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J.J. Abrams discusses his original Superman treatment, Flyby, and how it compares to Man of Steel

Mar. 22, 2013by: Paul Shirey

Superman has undergone quite a few iterations from various creators that never got behind the camera.  From Tim Burton to Wolfgang Peterson to George Miller, the iconic hero has passed hands without ever being brought to life almost as often as he actaully makes it to the big screen, which will happen again this summer with Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL.

Another filmmaker who took a crack at Supes was J.J. Abrams, who wrote a treatment entitled Superman: Flyby, which saw many changes to the classic origin of the character, but also took a much more introspective approach, diving deep into the realities of what being Clark Kent/Superman would entail.

The thing that I tried to emphasise in the story was that if the Kents found this boy, Kal-El, who had the power that he did, he would have most likely killed them both in short order. And the idea that these parents would see – if they were lucky to survive long enough – that they had to immediately begin teaching this kid to limit himself and to not be so fast, not be so strong, not be so powerful.

The result of that, psychologically, would be fear of oneself, self-doubt and being ashamed of what you were capable of. Extrapolating that to adulthood became a fascinating psychological profile of someone who was not pretending to be Clark Kent, but who was Clark Kent. Who had become that kind of a character who is not able or willing to accept who he was and what his destiny was.

Abrams addressed the comparisons of his treatment to Zack Snyder's MAN OF STEEL, saying:

The idea in the movie was that he became Superman because he realised he had to finally own his strength and what he’d always been. I don’t know if that’s what Zack and Chris [Nolan] are doing, but it looks like that’s part of the idea and I could not be more thrilled to see that movie. That to me was always the way to go.

Interesting.  I haven't read Abrams' treatment, but given the director's sensibilities I tend to think it would've been a welcome entry.  It's hard to say for certain, though, as Superman has been a tough one to crack of late.  With the recent reviews and marketing of MAN OF STEEL, however, I think everyone's hopes are way up to see a new and proper vision of the character grace the screen.

Abrams' STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS hits theaters on May 17, 2013 and Snyder's MAN OF STEEL takes flight on June 14, 2013.

Extra Tidbit: Which version of Superman that never made it to the screen would you most like to have seen? I'm all about Burton's Superman Lives.
Source: Empire

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8:53AM on 03/25/2013

Thank heavens JJ was given the boot.

The idea that the Kents would have been afraid of this child and either trained him to be weak out of their own fear of him or felt the need to kill him to protect themselves is garbage. The Kents raised Clark to respect life and protect those weaker than himself. They didn't fear Clark, they loved him. Soooooo glad that JJ didn't get his chance to screw up Superman.
The idea that the Kents would have been afraid of this child and either trained him to be weak out of their own fear of him or felt the need to kill him to protect themselves is garbage. The Kents raised Clark to respect life and protect those weaker than himself. They didn't fear Clark, they loved him. Soooooo glad that JJ didn't get his chance to screw up Superman.
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-10
8:10PM on 03/23/2013

Is this man NOT getting enough attention already??

He already did right by star trek, even with all the bad science that was used as plot devices and as a way to make me roll my eyes involuntarily during the movie--(c'mon, man--dont change the laws of physics just to make a scene work out or bridge to the next plot point--we film watchers notice these things now-a-days) --AND hes up to his eye balls in Star Wars (which is awesome for him--I know it will be cool and that I'll enjoy it) --but NOW we have to hear about his ideas about things that
He already did right by star trek, even with all the bad science that was used as plot devices and as a way to make me roll my eyes involuntarily during the movie--(c'mon, man--dont change the laws of physics just to make a scene work out or bridge to the next plot point--we film watchers notice these things now-a-days) --AND hes up to his eye balls in Star Wars (which is awesome for him--I know it will be cool and that I'll enjoy it) --but NOW we have to hear about his ideas about things that he has NO INVOLVEMENT in TOO?! He's a great guy, but I dont think we have to hear about every idea he ever had in his head...we keep doing that and he's going to loose what humility he has and start believing he can do no wrong...and that, my friends, will only make his future films suffer as he surrounds himself with yes-men, down the path of evil and decay-- plus there are PLENTY of stories where Clark doesn't even exhibit any powers until he becomes a young adult, needing time to soak up the sun light as he matured--wait, Im going off point... whatever--cant be stopped anyways, so carry on:)
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-26
11:22AM on 03/23/2013
Getting sick to death of these superhero films getting exposure they don't deserve. Are there any proper films coming out?
Getting sick to death of these superhero films getting exposure they don't deserve. Are there any proper films coming out?
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10:44AM on 03/23/2013
His ideas sound a lot like JMS's Supreme Power from Marvel Max. I dig em. Still happier with what I've seen from Snyder, though.
And in the Fringe alternate-u, Superman Lives! came out and bombed. Probably...
His ideas sound a lot like JMS's Supreme Power from Marvel Max. I dig em. Still happier with what I've seen from Snyder, though.
And in the Fringe alternate-u, Superman Lives! came out and bombed. Probably...
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6:36AM on 03/23/2013

Interesting

Yeh interesting idea, but would Kal-El have the same psychological attributes as Humans? plus the teachings from Jor-El would surely overcome these issues if there were any.
Yeh interesting idea, but would Kal-El have the same psychological attributes as Humans? plus the teachings from Jor-El would surely overcome these issues if there were any.
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6:29AM on 03/23/2013

LOL!

now i know why do they choose zack & nilan over JJ..
now i know why do they choose zack & nilan over JJ..
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2:43AM on 03/23/2013
Yeah...not really clickin with me JJ. I get that he wanted to make a movie distinctly different from the Richard Donner movies, but I think he diverged far too much from the source material.

I think Nolan & Goyer are going with the right tact here. Centered around Clark/Jor-El debating whether or not the world is ready for a Superman...the seemingly conflicting advice of his fathers Jonathan Kent and Jor-El...until circumstances arise that force him to become his own man.

And if
Yeah...not really clickin with me JJ. I get that he wanted to make a movie distinctly different from the Richard Donner movies, but I think he diverged far too much from the source material.

I think Nolan & Goyer are going with the right tact here. Centered around Clark/Jor-El debating whether or not the world is ready for a Superman...the seemingly conflicting advice of his fathers Jonathan Kent and Jor-El...until circumstances arise that force him to become his own man.

And if nothing else Zack Snyder knows how to take something put on paper and bring it to life onscreen.
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2:37AM on 03/23/2013
I love J.J. Abrams' movie work but I've read the original script for Flyby and it's one God awful piece of work. He pretty much changed everything there is to know about Superman. He got Superman more wrong than Brian Singer did in Superman Returns. The new movie looks (so far) like it is written by someone who gets Superman. I'm hoping for the best.
I love J.J. Abrams' movie work but I've read the original script for Flyby and it's one God awful piece of work. He pretty much changed everything there is to know about Superman. He got Superman more wrong than Brian Singer did in Superman Returns. The new movie looks (so far) like it is written by someone who gets Superman. I'm hoping for the best.
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+6
7:40PM on 03/22/2013

Sounds like...

Smallville...and we got ten years of that. Thanks J.J. but no thanks.
Smallville...and we got ten years of that. Thanks J.J. but no thanks.
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3:58PM on 03/22/2013

just as i feared

heres a little bit of what we could have expected from superman:flyby
Turning in his script in July 2002, J. J. Abrams' Superman: Flyby was an origin story that included Krypton besieged by a civil war between Jor-El and his corrupt brother, Kata-Zor. Before Kata-Zor sentences Jor-El to prison, Kal-El is launched to Earth to fulfill a prophecy. Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he forms a romance with Lois Lane in the Daily Planet. However, Lois is more concerned with exposing Lex Luthor,
heres a little bit of what we could have expected from superman:flyby
Turning in his script in July 2002, J. J. Abrams' Superman: Flyby was an origin story that included Krypton besieged by a civil war between Jor-El and his corrupt brother, Kata-Zor. Before Kata-Zor sentences Jor-El to prison, Kal-El is launched to Earth to fulfill a prophecy. Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he forms a romance with Lois Lane in the Daily Planet. However, Lois is more concerned with exposing Lex Luthor, written as a government agent obsessed with UFO phenomena. Clark reveals himself to the world as Superman, bringing Kata-Zor's son, Ty-Zor, and three other Kryptonians to Earth. Superman is defeated and killed, and visits Jor-El (who committed suicide on Krypton while in prison) in Kryptonian heaven. Resurrected, he returns to Earth and defeats the four Kryptonians, while the script ends with Superman off to Krypton, leaving a cliffhanger for a sequel.....WOULD HAVE SUCKED
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+10
2:57PM on 03/22/2013

No.

Big Abrams fan, but this take on Superman sounds like crap. I hate when writers totally disregard a characters cannon just to do it. I think being the most powerful being in the universe would lead to many things, but self-doubt would be pretty far down on the list. Megalomania would seem a far more likely result. I don't know why modern writers continue to push the psychological damage angle on modern Superman?
Big Abrams fan, but this take on Superman sounds like crap. I hate when writers totally disregard a characters cannon just to do it. I think being the most powerful being in the universe would lead to many things, but self-doubt would be pretty far down on the list. Megalomania would seem a far more likely result. I don't know why modern writers continue to push the psychological damage angle on modern Superman?
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3:37PM on 03/22/2013
I get the whole feeling alone in the universe and having a hard time connecting with humanity, but your right, self doubt and being ashamed of what he is capable of? ABSOLUTLY NOT, he has always been someone who was more than willing to help people and proud of the fact that he could help and wanted to help, not someone with a fragile psyche
I get the whole feeling alone in the universe and having a hard time connecting with humanity, but your right, self doubt and being ashamed of what he is capable of? ABSOLUTLY NOT, he has always been someone who was more than willing to help people and proud of the fact that he could help and wanted to help, not someone with a fragile psyche
2:42PM on 03/22/2013

Another View

For a totally different "origin story", check out the novella "Superman and the Bugout" by Cory Doctorow. It's the flip-side of "Red Son", as it has Kal-el being found and raised by pacifist Jewish parents in Canada. He ends up being a "peacekeeper" and UN ambassador, (somewhat like Dr. Manhattan), never uses his powers, and doesn't have an alternate identity. However, everything changes when aliens invade the Earth. Funny, but thought-provoking.
For a totally different "origin story", check out the novella "Superman and the Bugout" by Cory Doctorow. It's the flip-side of "Red Son", as it has Kal-el being found and raised by pacifist Jewish parents in Canada. He ends up being a "peacekeeper" and UN ambassador, (somewhat like Dr. Manhattan), never uses his powers, and doesn't have an alternate identity. However, everything changes when aliens invade the Earth. Funny, but thought-provoking.
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2:40PM on 03/22/2013

Another View

For a totally different "origin story", check out the novella "Superman and the Bugout" by Cory Doctorow. It's the flip-side of "Red Son", as it has Kal-el being found and raised by pacifist Jewish parents in Canada. He ends up being a "peacekeeper" and UN ambassador, (somewhat like Dr. Manhattan), never uses his powers, and doesn't have an alternate identity. However, everything changes when aliens invade the Earth. Funny, but thought-provoking.
For a totally different "origin story", check out the novella "Superman and the Bugout" by Cory Doctorow. It's the flip-side of "Red Son", as it has Kal-el being found and raised by pacifist Jewish parents in Canada. He ends up being a "peacekeeper" and UN ambassador, (somewhat like Dr. Manhattan), never uses his powers, and doesn't have an alternate identity. However, everything changes when aliens invade the Earth. Funny, but thought-provoking.
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2:33PM on 03/22/2013
I'm excited to see Man of Steel. Very excited. But I don't like Abrams vision too much. I like the version of the origin where he doesn't start showing signs of power until he starts puberty. Also I am very much not interested in the idea of "a god struggling in a human world and Clark Kent as a critique of mankind," and would rather see "the 'human' (ie being struggling with human condition) who finds out he's been a 'god' the whole time." Basically the Bruce Timm animated version
I'm excited to see Man of Steel. Very excited. But I don't like Abrams vision too much. I like the version of the origin where he doesn't start showing signs of power until he starts puberty. Also I am very much not interested in the idea of "a god struggling in a human world and Clark Kent as a critique of mankind," and would rather see "the 'human' (ie being struggling with human condition) who finds out he's been a 'god' the whole time." Basically the Bruce Timm animated version
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2:16PM on 03/22/2013

eh

so is he hinting at he would have had clark kill the kents as a child? that would make for a horrible movie....but the comming to terms with who he is was def always the way to go, to not only embrace his powers but to embrace that he is the champion of mindkind, it makes him more human to struggle with that
so is he hinting at he would have had clark kill the kents as a child? that would make for a horrible movie....but the comming to terms with who he is was def always the way to go, to not only embrace his powers but to embrace that he is the champion of mindkind, it makes him more human to struggle with that
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2:42PM on 03/22/2013
No, he is saying that the Kents have to work to AVOID being accidentally killed. Read it again.
No, he is saying that the Kents have to work to AVOID being accidentally killed. Read it again.
3:30PM on 03/22/2013
dont see it, I see him trying to do a version that wouldnt do the character justice, and completely get of the point of superman, self doubt is not something he has, and in most cannon he has been helping people long before he became superman, even in Man of Steel we see him pulling a bus out of the water and saving lives, putting himself at risk because its the right thing to do, thats who he is and who the character is, anything else is not doing him justice
dont see it, I see him trying to do a version that wouldnt do the character justice, and completely get of the point of superman, self doubt is not something he has, and in most cannon he has been helping people long before he became superman, even in Man of Steel we see him pulling a bus out of the water and saving lives, putting himself at risk because its the right thing to do, thats who he is and who the character is, anything else is not doing him justice
2:12PM on 03/22/2013
I know he's attached to what seems like everything now these days, but I would love to see Abrams direct a superhero film. I'm sure he would have done a great job with his own Superman film.

Hell, have him direct Green Lantern 2 or something of that nature.
I know he's attached to what seems like everything now these days, but I would love to see Abrams direct a superhero film. I'm sure he would have done a great job with his own Superman film.

Hell, have him direct Green Lantern 2 or something of that nature.
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