After `Entourage' spoof, studio may float `Aquaman' film

July 30, 2006|By JOHN HORN | JOHN HORN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD -- 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 last week that the studio "is not currently developing" an Aquaman project. But according to four people familiar with the idea, conversations 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 to 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.

Last week, a previously unseen pilot for an Aquaman TV series debuted on iTunes, and the show immediately became the Web site'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 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 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."

John Horn writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this article.

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