WB, DreamWorks face legal woes over 'Clonus'
The producers of 1979 indie pic “Parts: The Clonus Horror” filed suit Monday in federal court in Gotham alleging “The Island” was based on their film.
In addition to a request for unspecified damages and part of the proceeds from “The Island,” the suit asks the court to order the studios to withdraw the pic from theaters and block further release.
Since “The Island” was released on July 22, several reviewers have noted the similarities between the two films. Premiere magazine wrote, “the first hour of ‘The Island’ plays like a much more expensive albeit scene-for-scene remake.” The New York Daily News and Memphis’ Commercial-Appeal, as well as plenty of online critics agreed.
“Clonus,” produced by Myrl A. Schreibman and Robert S. Fiveson, who also helmed, tells the story of a secret colony of clones who are told they will one day go to a utopian place called “America.” They’re actually being raised in case their human counterparts need spare organs. One of the clones escapes into Southern California and is chased as he tries to expose the facility.
In “The Island,” helmed by Michael Bay, the clones are similarly raised as a source of spare parts for humans and two clones escape into the real world, a futuristic Los Angeles, and try to shut down the cloning facility.
Made for $120 million, “The Island” has done poor business at the box office, grossing just $55 million worldwide to date.
DreamWorks said in a statement, ” ‘The Island’ was independently created and does not infringe anyone’s copyrights.”
A rep for Warners said the studio does not comment on pending litigation.
“Clonus” was produced independently on a $250,000 budget and has since found new life as a sci-fi cult fave, boosted by exposure on cable’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It’s also available on DVD.
The suit also alleges that prior to the release of “Clonus” in 1979, the producers screened it for DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, then an exec at Paramount, for a possible distribution deal.
In the suit, the producers list 90 instances in which they say “The Island” is identical to “Clonus.”
Fiveson said he was first alerted to similarities between the two films in an email.
“Somebody had written me asking if ‘The Island’ was an official remake,” he said. “I then went to ‘The Island’ Web site and they had a trailer and I thought, ‘That looks like a trailer to my movie,’ right down to where key moments and shots were the same.”
He saw the movie at a sneak preview in D.C. “I can honestly say that my every hope then was there wouldn’t be enough similarities and I could just walk away.”
But beginning with an early sequence where the clone played by Ewan McGregor leaves his bedroom and the cloning facility is shown, with guards watching carefully as the clones do calisthenics, he said he found the resemblance uncanny. “Honestly, I really liked it,” he said, “because this is the way the movie should have been done.”
But commenting on similarities, Fiveson said: “It’s beyond the premise. It’s specific characterizations, it’s specific lines, shot compositions and sequencing.”
Schreibman, now an adjunct film professor at UCLA’s film school, says he’s bringing the suit to protect the integrity of the original.
“I have one foot in the profession and one foot in academia, and the ethics of filmmaking is something we teach,” he said. “I’m very passionate about the idea of anyone’s creative work being stolen, and this is out-and-out theft.”
“Clonus” was based on a story idea by Bob Sullivan. He and Ron Smith wrote the screenplay, while Fiveson and Schreiber received adaptation credits.
“The Island” started out as a spec script by Caspian Tredwell-Owen which sold in a heated auction in early 2004 for $1 million against $1.5 million. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who received screenplay credits, were brought in for rewrites after Bay came aboard to helm the project.