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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Spider (2003)

"The clothes maketh the man. The less there is of a man, the more the need for clothes."
- Terrence (John Neville)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: September 02, 2003

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne
Other Stars: John Neville, Bradley Hall, Lynn Redgrave
Director: David Cronenberg

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, brief violence, and language
Run Time: 1h:38m:00s
Release Date: July 29, 2003
UPC: 043396003736
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B+ B

DVD Review

A train pulls into a typical station in London, and passengers quickly exit towards their varying lives. The steadicam moves through the crowded path and provides brief glimpses of a diverse collection of average citizens. Finally, the shot rests on Dennis Cleg (Ralph Fiennes)a slow-moving, mentally troubled man who mumbles an indecipherable running monologue trapped within his brain. The other travelers have all departed, and his isolation from conventional society immediately becomes apparent. Cleg's eventual destination is a halfway house for former institutionalized patients. Will he discover any solace here from the nasty internal demons that infect his mind?

Also known as Spider, Cleg still faces the troubles encountered with his family as a young boy. Much of this story depicts his recollection of these events and gives us an up-close perspective. These moments reveal possible indiscretions committed by Spider's father (Gabriel Byrne) long ago. They also involve his mother (Miranda Richardson) and reveal a close but odd relationship between them. I will not reveal much about the plot because it would ruin the experience of traveling through Spider's mind. In the present, he hardly interacts with anyone save a few unintelligible ramblings with several other residents. The incessant jottings in a notebook transport us into the past and the young boy's experience.

Directed by David Cronenberg (eXistenZ, Crash) and adapted for the screen by Patrick McGrath (The Grotesque) from his own novel, this film showcases masters at the top of their craft. The flashbacks appear in unique fashion with the adult Spider observing them from a close location. He sits on a barstool while his father drinks at a local tavern, looks through the window at a family dinner, and even recites lines once spoken by the boy. The entire picture utilizes a dreary tone of impending doom, and Cronenberg crafts this atmosphere through an often-expressionistic vision. The muted colors and bleak set design reveal little hope for the lead character.

Viewers more accustomed to the dashing Ralph Fiennes of Maid in Manhattan and Quiz Show will be shocked by this performance. Wearing loads of clothes and moving in a shriveled, hunched form, the actor launches himself entirely into the possibly schizophrenic character. His malady is never specified directly, but his actions do match the symptoms of that mental disease. Miranda Richardson also deserves mention for playing multiple roles in a manner that defies the typical conventions. Gabriel Byrne also does a solid job in evoking the necessary menace. Considering the film's paltry budget, the quality of acting talent is truly remarkable.

Spider takes us on a powerful journey that appears to provide one answer and quickly shifts to another. Even the final revelations give little closure because we're always questioning the accuracy of Spider's tale. Fans of Cronenberg's work and other complex material should enjoy the plots twists and turns. The subject matter creates a sad resonance for multiple reasons, so I would not recommend this film for some light weekend viewing. However, taking the chance will almost certainly leave numerous questions lurking in your mind for a significant time period.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Spider utilizes an impressive 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that nicely translates Cronenberg's vision to the small screen. The bleak colors are especially well-defined and spring from the screen to pull you into the story. There is a minor amount of blurriness during some of the darker moments, but this does not distract at all from the overall presentation. This intriguing film deserves a top-notch visual presentation, and the transfer delivers.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that fails to blow you out of your seats, but it works effectively with this film's atmosphere. The rear speakers are rarely utilized, but most of the story's audio is dialogue and quiet environmental sounds. The conversations and Spider's mumblings and clear and distinct, and they move well throughout the sound field. While not among the best available, this transfer still provides a worthwhile presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Adaptation, Punch-drunk Love, The Devil's Backbone
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director David Cronenberg
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: A feature-length commentary from David Cronenberg would appear to provide the perfect method for comprehending Spider's complex web. Unfortunately, the director spends way too much time discussing the plot and forgets that most viewers will have already seen the picture. He offers a few interesting thoughts within the mix, but his dry tone makes the track fairly dull when the comments are so obvious.

Luckily, this release does redeem itself with three worthwhile featurettes. Running for eight minutes, In the Beginning: How Spider Came to Be examines the film's inception through conversations with Cronenberg and writer Patrick McGrath. Financing for the picture was very difficult, and the budget had to be trimmed to only eight million dollars. Weaving the Web: The Making of Spider gives us a quick overview of the picture and its notable moments. The cast and crew speak about Cronenberg's talents, and the director describes his hopes for several key scenes. This feature lasts about 9 minutes. Finally, Caught in Spider's Web: The Cast discusses each actor and their role in the picture. The 12-minute piece includes engaging interviews with Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, and Cronenberg.

The remaining extras include selected filmographies for the key players and several theatrical trailers. The previews for Spider, Adaptation, and Punch-Drunk Love all include widescreen transfers, and The Devil's Backbone utilizes the full-frame format.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Spider may fall short of David Cronenberg's craziest work, but it does provide a compelling depiction of the schizophrenic mind. Showcasing a specially crafted and saddening atmosphere, this film uniquely conveys the confusion and distress caused by this controversial affliction. Ralph Fiennes delivers one of his best performances in a role that rests almost completely separate from his previous work.


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