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COMPANY TOWN

Studio Rights to Spider-Man Are Untangled

Movies: MGM ends its 8-year battle for the untapped superhero, clearing the way for Columbia to pursue a big-screen franchise.

March 02, 1999|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Marvel-Sony contract requires the studio to begin production of a Spider-Man feature quickly; the actual deadline could not be obtained. It also places Columbia on a short leash in scheduling sequels, requiring in some cases that financing for a sequel be arranged within months of the release of the previous feature.

Second Chance for Columbia?

Those terms were dictated by Marvel, whose sloppy past contractual arrangements were at least partly responsible for the protracted litigation. The ambiguous wording of one deal, for example, allowed MGM to claim it owned a perpetual license to produce a Spider-Man film whenever it pleased.

The rebirth of Spider-Man is an important development for Columbia. Many Hollywood observers believe the studio's efforts to turn last year's "Godzilla" into a major franchise were disappointing.

Calley disputed that, arguing that the film's $375-million worldwide gross and the success of a Saturday-morning cartoon spinoff show the franchise has plenty of life. He argued that Columbia had suffered instead from an inability to exploit potential franchises because of a lack of experience, including a system to manage merchandising spinoffs. Those shortcomings have been rectified, he said.

One intriguing question raised by Monday's announcement is whether Columbia will make use of James Cameron's screen treatment for a Spider-Man movie. Cameron's treatment, which he wrote for the defunct studio Carolco for $3 million and which ended up in MGM's possession, has attained near-legendary stature in Hollywood, despite having been read by very few people. Under the Sony-MGM deal, the treatment now belongs to Columbia.

Calley and Pascal both said they had not yet seen the treatment or been in touch with Cameron, who in any event is said to be under contract to Fox Studios for his next picture. "We're not even at the point of investigating" whether Cameron or any other A-list directors are available, Calley said.

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