"Aquaman," one of Hollywood's hottest inside jokes, might make the move from fiction to reality. As a key plot line in HBO's "Entourage," the "movie" directed by James Cameron shattered box-office records (a feat that got it a real ad in Variety), turned an unknown actor into a $20-million movie star and sparked a fight over a sequel.
But now, informal talks have been launched about the feasibility of making a real Warner Bros. "Aquaman" movie. In one of the strangest twists of this life-imitating-art tale, the talent agent at the center of the informal "Aquaman" talks is Ari Emanuel, the brassy Endeavor partner on whom "Entourage" agent Ari Gold is based.
Warner Bros. said Thursday that the studio "is not currently developing" an "Aquaman" project. But according to four people familiar with the idea, conversations already have been held about the character's film rights, controlled by DC Comics, itself a part of Time Warner Inc. One top filmmaker's name also has surfaced as a potential "Aquaman" director -- "Charlie's Angels" alumnus McG. The director is finishing the football film "We Are Marshall"; his reps declined comment on the "Aquaman" prospects.
"It's obviously very flattering," says Doug Ellin, the creator of "Entourage" who came up with the "Aquaman" plot. "We sort of made an 'Aquaman' movie a believable possibility."
There's no denying that Aquaman, a fast-swimming superhero who debuted in a 1941 comic, is enjoying a pop-culture renaissance. In "Entourage," a weekly series about actor Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his Hollywood posse, the movie opens to record box-office grosses of $116.8 million. In the days before "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" debuted this month, industry executives ironically wondered if the sequel would do " 'Aquaman' business." When CNBC reported on the record-breaking opening of "Pirates," anchor Joe Kernen said it had outperformed "Aquaman"; Kernen later said he was joking.
Earlier this week, a previously unseen pilot for an "Aquaman" TV series debuted on iTunes, and the show immediately became the website's most-downloaded video, Apple said.
The TV pilot was created by screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who launched the popular "Superman"-inspired series "Smallville." The "Aquaman" series was initially conceived as a Warner Bros. Television production for the WB network, which has merged with UPN into the new CW network.
The pilot stars Justin Hartley as Arthur "AC" Curry, a young environmental activist grappling with his fledgling responsibilities as the prince of the lost city of Atlantis, shrouded in the Bermuda Triangle. Like the comic book character, Aquaman can breathe underwater -- he possesses preternatural power when wet, which diminishes as he dries off.
"For whatever reason, they ultimately decided not to pick it up," says Gough of CW's response to the pilot. "The pilot may not be perfect, but you can certainly see a series there."
You can also see potential audience interest. When Aquaman made a cameo on "Smallville" last season, it was the season's highest-rated episode.
Gough says he is nevertheless pleased that Warners gave his and Millar's pilot to iTunes. In addition to generating thousands of downloads, the pilot also is attracting strong feedback within the industry, enough that Gough holds out slim hope that it could attract enough Internet interest to revive "Aquaman" as a TV series.
An "Aquaman" movie may be even more of a longshot. A feature film would involve costly special effects and might call for long segments filmed under and on the water, a feat tough enough to almost derail both "Titanic" and "Waterworld." What's more, comic book fans know Aquaman as a member of the Justice League or the Super Friends -- where the King of the Seven Seas, as he is also known, plays second fiddle to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
Several people involved in the preliminary discussions about a feature film said untangling the movie rights could prove difficult. A DC Comics spokesman did not return phone and e-mail messages. Emanuel was on a family vacation and could not be reached for comment.
All the same, the "Aquaman" movie in "Entourage" began as a joke and became a smash hit. "I picked it because it sounded like a ridiculous movie," Ellin says.
That an "Aquaman" movie is even being contemplated underscores "Entourage's" following both inside and outside of Hollywood.
"It was a strong initiative from the very beginning to make the show as real as possible," says Ellin. "That way, people would think it's reality."
Times Staff Writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this article.