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Sony Scrambling on Spidey 

How a badly troubled script doomed Spider-Man 4

Wednesday, Jan 13 2010
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I’m confirming this week, along with Mike Fleming, editor of my new Deadline New York site, that Sony Pictures decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise after franchise director Sam Raimi pulled out of Spider-Man 4 because he felt he couldn’t make its summer release date and keep the film’s creative integrity. This means that Raimi and the cast, including star Tobey Maguire, are out. There will be no Spider-Man 4.

Instead, Fleming was told, the studio will focus on a summer 2012 reboot from a script by Jamie Vanderbilt with a new director and a new cast. All this took place at a meeting on the lot at the beginning of this week.

On Monday afternoon, Maguire released this statement to me: “I am so proud of what we accomplished with the Spider-Man franchise over the last decade. Beyond the films themselves I have formed some deep and lasting friendships. I am excited to see the next chapter unfold in this incredible story.”

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Immediately, the news brought celebration and consternation equally to webslinger fanboys who say the reboot plot puts Peter Parker back in high school. There’s also much unconfirmed speculation that this new franchise will be in 3D. And the fans also recall that, in 1991, James Cameron wrote a treatment for Spider-Man and now they’re wondering if he might helm the reboot. (Sony ended up acquiring his treatment in a legal settlement.)

Here’s what went down: My sources tell me that Raimi told Sony Pictures: “I can’t make your date. I can’t go forward creatively.” And so, once he said, “That’s it,” Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal and Columbia Pictures’ Matt Tolmach decided they didn’t want to replace him and instead chose to reboot the franchise. Insiders also tell me that Maguire heard the news in a phone call with Pascal. I’m told Maguire wasn’t upset. “He’s made three great Spider-Man movies. He’s done really well. But he’s the kind of guy who, if Sam wanted to go forward, would have been there for Sam and the studio. Absolutely.”

Fleming has heard that, from Spidey, Raimi could move to World of Warcraft, or to The Given Day, that terrific novel by Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Mystic River. Both are worthy projects, but World of Warcraft is a huge franchise.

Fortunately for the studio, Sony was not yet “pay or play” on some of the talent negotiations, so the studio doesn’t have to shell out for a canceled movie. Raimi was insisting that John Malkovich play the villain, and the studio was looking to cast Anne Hathaway. “I’m not so sure we’re going in that direction,” an insider told me on January 5. Sony had been hot for Hathaway until bigwigs realized she’d cost too much and they probably don’t need “such a big star” for the pic, I was told.

As for those repeated rumors that Spider-Man 4 might shoot in 3D, I’ve learned it would have added at least six months to the production schedule and “no one on the pic has any idea how to do that,” a source confided. You’ve got to figure 3D now is uppermost in Sony minds given the post-Avatar climate, and summer 2012 is more than enough time to make the reboot with new technology. Back in April, Pascal and Michael Lynton told Forbes magazine: “People are paying a premium to see movies in 3D and that’s a very big deal. It’s never been done before that someone says you have to pay more to see Spider-Man than a romantic comedy.”

The events that led to the shocking decision to scrap Spider-Man 4 can be traced to mid-December, when I saw a December 11 e-mail alerting the pic’s special-effects crew that the four-quel would not be starting as planned “but Sam Raimi has story issues [that] need to be resolved before we are ready to shoot.”

At that point, it wasn’t well known that the Spider-Man franchise director helming the fourth installment had huge problems with the script, which has run through screenwriters Vanderbilt, David Lindsay-Abaire and Gary Ross. I was told Raimi had been very vocal inside Sony that he “hated” it. I broke this story on January 5, and reported that Raimi and Sony were anxiously waiting for still another version from screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who wrote Spider-Man 2 and 3, and who is married to Spidey franchise producer Laura Ziskin.

“It is unlikely that the May 11, 2011, date will be made,” a Sony insider told me that day. “It depends on how quickly the script can get in.” However, agents told clients in the movie to in fact expect the film to be pushed back.

And an e-mail has since gone out to the Spider-Man 4 special-effects crew from VFX senior producer Josh R. Jaggars stating, “At this time, we have no official start date, so I would encourage all of you to look for other work. ... I apologize for the inconvenience. Please let me know if you have any questions.”

My sources say Sony still intends to release during that summer, even if the new date is July 2011. But Spider-Man has always owned that coveted early-May date — e ven as far back as September 2008, when I reported my exclusive, that Sony had locked up Raimi and Maguire for Spider-Man 4.

What a giant opportunity for other studios planning their 2011 schedules to grab this big opening. And they did. Paramount and Marvel Entertainment pushed up the release of Thor by two weeks to May 6, 2011. Thor was set to have opened May 20, 2011, a slot that Disney grabbed for Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides.

Spider-Man 4 was supposed to start filming in February, which Maguire echoed repeatedly in publicity appearances for Brothers. Then it was pushed to March. Then late March/early April. And by January 5 there was no date at all, according to my Sony insiders who e-mailed me: “Some decisions have been made over the holiday about Spider-Man 4. We will be extending the production hiatus on the film. The studio is firmly committed to this franchise but, for us, the script must come first. We intend to notify members of the crew immediately. As you know, Alvin Sargent is currently working on the screenplay. When we have more news, we will keep you posted.”

Pascal and Tolmach, who have shepherded the Spider-Man franchise from day one, have been wrestling with this script problem for months. “I’m going to do everything I can to make May,” Pascal has repeatedly told Hollywood types involved with the movie. “But I’m not going to start a movie where the script isn’t right yet. Not unless I want my career to be over.”

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