By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Man of Steel," the latest iteration of the Superman series, lands on the big screen on Friday with the hopes that the dark, action-heavy film can revive the classic comic book superhero as a Hollywood franchise.
But director Zack Snyder, who is best known for 2007 action film "300" and 2009 superhero flick "Watchmen," told Reuters that it was a delicate balance staying faithful to Superman's story without retreading earlier film and television versions.
"I think a mistake would be to consciously ask, 'What mistakes have they done in the past?' That type of reactive approach - that's going to end in disaster," Snyder, 47, said.
"The way we looked at it was like, 'Let's say we just found these comic books under our bed and this character, Superman, seems pretty cool to make a movie about,'" he added.
The Superman comic, which artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel debuted in 1938, has been brought to the big and small screen about a dozen times, most notably in the four-film series starring Christopher Reeve from 1978 to 1987.
"Man of Steel" tells the origin story of the DC Comics superhero, played by British actor Henry Cavill, setting up the film as a springboard to reboot a franchise that failed to take off in 2006 with director Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns.
Studio Warner Bros. enlisted director Christopher Nolan - whose three Batman films grossed more than $2 billion worldwide between 2005 and 2012, according to box-office tracker Boxofficemojo.com - as a producer and story writer to help shepherd the film along.
"He treated me probably how he would want to be treated," Snyder said of Nolan. "If I had a problem he was there to say, 'What's going on? What about this?' offering advice and counsel whenever I needed it."
"Man of Steel" begins with Superman's birth as Kal-El on the planet Krypton. As the last hope for his society's survival amid an insurrection, his parents send him to Earth where he is raised as Clark Kent in Smallville, Kansas.
By framing "Man of Steel" as a coming-of-age story, Snyder is also able to tap the science-fiction unique to Superman that other superhero stories, like Batman, do not have.
"He's able to look at humanity objectively because he's not human, and that element combined with the sci-fi school made me really go after that aspect of it as hard as I could," he sal elaid.
The film documents the young life of Clark Kent from bullied and sensitive schoolboy to itinerant loner endowed with otherworldly strength, laying the groundwork for a consistent, relatable Superman that Snyder said he wanted in the character.
"We didn't have to have this crazy transformation go on when he became Clark Kent," he said. "He's not even aware of it ... I feel like in a weird way, he's also easier to hook onto because he's coming from the same point of view all the time."
Snyder also said he leaned on Clark Kent's all-American values and farm-boy upbringing by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) when it came time for Superman to emerge to save the planet from Kryptonian warlord General Zod.
"He's like a first-responder. ... He's a volunteer in a lot of ways, and I think that because he's that ultimate, selfless character, you end up (with) a personality type that goes along with that," Snyder said.
"I think as soon as you start to work on him it's going to be muddy and weird," Snyder said about his reluctance to modify Superman from his comic book origins. "There's a pure thing inside of the Superman character."
"Man of Steel" also stars Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as General Zod.
Warner Bros. is part of Time Warner Inc.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, editing by Paul Casciato)