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It’s been a long time coming but finally the green light was given to a new Spider-Man film. The last I remember is that it was in James Cameron’s hands, but there were script problems, and Cameron said he wanted the super hero to be entirely computer generated as the agility required for this character was not going to be reproducible by a human actor. Unfortunately the technology was just not there in the mid nineties. According to one of the commentaries (and several of the featurettes) the film was eighteen years in the making which seems excessive but it gives you an idea of the problems, time, thought and I’d imagine, red tape the production has had to trawl through. Created back in 1962 by Stan Lee as a cartoon super hero, there have been other Spider-Man films shot back in the late seventies starring Nicholas Hammond and it was these films and the cartoon which originally led to Spider-Man being my all time best ever super hero which is why, when the Limited Edition DVD set was announced, I was first in line with my pre-order.

Incy wincy spider, climbed down to bite his hand
Tobey Maguire is probably best known for his role as Homer Wells in the Oscar winning The Cider House Rules and while he has been involved in a decent amount of films, he still seems to be a relative newcomer. Taking on the role of Peter Parker, Maguire plays a college student, aspiring to be a photo journalist. He lives in a small house with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben who have looked after him since he was very young. He lives next to Mary Jane Watson played by Kirsten Dunst who you will recognise from Bring It On and Interview with the Vampire. Mary Jane (MJ, from now on) was always the love of Peter’s life. However she still has yet to truly notice him, instead choosing to date the rich, boisterous and over protective, Flash Thompson. Parker comes across as a nice but geeky and intelligent guy where as MJ is popular, pretty and the centre of attention.  

A field trip to Columbia University Science Department is where a defining moment in the movie occurs. While taking pictures of MJ looking at some genetically engineered spiders, an escapee descends from the ceiling gunning for Parker. It lands on him and bites him, transferring its poison into his bloodstream. I thought it was a little stupid of the DVD producers to include this pivotal scene in the opening menu as although we all know it is going to happen, its nice to leave it until the right time. Overnight several changes occur and we are presented with a dream sequence showing how the new DNA binds to his existing DNA and mutates him. When he wakes up, the skinny sick boy that went to bed is not only well, but with a new, strong physique which is all down to this new DNA.  Then the fun begins as Parker starts to discover his new powers. This is the sort of stuff dreams are made of, as he suddenly discovers he can climb walls and eventually, shoot webbing from his wrist. This is where the film differs from the comic a little as here he himself generates the webbing where as in the cartoon he makes web shooters. These are small devices which he wears on each wrist which allow the fabled web to shoot out at walls and enemies alike. This way it allowed him to create different fluid consistencies to deal with different enemies such as a special form of web to help capture Hydro Man who had the ability to turn completely into water. It also allowed the story to hang on pinnacle moments when his fluid runs out. I am not sure why it was chosen to have it this way, and although it mostly works in this film, we’ll see how it helps or hinders future films.

One, two, Osborne's coming for you
Enter Norman Osborne. Founder of OsCorp and the father of Harry, Willem Dafoe takes the reigns of this now infamous character. A series of contracts to the army amongst other research made him a rich man, however he is about to lose his contract and this forces him to test his strength inducing drugs on himself. While the result is vastly increased strength and muscle tissue, it also induces schizophrenia creating the main baddie of the film – The Green Goblin. It is a strange take on the concept of this character, as while the voice and acting is superb, the costume is a little odd and a little too futuristic to my liking. However this is probably due to the way the suit is introduced in the film – as an army combat suit. Minor gripes aside, it does a decent job of creating a scary and evil suit for a great super villain. JJ Jameson is working at the Bugle newspaper just as he is in the cartoon, and he is a spitting image of the original character. Played by J K Simmons he is the epitome of the busy and irate editor.

Other characters that stand out in this film are Ben Parker, Peter’s uncle played by Cliff Robertson. He is an excellent actor and did a fantastic job with the material. As with the majority of Sam Raimi’s films, Bruce Campbell pops up as the ring announcer in a wrestling match, Ted Raimi makes an appearance as a reporter in the Bugle and Sam’s old 1973 Oldsmobile Delta all make their expected and anticipated appearances. I assume they made friends with Lucy Lawless when they were all involved with making Xena: Warrior Princess and from that she makes a brief cameo as a punk rock girl. For all you mad WWF fans out there, you might have recognised the character of Bonesaw the wrestler was played by eighties WWF star Randy Savage. What a blast from the past that was!

The story then develops into several struggles; Osborne and the Green Goblin, The Green Goblin and Spider-man and Peter and Harry (for the affection of MJ). It is on the whole very true to the comic and having Stan Lee around as an Executive Producer probably helped a lot in this respect. It is this which many fans will appreciate, but many new comers might criticise the script for being a bit lacking in depth. In some ways they would be right. The dialogue is, well a bit childish at times and this does get a bit tedious in places. This is a children’s film which is also aimed at adults and this is where a lot of people will have high expectations. The CGI in places almost gives the impression of playing a computer game however there were quite a few scenes where the computer graphics are flawless and several of these are just mind blowing. Raimi also does a fine job creating several fantastic cinematic shots in the film. The acrobatics of the main character are captured with fast camera motion, aerial antics and long sweeping street scenes. Some of the character development is a little weak though. Norman Osborne is supposed to be an almost surrogate father to Peter and they even mention this however this is not really shown in any way. The friendship between Harry and Peter also while supposedly solid, is not really communicated that well. This is probably due to the intended audience having short attention spans and the fact that the film was probably not supposed to be too long since it really is just a long cartoon.

Firefly's are getting kinda big this year
As a recent big budget film I was expecting a stunning reference level picture on my screen, and so this is a little disappointing in that respect. This is an excellent picture, but it is not reference quality. Possibly this is due to the two audio tracks, two commentaries and an extra audio channel reserved for the special feature “record your own commentary”. It does run at a high average bit rate which does make its imperfections surprising. I enjoyed the use of the colour in this picture. It is vibrant and the detail levels are great, however at times the CGI does look too unrealistic. At times the dark scenes are made overly dark which I am guessing is to hide any imperfections with the computer generated hero. Presented in 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this transfer won’t blow you away, but it is rather good.

There is a DTS mix of this soundtrack available; at least it was in the cinema. However on DVD even the Limited Edition DVD comes with the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 (English and French) only. With the higher bitrate of DTS, I doubt both commentaries and both soundtracks would have fitted on the disc so while this is a shame from an audio point of view, it is better from an extras point of view. The English 5.1 track is actually quite good anyway. Bass levels are a little light at times but good use has been made of the surround speakers. The wrestling scene is very loud and boisterous and the explosions are dynamic and enveloping. As expected, the vocals are pleasant and at an easily audible level. This is certainly one of the better Dolby Digital soundtracks I have listened to and really helped to draw me into the film’s world.

This Limited Edition set comes with three DVDs and is presented in a large A4 box. So what do you get for your extra bucks? Well as well as the double disc film (which can be bought separately) there is a third disc with two features on it. These are Creating Spider-man and Here Comes the Heroes (more on these later). There is a reprint of the comic amazing Fantasy number 15 which saw the introduction of Spider-man to the rest of the world, a film cell in a card surround with a blown up picture of the cell, and some words from the director printed on the back, a lithograph (i.e. a reproduced frame from the comic) and a bit of semi-opaque paper with some blurb about the movie on it. All this is presented in a very tidy looking box which is going to have a pretty hard time fitting on my DVD shelf due to its large size.

The main disc that includes the feature presentation has several extras on it. There are two full length commentaries on this disc, one by Sam Raimi (director), Grant Curtis (co-producer), Kirsten Dunst (MJ) and Laura Ziskin (producer) and another focusing on the special effects featuring John Dykstra (SFX designer) and the Visual Effects Crew. The first commentary is basically two separate commentaries cut together; the first with Raimi and Curtis and the second with Dunst and Ziskin. I like Raimi’s commentaries in general but this falls a little flat. The idea of cutting two together does not work as they are very disjointed and at times I wanted to hear what Raimi had to say for instance, about Campbell but I was forced to listen to Dunst and Ziskin talk about something else. Perhaps this was done because both separate commentaries were quite sparse, and there are certainly times when the two girls talk for quite a while with nothing from the boys. Whatever happened, its no where near as good as I was hoping. I think I would have liked a Maguire/Raimi/Dunst commentary instead of what was provided. Dunst provides a few gems such as pointing out the spider web pattern on Peter’s wallpaper and talking about the little jackets that the genetically enhanced spider wore during its scenes. Raimi and Curtis mention Campbell and say it was a shame they couldn’t punish him a bit more especially compared to the gruelling pain he had been put through on previous Raimi films. They point out where Raimi stars in the film, and when his brother Ted makes an appearance as well as Raimi’s car (a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta) which like Ted and Campbell, has appeared in many of his films. From what Raimi says, the 2nd unit directors did a massive amount of work and filmed several scenes for him. It shattered my illusion that the main director has to be involved with every scene. The SFX commentary is a lot more technical and while interesting for a while, didn’t interest me as much as the director’s commentary as it is quite specialised however as Rick mentions in the other Spider-Man review we have, it is probably of interest to people on film courses.

He's a spitting image of the cartoon - fantastic!
Also featured are branching web-i-sodes which are activated by watching the film and hitting the “enter” button on the remote whenever a Spider-man symbol appears on screen. There are six of these and they scream “gimmick” at me. The small features they play are only occasionally related to what is happening on screen and so I was a little disappointed in this respect. A feature called Weaving the Web has pop ups which appear on screen during the film with pieces of information and little pictures of the cartoon Spider-man. Some of them are a little random and they often appear in such rapid succession is it hard to watch the film as well as read these tit bits of information. There are lots of TV spots present for those of you that like adverts, and the theatrical trailer for those of you that do not. I had hoped that the fantastic teaser trailer would be included which was withdrawn due to the September 11th bombings of the WTC and the fact that the WTC features heavily in the teaser (Spider-man catches a helicopter between the twin towers), but alas Columbia Tri-Star have seen fit to still keep it censored, probably forever. There are several filmographies for the main cast and crew which list the films they have been involved, the videos of the two main theme songs (Hero – Chad Kroeger and What We’re All About – Sum 41) with and a couple of DVD-ROM features. These take the form on a Comic/film comparison, a Record Your Own Commentary feature, a countdown to Spider-man 2 and some miscellaneous web links. I did record my own commentary for a few scenes and it is harder than I thought it would be, but since I was not involved in making the movie I think I can be let off. I am not entirely sure what people are expected to use this feature for and while it is a nice interaction between the fans and the film, it’s a little weird and I do not think I will be doing it again. If you are feeling adventurous and want to hear my commentary then send £50 to me and I’ll email you the files.

All this is the first disc only, so Columbia has certainly tried to give the paying audience their monies worth. The second disc is divided into two sections, the first devoted to the comic, and the second to the film.

The movie part has seven sections starting with the Making of Spider-man from the TV station HBO. It was on Channel 5 ages ago so it’s he second time I have seen it now. I plucked a few interesting pieces of information from this, interlaced with lots of movie promotional nonsense. Spider-mania is an E! Entertainment special on the film with clips from a quiz on its web site about super heroes. Several mini interviews and more film clips make this quite reasonable, and it lasts an hour too (well, that’s a lie – if it had 15-20 minutes of adverts it would have been an hour). There are two Profiles, one on the director and one on composer Danny Elfman. Both feature short interviews with the main subjects and with their colleagues. A slightly unusual extra feature is the screen tests for Maguire, Simmons and the CGI Spider-man. Maguire’s is actually a fight seen with no vocal acting, while Simmons actually reads from the script. The CGI Spider-man is a preview of what they thought would be possible to do with today’s computers and while not a polished as the final effects, it is easy to see how this would give a director a good idea on what could be expected from the animation studio. There are some costume and make-up tests for the cast which is quite dull. It is put to some music and the dialogue from the actual test has been removed. The Gag/Outtake reel was a little disappointing as often these can be hilarious but perhaps the forced outtakes from such films as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc have spoiled me in this department. A few messed up lines and laughing just don’t cut it for me anymore. There is also a scene with Stan Lee which was cut from the final film (which we later find out on the third disc, Stan was a little upset his funny line was cut).

The comic branch features several quite interesting interviews with Stan Lee and the artists responsible for Spider-man through the years. There is quite a good feature that allows you to select a year from the creation date to the present which then shows several comic book covers and a brief synopsis from that storyline. It’s nicely animated and I enjoyed it. Also good is the overview of Spider-man’s arch enemies with their vital statistics, an overview of the character and their powers and computer generated spinning representation of what they might look like in 3D. This is entitles the “Rogues Gallery”. A few less attention-grabbing extras include “The Loves of Peter Parker”, a comic book artist gallery and several DVD-Rom features. These comprise of a demo if the official game, three Marvel comics and a Spider-man visualiser. The visualiser is interesting. It is basically a plugin for Winamp or Windows Media Player and basically features a video for you to watch when you play your favourite tunes. The comics are also a good touch which I enjoyed reading.

Spider-Man often gets stared at when taking walks in the park after lunch
The third disc contains two complete features and runs in at about an hour and a half. It opens with a two and a half minute “preview” of the film which is basically all the film, condensed into this short time. Since this disc is available separately I assume this was meant to be advertising rather than to do with the movie specifically. The feature “Creating Spider-man” is an interview with Stan Lee and director Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Clerks). It is presented in 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced which was good as these types of things are often is 1.33:1. Smith is good friends with Lee and he does a good job interviewing him, which probably comes from his love of comic books. It is a fascinating look at Spider-man’s root and his conception from when Lee originally thought of the character, to when it first got published, to the days when Lee stopped writing the stories and became the publisher for the series. Here Comes the Heroes talks about his other inventions including Captain America, the X-men, Doctor Octopus, words on the movies for these up and coming productions. Believe it or not, this extra actually comes with several of its own extras. Amongst others, these include an interview with Stan Lee’s wife, a Fantastic Four movie, a poetry recital by Stan Lee and some rare home movie footage from the inventor of the Hulk, the X-men and the Fantastic Four.

I should just briefly mention the menu system because other than the annoying intro to the first menu, it is very good. Clean cut with excellent animation and flashy buttons, it brings a good introduction to the film and its extra features. One extra feature features an animated comic city which the camera flies by which is very reminiscent of the cartoon series. however no matter how pretty, they are an absolute pain to navigate, especially on a PC with the mouse. I cannot stress enough how annoyed I was when I first tried to get to the Special Features section on disc one. The detection area for the buttons is tiny. It certainly annoyed me.

This is a fun film aimed not only at the kids of today, but at each generation of people that remember Spider-Man from their youth. The film was a little weak in places, but it really did bring the webbed wonder onto the big screen in a way I wasn’t sure would ever be possible. It has taken its sweet time, and might not be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. Sure there are plot holes here and there, and there are even continuity errors (such as Dafoe’s comedy wig in the final scene, which he wore as they had to re-shoot it and he had already cut his hair for his next role) but the film has only served to whet my appetite for the next instalment. Fans should opt for this set with its non-DVD related extras and the third disc, where as people that are wondering which to get will probably opt for the normal two disc edition. You can keep your Daredevils and your Supermans, I’ll take Spider-Man any day of the week.