How a $10,000 1984 fan film became the world's first Aquaman movie

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Dec 23, 2018, 10:12 AM EST (Updated)

Warner Bros.' Aquaman is poised to make a super splash this weekend as DC's oft-maligned underwater wonder makes his solo feature debut. The $160 million fantasy adventure, directed by Saw and Insidious franchise helmer James Wan, already boasts optimistic box-office predictions, targeting a $65 million opening.

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But long before Jason Momoa emerged as the charismatic King of Atlantis in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2017's Justice League, and, now, Aquaman, an officially authorized, $10,000 fan film became the world's first Aquaman movie.

Way back in 1984, this remarkable achievement in amateur filmmaking was accomplished by a pair of CSUN film students, Tom Farr and Jeff Klein. Aquaman: The Cast of the Angler was crafted with a deep love for the DC Comics character and full permission from the famed publisher during a much different time — when intellectual properties were not so protected and coveted.

Grab some fish sticks and a salty beverage and check out what ten thousand clams bought you back in the mid-Eighties!

Their impressive, slightly campy, 20-minute short stays true to the nature of Aquaman despite the lack of crew and digital special effects, and is injected with a captivating wave of ingenuity and spirit. Until the revered internet age, enthusiastic fans would make bootleg copies of the movie to share with friends and comic book aficionados, and duplicates would often pop up at film festivals and conventions.

Farr still vividly remembers the whole production and emphasized that most people don't realize how ambitious a project it was for film students to produce a character of this magnitude.

"While I was swimming in the Pacific Ocean in the summer of '83, I popped out of the water and said, 'Aquaman,'" Farr tells SYFY WIRE. "Then Jeff Klein, my partner in film school, jumped at idea: 'That is going to be our advance film production!' I agreed, and the rest is history. I wrote a spinoff pilot that takes place during Arthur Curry's birth through high school. I think it would be an epic show. I'll always be proud of the fact that Jeff and I were the first filmmakers to make a live-action Aquaman film."

Sanctioned by DC and taking a few creative detours with the splashy character's origin story, Aquaman: The Cast of the Angler has billionaire biologist Arthur Curry facing off against The Angler, a strange spin on the Aquaman classic villain The Fisherman. This dastardly deep-sea antagonist is introduced as The Fisherman's half-brother and clashes with the Lord of the Seven Seas by holding the ocean ransom via the threat of a lethal toxin.


Starring Gordon Goodman as the watery superhero, Farr and Klein's gem also spotlights an early appearance from Hollywood stuntman Thomas Dewier as the nefarious Angler. Dewier has gone on to a prolific career in genre movies such as Mortal Kombat, Batman & Robin, Daredevil, Iron Man 3, X-Men: First Class, Star Trek Into Darkness, and dozens more.

DC Comics President Jenette Kahn gave the green light to these budding filmmakers. It is due to her open-mindedness and willingness to embrace two CSUN students' ambitious take on Aquaman that we are now able to witness something that would likely never be made today.

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Co-director Jeff Klein wanted to create a super fun film to bring their favorite comic book character to life in the vein of the campy ‘60s Batman TV series.

"We worked with Sea World to get access to their dolphin show lagoon, and shot Aquaman with his adopted dolphin pod," Klein recalls. "We had him rising from the ocean surface and riding/standing on top of two dolphins. The Sea World staff was amazed by the guests' reaction to our actor, Gordon Goodman, as Aquaman and thought it could be a great feature character overlay for their dolphin show.

"We also shot all of the underwater sequences at Marineland. We had a special 16mm camera developed by Jacques Cousteau; in fact we utilized a narrator character inspired by Jacques to tell the Arthur Curry/Aquaman origin story for the film. I'm so excited to see the new Aquaman film, and would like to think Tom and I got the ball rolling 33 years ago. Jason Momoa seems like he'll be a great Aquaman!"

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Credit: Jeff Klein