File this under ‘No Duh’, but it’s been confirmed that two separate actors will portray Billy Batson and his super alter ego ‘Shazam’ in Warner Brothers’ upcoming DC Comics adaptation, set to be directed by low-budget horror ace David F. Sandberg (‘Lights Out’, ‘Annabelle: Creation’), making a complete 180. The film is currently scheduled for release on April 5, 2019, less than four months after ‘Aquaman’s December 21, 2018. Of course, ‘Aquaman’ has been filming since May of this year. Sandberg and his team will need the speed of Mercury if they want this film to make its launch date. There is a screenplay written by Henry Gayden (‘Earth To Echo’) although it’s possible Sandberg may request some revisions or possibly even a whole new script.
Incidentally, ‘Aquaman’ is being directed by James Wan, who also got his start on low budget horror movies, including the ‘Conjuring’ franchise which spawned the ‘Annabelle’ spin-offs. Wan produced both ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Annabelle: Creation’, so it’s possible that this connection could help Sandberg make the time crunch.
In a recent interview, Sandberg discussed his approach to ‘Shazam!’ and the casting of a youthful actor to play Billy:
“Well I mean overall, I’ve been working with kids in both my movies to my success and there will be kids in Shazam and the main character is this kid who becomes an adult.”
When asked if instead of using an actual boy to play Billy he considered digitally de-aging an adult actor, he replied:
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to do that. That seems like way too much of a hassle. So I think it’s just kind of best to have a kid and an adult… [Filmmakers that use de-aging have] done quite well, I mean Kurt Russell in the latest Guardians was really well made I thought, but I think there’s a limit to it as well. You probably can’t do someone to be a kid. Why create that hassle for yourself?”
‘Shazam!’ follows the exploits of youngster Billy Batson, who gains the powers of the mythical gods and champions– the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. When he shouts this acronym, he transforms from a boy into a grown adult, originally named Captain Marvel. Due to copyright issues with Marvel Comics, DC has always had to label comics and merchandising ‘Shazam!’ leading most to believe that was the character’s name. In 2012, DC rechristened him ‘Shazam’ with an eye on releasing a movie, when Marvel had their own ‘Captain Marvel’ movie in the works.
Billy’s age has fluctuated depending on the series or adaptation. Usually he is shown as being roughly ten years old, but sometimes he seems younger, at other times older. Traditionally, his characterization is that of a wide-eyed innocent– a throwback to his creation in 1939. More recently he was reinvented as a teenager with a nasty, sarcastic attitude. Hopefully, that WON’T be the direction Sandberg takes with the film.
On the 1970s ‘Shazam!’ live action Saturday morning show, 23-year-old Michael Gray played Billy as a teenager. When he transformed, he switched places with an older adult actor– Jackson Bostwick in season one, then John Davey in season two.
If Warner Brothers has an eye on a possible franchise, they and Sanberg might be wise to pick a fairly young child actor, so that he doesn’t grow out of the role too quickly.
Are you glad that Sandberg plans to use a kid as Billy and an adult as Shazam? Or do you think using some digital trickery would work better?