If you can’t wait until next summer’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to get your first taste of live-action Aquaman, might we suggest this well-preserved fan film that has washed ashore from the depths of the internet?
Long before cheap digital production technology and the cultural embrace of geekery made homemade superhero films a hefty segment of YouTube’s library, two UCLA students named Thomas Farr and Jeff Klein made the original Aquaman fan movie. Produced for $10,000 in 1984 (which amounts to just over $23,000 today), the 20-minute film was made with the blessing of DC Comics in an era in which intellectual property was not the highly coveted goldmine it is today.
After using paintings to tell the origin story of Arthur Curry, the ocean-raised orphan who learns to communicate with sea creatures. Once he learns that the greatest threat to the oceans comes from nefarious polluters and hunters on land, he decides to become a marine biologist and protect his adopted home from the shore.
The video is actually really clever and funny once it turns to live action, with the actor who plays Curry talking to animals, eating fish food, and making ridiculous excuses for sticking his face in water tanks. Things get serious when The Angler, a banana-addicted ocean-hater who kills fish and tortures Mormon choir members, threatens to destroy the Pacific.
There’s some sweet underwater photography, which makes Curry’s transformation into Aquaman feel surprisingly legit, given the budget and production limitations. And despite some amateurish acting, it’s a fun ride, even as The Angler and his henchmen fire harpoons at our hero.
It’s especially delightful that the video has found its way to a bigger audience; writing on YouTube, Farr says “we had a few Hollywood companies approach us wanting to make Aquaman into a show,” and after one company optioned the material, never spoke to them again. Serendipity struck in the ‘90s, when he found a bootleg of the video, which was packaged as a “TV pilot,” at a comics convention. Now that he’s transferred it to digital, the world (thanks in part to the site iO9) is finally getting a taste of his Aquaman, 30 years later.