With Avatar opening in a couple of days and James Cameron bemoaning the prevalence of superheroes in modern cinema, our thoughts turned back to when he wanted to make a Spider-Man movie in the '90s. Want to read the script?
Cameron's early '90s "scriptment" is the kind of thing that shows that, while he may have loved the comics as a kid, he didn't necessarily understand them. For example, Peter's pre-Spider-Man awkwardness became defiance against modern culture in Cameron's hands:
PETER PARKER. Age 17. Peter is in the bathroom, popping a zit in the mirror. He puts on his glasses and checks his look in the mirror. Still the same. Nerdy. He doesn't care. Screw 'em... He thinks they are the real losers. They'll be flipping burgers while he's discovering the cure to cancer. We'll see who wins in the long run. He wears his isolation like a badge... with an air of superiority.
That's not the only essential change to the Spider-Man mythos: Uncle Ben doesn't give a "With great power comes great responsibility" speech - or, if he does, it's not mentioned in the scriptment - and Peter starts considering do-gooding before Ben's death (albeit with mixed results). J. Jonah Jameson is a television station owner, not Daily Bugle editor, and the Bugle doesn't appear in the film at all. The movie even ends with Peter winning Mary Jane's love by revealing that he's Spider-Man - the two of them, by that point, having shared a terrible love scene that hints at Cameron's Titanic script as well as shows that Peter's into bondage:
ON TOP OF THE BRIDGE TOWER. Hold a beat. We hear screams approaching. Spidey appears and sets her on terra firma. She clings to him, looking down and around in wonder. He has put the world at her feet. She can't believe this is happening to her.
In a dizzying down-angle we see how the suspension cables all meet radially at the top of the tower... like the treads of some vast spider web. Peter and MJ seem to sit at the very center of the web, surrounded by the lights of the city. It is a warm spring night. And the moment is pure magic.
She stands with her back against a girder, needing to feel something solid. Spider Man stands before her, a perfectly formed male silhouette with a soothing low voice.
Courtship among the spiders is highly ritualized. It varies from species to species. The male spider may circle the female, or wave his front legs... to signal that he is not prey.
Spider Man moves in a hypnotic arc around her. He raises his hands in a dance-like movement. Lowers them.
The female usually signals her willingness by an uncharacteristic passivity.
MJ takes a deep breath. Her lip trembles. Her knees are weak. Her eyes, though, are steady, gazing at the silhouette before her. She doesn't move or speak. He moves closer.
In certain crab spiders, such as Xysticus, the male will attach strands of silk to the female... tying her limbs...
Spider Man moves his hand gracefully across her, and she sees the sheerest silk webbing glinting in the moonlight. First one wrist. Then the other. Hypnotic movement in the moonlight. Her arms are bound to the wall. Her breathing gets more rapid.
Since the female can break free at any time, the bonds have only symbolic significance.
The male must be very bold... to take such liberties with the predatory female.
Yes. He is very bold. But he must also trust her.
(he moves very close)
Close your eyes.
He removes his mask and kisses her. Their mouths very slowly and very sensuously devour each other. Peter and MJ are locked together. He is mesmerizing, gentle, powerful. He pushes up her skirt. They make love, high above the world. She doesn't look.
Well, at least it's not as bad as this scene from earlier in the script:
THE NEXT DAY. Tight on Peter as he wakes up. He opens his eyes cautiously. Not knowing what to expect. PULL BACK to reveal that he is still in bed. All is normal. He breaths a sigh of relief. In fact... he feels pretty good. Lots of energy. He pulls back the covers and...
Something is causing the sheet to stick to him. He lifts it, revealing a sticky, white mass completely covering him, gluing him to his bedding.
OMG HIS WEBBING IS LIKE JIZZ I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE.
The villains of the piece are versions of Sandman and Electro, although they have different names for no immediately apparent reason (As does high school bully Flash Thompson, who becomes Nathan "Flash" McCreery. Maybe Cameron was working out some high school issues or something), and both end up dead during the climactic final battle (Sandman ends up turned into glass with the following, wonderful, description: "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.").
You can read an illustrated version of Cameron's entire scriptment here, but we wouldn't blame you if you'd read enough already. While offering up enough visual thrills and surface spectacle that you know it would've made an exciting movie to watch, Cameron's Spider-Man shaves off so much of the weirdness of the character that it could be any generic teenage superhero saving his girlfriend and the The Day. We're happier this script stayed unmade and Sam Raimi got his chance to show off his superhero chops instead and, let's face it: Wouldn't the world rather have had Avatar than this, in the end?