What were movie nerds talking about on this day five, or 10, or 25 years ago? In Old News, we reexamine a news story from this date in film history and see how it ultimately turned out.
Dateline: March 1994
Article: “Spawn: The Movie?”
Magazine: Wizard, Issue #31
Abstract: Effects tests are underway to determine the best approach for a live-action film based on Todd McFarlane’s best-selling comic Spawn.
Excerpt: “Industrial Light And Magic has alreay made some computer-animated demonstration shots of a few baddies that’ve turned up in the Spawn comic book. Supposedly you can’t even tell that the shots are computerized. The plan right now is to film actors in costume and then animate the cape, backgrounds, and so on… The only problem is that movie companies who will back the film just want to license the Spawn characters from McFarlane and make their own movie. We all know from Marvel’s movie bombs that many of these companies care about money, not characters. McFarlane, on the other hand, wants to do a movie only if it resembles his character 100 percent.”
Aftermath: What a difference a couple of decades make. “Marvel’s movie bombs?” It’s hard to imagine any Marvel movie bombing in 2014, but 1994 was a very different time. As Wizard describes, Marvel used to license their properties out to film studios (typically no-frills exploitation houses) to create their movies. That’s the process that produced junk like the 1989 version of The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. Based on the results, McFarlane had a right to be nervous and protective.
His Spawn film took another three years to make its way to theaters, opening in August of 1997. When it did, it looked largely as Wizard described; star Michael Jai White wore an elaborate prosthetic makeup and costume as Spawn, while the character’s prehensile cape was animated by computers (and largely absent from the movie, to keep down the cost). Movie Spawn might not have been 100 percent McFarlane’s, but it wasn’t too far off. The film generated some $87 million worldwide against a $40 million budget.
Still, whether he cared more about the characters or the money, McFarlane’s plans to make a second Spawn started almost as soon as the first movie was released. More than fifteen years later, he’s still talking about it. At various times, he’s hyped a direct continuation of the first film, a reboot, and even a story that would relegate Spawn to a minor background player. Sometimes he’s promised a Spawn like Batman Begins; other times, he’s compared the project to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Last fall, he said the sequel would be geared towards fans of The Conjuring rather than fans of Iron Man. Supposedly, McFarlane should be done with the new script any day now. Perhaps this time he can give it to a company that really understands how to take comic-book characters and bring their essence to the big screen, like Marvel.