Getting killed sucks, but try getting killed then re-spawned (get it?) as a demonic force with superpowers. Hey, not such a bad deal, right? Superpowers, man! But wait, there’s a catch! It’s been years since you died, your wife has since re-married, and oh yeah, you now have a pizza for a face. Bloody Hell! That’s the situation for the hero of “Spawn”, a 1997 comic book movie based on the creation of former Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane. The film now arrives on Blu-ray for the first time on July 10, 2012 courtesy of Warner Home Video.
Five years after he was murdered by his own colleagues in a covert government operation, Al Simmons makes a pact with the devil to be resurrected so that he may see his wife Wanda once more. In return for the favor, the devil requires, in typically Faustian fashion, that Simmons lead Hell’s Army for the destruction of humankind. Blessed in life with extraordinary killing skills, Simmons is even more deadly with the backing of his new master and the changling powers he has at his disposal. As he begins to discover and exercise his new strengths, he encounters two figures who direct him to use his powers in order to serve two different agendas. Cogliostro encourages Spawn to fight the devil and become a new champion for humankind, while Clown goads Spawn into continuing to serve his new master and lead the Armageddon.
Has it been that long ago since McFarlane, as part of the Marvel exodus, form the appropriately named Image Comics and created “Spawn”? Almost 20 years ago, in fact. “Spawn” the movie came out in 1997, five years after the comic book, and McFarlane has been trying to recover since.
“Spawn” is your basic comic book movie Origins Story, tracking its hero as he dies, comes back 5 years later, and tries to make amends for his evil past while keeping the forces of Hell at bay. There are some amusing action sequences, most of it involving characters shape-shifting or CG-morphing into various things. Spawn’s cape, as in the comics, has a life of its own, though it looks a tad silly when realized onscreen. (Go figure; things work better as a 2D comic book panel.) Watching Spawn running around with machineguns while still wearing his costume was a hoot, though, then and now. In a lot of ways, “Spawn” fares better on second viewing (I can’t recall the last time I saw the film), though its Hell sequences still remain its biggest liability, and is, on Blu-ray, even worse than I remembered, if that’s even possible.
Almost 15 years later, “Spawn” is a decent comic book movie for its time. It had some nice special effects (it boasted a $40 million dollar production budget, which may not sound like much now, but was quite a lot for a relatively unknown superhero character back in 1997 — you know, back when comic books were still called comic books and not the oh so fancy “graphic novels” that everyone in Hollywood insists on calling them nowadays), and Michael Jai White was excellent as the former Government assassin turned hellspawn. John Leguizamo, often accused of overacting (well, yeah, I guess he does do that a bit), is big time fun as the obese supernatural clown who torments Jai White’s Al Simmons. And Martin Sheen, well, okay, that wasn’t exactly target casting there, though I guess he played the heavy well enough. Theresa Randle as Simmons’ object of affection and Melinda Clarke as the Bad Girl were both lovely, though. The writing was a bit too on-the-nose, and there are parts of the film (again, all the Hell sequences) that will likely make you cringe.
Released for the first time on Blu-ray, “Spawn” boasts an R-rated Director’s Cut that is definitely a lot more violent than the theatrical PG-13 version released in theaters back in 1997. The Blu-ray video and sound were good. Special features include a full-length audio commentary track by “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane, along with director Mark Dippe, producer Clint Goldman and visual effects supervisor Steve Williams. McFarlane is clearly not in the same room as the others, which makes the track a bit confusing as it hops back and forth between the participants. Dippe starts off the commentary by declaring, “This is Mark Dippe, I’m the director of ‘Spawn’, and you can blame it all on me.” Though after listening to the track, I don’t think he means it.
Additional bonus materials include stuff that were most likely available in the previously released DVD, including a 22-minute “The Making of Spawn”, about, well, the making of “Spawn”; a 20-minute “Todd McFarlane: Chapter and Verse”, which features McFarlane talking about the character’s translation from comic book to screen; a series of scene to storyboard comparisons; lots and lots of stuff on McFarlane’s artwork; plus a 2-minute preview of the HBO “Spawn” TV show. And finally, a pair of music videos, one by Filter and The Crystal Method for “Trip Like I Do” and another, extremely painful to watch one for Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps called “Long Hard Road Out of Hell”.
One final note: as of this Blu-ray release, Todd McFarlane has been attempting to relaunch the character for a few years now. This is definitely one property that I wouldn’t mind seeing “re-invented”.