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Spawn (1997)

Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe

Spawn (1997) -- poster

I fully expected to hate "Spawn." I'm not a comic book fan so all I knew about "Spawn" was that it had some sort of demon as its protagonist and that it had some pretty bad word of mouth. If you rent "Spawn" then you will get to see a ten minute interview with Todd McFarlane ("Spawn's" creator) that comes with the video/DVD. Based on this interview alone the staff here at "HO" is going to make McFarlane our official "Man of the Year 1997." His analysis of the Spawn vs. the Batman characters is brilliant (if such a thing can be brilliant).

The story of "Spawn" goes something like this: Al Simmons is a deadly CIA-ish assassin who believes he's fighting on the side of right but is still troubled by his grisly deeds. His girlfriend observes that every killing leaves him a little less human. He decides to quit and informs his boss, a perpetually pissed-off Martin Sheen. Before Sheen will let him go, Simmons must do one more mission -- blow up a biological weapons plant in North Korea. John Leguizamo is a joker from hell that is the go between for Satan and Sheen. Get it, Sheen is league with the Devil. In return for his cooperation with Satan's plans, Sheen will be rewarded with world domination (much like my own deal with the devil and Hollywood Outsider). Clowny demands that Sheen kill Simmons. For his misdeeds, Simmons will go straight to hell and be groomed to lead the legions of hell in the upcoming Armageddon. Sheen does as he's asked and incinerates Simmons along with the anthrax facility in North Korea. Simmons is then born back into the world as a deep-fried, crispy spawn of hell. He hungers for revenge against Sheen, which plays right into Satan's hands (or claws, or hooves, or whatever). Sheen's death will precipitate Armageddon and bring about Simmons' final transformation into true evil.

I don't usually enjoy "origin" stories but "Spawn" doesn't really fit the mold. It's really a "lost soul" story. Simmons is a neutral character who can become either good or evil. It has more of a focus than the "Batman" series because it keeps its story centered on Spawn and not his numerous adversaries and arch-villains. After all, who cares why Sheen is evil? Does it matter where Clown-spawn has come from? "Spawn" keeps things simple, the character's goals are clear and accessible. This is, after all, based on a comic book, not Shakespeare. Simmons wants his wife and child back and to live the life that was stolen from him. In contrast, what's Batman's problem? Bruce Wayne is good-looking, rich and everyone thinks he's great. But instead of making something of himself, he broods in his mansion or has dark thoughts in his "bat cave" while wearing a black latex suit (much like I do). Weirdo (him not me)! The noir ambiance of Gotham City is merely a cool backdrop and pretense, just like Batman's inner psyche. The hellish world of "Spawn" is a very real extension of Simmons' twisted soul. The sun-splashed suburb is the heaven he longs to live in.

Spawn (1997) -- clown

Don't get me wrong, I do have complaints about "Spawn", it's not a great movie. The film makers had little faith in the audiences ability to follow the plot and constantly had characters rattle off a plot summary just in case you weren't paying attention. Also, the CGI Satan was so cheesy it looked like it was shot off the screen of a video game. This is not a small detail when Satan is supposed to be the ultimate, scary bad guy. I liked Martin Sheen but his presence was a little bit uncomfortable. I kept expecting him to blurt out, "I was in 'Apocalypse Now', damn it!" Then there's Nicol Williamson who is a tremendous actor (you might remember him as Merlin in John Boorman's classic Arthurian saga, "Excalibur"). Like Patrick Stewart or Albert Finney, he's got a voice and a way of delivering lines that make the most mundane dialogue come alive. Unfortunately, he's way under used as Spawn's conscience and guide. Still, as far as comic book inspired films go, this is one of the better ones.

* I'm going to take this opportunity and beat the watchdogs to the punch. "HO" is making Lucy Lawless our official "Woman of the Year 1997." True, she's not really a movie star (though her looks-so-awful-even-I-won't-rent-it "Hercules/Xena animated film is now available) but 1997 was her year. She better enjoy it, celebrity is a short trip. -- Rating: $6.00

Tom Graney -- Hollywood Outsider copyright 1997

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