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Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finally happy living his life as Spider-Man. The city of New York finally loves him, Mary Jane Watson (Kirstin Dunst) is finally by his side, and his former best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) has lost his memory, forgetting about his anti-Spidey crusade. All this goodness leads to the sin of Hubris, a feeling of invincibility which is magnified when Peter discovers an alien symbiote has grafted itself to his costume and multiplies his powers. The affections of a new girl named Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) don’t hurt either.

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But blue skies begin to grey when Mary Jane loses her job on Broadway, Harry’s memory begins to return, a rival photographer named Eddie Brock shows up at the Daily Bugle, and the cops inform Peter that his Uncle’s actual kill, Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church), has escaped from prison. Marko becomes the invincible Sandman after an accident during his escape, and to beat him Peter must wear the new black suit, despite its negative effects on his emotions and mind.

Spider-Man 3 is undoubtedly the weakest film in what by all rights should’ve been the most solid super-hero trilogy of all time, but it is not the unmitigated disaster so many disappointed and hyperbolic fans and critics say it is. The film’s problems are rather obvious, and have been since the day three villains were announced as staring—there is simply too much plot for a two hour and twenty minute film. The final product is bloated and unfocused because, apparently, no one had the balls to say ‘no’ to any of the creative heads.

Director Sam Raimi makes some bad editing choices that often halt the already packed narrative (Mary-Jane and Harry’s dancing cook-off, though a cute scene, really does not belong in the film, for example), and his need to stay true to the tone of the Silver Age comic is a major hindrance (too much episodic soap opera for too little run time). Producer Avi Arad, who was apparently the man who forced Raimi, his brother Ivan, and Alvin Sargent to squeeze Venom into the already lumpy narrative, attempts to please modern fans at the risk of logic and organic flow. The moneymen at Sony, meanwhile, continued to throw cash at the project based on the returns of the first two films, and never stopped to notice how awkwardly things were coming together. In the end they spent so much money they’re ashamed to admit an actual price tag.

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Had someone realized that there was no way to fit all this crap into one standard length feature, we may’ve found ourselves in the presence of two great Spider-Man sequels, rather than one sparkling disappointment. We all know there’s a bunch of deleted footage somewhere out there, we’ve seen glimpses of it in trailers, why not pull a Kill Bill and squeeze out dual sequels? Had this film been only about Peter’s inner battle with the suit, and outer battle with both Flint Marko and Harry Osbourn, we might’ve had a moving character study, and the last act battle might’ve featured some genuine emotional payoffs. Eddie Brock and Venom should’ve been a tease for a fourth feature, fan expectations be damned.

The character of Venom was already controversial in the fan community. Classic fans see the character as everything wrong with 1990s comics (a hulking monster with a weak back story, produced for the simple act of whoopin’ Spider-Man’s ass), while younger fans have viewed him as the prototypical antihero of the era (a hulking monster with a weak back story, produced for the simple act of whoopin’ Spider-Man’s ass). The point both camps seem to miss, and a point that the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon series handled with surprising dexterity, is that Venom is the Anti-Spider-Man. By changing the character of Eddie Brock from a muscle bound adult to a Peter Parker doppelganger he suddenly becomes an interesting study of everything Spider-Man could’ve been had he made the wrong choices (in all facets of life, not just super-heroics). Raimi’s film only half realizes this fact, teasing its audience with the possibility of a super villain of real depth.

Actors returning from the first two films continue filling out their characters efficiently, even Kirsten Dunst (hated by fanboys the world over), and the new cast is inspiring all around, in both looking and acting the part, but due to the film’s bloated nature no one gets a real chance to shine. Thomas Hayden Church is fantastic in all his scenes, even the last act stuff that doesn’t make any sense, and is the flabby features greatest fatality. Topher Grace sells a loveable bastard better than most, and even his truncated performance leaves one to wonder if Raimi picked the right guy for the original wall-crawler. Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, the shining grace of Shyamalan’s latest flops The Village and Lady in the Water (I liked them both), a big time up-and-comer who finds herself as little more than a screaming damsel with a pretty face.

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However, the problem in saying ‘no’ to someone like Sam Raimi is that it would’ve most likely resulted in the deletion of two of the films best and most Raimi-esque sequences—the ‘evil-Peter’ montage (which really should’ve been set to the Beegee’s Stayin’ Alive), and the chaotic and silly barroom dance. Despite the fact that the vast majority of viewers seem to have hated these scenes, they are impeccably Raimi, and Raimi was something missing from the first two films. Apparently most fans would prefer a murderous Dark Peter Parker, but Sam and Ivan’s Army of Darkness and Crime Wave inspired goofiness is shockingly bold-faced for a mainstream action flick, which I see as a good thing. Most of the audience seems to have missed the joke, which would be that Peter Parker is an incurable nerd, and that his idea of ‘cool’ is hopelessly lame (that whole ‘emo hair’ thing was a joke). I say your loss, my gain.

Despite an abrupt jump into the last act of a completely different film, and the brutally pruned side plots robbing Spider-Man 3 of the emotionally satisfying ending the series needed (lets not even talk about Deus Ex Butler’s last minute revelation, oy), the movie still has its fair share of wonderful moments. Besides the aforementioned Raimi-tastic scenes, there’s a series of increasingly acrobatic fisticuffs, the best Bruce Campbell staring sequence since the cancellation of Brisco County Jr., and a spirited turn from James Franco. The finest achievement of all is the birth of Sandman sequence, which may very well be the most moving piece of computer generated animation, like, ever. Yes, Spider-Man 3 has some issues, and it isn’t quite the follow up we were all expecting from this creative team, and the price tag was ridiculously steep, but there is still a solid inkling of the charm, grace, and drama we came to love the first two times around. I like to think of it as an entertaining face-plant with oodles of re-watchability.

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This is my first Blu-ray review, and only the second movie I’ve watched on my new player, so my nit-pick eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the abilities of high-def. My DVD eyes tell me this is the best thing since…um, it’s pretty much the best thing ever so far as video quality goes. Spider-Man 3 is actually a great disc to pop the eyeball cherry with because of the film’s overall colourful nature, and the intricacies of its villain’s biological make ups (e.g. grains of sand and runny tar stuff).

If I get my face about a foot from the screen I can see ever-so-slight jaggies on the crispest of lines, and a few artefacts on faces, but this has more to do with my set’s limitations as an older HD model than the disc’s shortcomings. There’s no compression noise, the minute grain is as fine as…sand, and the details are as sharp as Ginsu knives. The best things about the disc are the popping bright colours, and deep, rich blacks. If I were to really look for some problems I’d say there’s a little bit of edge enhancement throughout, but really nothing to complain about.

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Well here’s the part where the readers make comments about how unqualified I am to review Blu-ray titles, blah blah blah. I don’t have the ability to get the full benefit of Dolby TrueHD technology. I’m sorry. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track, however, is still so alive and teeming with wonder that I seriously doubt I could possibly be more impressed by anything else.

When I saw the film in the theatre (AMC Roseville in Minnesota) the right stereo speaker was on the fritz, so it’s good to finally hear Spider-Man’s web-swinging, Sandman’s granule attacks, and Venom’s raptor like screams in full on digital surround. The track is simply gigantic and each and every channel is consistently aggressive. The bass levels are so much that I actually had to turn my sub down a bit, but it wasn't ever overtly muddy. It’s quite remarkable that things never get garbled considering the sheer amount of sound attack during the larger fight sequences, but even in chaos the track is clear.

Then there’s the rather controversial matter of the film’s score. The legend states that über-composer Danny Elfman and director Sam Raimi had a major falling out during the production of Spider-Man 2, and after Elfman was asked to emulate a certain cue from Hellraiser enough times he apparently shouted, “I can't get any closer and I'm not going to imitate [Hellraiser composer] Christopher Young. Go f**king hire Christopher Young!”, so Raimi did. Young’s Spider-Man 3 score is, I’ll hazard to say, better than either of Elfman’s previous entrées in the series (Elfman and Raimi’s antagonism really shows on episode two). From the black suit’s bombastic, James Bond-esque theme, to the Sandman’s deliciously awkward motif, Young captures the essence of the production’s bloated grandeur even better than the Raimi’s frazzled plot.

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Spider-Man 3 takes a step back in the extras field to the less impressive arena of the first Spider-Man release, which featured a collection of slightly fluffy featurettes that merely satisfied. There is no massive Spider-Man 2 styled documentary this time around. My guess is that there is a Spider-Man 3.1 on the horizon for next summer, and the really good stuff is being saved.

Disc one starts with two commentaries, one featuring Raimi and cast members Topher Grace, James Franco, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Thomas Haden Church, the other featuring producer Avi Arad (boo), producer Grant Curtis, producer Laura Ziskin, editor Bob Murawski, and visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk. Raimi’s previous Spider-Man commentaries weren’t up to his Evil Dead entertainment levels, and he always sounded exhausted, but here in the company of a bunch of zealous actors he seems to have rediscovered his ‘groove’. The track is quite entertaining, though for the number of participants blank space is surprisingly prevalent. No one ever acknowledges the film’s major shortcomings flat out, but there is plenty of discussion about the fact that the script was unfinished when filming began, and alternate versions of the story (some with the Vulture instead of Venom, one with Gwen Stacy held captive at film’s end) are discussed. Besides the silent streaks, my only problem with the track are the scripted moments, where someone asks Raimi a random question about the folks behind the scenes so he can struggle to read their names off a loudly crumpled sheet of paper. The producer/editor/effects dude track is pretty lifeless, but technically very informative, and surprisingly enough contains less empty space.

The first disc taps out with a blooper reel, an HD photo gallery (totally worthless), a cute music video for an awful and maudlin song by Snow Patrol, and some trailers for other Sony Blu-ray releases.

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Then comes disc two, which amounts to around two hours of featurettes. Most of these behind the scenes snapshots reek of cable television EPK, and none go into the behind the scenes issues and intrigue in the slightest, but they are all informative and some are even entertaining.

‘Grains of Sand: Building Sandman’ covers mostly the special effects work behind the character, which are most likely the film’s most impressive aspect. The utter volume of sand created in the computer is enough to earn these guys the Special Effects Oscar this year (assuming the WGA strike doesn’t postpone it indefinitely). ‘Re-Imagining the Goblin’ and ‘Covered in Black’ follow the first featurette’s lead, and mostly deal with the trails and tribulations of character design and special effects work. I’d like a little more information about the writing efforts, and the casting process, as well as some information about the ill-fated Ben Kingly Vulture character, but the effects info is rather stimulating, and the featurettes themselves never dry.

‘Hanging On: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor’ whacks two birds with one stone, covering the introduction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, and the effort that went into the spectacular chaotic crane scene she first appears in. Apparently, Howard is just as sweet as she looks, and everyone on set was positively enamoured with her willingness to do her own stunts. This leads into ‘Tangled Web’, which briefly covers the film’s various love triangles and soap opera antics.

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‘Fighting, Flying & Driving’, ‘On Location in New York’, ‘Wall of Water’, and ‘On Location Cleveland: The Chase on Euclid Avenue’ are all looks at the various stunts and action scenes found in the film, with an emphasis on the particle effects. It seems that the only parts of the film that were properly planned for were these set pieces, and one gets the feeling that nobody quite knew where they’d be fitting in the final feature. I’m still not sure how a movie can cost this much, but these featurettes give me a better idea.

‘The Science of Sound’ is probably the most interesting of the mini-docs, and is the only one presented in full 5.1 surround sound. It covers the efforts of the foley artists, composer Christopher Young, and the digital sound designers, along with the final mixing process. As someone who has tried his hand at simple stereo music mixing, I’m always fascinated by the fact that these professionals can make something perfectly audibly balanced from such total pandemonium. ‘Inside the Editing Room’, on the other hand, is not nearly as fascinating as it should’ve been, as the errors in editing are one of the final film’s greatest problems. I was foolishly hoping for more information about the supposed plethora of deleted footage.

Everything zips up with various trailers and TV spots from around the world.

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It might be worth mentioning that I’m writing this overall positive review while wearing an Evil Dead II T-shirt. I’m a very big fan of Sam Raimi when he doesn’t try to be someone else, and I see Spider-Man 3 as a very Sam Raimi movie. It has problems, and it is a disappointment when compared to the previous two entrees, but overall it’s very entertaining, and unlike, say, X-Men 3, its charm outweighs its belly flops. As an introduction to the capabilities of a high-definition, I couldn’t have done much better, but the extra features lean from quality into quantity, and are a step back from those of the original Spider-Man 2 DVD release.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.