BY JUAN LOPEZ, ART BY JASON DAVIS
Film Portal is where through calculated time travel we look back at a particular film’s journey from page to screen and the effects its had on pre-historic societies. Today we revisit Spider-Man from 2002.
Spider-Man in 2002 was the highest grossing movie of the year and the first movie to have an over $100 million opening weekend. What is more impressive than the record-shattering box office take was that Spider-Man ever reached the silver screen at all. But why is that? Spider-man was an icon on par in popularity with both Batman and Superman. As it turns out the most tangled web Spider-Man has ever weaved has been that of his journey to the big screen.
It starts in the mid 80′s when Cannon films attained the rights from Marvel after Roger Corman had them and failed to produce a film. Cannon pictures was an independent movie studio formed in 1967 with its sole purpose to churn out low budget films that could earn a high return. When Cannon bought the rights, the owners, cousins Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, produced such gems as the Sylvester Stallone classic Over the Top and virtually every 1980′s Chuck Norris flick. They set their sights on developing many superhero franchises and were in the process of buying several film rights including Superman.
When the rights were first bought it was pretty amazing how little they knew of Spider-Man, liking the character to a sort of Wolf Man. Due to this they commissioned a script by Leslie Stevens (creator of the TV show Outer Limits). In it Peter Parker is subjected to radiation by an evil scientist and as a result is transformed into a mutated giant spider. No you didn’t read that wrong, they basically wanted to make The Fly. Oh but wait! This mutated spider would fight other mutations from the mad scientist’s lab! That doesn’t sound like a B film horror plot at all! Needless to say Stan Lee refused to sign off on the script and another draft was written based on a treatment by Stan the Man.
This new script was written by John Bracato (who co-wrote the last two Terminator movies) and Ted Newsom. This script was a bit closer to the source material. In this draft Dr. Octopus is the villain and was connected to Peter Parker. Otto was Peter’s teacher and mentor. In fact the accident that creates Spider-Man also creates Doc Ock. Similar to Spider-man 2, Ock is planning on conducting an experiment that would ultimately engulf all of New York. The director chosen was Joseph Zito who had already directed a few Cannon films such as Missing in Action and Invasion U.S.A. The cast was pretty much set too: Scott Leva as Peter Parker/Spider-man (he even posed for promotional pictures and was on an Amazing Spider-man cover!), and Bob Hoskins as Doctor Octopus, Stan Lee was interested in playing J. Jonah Jameson and both Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall were considered for Aunt May (there was also a rumor that Dolph Lundgren was considered for Green Goblin). The film was going to be given a budget between $15 and $20 million dollars.
However after the commercial and critical flops that were Masters of the universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Canon was very tight on money and decided to cut the budget in half. Director Joseph Zito dropped out and was replaced by another Canon director Albert Pyun (who would later direct Captain America). Rewrites were done to a lower budget version. The studio was bleeding money by 1989 and was bought out Giancarlo Paretti. Yoram Globus stuck with Canon while his cousin Menahem Golan went on to create 21st century film which is where the Spider-man rights fell. Golan moved forward with the project and hired Stephen Herek (Critters, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) to direct. He sold the TV rights to Viacom, Columbia got the video and Carolco got the theatrical rights. When Carolco got involved they brought onboard James Cameron.
At First Cameron was to direct the Doc Ock script. According to reports at the time his favorite actor for the good doctor was his frequent collaborator Arnold Schwarzenegger (Whew! Spidey dodged a bullet… Sorry Batman fans.) Soon Cameron scrapped the Doc Ock Script and turned in his own treatment. In his script he had two villains, Carlton Strand (A mix of Electro and The Kingpin) and Boyd Strand’s henchmen who was basically Sandman from the comics. (Fun Fact: The Cameron movie was the reason Sandman never appeared in Spider-man: The animated series and why Electro appeared so late). The origin stayed true to the comics (except for a few deviations like the organic webbing which eventually made its way into the Raimi movies.) The script had Peter coming to terms with his uncle’s death and his new powers. Strand also wanted Spider-man to join his organization (again a villain trying to get Spidey to join him – a plot device that was in several scripts and that became a central part of the film we eventually got.) There were some off character moments, not at all Spidey like with Peter Parker dropping F bombs all over the place and a Mary Jane and Spidey sex scene under the Brooklyn Bridge. I guess sometimes upside down kisses just aren’t enough.
The real trouble began when Golan felt he was being left out of the movie process. He sued Carolco. In turn Carolco sued both Columbia and Viacom to unite all the movie rights. Pretty soon it was all just one huge web of suits and how do it all end? Everyone including Marvel went bankrupt except Columbia and Viacom. Only Marvel was able to bounce back (Spider-man’s eventual success was a main factor in pulling the comic giant out of bankruptcy.) Marvel sold the rights to Sony for a reported $7 million. MGM however disputed saying the rights were still theirs due to them having absorbed Carolco and Canon films. This dispute was settled with a trade off. Sony had the rights to certain James Bond material and threatened to make a competing film. MGM not wanting anyone else to profit from their top franchise accepted a trade. They got the remaining 007 rights and Sony got full control of Spider-Man. Finally Spider-man could truly go into production.