Hot on the heels of The Amazing Spiderman 2′s success, James Cameron has once again commented on his failed attempt to bring his favourite superhero to the big screen. Now, as you know – I’m not the biggest fan of the recently rebooted franchise and these recent comments by the famed director has left me to ponder what his Spider-Man treatment could have been like. Stan Lee adored it and gave a Cameron-directed Spider-Man movie his hearty endorsement. “It was the Spider-Man we all know and love,” Lee said of the treatment. “Yet it all somehow seemed fresh and new.” Boy was he wrong…
The full script treatment for the movie can be read online and there are several elements of Cameron’s version that made it into Raimi’s take on the web-slinger. Lee’s comic called for Peter Parker to build his webshooters himself, but Cameron insisted that a biological explanation was more plausible. “I had this problem that Peter Parker, boy genius, goes home and creates these wrist shooters that the DARPA labs would be happy to have created on a 20-year program.” he says.
“I said, wait a minute, he’s been bitten by a radioactive spider, it should change him fundamentally in a way that he can’t go back.” In Cameron’s treatment, the wrist shooters simply grow as Peter becomes more spider-like.
Ever the brave pioneer, Cameron also updated the comics’ super-villain Electro for the information age and changed the characters name to Carlton Strand. While Electro functions on pure electric power, Strand could touch a computer or a cable and absorb the data flowing through it. Information is REAL POWER… get it? The film would have been darker and more adult than anyone expected from a comic-book movie in the 1990s. Peter Parker says “motherf*cker” and Spider-Man and Mary-Jane have sex atop the Brooklyn Bridge.
Cameron’s writing was a dramatic departure from Hollywood’s perception of the genre at the time, namely that it should be nearly as family-friendly as a Disney movie. Here’s one of my favourite excerpts from the script: “Sandman is a smoking lump of melted glass in the vague form of a man. Poised, cooling, in a position of agony. Like Michaelangelo’s dying slave. His glass mouth is a shapeless pit of eternal pain. Bummer.”
Before Sony snapped up the rights and pressed ahead with Sam Raimi’s original trilogy Cameron says: “I was going to launch that as a series of films. I wrote quite an extensive treatment – I think 80 or 90 pages long.” He had persuaded Carolco, the independent studio behind T2, to buy up the rights – which they did in 1990. Carolco’s executives were in the habit of taking big risks, which endeared the company to Cameron. His $100 million Terminator sequel with them was greenlit based on terms laid out in a simple half-page memo. In this instance however, a hasty contract would come back to haunt all the parties involved. “Here I am working on Spider-Man and it turns out that there’s a lien against the rights and Sony’s got a piece of it and Carolco doesn’t really own it even though they think they own it,” Cameron says.With Carolco down, Cameron tried to get Fox to go after Spider-Man. The studio would have happily bought their top-earning director his pet project if it had just been a matter of rights, but procuring Spider-Man now meant entering a nasty legal fight and bidding war involving multiple other studios and producers with overlapping claims dating back to when Marvel first put the film rights up for sale in 1985. “They’re so risk-averse,” Cameron says. “For a couple hundred thousand dollars in legal fees they could have had a $2 billion franchise. They blew it.”
However, when the rights became available, Cameron was well into making Titanic. As such, Sony moved in, and Cameron’s Spider-Man films were never to be.