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Singer turns directing powers on ‘Superman’

‘X-Men’ creator showing magic touch with superheroes
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bryan Singer did not read comic books as a kid, yet he's become the kingpin of Hollywood superhero adaptations.

After the character-driven tales "The Usual Suspects" and "Apt Pupil," director Singer began the current phase of artsy comic-book epics with 2000's "X-Men," continued with 2003's sequel "X2: X-Men United," and now has revived the world's greatest superhero with "Superman Returns."

Though not a comic-book fan growing up in the 1970s, he fell in love with the Man of Steel through reruns of the 1950s TV show "Adventures of Superman," starring George Reeves. On opening night in 1978, Singer went with his mom to see Richard Donner's "Superman," with Christopher Reeve.

Warner Bros. futilely tried to create a new Superman movie for more than a decade, with top directors such as Tim Burton, McG and Brett Ratner involved in various stories that fell through. Singer, 40, came in with his own ideas, adding a postscript to the Christopher Reeve era.

The film picks up five years after Superman has trekked across the cosmos to see if anything remains of his destroyed home world, Krypton. Returning to Earth, Superman has to adjust to a planet that has learned to make do without him.

Starring newcomer Brandon Routh in the title role, "Superman Returns" joined Singer's "X-Men" and "X2" as an instant blockbuster, raking in an estimated $84 million in its first five days.

Singer chatted with The Associated Press about how he became a Superman fan, what it took to bring the hero back to life and why it's so important to keep the Man of Steel clad in his traditional tights, made of material as indestructible as Frodo Baggins' mithral armor in "The Lord of the Rings."

AP: What drew you to Superman as a boy?

Singer: I think for me, it was because I was an only child, and I was also adopted. I found I somehow identified with this character and thought, well, what if I had a special heritage and special genes? I love my parents, but somehow, I had that identification with the character.

AP: Did you ever consider taking Superman out of the old blue-and-red tights and giving him a hipper costume, like what the "X-Men" wear?

Singer: Never. The X-Men, they have powers, but they're still vulnerable, so they have to have some uniforms, some fighting gear, things like that. Superman is the Man of Steel. Bullets bounce off him, not his suit. So even though his suit is kind of like Kryptonian mithral — I stole that from Brandon, by the way. That was his. I said, "Brandon, what do you think of the suit?" He said, "It's like Kryptonian mithral," so I'm using that now. I feel guilty. But it's true, the strength comes from the man. Batman needs a suit, Spider-Man needs a mask. Superman, he's just wearing the Superman suit.

Tweaking the super look
AP: Superman's outfit has been updated a bit.

Singer: The only thing I did is I raised the shield on the chest. The reason I did that was because the decal, the silkscreen, felt very cheap. You could cast light onto the raised, etched shield in a cool way. It would take light in different ways, and I could tell different moments of the story with flat lighting and side lighting, depending on where he was at. Also, the hardness of it, the raised-ness of it, was kind of a nod to the Kryptonian technology, that the suit is part of a greater Kryptonian history and technology that is not of this Earth. And I took the "S" off the back of the cape, but that was never part of the comic book, anyway.

AP: Was it ironic that Brett Ratner, who was once signed on to do a "Superman" movie, wound up making the third "X-Men" film, while you came over to "Superman Returns"?

Singer: Yeah, because at one point he was involved in this project. There was one moment where a second-unit director asked me to call Brett, because I'm friends with Brett, to recommend him. ... I was having this 45-minute conversation with Brett Ratner when he was prepping a "Superman" movie and I remember feeling happy for him but jealous at the same time, because I love Superman so much. It's interesting that this should have happened. It's my love of Superman that kind of inspired me to do "X-Men." I had a five-hour bootleg of Richard Donner's "Superman." It was all cobbled together from outtakes that someone somehow got a hold of, and we would watch this in the trailer on the set of "X-Men."

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Singer: He wrote me a fax. He said, "I want to be within five seats of you at the premiere, so I can either hug you or hit you."

AP: Your movie seems to fit right in after Donner's "Superman" and its first sequel.

Singer: It's a quasi-sequelization of the first two films. I kind of used those as historical springboards. Once I decided to use those as springboards, I thought it was appropriate to bring in some of the iconography, the John Barry designs and the Fortress of Solitude, and enhance those. And the music, of course. The John Williams music is very important to me. That opening theme has to be there. It's like "Star Wars." It has to be there.

AP: Where was the studio at with "Superman" when you came on board with your own story?

Singer: It was a retelling of the origin story. I was offered it, actually. I was offered it three years ago. I passed on it, not because it was bad. It was a decent script, a good script. It had interesting things in it. But it departed from the mythology as I knew it so much, and it retold a story that I think for people over the age of 25 they had already been told in the first "Superman" and for people under the age of 25 they had seen on "Smallville." And I felt if I'm going to tell a story, it simply has to be a return story.