. In Lemkin's Superman Reborn, the Man of Steel would have squared off against a vicious intergalactic killer called Doomsday, with both characters dying at the end of the battle. In his dying breath, Superman would have confessed his love for Lois Lane, which would somehow have rendered her pregnant with a superbaby. For reasons, once again, that went largely unexplained, the baby would have grown into adulthood in a matter of weeks, taking over for his father as Superman.

Warner Bros. rejected the (utterly crazy) first draft of the Superman Reborn script, hiring screenwriter Gregory Poirier to do an extended rewrite. Poirier's script added several new villains, including Brainiac, Silver Banshee, and Parasite — and though it still featured the death of Superman, it skipped the magic pregnancy/superbaby angle in favor of a government project that would have revived Superman. But Kevin Smith, who had his own ideas for the franchise, hated Poirier's script, and pitched his own concept for the reboot.

3. Superman Lives (1997)

So what was Kevin Smith's concept for Superman? The script, which he called Superman Lives, also featured Brainiac as a villain, and included the death and resurrection of Superman in its storyline. Unfortunately, the similarities ended there. In an extended monologue at a fan event, Smith revealed that there were a number of absolutely insane parameters placed on his screenplay by producer Jon Peters.

According to Smith, in his first meeting with Peters, the producer explained that he envisioned Sean Penn as Superman because he wanted the hero to come across as "a violent, caged animal — a f--king killer." Peters also laid down three rules for the script: Superman couldn't wear his familiar red-and-blue costume, Superman couldn't fly, and Superman had to fight a giant spider in the story's third act. After reading Smith's first draft, Peters asked Smith to add "a gay R2-D2" as a sidekick for Brainiac, and a character resembling Chewbacca, in order to capitalize on the success of the then-recent Star Wars re-releases.

Eventually, Batman director Tim Burton signed on to direct Superman Lives, with Nicolas Cage attached to play Superman. Burton had Smith's script thrown out in favor of a new script by writers that he'd personally chosen. Though locations were scouted and Cage did a costume test, the production was repeatedly delayed due to various creative and production problems. Burton left the project in 1998, and Cage left the project in 2000.

4. Batman vs. Superman (2002)

After various writers and directors tried and failed to get the next Superman film into production, one script stood out: Batman vs. Superman, from a script by Andrew Kevin WalkerIn a 2002 interview with Variety, director Wolfgang Petersen expressed his enthusiasm for the project: "It is a clash of the titans. They play off of each other so perfectly. [Superman] is clear, bright, all that is noble and good, and Batman represents the dark, obsessive and vengeful side. They are two sides of the same coin and that is material for great drama." He also predicted that the entire genre would be permanently altered by 9/11.

In the film, a retired Bruce Wayne's wife would have been murdered at their wedding, by the Joker, prompting Wayne to seek revenge and uncover a complex plot that involved Lex Luthor. Batman would then turn against his former best friend Superman before they teamed up once again to take Luthor down. Petersen had originally suggested that Matt Damon was the kind of actor he was looking for, though it's unclear if he meant Damon would play Batman or Superman. Reports indicate that the long list of favorites for either of the two starring roles included Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, James Franco, Jude Law, and Paul Walker.

5. Superman: Flyby (2002)

In the end, Warner Bros. decided to shelve Batman vs. Superman in favor of a competing script that focused solely on the Man of Steel: Superman: Flyby, by J.J. Abrams. (The Batman franchise, which went through its own extended development cycle, eventually reemerged with Batman Begins in 2005.) Superman: Flyby was a full reboot of the franchise centered on the far-reaching effects of a Kryptonian civil war — between Superman's father Jor-El and his uncle Kata-Zor — which eventually extended to Earth. Once again, Superman dies and is resurrected, and the story ends with Superman leaving Earth to go back to Krypton, setting up a sequel.

Over its troubled development process, many, many actors were discussed as possible stars for Superman: Flyby, including Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Paul Walker, Ashton Kutcher, James Marsden, and Brendan Fraser. After months of false starts, director Brett Ratner dropped out of the project and was replaced by McG, who dropped out when Warner Bros. insisted on shooting in Australia to save money. (Ironically enough, he later conceded that he'd been afraid of flying.) Though Abrams volunteered to direct, Warner Bros. hired Bryan Singer, who finally delivered an actual Superman movie in 2006: The Brandon Routh-starring Superman Returns.

6. Untitled Superman Returns sequel (2006)

Unfortunately for all involved, Warner Bros. was underwhelmed by the reaction to Superman Returns. (Though, perhaps it was an understandable response from the studio, given the movie's decade-plus development cycle.) The studio decided to go in a new direction with the franchise, but a sequel to Superman Returns was already in the early stages of development.According to a 2010 interview with screenwriter Michael Dougherty, the film would have introduced other Kryptonians, though he wouldn't say whether they would be villains. He also hinted that Brainiac might have made an appearance. And while he noted that Snyder's Man of Steel (in pre-production at the time of the interview) would be another reboot, he thought there was a decent chance that Brandon Routh would star again. (Sorry, Brandon.)

And here we are, more than two decades after Reeve's Superman took flight, as Man of Steel hits theaters. Will it be the smash-hit Superman film that screenwriters and directors have been trying to create for so long, or does Superman have yet another reboot in his future?

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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