$UPERMAN BUDGET IS UP, UP AND AWAY
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … the sky-high cost of making “Superman Returns.”
The new Man of Steel flick, due out June 30, is the culmination of a long, long, long process – one that’s had a rotating cast of directors and stars, and drawn a steady stream of Warner Bros. funds since the project began in the early 1990s.
The current version, with “X-Men” director Bryan Singer at the helm, finally began production last spring – as the studio and eager audiences sighed with relief.
But given Singer’s penchant for high-end special effects and copious reshoots, some in Hollywood have speculated that the film’s sizable budget has since ballooned to nearly $300 million.
“From what I gather, it will be the most expensive film ever,” says box office expert David Poland, editor of Movie City News.
“There’s no way the picture could cost less than $250 million, based on what they green-lit. And they green-lit $200 million with [previous director] McG. Then they started production, and then they got rid of McG, and then they started with Bryan, and finished, and then had to reshoot.
“I figure it anywhere between $290 and $300 million at this point,” he concludes.
Edward Jay Epstein, author of “The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood,” takes a different view of the calculation, saying that estimates shouldn’t include money for so-called “pay or play” deals with previous participants – a list that includes Brett Ratner, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, J.J. Abrams and Nicolas Cage – who were eventually cut out.
“There has been a long odyssey of Warner Bros. attempting to make this movie,” he concedes, “but those costs would have been written off. The only way a movie like this could cost anything approaching [$300 million] is if you have someone like Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg each getting 16 percent of the gross.”
The exact, ultimate price tag of the new “Superman” has become a hot topic as the film nears opening day. Variety has said it’s $250 million; last week, the Wall Street Journal reported $261 million.
Both of which drew protests from Warner Bros. suits, who insist the movie’s costs are being incorrectly interpreted and inflated.
“The number – after tax credits – is around $204 million,” Susan Fleishman, executive vice president of corporate communications for Warner Bros., said in a prepared statement.
But even that “Titanic”-sized budget would seem to be exorbitantly high for a movie featuring no huge movie stars – Kevin Spacey’s the highest-profile, and he ain’t that high – and a dubious need for extravagant special effects.
After all, the story’s main conceit is a guy in tights who can fly. And, as Poland snarks, “the technology in flying has not improved that much.”
“Based on the trailer, it doesn’t look like one of the most expensive movies ever,” says Brandon Gray, publisher of BoxOfficeMojo.com. “They could be saving the good stuff for the actual film, of course – but that’s an uncommon practice. Usually they show every special effect in the trailer.”
In an effort to track down a possible source of the “Superman” money pit, The Post pored over the film’s second trailer with special-effects expert Eric Hanson, who’s worked on CG-heavy films including “The Fifth Element” and “The Day After Tomorrow.”
The biggest and potentially most expensive scene in the trailer, he says, seems to be the one in which Superman (Brandon Routh) stops a fiery plane from crashing.
“It’s probably a [computer-generated] double,” he says, “and it will definitely be a CG double for action sequences like when he’s on the wing of the plane. It could be a live-action face. But things like the cape are definitely going to be computer graphics.
“This is a good example of a shot that has to withstand pretty close scrutiny. There’s a fair amount of budget that will go into that.”
Hanson says a big-budget film like this one will typically spend six to nine months before shooting even begins on CG research and development, plus a year of actual production time. “You’re probably looking at 300 to 400 artists,” he estimates.
Ultimately, Hanson says, the price tag for CG work in films like this is about $1 million per minute. “I’d wager probably half the film is effects,” he says, “but it could be higher.”
Given the film’s estimated 150-minute running time, that’s $75 million right there.
But as Epstein points out, “it all depends on what comes out on the screen. It makes no difference to me how expensive a movie is. Warner Brothers is the most profitable movie studio there is – I would assume that whatever the film costs is what they value it at.”
No matter what the final price tag is, one thing’s clear: “Superman” had better be able to leap opening-day box office records in a single bound.
$UPERMAN BUDGET IS UP, UP AND AWAY