Film 'Everyone's Hero' holds to Reeve's vision
LOS ANGELES, Sep 14 (Reuters) It is a fitting tribute to a truly super man. Christopher Reeve's last film project, the animated adventure "Everyone's Hero," debuts in theaters tomorrow, nearly two years after the "Superman" actor's death.
The paralyzed star took the job of directing the kids' animated movie, and shepherded it through screenwriting and development before he died in 2004 from cardiac arrest, leaving the movie unfinished.
In Hollywood, most films that lose their director midway through production get shelved indefinitely, but in a testament to Reeve's "never say quit" personality, work on "Everyone's Hero" continued.
The Depression-era movie centers on a baseball-loving boy named Yankee Irving who, despite his best efforts, can't hit a ball. But much like Reeve's determination to overcome the spinal injury that left him a quadriplegic, the boy refuses to give up his dream of playing in the big leagues.
"Chris's focus was to make that movie in one way or another, and we pursued that no matter what," said producer Ron Tippe. "It meant a great deal to us to deliver his vision." Reeve rose to stardom playing Superman in 1978's action movie of the same name. He played the superhero in three sequels, and it became his signature role.
But a 1995 horseback-riding accident at age 42 left him paralyzed from the neck down, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on mechanical assistance to breathe. Still, he never quit working.
He and his wife, Dana Reeve, became leading advocates for victims of paralysis and spinal cord injuries, and they lobbied the U S Congress on behalf of stem cell research. Dana Reeve died this past March of cancer.
'KEEP ON SWINGING' Despite his injuries, Reeve continued appearances on television shows like "Smallville," and he directed TV movies "In the Gloaming" and "The Brooke Ellison Story." One movie idea brought to Reeve was a bedtime story called "Everyone's Hero," and he and the producers recruited veteran sitcom writer Rob Kurtz ("Cosby" and "Grace Under Fire") to develop a screenplay.
Kurtz said he spent eight months working with Reeve to write a script that deals with family relationships and -- as the old baseball adage goes when a hitter is in a slump -- that tells kids to "keep on swinging" when facing adversity.
"That was really the message he wanted to relate -- that you never quit," Kurtz said of Reeve's vision for the project.
The screenwriter said he would show up to work at Reeve's home, and the director would present ideas and notes for just about every page of the script.
The pair would laugh at funny parts, and when the dialogue or plot would veer toward becoming overly sentimental, Reeve would bring it back down to Earth, Kurtz recalled.
"The chair, the paralysis, it all disappeared and it became two creative guys telling a story about a boy who wouldn't quit," said Kurtz.
When Reeve died, his wife stepped in as an executive producer, and Daniel St. Pierre and Colin Brady went on to direct the finished movie. Producer Tippe said any changes that were made always stayed true to the original story Reeve championed.
"There is no question the movie up on screens is the vision he laid down," Tippe said. "His focus was to make that movie in one way or another, and we pursued that no matter what." REUTERS DKA HT1037