New Line // 1997 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // December 20th, 1999
Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.
What do you get when you cross the imagination of Todd McFarlane with the special effects of Industrial Light and Magic? You get the movie that brings the comic book hero Spawn to life, of course. A most unlikely hero he is; being dead and sent to hell and all. But such little things can't keep a good man down, especially with the help of the supernatural powers of his living armor. A fast moving flick, with plenty of stunts and effects, and in this DVD, one of the best releases of 1998.
Michael Jai White (Universal Soldier: The Return, Ringmaster) plays Al Simmons, a top assassin for the U.S. government. When he starts to question the ethics of the people he works for, his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen, The American President, Gettysburg, The Final Countdown) sets him up and has him killed most gruesomely. Burned and disfigured, he literally goes to hell and back, and ends up at an alley located somewhere between Earth, Heaven, and Hell. There he meets Clown, a fat little demon with a penchant for scatological humor, and who is determined to see that he fulfills his bargain with the devil by killing Wynn, which will then set off bioweapons around the globe and begin the war between Heaven and Hell, with Simmons, now Spawn, leading the hellish army. Fortunately for the rotund little demon (played by John Leguizamo, Summer of Sam, Carlito's Way, Executive Decision), Spawn has nothing more pressing than killing Wynn out of revenge anyway. Well, nothing more pressing unless you count seeing his wife Wanda (Theresa Randle, Space Jam, Beverly Hills Cop III, Malcolm X) who is the reason he made this bargain with the devil anyway. What he doesn't realize at first is that five years has passed like a day since he died, and Wanda is now married to his best friend Terry (D.B. Sweeney, Fire in the Sky, Lonesome Dove, Eight Men Out). Seeing everything taken from him, and feeling betrayed on all sides, he gets back to the business of revenge.
As the film progresses, Spawn learns about the changes going on inside him, as the living armor attached to him grows and he sees all the powers it brings. His mentor in learning this is Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson, The Exorcist III, Excalibur), a medieval knight who has similar powers but wants Spawn to use his gift for good rather than evil. Many, many special effects ensue, the best of which is the living cape that comes out on occasion, which has many uses as well. The film takes you from Earth to Hell and back, until Spawn manages to save the day.
There are a lot of good things to say about the film in general and its transfer to DVD. Most of the special effects are stupendous, combining stunts, prosthetics, mechanics, and CGI digital effects for things even ILM can't do without a computer. This is also the R rated Director's Cut of the movie, which is practically a different film than the PG rated theatrical version. A complete re-edit and remix of the sound is done, with much of the dialogue different than what moviegoers saw. I think it's a far superior version. The video is nearly flawless; though the film is mostly dark in keeping with its setting, colors are bright, re-emphasizing its comic book origins. I should mention this is a 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic transfer as well. The audio is sizzling too, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that will give all of your channels a workout. This is one of the discs to impress your friends with. There is a whole side of the disc just devoted to extras, and it's hard to list them all. You get a commentary track with Todd McFarlane, the director, and special effects guru, where you not only get the technical details of the film, but plenty on what it's like trying to get a movie a PG rating, merchandising, and what it's like trying to make such an extravaganza with only $35 million. After that you get cast and crew bios and filmographies, a featurette on the making of Spawn, an interview with Todd McFarlane, scene to storyboard comparisons of several of the special effects scenes, original sketches, the soundtrack, which is a heavy techno, industrial mix, more sketches in the concept gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a preview of Spawn: The Animated Movie.
You can tell in some places, particularly in the scenes in Hell, where budgetary constraints and a 63-day shooting schedule make the film look rushed. More money and time would have allowed the creators and ILM to really make this a standard-setting film for effects. In some places it clearly looks like a doll of Spawn is being batted around. Fortunately these scenes aren't many, and are interspersed with much better ones. I also wouldn't be looking for any of the actors' names in the Oscars; even the usually strong Martin Sheen sounds like, well, a comic book character. But nobody will put this into their DVD player expecting Shakespeare anyway.
This is a great popcorn movie for those who like lots of action, special effects, and aren't overly sensitive to crude humor and some liberties taken with Christian theology. The disc is one of the best, and has a place of pride in my collection.
The film and disc are acquitted on all charges, and I have to wonder which court clerk thought this one needed a trial in the first place. The studio is admonished to give these filmmakers more time and money on the sequel, rumored to come out in the new millennium.
Review content copyright © 1999 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cast and crew bios
* Official Site
* Creator's Site