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How to Really Save Spider-Man

August 10, 2009

Let me set the stage for you.  It’s early 1999 and you’re Garth Brooks, the top-selling country artist of all time.  You’ve shattered every record in the books and are universally considered the greatest showman country music has ever known.  In your spare time, you’ve written a movie screenplay about a tortured artist named Chris Gaines and eventually Paramount signs up to make the movie with your music serving as the soundtrack.

Maybe the decision gets made in a boardroom, or maybe you wanted it this way all along, but someone somewhere decides that you will embark on a massive marketing campaign, donning the persona of your main character in real life, performing and granting interviews as Chris Gaines.  You even make a pre-soundtrack to the movie–ostensibly Gaines’ greatest hits–in which you sing R&B-flavored acousto-pop that thoroughly confuses and alienates your audience.

Now folks, my point here isn’t to castigate Brooks, who sang at many of my high-school pony-kegger field parties.  Hindsight’s always 20/20 and it’s easy to look back ten years later and rake the guy over the coals for the decision that in many ways killed his career as a top-tier artist.   The point here is that there was a time in early 1999 that everyone involved with this project thought it was a good idea. Before the media confusion, I imagine that the buzz around the Brooks camp was about his groundbreaking new direction.  I expect that his handlers and confidants figured he could be as huge in  pop music as he was in country music.  It wasn’t until later that these same people were proved completely and utterly wrong.

Why is this Brooks/Gaines discussion relevant?  Well, there’s another idea of similar caliber floating around out there that has actually begun the process of actualizing:  Spider-Man, Turn Off The Dark.  I expect you’re familiar with it, but if not take a moment and go here to get caught up to speed.

Great, glad you’re back.  Apparently, the production company in charge of this travesty-in-the-making just announced that work is suspended due to severe cost overages and an “unexpected cash flow problem.”  Let’s step back and mull on this, shall we?  First, someone either at Sony (who owns the film rights to Spider-Man) or at Marvel Comics had to have given voice to the thought that there just might be a market for the web-slinger in musical theatre.  Instead of getting laughed out of the room, others must have stopped what they were doing, put on a serious face and said “Hmmmm…”  Then a group of very gullible people scraped together over $40 million to get the production started.

Thus another Gaines-ian idea is born.  And apparently, it has plowed forward with Juggernaut-like intensity by bringing on Tony award-winning Julie Taymor to do directing, Bono and the Edge to do music and Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming to do acting.  Folks, these are some heavyweights that should virtually guarantee the project’s success.  But ultimately they won’t, because the flaw is as much in the concept as in the execution.

In that way, this week’s halting of production could be a blessing rather than a curse.  Here’s to hoping that the bigwigs at Sony and Marvel realize that there probably are better ways to spend millions of dollars (Ant-Man movie anyone?).  Let’s cross our fingers that Bono and The Edge begin to understand that after 1997’s Pop and the lackluster success of their past two albums, they need all the musical credibility they can get right now.  Maybe, just maybe, this little break in the action could lead to the prevention of an unmitigated disaster.  If it doesn’t, however, maybe that’s just a signal that the time is right for a true off-Broadway treatment of my Manimal, Come Grab My Tail burlesque review.

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