Spawn is a poorly made feature film with campy, over-the-top acting, laughable visual effects, lousy editing and a choppy story that doesn’t give the main character any sort of development. Simply put, this wasn’t a very good adaptation of an otherwise, last I read anyway, cool comic book series.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror, Drama
Warner Bros. | R – 99 min. – $19.98 | July 10, 2012
Directed by: Mark A.Z. Dippe
Writer(s): Todd McFarlane (comic book); Alan McElroy and Mark A.Z. Dippe (screen story), Alan McElroy (screenplay)
Cast: John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, Nicol Williamson, D.B. Sweeney
Theatrical Release Date: August 1, 1997
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Sketch Gallery, Storyboard Comparisons, Music Video, Theatrical Trailer
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), German (Dolby Digital 5.1), Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0), Portuguese (Dolby Digital 2.0), Polish (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.78
Subtitles: English SDH, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish
Disc Size: 31.5 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 1.5/5
I think it’s reasonable to say that 1997 was not a very good year for comic book movies with the releases of Batman & Robin, Steel and our movie today, Spawn. No matter the source material, this is a downright bad movie filled with an annoying fat clown, non-existent character development, terrible visual effects and sloppy editing. Despite a half decent opening ($34M adjusted), audiences wised up and it fell of the face of the Earth before resurfacing on DVD under New Line’s Platinum Series and an R-rated Director’s Cut (versus the softened PG-13 version that was released to theaters).
Based on the hit comic book that swept through the community back in 1992, Spawn stars Michael Jai White as Al Simmons, an agent working for the scrupulous Jason Wynn (MARTIN SHEEN), head of covert organization known as A-6 (we know he’s bad because he smokes and has a sinister-looking goatee). Also a part of this agency is Simmons’ best friend and partner, Terry Fitzgerald (D.B. SWEENEY). In Simmons latest mission, to take out some sheik as he got off a private jet in Hong Kong which resulted in killing innocent civilians, Simmons wants out and it seems Wynn is perfectly willing if he would take one last mission. We all know what happens from there: he’s double crossed by Wynn and his right hand woman named Priest (MELINDA CLARKE), set on fire and literally burns in hell.
Simmons makes a deal with the Devil: He will lead the Devil’s army in exchange for seeing his wife Wanda. Not a great deal if you ask me given Wanda will suffer whatever fate is in store for humanity but that’s just me. So Simmons returns after many years but to him it was all instantaneous. Wanda is now married to Terry with the pair having a kid together, Simmons’ face is all kinds of messed up oh and he has a fat lard, foul mouth, farting midget clown following and taunting Simmons all the time.
Simmons has an ally in a man called Cogliostro (NICOL WILLIAMSON) who serves as a mentor and guide to Simmons in his new life – whereupon he’s called Spawn. He’s basically somebody who knows the battle that is coming and hopes to turn Spawn from leader of the Devil’s army to going on the good side, but first he must teach Spawn to control his rage and anger.
You get the gist of this movie but frankly, this was supposed to be some cash grab than anything else. With a $40 million budget (with inflation that’s $57.3 million in 2012) it obviously doesn’t buy good visual effects – even for 1997 – which by today’s standards, even on television, look laughably awful. However, that’s hardly the problem with Spawn, instead the story is a mess to go along with a hodgepodge editing style which tries to emulate the transitions in the comic book and instead ruins any momentum not to mention just looks dumb.
I can’t really bash the cast too much. Michael Jai White seems to have the right physique for the role but he doesn’t have a hell lot to work with especially underneath a ton of burn-make-up underneath which means he has to emote far more than normal. Martin Sheen takes his villain role to hilt and probably wishes he had a mustache to twirl that would go along with his snide/snarky laugh. And then there’s John Leguizamo who received top billing for good reason since he has to put on 20 pounds of make-up and pretend he’s in a Baz Luhrmann directed film. I would say he’s the best part of the film but he’s hardly a threat and is more annoying than enjoyable.
Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe (who would go on to direct 3 Garfield DTV releases and The Reef 2), Spawn is the type of film that leaves you scratching your head. Perhaps it’s just not the source material that will translate into a live action feature film (especially given the animated series is, for the most part, well made) or maybe it’s due to a restricted budget. Whatever the reason, this is simply not a very good movie. I wanted to like it because as a kid I was a huge fan of the comic book but it couldn’t deliver.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.5/5
Save for some production notes, it appears all the features from the “Platinum Series” DVD have been ported over…
Feature Commentary – Creator Todd McFarlane, Director Mark A.Z. Dippe, Producer Clint Goldman and Visual Effects Supervisor Steve Williams provide an insightful track and they all seem to be on friendly terms horsing around but also giving information on the comic book and how different elements in the live action film came about. It should be noted that McFarlane was recorded separately and sticks mainly with the comic book to film aspects.
The Making of Spawn (21:57; SD) – This is a promotional featurette made for the Sci-Fi Channel as a way to advertise of film which means little info is going to be revealed. Now, there is some behind-the-scenes footage so it’s not a complete waste.
Todd McFarlane: Chapter and Verse (19:36; SD) – This is a 7-part featurette where the “Spawn” creator talks about various subjects including taking the comic book into live action and keeping the theatrical release at a PG-13 rating amongst other things.
Scene to Storyboard Comparisons – Here you can check out different sequences including “Clown to Violator”, “Violator to Clown”, “Cape”, “Mask” and “Violator from Bookcase”.
Original Todd McFarlane Sketches is a selection of early concept drawings for the Spawn comic book.
Spawn Concept/Sketch Galleries provides pictures made for the movie and includes “Costume Design”, “Set Decoration”, “Character Developments” for Spawn, Clown/Violator, Melabogia and Jessica Priest.
“Spawn: The Animated Movie” Preview (1:43; SD) is something that I believe turned in an animated series.
Also included are Music Videos for “Trip Like I Do” by Filter & The Crystal Method (4:28; SD) and “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” by Marilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps (4:26; SD) plus the Theatrical Trailer (1:46; SD).
VIDEO – 3.5/5
Warner Brothers unleashes Spawn upon the world with a rough looking 1080p high-definition transfer. However, I don’t think it looks bad and instead doesn’t translate all that well onto Blu-ray because the film was darkly shot to give it a grim and dirty vibe so the amount of detail might not be the best and since a fair amount takes place in the dark or at night, some artifacts is present, though nothing too distracting. The colors are fine but per the visual style, it does tend to look oversaturated in places. As I said, this isn’t a knock against the studio but it’s not a pretty picture, though it’s better than the DVD version…
AUDIO – 3.75/5
The disc offers up a robust 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track which provides for some nice and clear dialogue levels through the center speaker but also some good depth during the action scenes which makes use of the other channels. The LFE channel could’ve been a bit livelier but still decent enough.
OVERALL – 2.25/5
Overall, Spawn is a poorly made feature film with campy, over-the-top acting, laughable visual effects, lousy editing and a choppy story that doesn’t give the main character any sort of development (I think Bruce Wayne in Batman & Robin had better character development). Simply put, this wasn’t a very good adaptation of an otherwise, last I read anyway, cool comic book series. Hopefully one day it’ll get a proper, Batman Begins-like, live action treatment but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.