Spawn (film)

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Spawn
Partially seen against a dark black background is a green eyed masked face, wearing a red collar and cape
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMark A.Z. Dippé
Produced byClint Goldman
Screenplay byAlan B. McElroy
Story byAlan B. McElroy
Mark A.Z. Dippé
Based onSpawn
by Todd McFarlane
Starring
Music byGraeme Revell
CinematographyGuillermo Navarro
Edited by
  • Rick Shaine
  • Michael N. Knue
  • Todd Busch
Production
company
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • August 1, 1997 (1997-08-01)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$45 million[2][3][4]
Box office$87.8 million[5]

Spawn is a 1997 American superhero film based on the comic book character of the same name. Directed and co-written by Mark A.Z. Dippé, the film stars Michael Jai White in the title role, and is one of the first films to feature an African American actor portraying a major comic book superhero.[6][7] Spawn depicts the origin story of the title character, beginning with the murder of soldier/assassin Al Simmons. He is resurrected as Spawn, the reluctant, demonic leader of Hell's army. He ultimately refuses to lead the army in the war against Heaven and turns away from evil. The film co-stars John Leguizamo (as The Violator, Al's demonic guide) and Nicol Williamson (as Al's mentor, Cogliostro). Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, D. B. Sweeney, Melinda Clarke, and Frank Welker also star in the film.

Spawn was released in the United States on August 1, 1997. It grossed $87 million worldwide against its production budget of $45 million, but received generally negative reviews from critics. The film was Williamson's final film appearance before his death on December 16, 2011.

Plot[edit]

Al Simmons is a Force Reconnaissance Marine Colonel and Black Ops operative. Jason Wynn, the head of the covert government agency for which Simmons works, assigns him to infiltrate a biochemical weapons plant in North Korea. Unknown to Simmons, Wynn has ordered his top assassin Jessica Priest to murder him while he is on the mission. After Simmons dies, he is set on fire by Wynn and the flames cause the plant to explode. Simmons arrives in Hell, where one of the rulers of Hell - Malebolgia - offers him a Faustian deal: if Simmons becomes his eternal servant and leader of his army in Armageddon, he will be able to return to Earth to see his fiancée, Wanda Blake. Simmons accepts the offer and returns to Earth.

Upon his return, Simmons learns that five years have passed since his death. Wanda is now married to his best friend Terry Fitzgerald, who is living as the father to Al's daughter Cyan. Soon Simmons encounters a clown-like demon named Violator, sent by Malebolgia, who acts as Simmons's guide down the path to evil. He also meets a mysterious old man named Cogliostro, a fellow Hellspawn, who has successfully freed his soul and now fights for Heaven. Simmons learns that Wynn, who is now a weapons dealer, has developed a biological weapon called Heat 16. During a reception, Spawn attacks Wynn, kills Jessica, and escapes with the help of his necroplasm armor.

Following the attack by Simmons, Violator convinces Wynn to have a device attached to his heart that will release Heat 16 worldwide if his vital signs flatline as a deterrent against assassination attempts. However, Malebolgia wants Simmons to kill Wynn and initiate the apocalypse. Spawn confronts Violator, who turns into his demonic form and beats Al down. Cogliostro rescues Al and teaches him how to use his necroplasm armor. Simmons learns that Violator and Wynn are going to kill Terry, Cyan, and Wanda.

Terry sends an email incriminating Wynn to a fellow newsman. Just as the email is sent, Cyan and Wynn enter the room. Wynn destroys Terry's computer and takes the family hostage. Spawn arrives and nearly kills Wynn, but Al extracts the device from Wynn's body instead and destroys it. With his plan foiled, Violator sends Spawn and Cogliostro to Hell, where they both battle the demon before subduing him. Spawn is then confronted by Malebolgia, who tells Spawn that he will never lead Hell's army. Spawn escapes with Cogliostro just before they are overwhelmed by Malebolgia's forces. Violator, having recovered, follows them. A final battle ensues, ending with Spawn decapitating the demon with his chains. Violator's head taunts the group and threatens his return before melting and returning to Hell. Wynn is arrested, and Spawn, realizing there is no place for him in Wanda's world anymore, dedicates himself to justice rather than succumbing to his lust for vengeance.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Columbia Pictures showed interest in making a film adaptation of Spawn when the comic book was launched in 1992. Negotiations fell through as Todd McFarlane felt that the studio was not giving him enough creative control.[8] He eventually sold the film rights to New Line Cinema for $1 in exchange for creative input and merchandising rights.[2] New Line president Michael DeLuca, a comic book collector himself, expressed interest in having "a character that has as established an audience as Spawn", while declaring that success hinged on an adaptation that "maintains a PG-13 rating but retains its darkness."[8]

As visual effects were an important production concern, the film was to be produced by Pull Down Your Pants Pictures, a company formed by former Industrial Light & Magic artists Mark A.Z. Dippé, Clint Goldman, and Steve 'Spaz' Williams. Dippé was slated to direct the film, with Goldman as producer, and Williams as second unit director and visual effects supervisor.[9] Dippé and Williams, who at the time was the only one of the three still attached to ILM, called the film opportunity "our ticket out of the company".[4] The script would be written by Alan B. McElroy, who, along with writing the Spawn comic book, also wrote many episodes of the Todd McFarlane's Spawn animated series.[9]

Michael Jai White found Al Simmons' character appealing; he described Spawn as "the most tragic character I've encountered in any cinematic production." He says it was a challenge to make audiences sympathize with a government assassin who comes back from hell. White had endure two to four hours of make-up work, including a full glued-on bodysuit, yellow contact lenses that irritated his eyes, and a mask that restricted his breathing.[10] He said that his long-time experience with martial arts helped him to endure the uncomfortable prosthetics, giving him "strong will and unbreakable concentration."[8]

Spawn was originally green-lit with a budget of $20 million. The scale of the visual effects led New Line to continually increase the project's budget, which grew to $45 million — a third of which was spent on the effects. The shooting schedule was only 63 days. To cut production time by a week, Goldman lent $1 million to engage John Grower's Santa Barbara Studios to develop the digitally produced Hell sequences.[2] The visual effects shot count increased from 77 to over 400, created by 22 companies in the United States, Canada and Japan, requiring 70 people and nearly 11 months to complete. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) did most of the work, creating 85 shots at a cost of $8.5 million. More than half of the final effects shots were delivered two weeks before the film's debut.[2]

The most difficult sequences to render in the film included the Violator, Spawn's digital cape, and some of Spawn's transformations.[2] Visual effects supervisor 'Spaz' Williams, with his previous experience of creating the T. Rex in Jurassic Park, was responsible for realizing the reptilian Violator. Working with KNB Efx Group over several months they created a small 24 reference model, as well as a full size 11-foot model for use in some of the practical shots. The small model was cut up and laser scanned, the data was then used by a team at ILM to create a digital armature of the creature, and to paint and give texture to the digital model. Only then could the character be animated, after which the work had to be converted to regular film stock. Further work was needed to integrate the footage with the rest of the scene, such as matching the lighting and grain of the other footage. The final shot of The Violator was delivered on July 21, 1997.[2] A team at ILM supervised by Christopher Hery and Habib Zargarpour modelled, animated and rendered realistic looking robes, glass elements and a computer generated Spawn. Originally intended as one long shot, the scene was later recut and extended.[11]

Differences from the comic[edit]

Terry Fitzgerald, Al Simmons' best friend before his death, is black in the comics. In the film, he is white, portrayed by D. B. Sweeney. Todd McFarlane explained that this change was made by the studio to avoid having too many black leads, as they believed this would give the false impression that film's target audience was the African American demographic.[12][13][14]

In the comics, Al Simmons' murderer was Chapel, a character created by Rob Liefeld for the comic Youngblood, while Jessica Priest, a character created for the film, took Chapel's place in the movie.[15][16]

Release[edit]

The original cut of Spawn earned an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America resulting in the producers toning down the violence in the film to get a PG-13 rating.[9]

Box office[edit]

Spawn was released on August 1, 1997. It grossed $19,738,749 that opening weekend, ranking it second behind Air Force One. For its second weekend, the film dropped to number three in the box office, reflecting a decreased earnings of 54.7% and a gross of $8,949,953.[17] Based on a $45 million production budget,[2][3][4] it grossed $54,870,174 domestically and $32,969,867 internationally for a worldwide total revenue of $87,840,042.[5]

Critical response[edit]

The film received negative reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 18% based on reviews from 45 critics, with the website's consensus stating: "Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre."[18] On Metacritic it has a score of 34 out of 100 based on reviews from 17 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[19] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[20]

One of the few positive reviews was from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, who awarded the film 3½ out of 4 stars. He wrote that the film's plot was "sappy" and little more than a set-up for some of the most innovative effects of the era, so much that Spawn verged on surrealistic art film. Ebert ended his review with "As a visual experience, Spawn is unforgettable."[21] Gene Siskel his At the Movies co-host disagreed, and said the film lost him a mere two minutes after its introduction. Ebert praised the hellscape imagery and accused Siskel of being dismissive because of the genre, but having liked Batman Siskel was unconvinced.[22] David Kaplan of Newsweek called the film "the summer's most spectacular concoction of visual effects and color" but said that those unfamiliar with the comics might find the story difficult to follow.[23]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle criticized the weak story, and called the film a visual assault, "is all about style, which will appeal to some viewers and overwhelm most others". Of the cast LaSalle says only John Leguizamo stands out, his "zaniness seems in tune with the action" and he is "lucky enough to have a flashy part".[24] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post calls the film a "muddled revenge fantasy" and criticizes the "nonsensical screenplay" and complains about the "thicket of narrative, punctuated by repetitive action sequences."[25] Todd McCarthy writing for Variety magazine criticized the film for its over-reliance on special effects. He called it "narratively knuckleheaded", and disliked the scatological humor, and found the action sequences numbingly repetitive with "no compensatory narrative or thematic balance". McCarthy expected the younger male target-audience would enjoy the film, but that as the film is "loaded with effects at the expense of character or narrative coherence" it would be a turn-off for other viewers.[3] Laura Miller of Salon.com called Spawn "a witless exercise in reheating leftovers". Miller called the comic character "a rehash of Spiderman"(sic) and the film a poor man's Batman. She declares "This movie sucks" and criticizes the special effects, compounded by the film taking itself too seriously. She is critical of the lack of dramatic structure, calling Spawn "a film helmed by technicians" and concludes that it is a film by "smart people pretending to be stupid".[26]

Michael Jai White is not a fan of the film: "There is no footage of me ever saying that I liked Spawn. I have never said that I thought that was a good movie"[27] John Leguizamo commented on the film: "The thing that Todd McFarlane brought to the comic book industry, which he saved in the early 1990s, was the edge. The darkness, the vulgarity, the violence. I think the movie would have profited for more violence, more vulgarity and being darker. Let it be truer to the comics."[28]

Accolades[edit]

At the Saturn Awards, Spawn was nominated for Best Make-up. The film was also nominated for three Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for Favorite Male Newcomer (Michael Jai White), Favorite Horror Supporting Actor (John Leguizamo) and Favorite Horror Supporting Actress (Theresa Randle).[29] At the Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival, Spawn was nominated for Best Film; the film was also nominated for & won the Best Special Effects award.[30]

In January 2018, Complex magazine listed Spawn at number 2 out of 22, on its list of "The Best Black Superheroes In Movies".[31]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS on May 5, 1998 in a PG-13 version and an R-rated Director's Cut version. The Director's Cut version included 45 minutes of additional footage, including a "Making of Spawn" featurette, a music video for "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do" performed by electronica duo The Crystal Method and featuring alternative rock group Filter, and a soundtrack promo.[32] The Director's Cut version was released on DVD on January 9, 1998[33] and on Blu-ray on July 10, 2012.[34][35]

Sequel[edit]

A sequel, tentatively titled Spawn 2, has been in development hell since 1998.[36] Producer Don Murphy maintained that he was part of the project in 2001.[37] McFarlane stated that the film would have centered primarily on the detective characters Sam and Twitch, with Spawn only as a background character.[35]

In 2007, McFarlane Funding announced development of a new feature film adaptation of the character, titled Spawn, scheduled for release in 2008.[38][39] During an interview on the Scott Ferrall show on Sirius radio, McFarlane said: "It's coming out no matter what. Even if I have to produce, direct and finance it myself, it's going to come out."[40]

McFarlane announced on August 23, 2009 that he had begun writing the screenplay for a new movie based on the character, saying that "The story has been in my head for 7 or 8 years", that "The movie idea is neither a recap or continuation. It is a standalone story that will be R-rated. Creepy and scary", and that "the tone of this Spawn movie will be for a more older audience. Like the film The Departed."[41] Michael Jai White said in July 2011 that he was interested in returning to the role, expressing his support for McFarlane's film.[42] In July 2013, Jamie Foxx said he was "aggressively pursuing" the Spawn reboot.[43] In August 2013, McFarlane discussed his progress with the script, stating that the film would be "more of a horror movie and a thriller movie, not a superhero one".[44]

In February 2016, McFarlane announced he had completed the film's script.[45] In July 2017, Blumhouse Productions confirmed their involvement with the film, while announcing that McFarlane had also signed on to direct the project.[46] The movie was expected to begin production by February 2018.[47] In May 2018, it was announced that Jamie Foxx would portray the titular character.[48] In July 2018, it was reported that Jeremy Renner would be starring alongside Foxx as Detective Twitch.[49]

Soundtrack[edit]

Spawn: The Album
Spawnsoundtrackcover.jpg
Soundtrack album by
Various
ReleasedJuly 29, 1997
Genre
Length62:11
Label
Producer
  • Happy Walters
  • various
Singles from Spawn: The Album
  1. "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"
    Released: October 7, 1997
  2. "Long Hard Road Out of Hell"
    Released: November 11, 1997
Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic2.5/5 stars[50]
Entertainment Weekly(A) August 8, 1997
Rolling Stone3/5 stars August 21, 1997

Spawn: The Album was released in July 1997 and featured popular rock / metal group of bands at the time including: Metallica, Korn, Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, Filter, Soul Coughing and Silverchair of collaboration with well-known electronic producers such as The Crystal Method, Roni Size, The Prodigy, DJ Greyboy, Atari Teenage Riot, Moby, Orbital and 808 State.[50][dead link] A similar concept was previously implemented on the rock/hip hop-infused Judgment Night soundtrack.[51][52] The album debuted at #7 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 25 weeks.[51] The album is certified Gold for selling over 500,000 copies in America.[53]

The US version of the album features different cover art and the bonus track "This Is Not A Dream" by Morphine and Apollo 440.[citation needed] The Australian and Japanese versions, besides the bonus track, feature cover art based on images in Spawn #39 and a marquee of Spawn: In the Demon's Hand.[54][55] The Japanese version contains a third disk with three remixes. The McFarlane Collector's Club made an LP release available to its members, featuring the standard album art and a translucent red vinyl disc. In 2017 a 20th Anniversary edition was released with a translucent blue vinyl disc.[56]

"It was a bit rushed," declared The Prodigy's Liam Howlett of their collaboration with Rage Against the Machine. "I did it in three days when I usually need a week."[57]

Track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)ArtistsLength
1."(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"The Crystal Method and FilterThe Crystal Method and Filter4:30
2."Long Hard Road Out of Hell"Marilyn Manson, Twiggy RamirezMarilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps4:21
3."Satan"Paul Hartnoll, Phil HartnollOrbital and Kirk Hammett3:45
4."Kick the P.A."Korn, The Dust BrothersKorn and The Dust Brothers3:21
5."Tiny Rubberband"Butthole SurfersButthole Surfers and Moby4:12
6."For Whom the Bell Tolls (The Irony of It All)"Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Lars UlrichMetallica and DJ Spooky4:39
7."Torn Apart"Stabbing Westward, Josh WinkStabbing Westward, Josh Wink4:53
8."Skin Up Pin Up"Paul Draper, Darren PartingtonMansun and 808 State5:27
9."One Man Army"Liam Howlett, Tom MorelloThe Prodigy and Tom Morello4:14
10."Spawn"Ben Gillies, Daniel JohnsSilverchair and Vitro4:28
11."T-4 Strain"Goldie, Henry RollinsHenry Rollins and Goldie5:19
12."Familiar"Brandon Boyd, Mike Einziger, Jose Antonio Pasillas II, Alex Katunich, Chris "DJ" KilmoreIncubus and DJ Greyboy3:22
13."No Remorse (I Wanna Die)"Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, Alec Empire, Tom Araya, Hanin EliasSlayer and Atari Teenage Riot4:16
14."A Plane Scraped Its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon"Mark de Gli Antoni, Mike Doughty, Yuval Gabay, Roni Size, Sebastian SteinbergSoul Coughing and Roni Size5:26
Total length:62:11

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1997) Peak position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[58] 15
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[59] 33
French Albums (SNEP)[60] 43
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[61] 38
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[62] 1
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[63] 73
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[64] 15
US Billboard 200[65] 7[66]

Legacy[edit]

Spawn is one of the first films to feature an African American actor portraying a major comic book superhero.[6][7][67] Although preceded by other black superhero films such as The Meteor Man (1993), Spawn was the first to be based on a major comic book. Steel starring NBA basketball player Shaquille O'Neal based on a DC character, was also released later in the same month as Spawn. Writing in 2018, Barry Hertz of The Globe and Mail was critical of the fact that Michael Jai White was barely seen, and his face hidden by a mask or prosthetics.[68] Unlike Blade (1998) which came later and was promoted based on the popularity of action star Wesley Snipes and happened to be based on a comic, Spawn was promoted based on the popularity of the McFarlane comic. Film critic Scott Mendelson says that Spawn and other films not only paved the way for films such as Black Panther but that success of Black Panther represents a return to the status quo.[69]

References[edit]

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  67. ^ Jamie Lovett (July 30, 2017). "Spawn Creator Todd McFarlane Takes Photo With Original Spawn Actor At Comic-Con". Retrieved 2018-10-05. The Spawn movie is notable for being the first major comic book superhero movie to feature an African American in the lead role.
  68. ^ Barry Hertz (February 14, 2018). "Seven black superheroes who came before Black Panther". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2018-02-14.
  69. ^ Scott Mendelson (February 1, 2018). "How 'Blade' And 'Spawn' Paved The Way For 'Black Panther'". Forbes magazine. Archived from the original on 2018-02-01. Retrieved 2018-09-02.

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