Julie Taymor's The Lion King has brought in $6 billion in ticket sales. U2 remains one of the biggest bands in the world. Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture. A Broadway musical from these individuals, backed by an extensive budget to create something truly memorable, was more or a less an excuse to print an unlimited amount of money.
The rest of the story is the creative version of a car crash, played in slow motion.
Glen Berger was tapped to write what would ultimately become Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, and his book The Song of Spider-Man tells an admittedly one-side version of what went wrong. There is a scene early in the creative process where Berger states that the idea of a super-serious Spider-Man musical is a bit absurd, and this observation doesn't endear him to Taymor. The team was convinced they were making the highest form of art.
Which is why this is one of my favorite books about the creative process. Last year saw a number of video games with huge budgets attached to well-known franchises launch with broken services and many times even well-known studios release games that fall well short of functional.
It's about a sure thing that lost everyone a pile of money
The players tend to assume maliciousness on the part of the publishers or developers, but Song of Spider-Man shows the reality of what it's like to be caught between creative individuals trying to create something special, the people holding the keys to the money and those that control how the lead character is seen and have the ultimate say in what's included in the product.
You end up in ridiculous situations where the writer is struggling with re-writes, the studio is telling you to remove the best scenes, and the individuals in charge of writing the music are in the other room arguing with the President of the United States about debt relief. Song of Spider-Man is, above all else, the story of a group of people who aren't accustomed to not getting their way learning that everything can go wrong even when they try their best. It's about a sure thing that lost everyone a pile of money. It's about how people who thought this was a great idea:
We've written about what it's like to have to design something by committee and, while it's unlikely anyone will be able to write a book about the creation of a big-name game in the same way Berger wrote about this play, it's a great way to gain a bit of appreciation for what it's like to be almost trapped by your budget and trying to make something workable while being locked inside a ship too large for any one person to steer.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was plagued with budget problems, injuries, re-writes and a terrible critical reception, and the book shows you what that process feels like from the inside.
That's not an excuse for the end product; Turn Off the Dark deserved most of its negative reception, but if nothing else this helps you appreciate the fact that no one sets out to create anything terrible, nor is there much maliciousness involved when something this big goes this bad.
You may not put down the book ready to forgive DICE for the technical problems that plagued Battlefield 4 or with the idea that maybe Destiny never needed a story, but perhaps you'll have a bit more sympathy for the people trapped between the money and the people making the final decisions as they try their best to create something people will enjoy.