SPIDER-MAN - DVD review


DeanWink

Usually when somebody becomes excited in a major motion picture project because of the director attached to the film, the name is Spielberg, Cameron, Lucas or Tarantino. My interest in "Spider Man" was minimal when the project was originally given the green light. Then I had heard the name of the director. Sam Raimi. After an initially insane and giddy notion that Bruce Campbell would be the man behind the mask, I quickly placed "Spider Man" on my must-see list of cinematic releases. I have always been a huge fan of the "Evil Dead" series and enjoyed everything Raimi has done since that series of films made Bruce Campbell the king of B-Movie actors and placed Sam Raimi in the hearts and minds of horror film buffs worldwide. Now, the man who was responsible for creating one of the most successful miniscule budgeted films of all time was given the keys to the candy store. I was not as interested in how good a film "Spider Man" would be, but interested in what Raimi would be capable of with a humungous budget.

It was a long wait.

Then the curtains opened and every moment of anticipation seemed worth it. The past few years have seen a slew of disappointments squash what had been strong expectations and resulted in a lessening of my faith in Hollywood's ability to make an incredibly good big budget film. Damn Emmerich and Devlin. It was "Godzilla (1998) that started this trend. Then came the Lucas travesty known as "Jar Jar's Adventure." Jim Cameron has disappeared and only Spielberg has been living up to his name, but with no huge commercial success. Then Michigan boy Sam Raimi was asked to save Hollywood and he was given a superhero to help him do the deed. "Spider Man" launched with record-breaking numbers and enjoyed a long and healthy box office run that ended with over $403 million in the domestic bank. With the help of a man who made his mark with a band of Deadites and a cowardly hero and a boom-stick, Raimi took his new role as a big budget director and created perhaps the best Summer megablockbuster Hollywood film since "Titanic" surprised millions of teenage girls in 1997.

Bruce Campbell did make an appearance in the film. He was not "Spider Man," but a ring announcer that stole the screen for just a few brief moments. This decision showed how much smarter Sam Raimi is than myself. His decision to start "Spider Man" from the beginning was the correct one and his casting of the highly talented Tobey Maguire was perfection. I have had held a high opinion of Maguire since his earlier roles in "Pleasantville" and "The Cider House Rules." He too made the successful transformation from the low-budget world of filmmaking and helped offer a breath of fresh air to the summer blockbuster. Raimi certainly could have given his best friend Bruce a few more minutes of screen time, but I can't fault him for the casting choice made when Tobey Maguire was signed.

In addition to Tobey Maguire, Raimi brought another great actor into the fold when Willem Dafoe was chosen as Norman Osborn / Green Goblin. One look at Dafoe and the choice looks good, but when you combine his creepy appearance with his acting chops, you know you are going to bet getting a better superhero villain than Arnold's Mr. Freeze or Carrey's the Riddler. Memories of "Body of Evidence" and "Speed 2: Cruise Control" were quickly erased and the man that brought such power into "Platoon" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" put forth a performance as a supervillain that rivals the great work Jack Nicholson did in Tim Burton's 1989 installment of "Batman." The casting of Maguire and Dafoe showed that Raimi was not looking for the big name actors to bring in filmgoers to his film, but was looking for actors that would perfectly fit the role. When Kirsten Dunst was brought aboard as Mary Jane Watson, Raimi had his hat trick.

I could rave about the casting, acting and direction all day. This is simply because the performances of the cast and crew deserve applause. "Spider Man" is a well-made film that can easily stand on its performances. This is not a popcorn film that requires you to check your brain at the door. Raimi shows that he can keep a massive production like "Spider Man" in check and deliver the goods. His direction is impeccable and if you have seen enough Sam Raimi films, you can feel his mark when you watch this special effects extravaganza. Maguire and Dunst show maturity for their ability to take part in such a high profile project and deliver great performances. Dafoe is Dafoe. He is a great actor and is no stranger to big budget films. Even with all of the makeup and costume required for his transformation into the Green Goblin, you know it is Willem Dafoe.

There has been some huffing and puffing about the special effects. I didn't find a problem with the effects, but I must be in agreement that more than once Spidey looked overly CGI and suspension of disbelief was quite difficult. Still, these scenes were no worse than a couple memorable moments in "Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" and regardless of how apparent the effects were CGI, they were still highly entertaining and fun. The speed and amount of detail required to make Spidey fit into the busy New York background was quite a task and I can't help but believe we are still a little bit away from doing this kind of computer work where the CGI elements will perfectly blend with the surrounding real world. If you want my opinion on whether or not these effects sour the film or take away from its entertainment value, I will tell you they are not worth worrying about. This is a minimal problem. To me, this is like saying "Evil Dead" is not nearly as fun as it could be because the effects are cheeseballish at times.

This is the first film of many. I have a feeling that Columbia TriStar will ride this franchise until it is no longer profitable. Because this is the first film and Raimi has chosen to start from the beginning, there is a lot of background to cover and an entertaining movie still has to result. The transformation from Peter Parker to Spiderman is very good. Some of the most entertaining moments of the film were the initial realizations by Peter Parker for his skills. His first swing through the city is perhaps my favorite scene. The growing relationship between the gorgeous Mary Jane and Peter Parker is handled very nicely, and I should probably mention that Kirsten Dunst and her scene in the rain is alone worth the price of admission. She is an attractive young lady and a convincing redhead. M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" was the perfect "first issue comic book" movie. This may be the best "first episode comic book" movie as it sets up more than just the beginnings, but includes the first nemesis.

"Spider Man" is a hell of a lot of fun. I was not a fan of the franchise, but I was a Sam Raimi fan. His involvement led me to an interest in the film and when the actors were named, I became a bit more interested. After watching the final product, I understood this was the first film in the series and realized there was a lot of exposition and building required to get the franchise moving. The second film and on should make for one heckuva roller coaster ride. Raimi and his band of actors are all-exceptional and added a legitimate feel to this picture. Raimi has also thrown in a few moments for the hardcore Spider fanatics to enjoy. "Spider Man" is not a popcorn film, but a bonafide entertaining blockbuster and it is a film that can be enjoyed by everybody. He has brought "Spider Man" to the masses and has given Hollywood another legitimate franchise that gives Summer its own "Lord of the Rings."

Video :
WARNING! Columbia TriStar has done the noble thing and released "Spider Man" in two versions. There is a widescreen edition (reviewed here) and a full screen version. I haven't seen the full screen edition and do not know if it is an open matte transfer or a pan and scan edit. Open matte is good. Pan and Scan is bad. Widescreen is always better. I hope all companies start to do this, or offer both on the same disc, however, just make sure you buy the version you want. There is a big label across the top telling you what you are getting. I consider this value added content, but only because consumers are given the choice of which version they want. I am an old LaserDisc fan and despise Pan & Scan. I will always take the widescreen version, but I know there are plenty of people who don't like the black bars.

The widescreen DVD release of "Spider Man" presents the film in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that keeps the original aspect ratio of the theatrical release. Aside from some minor haloing around the edges, this is a quality DVD transfer that is only bested by the absolute best DVD can offer. Colors are absolutely gorgeous and perfectly saturated. Detail is crisp and superb, with only a few moments that were on the soft side. The CGI scenes actually look a touch better on the small screen compared to what I remember from the multiplex. Black levels are deep and night scenes are fabulous. The source materials used for the transfer were pristine. There are no digital blemishes whatsoever. I was certainly pleased by the visuals of this DVD.

Audio :
A few options are available for the listening of "Spider Man." Two 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mixes are provided, one in English and the other in French. An English 2.0 Surround mix is also provided to offer older Pro Logic or stereo-based setups the best sound possible. Sadly, no DTS track is available. The 5.1 mix is very good. All six channels are used to their fullest and the usage of the split surrounds is notable during many of the bigger scenes on this DVD release. There are times when they are silent, but when all guns are blazing, this is a very good sounding DVD. Dialogue holds up as expected throughout and is always clear and intelligible, no matter what is going on in the world around the speaking characters. Bass is strong and effective. Danny Elfman provides the theatrical score for the film and it is delivered perfectly by the Dolby Digital mix and as always, Elfman's score is top-notch. Again, source materials were pristine and you will not find any fault in them. English, Spanish and French subtitles are provided.

Extras :
When my screener copy for "Spider Man" arrived late the night before the DVD release, my first thought was that I could get the entire thing reviewed and have the review posted that evening. It seemed a noble thought. I watched the film and then went off to my 10:10pm hockey game (starting goalies can't skip games for DVDs). When I got back, I started to type up my non-extras part of the review and listen to the commentary track. I got everything ready to go and started to delve into the supplemental materials. I was already 2:30 Friday morning and it hit me that there was a tremendous amount of supplements to be found on these two DVDs. Needless to say, my goal of getting everything done in about five hours was not going to happen. I've done it before for two disc sets, but this is a good one in terms of value added content.

The "Spider Man" DVD features two Audio Commentary tracks. The first commentary track features Sam Raimi, Producers Laura Ziskin & Grant Curtis, and Kirsten Dunst. The second, SFX Commentary track is by special effects supervisor John Dykstra and members of his crew. The first track finds the producers sharing time and Raimi and Dunst in a separate session that is combined a la Criterion. Raimi is barely the dominant person in the commentary and even though he is the most interesting to listen to, this track is nothing compared to the work he and Bruce Campbell had done for the "Evil Dead" trilogy DVDs. There is a good deal of empty airtime in this commentary and I certainly expected and hoped for more. The second track with Dykstra is very technical, but does give a tremendous amount of information on the making of the picture.

An interactive Spider Sense feature provides an on-screen icon and allows access to quick featurettes that delve deeper into a scene and a few other features round out the offerings of the first DVD. "Spider Sense" offers a number of two to five minutes shorts that offer slight information over what is covered in the commentary and were originally featured on the Internet as Webisodes. Unfortunately, the "Spider Sense" feature can not be used in conjunction with another subtitle encoded feature, Weaving the Web. This feature provides a plethora of additional material and mimics the "Pop-Up" music video format popularized by VH1 and previously pioneered on DVD by New Line. Finishing off the first disc's standard features are two music videos for Hero and What We're All About, Promotional Trailers, Character Biographies, and 11 Television Spots.

There are a number of DVD-ROM features on the first DVD that can be accessed via a DVD-ROM equipped personal computer. The most notable is a feature I have seen on "Shrek" and "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back." The Record Your Own Commentary feature allows you to make your own commentary track for the film. I have yet to discover the full usefulness of this feature, but you can make a silly track to show off your "Mystery Science Theater 3000" skills. This can be a lot of individual fun and you can laugh yourself silly at what you said later in life, but I'm still not fully convinced this is going to be used much. Aside from the commentary, there is also a nifty Comic/Feature Comparison that gives you a side-by-side split screen look at the film and cells from the original comic books. You can zoom and navigate the comic cells while you watch the film. Weblinks offers direct access to the official "Spider-Man" DVD site and offers additional downloadable content or the Countdown to Spider-Man 2 page.

Disc 2 is purely supplemental material that is a collection of features from various sources that pertain to the film and comic. The disc features two relatively lengthy making-of features from HBO and E! Television. The HBO First Look: Making Of Spider-Man feature runs for nearly a half an hour and is the typical mix of film clips and talking heads that mar most of the "promotion over material" features. It may be worth a look, but the purpose of this was to primarily increase interest in the film and by the time you reach this feature, you have probably already seen the film. The E! Spider-Mania feature is another feature primarily directed at marketing the film. It runs for a bit longer in length, but does feature recycled material from the previous feature. Fortunately, the material covered in the E! Special is slightly more informative and worthwhile.

A handful of other featurettes are provided that take a look at the people involved in the production of the film. Director Profile: Sam Raimi runs for under eight minutes and offers some light on Raimi, but is too a mostly promotional featurette. Sam's partner in crime Bruce Campbell makes a welcome appearance during this short and makes this a worthwhile few minutes. Composer: Danny Elfman takes a look at the former Oingo Boingo frontman and his wonderous career. Next up after the profiles are some short Screen Tests. Tobey Maguire's and J.K. Simmons screens-test and a few makeup and effects tests are provided here. A Gag/Outtake Reel is amusing and only lasts a few brief moments. This gag reel is edited to be family friendly and any offending four-letter words are presented as bleeps.

"Spider-Man" was first and foremost a comic book and it would be flat-out wrong to ignore the character's beginnings. Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century is without a doubt the best supplement of the second DVD and takes a half-hour look at the history of the character. Creator Stan Lee, artist Todd McFarlane and others are interviewed and shed light on the background of everybody's favorite webslinger. I enjoyed this feature and found it helpful since I am far from being a comic fan and have read maybe a dozen Spidey comics in my lifetime. A wealth of Galleries are thrown in for good measure. A Conceptual Art & Production Design Gallery, The Spider-Man Comic Book Archives, Rogues Gallery, The Loves of Peter Parker and Comic Book Artist Pin-Up Gallery are the various galleries that can be viewed. It will take some time to get through all of the galleries and each are interesting in their own right.

A section entitled Activision Game Hints & Tops is dedicated to the "Spider-Man: The Movie" game for the Microsoft Xbox, Sony Playstation 2, and Nintendo GameCube. I briefly looked at this section and I do own the title for the Xbox. It looked like it may be of some help. Perhaps it will help me get past a little section I have found myself stuck at.

The second DVD features a collection of DVD-ROM materials. More Weblinks are tossed in, but the ROM features on this DVD are actually quite worthwhile. Three Marvel Dot.Comics offer three full length comic books in a new interactive format. Each comic can be scanned and zoomed and additional information is provided for characters and story. Activision has provided a link for an Interactive Game Demo, which downloads the demo from the Internet and offers a short playable version of the Activision game. Admittedly, I did not download this. Skins and Screensavers are available to customize your PC experience and give it a good "Spider Man" feel. This is one of the finest DVDs when it comes to adding value-added content to the DVD-ROM section. One question, where is the screenplay?

Summary :
I heavily anticipated "Spider-Man" to hit the theaters, not because of the hype or the fact it was a big-budget translation of one of the greatest-loved comics of all time, but because it was a Sam Raimi film that moved the director onto the A-List of directors. I was able to enjoy the film during a press screening and it was a very pleasurable experience that sent me back to the multiplexes two days later for a second helping. I feel the film is outstanding and the cream-of-the-crop of event films for this Summer. Perhaps only the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy exceeds the quality of the "Spider-Man" film. Sony's DVD was a pleasant addition to my collection and was a pleasure to review. The transfer is not the best I have seen and this disc is not reference material, but it is darn good. The supplements are lengthy and plentiful and it will take hours to witness them all. I don't see why you wouldn't want a copy of this title.

Ratings

Video
9
Audio
9
Extras
9
Film Value
10