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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words—'With great power comes great responsibility.' This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man."
DVD ReviewThe success of Fox's X-Men in the summer of 2000 ushered in the new era of the comic book movie. Sure, adaptations had been done here and there, some successes (Blade, The Crow), and some dismal failures (Steel, Mystery Men). But X-Men, with its pedigreed cast and respected director (Bryan Singer, The Usual Suspects) changed everything. Not since the heyday of the Superman films have the comics been such a hot commodity for Hollywood. We've got award-winning director Ang Lee doing The Hulk, and productions underway for Ghost Rider and Daredevil, not to mention nearly every minor Marvel hero through a deal with Artisan Pictures. If the record-breaking release of Spider-Man is any indication, the box office of these films is going to be huge. Of course, Spider-Man had something else going for it in addition to a legion of comic book fans—a great director and a decent script, a rare commodity for the genre.
In a story that picks and chooses elements from the Spidey mythology, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is living with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, your average high school nerd with an eye for the girl next door, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). He doesn't even get any cool cred from his best friend Harry (James Franco), son of billionaire Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe). One day, on a school trip to a research facility, he's bitten by a genetically engineered spider, and suddenly he's going through all the changes a teen can expect, like developing super strength, the ability to crawl on walls, and to shoot webs out of his wrists (as if we're too dumb to realize the puberty metaphor inherent in the storyline, the script helpfully points it out with some "cute" dialogue). Meanwhile, Harry's father is changing too, transformed by toxic gas at his research facility into a super-strong psychotic, split into two personalities.
At first Peter tries to use his powers for personal gain, but when a tragedy befalls his uncle, he realizes that he has a larger purpose—he dons the famous mask and becomes a heroic web-slinger, our "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." Meanwhile, Norman, in the guise of the villainous Green Goblin, is terrorizing the city, and a showdown between the two super dudes is inevitable.
It's unfortunate that the Green Goblin story was chosen for the first Spider-Man film. True, he's one of the most popular villains, but the comics were able to develop a complex relationship between Spidey and the Goblin, a rivalry that lasted for years and eventually ended in tragedy. Boiling all that character development, and all those storylines, into one movie (a movie already pretty full with the origin story) seems as misguided an idea as killing off the Joker in the first Batman. But the story is still entertaining, if a bit by-the-numbers. Peter's relationship with Norman is developed hastily, even if his rivalry with his alter-ego is not. Scenes of Peter discovering his new abilities provide some wonderful wish fulfillment, and his romance with Mary Jane is sweet, even if it feels pressed for time.
Where the script really gets it right is in the little details. By day, Peter works as a photographer for the Daily Bugle, and his editor, J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), feels like he walked right off the pages of the comic. Tobey Maguire is the perfect actor for the titular role, his familiar mumbling lending itself surprisingly well to the somewhat shy Peter character, only to be shed once he's under the mask, always readily with a dryly-delivered quip. Kirsten Dunst is winning is her underwritten role, but the real star of the show is Willem Dafoe, marvelously playing both sides of the Goblin's shattered psyche. Already the villains in the Spidey films are threatening to overshadow the hero. Maybe they shouldn't hire such great actors?
Spider-Man was in development for the better part of 20 years before the film was finally released. Perhaps that's a good thing, because without CGI special effects, I don't think a convincing adaptation is possible. John Dykstra, the man responsible for the effects in Star Wars, leads an excellent team of animators who are able to craft a fairly convincing digital web-slinger. True, most of Spider-Man's aerobatics don't feel real (they seem to have a weightless, artificial relationship with gravity), but they look pretty good, and that's enough for me. After all, comic books aren't exactly the real world. Who says a book about a man with mutant spider powers has to be ultra-realistic in terms of special effects? I take handle a little cartooniness.
Self-professed comic geek Sam Raimi, the guy who got his start with the ultra-low budget Evil Dead series, seems an unlikely fit for a $100 million summer blockbuster. But he'd proven his prowess at capturing the tone of the comics with 1990's Darkman, and he had passion for the material. Writer David Koepp had the unenviable task of picking and choosing from 40 years of Spidey lore and crafting a script that would please both the suits at Columbia Pictures and the rabid comic nuts on the Internet. Remarkably, both prove themselves equal to their tasks. If Spider-Man struggles at times under the weight of expectation, bound too closely to demographically-crafted, by-the-numbers plotting, it nevertheless does exactly what it's supposed to do, offering up escapist summer fare that manages to remain true to the spirit of it's comic book origins.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Spider-Man looks good on DVD, but it's not quite reference quality. For one thing, the visual style of the film leaves things looking a bit flat, though the transfer is not to blame for that—the same was true of the theatrical presentation. On the plus side, blacks are strong and shadow delineation is quite good. Fine detail is fairly good also—the transfer is nice and sharp, showing minimal edge enhancement. Unfortunately, I noticed quite a lot of aliasing scattered throughout, especially during special effects shots, and artifacting becomes a problem in some of these scenes as well. I don't mean to give the impression that this is a bad transfer, but it certainly isn't perfect.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This mix is just as aggressive as you'd expect from any big blockbuster, but it still earns kudos for being creative at points. Dialogue is anchored in the center, but is sometimes placed in the surrounds, enhancing particularly the scene in which the Green Goblin converses with Willem Dafoe's character. Otherwise, the music is spread nicely across the front soundstage, and the effects sequences make good use of the surrounds. Where the transfer is lacking a bit is in surround use during more subtle scenes. Loud action sequences are nice, but I'd like a bit more in the way of atmosphere.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Men in Black II, xXx, Stuart Little 2, Mr. Deeds, Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels
11 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, co-producer Grant Curtis, and actress Kirsten Dunst; special effects designer John Dykstra and the effects crew
Packaging: Amaray Double
Though the bulk of the extras are on disc two, disc one includes a number of features. Two audio commentaries are present, and neither will turn the world on its ear. The first, with director Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, co-producer Grant Curtis, and actress Kirsten Dunst, is pretty dull (and uncharacteristically so, after Raimi's amusing tracks for the Evil Dead films). Raimi and Curtis were recorded together, and their conversation is spliced with that of Dunst and Ziskin. There's a lot of dead air, even with four people talking, and it seems that only Raimi and Ziskin have much to say, though nothing worth wading through the tedium of the entire track. The second commentary focuses on the special effects and is actually much more entertaining, even if we are getting to the point where effects tracks consist mostly of the experts pointing out all the different things they did with computers. Effects coordinator John Dykstra leads the track, joined by various members of his team, and they all contribute something of interest, and do so with a sense of humor.
Disc one also includes six branching "web-isodes" spaced throughout the feature; with this option turned on, a Spidey head will appear in the corner of the scene, allowing you the opportunity to view a brief featurette related to whatever scene you were watching. Most are quite short (less than two minutes), and offer little real information. I did, however, enjoy the first (and longest), which focuses on the film's "spider-wrangler," a weird guy to be sure. Although, I was a little grossed out by the tarantula squatting on his chest throughout the piece. Other clips focus on the costumes, models, and production design.
A more worthwhile feature that runs in tandem with the film is a great popup trivia track. This one offers a lot of history on Spider-Man's comic book origins and is sure to interest those unfamiliar with his complicated past, but there are enough details on the film (and enough humor) to keep even the die-hard web head reading.
The Character Files are a bit more unique than the usual filmographies, presenting the cast within the template of a Daily Bugle story. Pressing "up" on the remote from each person's entry offers you a glimpse at a comic book illustration of a scene from the film.
An extensive Marketing Gallery is also included on disc one, with a trailer and no less than 11 TV spots for the features, along with clips for Men in Black II, xXx, Stuart Little 2, Mr. Deeds, and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels. Here you can also catch the music videos for Hero, from Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott (looking ridiculously serious in full on "power-ballad" mode); and the insipid What We're All About, from Sum-41.
When you start up disc two, you are given the option of exploring either The Web of Spider-Man (which focuses on the comic) or The Goblin's Lair (which is all about the movie). Both selections are well presented with their own creative animated menus.
Let's "get caught" in The Web of Spider-Man first (keep reading, I promise no more puns). Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century is a slick 25-minute documentary that explores the origins of Spider-Man, from the days when he was but a twinkle in creator Stan Lee's eye. Interviews are provided with Lee and comic artists John Byrne, John Romita Jr., Erik Larsen, and Todd McFarlane, all of whom drew the book at one time or another. We get some nice perspective on the changes that Peter Parker has gone through over the years, the discussion supported by lots of images straight out of the funny pages (technically, that wasn't a pun).
Also a treat in this section are the four still galleries: Spider-Man Archives, Artist's Gallery, Rogue's Gallery, and The Loves of Peter Parker. Archives offers a neat look back at the Spidey storylines over the years, allowing you to select first a decade, then a specific year, then to view the cover and a brief synopsis of a few of the stories from that year. The Artist's Gallery is also broken down into sub-sections, and offers a look at many different drawings from the comic book artists that inspired the production design of the film. There's a lot of material here, and I got tired after going through over 100 stills, but comic fans will dig it. Rogue's Gallery is my favorite—it offers bios of Spidey's foes, along with rotating images and info on their various powers. Some of these guys, by the way, have downright goofy origin stories. Finally, The Loves of Peter Parker tells you everything you need to know about Spidey's romantic entanglements (see? I could have used another "web" pun) with text on four different characters he has dated over the course of the comics.
For some reason, this section also includes some hints for the Spidey video game from Activision. Shrewd marketing there, Columbia. Well played. Or not.
So, what's going on in The Goblin's Lair? Well, not a whole lot, sadly. The previous section actually offered some unique, creative features and presented them well. From hereon in, it's all PR fluff, most of it culled from various pieces that ran on TV prior to the film's release.
The two documentaries are typical of the "behind the scenes form." The HBO piece runs 25 minutes and covers all the bases, from special effects to adapting the story from the comics, and it does so with plenty of talking-head material from the actors and filmmakers. There is some scant production footage, but most of it flies by quickly and is drenched in snappy voice-over, so you don't really get to enjoy any unique on-set antics. The 40-minute program from the E! channel (which goes by the clever moniker Spider-Mania) is even more frantically edited, and though it runs longer, I think it actually contains less substantive information than the HBO piece. Interviews are reduced to barely a sound bite so we can spend more time discussing who picked what on the E! channel "web poll" (that one isn't my fault).
Two featurettes, each running around seven minutes, allowing the actors and filmmakers to praise Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman. Both are pure puff pieces, though Elfman's does offer some worthwhile information on the quirky composer's creation cycle. And Raimi seems like a great guy, one who appreciates the opportunity he's been given. But I don't need an EPK clip to tell me that.
Some Screen Tests are provided for actors Maguire and J.K. Simmons, along with effects tests for the CGI Spider-Man and the costumes. The Gag Reel is too short but worth a laugh. Better is the hidden CGI blooper reel, which you can find over on disc one. Just go to "Features," then "Commentaries," then press left from the button to return to the features menu.
This set also includes a healthy selection of DVD-ROM extras, though they are only available to PC users. Disc one has a "record your own commentary" option, which seems fairly useless, though I suppose the fun increases with the addition of alcohol. A split-screen comparison allows you to watch the film in tandem with images from the comics. There's also a game demo, some web links, and downloadable desktops and screen savers to be found on disc two.
Looking over this review, you might be impressed with the sheer volume of extras on this two-disc set. I'll admit, the list looks impressive, but aside from the sections on the comics, most of this stuff is pretty routine. I mean, we don't even get the usual special effects clips that break down the different stages of CGI artistry (though, admittedly, that stuff is old hat as well). Let's face it, DVD is big these days, and there's only so much you can do with extra features. I, for one, am a lot harder to impress than I used to be.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsAdd another to the short list of good comic book movies. Spider-Man is very solid entertainment, bringing the web slinger to the big screen in a faithful, colorful adaptation. Columbia TriStar's DVD is a little underwhelming in the extras department, but the audio and video are enough to make your Spidey-sense tingle.
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