What Is Happening With The New Spawn Movie?

Last week, the internet was abuzz with news of the Spawn reboot. Todd McFarlane, the creator of the comic anti-hero, spoke to the press at Fan Expo Canada, and mentioned that the script may be done by the end of the year, which would mean production in 2014 and 2015! He also suggested, among other things, that Jamie Foxx is interested, which may just give the movie that extra boost that only star power can provide. Reading the news, I could not keep myself from experiencing a slight case of déjà vu. Haven't I heard this before somewhere, I thought? It seemed really familiar... But, I hadn't been reading the Spawn comics for a while, so I must have been hallucinating, I'd decided. Except, then I started digging. It turns out, Todd McFarlane has been talking about this project for over 10 years! Spawn initially appeared on the big screens in 1997, starring Michael Jai White in the lead, John Leguizamo as Violator the Clown, and Martin Sheen as the former CIA operatives' evil boss. All around, the film was awful, largely being sunk by a combination of a stock superhero origin story-tpe script, and terrible CGI (some say the film deserves a break, cause it was made in the 90s, but I refuse to believe that four years after Jurassic Park, they couldn't make a cloak look good). The film was a moderate success for New Line in the box office, with over 87 mln made worldwide. As early as 2001, Michael Jai White confirmed the movie's rights were bought by Sony, and he is on board for a sequel. " thinkin' they'll make the movie SERIOUS, like horror/action; very much like the comic book. And that's the way you do it." The Sony deal must not have lasted long, however, as a cursory internet search revealed no further details about the company's plans to reboot the franchise. In 2002, producer Don Murphy broke the news that a new writer was hired for the project. The "god amongst men", as he was described (no joke) by the producer of the film, was Hans Rodionoff, who had penned such gems as (brace yourself) Man-Thing, Sucker: The Vampire, National Lampoon's Bag Boy (where he is inexplicably credited as Reed Buccholz, the main character from Sucker), AND two Lost Boys sequels! This is what Rodionoff had to say about the project:
"One of the challenges of doing a movie where the protagonist is a demon is that it's kind of hard to feel for that character[.] One of the things Niles and Todd did with the last draft was have it be more of a Sam and Twitch story. ... The problem is it became solely a Sam and Twitch movie and there wasn't enough Spawn."
Rodionoff evidently envisioned the two as "more like Riggs and Murtaugh. If you dropped Blade into Lethal Weapon, you've got sort of what I'm going for." According to IGN, the movie was at Columbia pictures at this time. His draft must have not worked out, however, although the basic concept he described - focusing on detectives and forgoing the supernatural as much as possible - will remain a part of the project, as we shall see. In 2004, McFarlane announced a new animated series for the character was in the works. There had actually been a really great one on HBO between 1997 and 1999, and in 2004 McFarlane set up a development deal with IDT Entertainment (now Starz). He said this about the deal: "Ever since the Spawn animated series left HBO in 1999, I have been asked -- almost daily -- when the show is going to return. I've been waiting for the right opportunity to not only bring the show back, but also do it with the intent of making it better creatively than its first incarnation. Teaming up with IDT Entertainment's DPS/Film Roman will allow us to take it to the next level of animation technology." Development on the series started, it became called "Spawn: The Animation" and promptly went into "legal wranglings" which held it up for another five years. Sparz is now coincidentally developing another animated series based on a comic, about a man who makes a deal with the devil to be released from hell "in the style of Spawn". The legal troubles ended in 2009, when he announced that "the characters are designed, the background is there, and we've even done the voice recording" for an 85 minute feature, as the production stopped right before it was sent to an overseas animation studio. Progress between now and then? According to February's news, 5 minutes, as the count of completed work increased to 90 minutes, and it is still waiting to be sent out to an animation studio. Spawn-Movie 2006 takes basically takes us up to date on the new Spawn movie, actually. Everything after this, including last week's news, is mostly just repetition of the same quotes. Hollywood North Report printed on February 26th, 2006, that Todd McFarlane said "I'm in the middle of the script and will have to do some rewrites, but I'm hoping by the end of the year, I'll be behind the camera." He added that "You can do wonderful movies for under $10 million...I've got the money, so I'm going to write it, produce it and direct it," and that "Spawn doesn't utter a word in this film...the guy with all the speaking parts is Twitch... I can't do a Spider-Man. I don't have the money. But I can do a gritty, dark, scary, creepy movie." Does any of that sound familiar? It's because that is almost exactly what we read online as McFarlane saying last week! Which was that "They want me to deliver the script by the end of the year, which would basically mean we'd be shooting next year." I'm starting to think that people around McFarlane may be (justifiably) upset that he's been at the exact same phase of development for seven years! He says "I've got so many people phoning now that I've got to get it done. I've made some promises to people this year." To be fair, there were other news in the interim, about potential casting! In 2009, McFarlane said he envisions DiCaprio in the lead - which, remember, will not be Spawn. Neither, however, would he play Twitch - ""We had Sam and Twitch in the book, but because of some of the stuff I'm trying to sell in Hollywood, we might have to change the characters a bit. But it would still be a police character who's chasing down a case and in the middle of this 'Godfather'-type movie, something weird is out there and no one knows about it except him and a few other people." The casting makes perfect sense, actually, considering he compared the movie in style to The Departed. Other news in the same article - McFarlane began writing the script. This is in 2009, 3 years after he said he was in the middle! Did he start over? That being said, DiCaprio sounds like wishful thinking, there is nothing to suggest the actor would take the role on. Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, is another deal - he really, really wants to do it - in fact, as of July 26th, he is "aggressively pursuing" the role of Spawn. That being said, considering the previous descriptions of the movie, what, exactly, will he do? McFarlane said to MTV that "The pitch I gave was that we could do ten of these for the next ten years and he wouldn't have to be 22 for the rest of his life." This indicates a mostly CGI character that, according to previous statements, doesn't speak? This is just speculation, but part of the holdup may be McFarlane rewriting to accommodate a bigger star playing Spawn. So, this is just a reality check. Perhaps McFarlane is actually working hard on this, will live up to all of his promises in delivering an awesome Spawn movie; few things would make me happier. But the track record is not good, with us hearing literally the same news every few years. So, let's wait and see. In the meantime, are the new Spawn comics any good?
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A former philosophy student, now submerged in popular culture and cinema, writes about film from a basement in Vilnius, Lithuania. Find more from me at filmstoned.com