By now, I would imagine many of you have seen "Man Of Steel," and you've had whatever reaction you've had. Some of you loved it, some of you hated it, and there's a whole spectrum of reactions in-between. Whatever you think of the film, you have to agree that Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Zack Snyder made some big choices about how to tell the story of one of the biggest icons in pop culture.
What if they'd made very different choices, though? I recently got a look at "Treatment 4.5B," written by Nolan, Goyer, and Snyder, of what was developed under the code name "Autumn Frost," and it's amazing to me that they went from this treatment to the film that finally arrived on screens a few weekends ago. I am on the record about being a big fan of the movie, but if they'd shot this treatment?
Well, let's look at what they did in it, compared to what you got to see in theaters.
The movie starts on Krypton, just like the finished film, but in a different way. It's a battlefield as General Zod's army attempts to break through the defensive lines around a geothermal power plant where Jor-El waits. He's determined to put a stop to Zod's plan, which all focuses on a small distant planet near a yellow sun. Jor-El and the other scientists have discovered proof that there is life on the planet, and that they could live there as well. Zod wants to leave Krypton and conquer this other planet, and he plans to destroy Krypton before he goes. He wants to overload the power plant, which will set off a chain reaction and destroy everything.
Jor-El and Zod get to fight, and Zod ends up winning. Before he can finish everything he plans to do, the real army arrives, and Zod and his followers are arrested.
Zod gets sent to the Phantom Zone, and his wife Faora is there to see it happen, but is not sentenced to the same punishment. Jor-El goes over the data from the power plant, convinced the planet is already doomed. The way the Phantom Zone is described sounds very painful and ugly, but it's too late. Zod's attack has definitely brought Krypton to the end times. When Jor-El tries to warn the rest of the planet, they accuse him of being in secret league with Zod, and they think he's just trying to finish what Zod started by calling for an escape to this distant new planet. He's arrested and locked in his home.
Jor-El knows what's coming, so he fashions a spaceship for his infant son. He retrofits a Phantom Zone generator to create a device that will open portals and allow the ship to travel through dimensions to shortcut the journey across massive amounts of space. That's one of the first things in the script that made it through development, which is kind of amazing. This film's take on Krypton seems like it would have taken a lot of time. In addition to Jor-El doing what we expect and finishing the spaceship in time to send his son away, Faora steals a ship and takes off to escape the planet's destruction as well. It makes me wonder why Jor-El doesn't just throw his wife and child into a ship to leave. In the finished film, there's a sense that Jor-El knows that's not an option, but it seems pretty easy for Faora to get away with.
When the ship carrying Kal-El jumps through the wormhole, it appears above Earth. We see the whole familiar scene of the ship crashing in Kansas and the Kents finding the baby inside. It's interesting… ultimately, both the treatment and the film do the same basic thing with the opening. They introduce Jor-El and Zod and Faora and Krypton. They send Zod to the Phantom Zone and the baby to Earth, and they blow up the planet. But the way they each accomplish the goal makes all the difference in the world. I definitely prefer the version that was released, and I think they are smart adjustments that were made.
The film jumps forward in time 25 years, and we meet Clark Kent working on an oil rig. He's actually undercover, and during a meeting with his boss, Kent's trying to get some information from him about safety problems. There's an explosion, and an alarm goes off because the rig is on fire. Clark starts running around saving people, but doing it without anyone seeing him. The scene ends the same way it does in the film, with Clark catching the giant piece of metal and holding it so the helicopter can get away. He dives once the people are gone, and disappears.
He goes home to Smallville to see his parents. He's been away, working as a freelance journalist around the world. He picks up the mail that's been stacking up while he was gone and one of the letters is a job offer from The Daily Planet. Maybe the funniest detail of the entire treatment is only funny in the wake of the omnipresent and annoying "How does the Man Of Steel shave?" ad campaign. The exact quote from the treatment --
"Clark leaves for a shower and a shave, using the mirror to bounce his heat vision back onto his face."
This is a more traditional take on Clark. He wears glasses even though he doesn't need them because they make him feel human. He's struggling with his identity. He tells his parents about the various things he did while he was traveling. He talks about how he's still not sure what he's supposed to be doing with his powers, and Jonathan takes him out for a drive. Jonathan tells Clark there's a ship buried in the barn, and Clark tells him he knows. He's always been afraid to go near it, but he knew it was there. Before Jonathan can explain further, they see a giant tornado blowing into Smallville. They start gathering people up so they can take shelter in a local church. Clark takes off his glasses and starts to fly around Smallville at super-speed, saving anyone he finds. The tornado changes course and heads straight for the church. Clark ends up flying into the tornado and using his superbreath to blow the tornado out, saving everyone.
Jonathan is proud of his son. They go home so that Clark can finally look inside the ship and figure out who he is. The barn transforms into Jor-El's lab all around Clark, but he's the only one who can see it. Clark sees his final moments on Krypton play out again, and the message that plays is from both of his parents. Clark has an emotional breakdown, and at the end of the presentation, he receives a suit, the one worn by his father, with that familiar "S" shield on the front. He learns that it means hope, and inside the ship, a beacon comes to life, sending that "S" out into space, telling any Kryptonians alive anywhere that they are not alone.
Faora wakes up from hypersleep, which she went into when her ship was damaged. She sees that the beacon has been activated, and she sets her course for Earth to go see where the signal originated.
Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, we meet Perry White and Lois Lane. She works for the Planet full-time, but she gets scooped on a big story by freelancer Clark Kent, who she dislikes immediately. She's assigned to investigate some bizarre "Metropolis Miracles," stories about angels and UFOs and people being saved by some sort of magical being. She manages to talk Perry into taking Kent's hard-hitting drug-related expose away from him so she can follow it up, and Perry assigns the "Miracles" story to Kent. He can see that Lois is very smug about her victory, so Perry tells them that he has another story and he wants both of them to cover it. Together. It's the grand opening of the new Metropolis/Gotham rail link, a bullet train between the two cities.
Faora's spaceship comes out of hyperspace near Saturn, still headed for Earth.
I wonder… would fans of the comics who have so many problems with the choices made in "Man Of Steel" prefer this treatment because of how many more of the conventional choices about the characters it makes? Clark and Lois go to the train dedication ceremony the next day. The trains are all branded with the same corporate logo: LEXCORP. Lois says she'll take a trip on the train and Clark can stay behind and talk to people at the station. She manages to claim a seat next to Emmet Vale, and the treatment points out that he is "(the future creator of Metallo, for the geeks out there)" as Lois starts to interview him about his work on the train.
Would it surprise you if the train suddenly ended up going out of control?
Would it surprise you if Clark ripped off his suit to reveal the Superman suit for the first time before he rushes off to save the day?
There's an explosion that takes out part of a bridge and Superman manages to catch the train and save the day. As he does so, though, dozens of people get photos and videos of him. Clark makes sure everyone is okay, and then flies off before Lois Lane can get too good a look at him. He knows someone sabotaged the tracks, so he flies up high enough so he can listen to everyone in Metropolis at once, gradually honing in on the guilty parties, who are about to take off in a helicopter.
He chases them and they open fire on him with machine guns. Most of the bullets bounce off of him, but one goes past him, and he chases it down, stopping the bullet just before it hits a woman on the street. As the treatment points out, "We have now seen that he is both faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive." He ends up bringing the helicopter down, depositing it right in front of some police officers at the scene of the train crash. He leaves them and flies off to claim his clothes and his glasses where he dropped them before a janitor can pick them up and throw them away
Clark shows up to see how Lois is doing as paramedics look her over, and while he's worried, she doesn't appear to have any suspicion about him being Superman.
Lois's father, a top military official named General Sam Lane, is one of the people summoned that night to start developing strategies for handling a super-powered threat, just in case the mysterious man from that afternoon turns out to be not so friendly. Clark talks to his parents on the phone about how proud they are of him for what he did. And in space Faora's ship passes the moon, headed straight for Earth now.
Lois is the one who names Superman officially in print, and when Clark asks why, she points out the "S" on his chest. He almost starts to argue with her and realizes he can't without revealing who he really is. Meanwhile, in Smallville, Faora's ship crashes, and she finds herself healing as the yellow sun starts to soak into her cells. She takes a tracker from her ruined ship and goes in search of the origin of the beacon.
In Metropolis, Clark is taking care of crimes, flying around and patrolling, unaware that Faora is starting to rampage through Smallville, testing her strength, realizing that she can't be hurt. She goes to the farm, where she ends up burning Jonathan badly with her heat vision when he threatens her with a gun. Martha tries to call Clark on the phone, as Faora goes out to to the barn. She activates the Phantom Zone generator on the ship, and it opens a doorway. General Zod collapses through the portal, weakened and scarred and burned from the ordeal. She tells him that the yellow sun will heal him. She uses the ship's computer to download a full understanding of English for both her and for Zod.
All of this just feels like busywork in the treatment. By the time Martha finally get Clark on the phone, it's been several hours, and Zod and Faora have already figured out that there is another Kryptonian on Earth. They escape back to Faora's ship, which is now surrounded by police. Faora smashes her way through them to get Zod into the ship, where she tells him she has a Battle Suit stored for his use.
By the time Superman gets to the farm, he's frantic and upset. He sees how hurt Jonathan is, but his father wants him to go after the Kryptonians and make sure no one else gets hurt. Superman flies off to do what his father says, kicking off the first big fight of the movie, which is Superman versus Faora.
It takes place in the streets of Smallville, and the military moves in to also try to control things. Zod tries to join the fight, and Superman smashes his Battle Suit right off of him. At the same time, Superman finds himself stopping the attacks against the military so no one gets hurt. Faora sees that Superman cares about bystanders, and she starts a major fire that threatens to burn Smallville to the ground, distracting Superman who was very close to beating Zod completely.
Superman gets distracted putting out the fire, and by the time he's done, the Kryptonians are gone. Superman goes back to the farm, where Jonathan is dying. He hangs on long enough to tell his son how proud he is of him. Meanwhile, General Lane arrives to take control of the scene in Smallville. He orders all the pieces of Faora's destroyed ship be gathered up for study.
Zod and Faora go into hiding as Zod continues to recuperate. He's unnerved by the idea that Faora is now as powerful as he is, if not more so. Lois Lane shows up in Smallville to get the story from her father, who orders her to leave. He mentions that he believes Superman is part of the invasion force, and Lois argues with him, saying Superman is obviously trying to help.
Lois goes to the Kent's farm to interview them about why the aliens would attack Jonathan. Clark tries to cover up the truth with his answers, and Martha lets Lois stay there while she's working on the story. She helps Clark deal with his father's death and all the arrangements that have to be made. I really don't like the way any of this is handled in the treatment. One of my favorite choices about "Man Of Steel" is how far ahead of the game Lois Lane is, and when she figures Clark's secret out, he hasn't even put the suit on yet. She seems so much smarter than the normal version of the character, and here, it's more of that same "Hey, wait a minute…" thing dragged out for no good reason.
Zod decides he's got to get rid of Superman if he and Faora are going to take over the planet. At the same time, he's suspicious of Faora and sees her almost as a rival. He confronts her about how long he was trapped in the Phantom Zone and, blaming her, attacks and kills her without hesitation.
General Lane sets up a command post in Metropolis, hoping to catch Superman and Zod both. There's a mass funeral in Smallville for everyone killed by the Kryptonians, including Jonathan. During the wake afterwards, Zod appears in Metropolis, ready to rumble. When Clark sees that on the TV screen, he takes off for Metropolis, transforming himself into Superman.
There's a military attack on Zod, and in the midst of it, Lois recruits a high school kid with a camera to take pictures. Jimmy Olsen seems happy to help. Just as Zod prepares to wipe out the military forces attacking him, Superman arrives and saves them. He confronts Zod even as General Lane gives orders for the military to attack both of the aliens.
Zod figures out who Superman really is. Zod is proud of having destroyed Krypton, and he and Superman begin to really wail on each other. One way this is very different can be summed up by a sentence in the treatment: "While Superman has the experience with the powers, Zod has the advantage in combat training." In "Man Of Steel," I would contend that Superman has never thrown a punch in his life until he grabs Zod and flies him out into that cornfield. He's learning to fight as we watch him, and he has no idea what he's doing at first.
Here, Zod and Superman are evenly matched, and the military continues to attack both of them. Lois manages to get to her father to tell him that he's making a mistake. Zod begins to target civilians to keep Superman busy. Superman realizes what Zod is doing, and he takes off, away from the city, so Zod has no choice but to follow him.
Superman eventually leads Zod back to the Kent farm and the barn where Superman opens a portal to the Phantom Zone using the machine. Superman eventually manages to throw Zod back into the Phantom Zone before closing the portal. Clark decides to destroy the ship, but Martha convinces him that it's his only connection to his history. He moves it to the Arctic, where it is away from anyone.
At the end of the film, General Lane is left with some of the wreckage he recovered, including alien metals and small shards of green rock. He's talking about it to someone on the phone, who asks Lane to send it over for analysis. We see it's Lex Luthor, in his office in Metropolis, where the clean-up efforts have begun after Zod and Superman's massive battle.
Clark shows up back at the Daily Planet, where Jimmy has just been hired. Lois tells Clark that both Superman and Zod have vanished. The military is on high alert. Lois says it's frustrating that Superman vanished after she put her faith in him, and she goes up to the roof of the building. Superman flies up to tell her that Zod is gone forever. he gives her a letter that is addressed to the whole world, telling them everything they need to know about him.
He tells her that he likes the name Superman, pointing out that he is wearing a big "S" on his chest after all. She asks him what it really means, and he tells her it is the symbol for hope. He flies off, hearing someone in trouble somewhere else, and she watches him go, smiling.
And that's it. It's funny how many of the things that some people are complaining about are indeed addressed in this early treatment. If nothing else, it's clear that none of these decisions were made casually. They started with something much more familiar as a traditional Superman story, and then gradually moved further and further away from it. I think that appearance by Lex at the end is the most interesting beat in the treatment because I strongly suspect that we'll see a beat very much like that at the start of the next film, with Lex stepping in to pay for the clean-up in Metropolis, claiming any recovered technology as reward for his efforts. I would not be surprised to see Lex lead a public smear campaign against Superman, using the events of "Man Of Steel" to paint him as a menace.
So tell me… would you have preferred this version, even if it is overly familiar? Or are you happy that this creative team pushed themselves further to create something that may indeed challenge your ideas about the characters? Either way, it's always fascinating to see the way projects develop over time, and just how far they came from where they began.