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Introduction
After a decade-long battle of not so super-heroic proportions, Spidey finally made his way to the Silver Screen and became 2002’s box-office titan. Like Batman and Superman before it, Spider-Man is one of those wondrous films capable of finding ways to tantalize our imaginations with visions of the impossible while keeping us grounded in reality with a heartfelt story and characters that never ring false. Not only that, but it is also a damn fine comic book movie.

The story of Spider-Man is a long and complicated one, with over 40 years of continuity to sift through, making a film adaptation of the character more than a daunting task. However the talented actors and filmmakers responsible for Spider-Man have gone above and beyond the call of duty and given our webbed hero a brilliant introduction to the world of cinema.

Spider-Man: Special Edition (WS)
Film
Peter Parker is blessed with an intellect and a willingness to learn that in the real world would earn him much respect and praise; unfortunately, he’s still in high school. Bespectacled, the butt of many a nasty joke, and stricken with feelings for Mary Jane Watson, the girl filed under ‘U’ for unattainable, Peter just goes through life living every day with a good word and a smile. Life for Peter is a constant marathon of hurdles, with the finish line nowhere in sight.

That is until one day, a bite from a genetically altered spider endows him with the proportionate strength and speed of a spider, giving him considerable muscle mass, a precognitive sixth sense that warns him danger, the ability to stick to walls to shoot webs from spinnerets on the underside of his wrists. Spider-Man is born.

Tobey Maguire is cast in the lead. Although at first he might have seemed an odd choice, he immediately captures Pete Parker/Spider-Man’s true essence, and it quickly becomes unimaginable that any other actor might have gotten the role, as Maguire is the only actor, in my opinion, that can suitably fit into the webbed boots.

Every hero needs a villain, and in Willem Dafoe we find a man both menacing and endearing: Norman Osborn. Norman is a man that will do anything for his company and his money, but not his family. His progeny, Harry, played by James Franco, is pushed to the wayside as Norman takes desperate measures to insure his company’s success. He tests on himself a made-for-the-military performance enhancer, things go awry, and he is transformed into a super-human psychopath, the menacing Green Goblin.

Let me gush for a moment. I have been a fan of  Spider-Man comics for as long as I‘ve been able to read, and I think that this filmic adaptation of Spidey is not only the best comic book flick out there, but also the coolest movie ever. It was the culmination of a longtime obsession with comics and it makes me happy like no other movie. To put it simply, it makes me feel like a little kid again. Yes, my opinion here is quite stilted, due to my love of the character, but this movie has it all. The human characters are genuine and never cartoonish; they all take journeys as human beings. The action is exciting even after numerous viewings and despite one or two instances of crappiness, the special effects blew my mind. I am baffled as to how the animators so flawlessly captured the essence of Spidey’s movements; it just kills me.

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Spider-Man is a particularly good origin story. What I didn’t even realize upon first viewing is that we don’t see Spidey in costume until almost an hour into the film. The story of Peter losing his uncle, Norman becoming a surrogate father to Peter, Harry Osborn being pushed away and manipulated and Mary Jane’s character growing and maturing- all of these elements are so thoughtful and well done.

Raimi and his team, through what must have been intensely hard work, nailed the world Spidey inhabits so well, that the film is more like a living, breathing comic book, which is a true testament to the cast and crew’s support of the material and love for the character.

Where so much is good in Spider-Man, there are numerous things, little things, that hampered my enjoyment of the movie. I assume that with a budget which the likes of the Spidey film had, lots of a little things fall to the wayside. For instance, two writers didn’t notice that all the Green Goblin had to do to find the photographer who takes the pictures of Spider-Man was to look at the photo credit on the front page of the Daily Bugle. There, problem solved. And secondly, why on earth would that woman leave the burning building without her baby? That’s just ridiculous. To the sound designers: there are no dial-tones on cell phones. These are little nit-picky things that only a true Spider-geek like me would notice.

There are also things to forgive, such as the things I mentioned above. A lot of fans were bothered that Mary Jane was used as Pete’s love interest, rather than Gwen Stacy. Some were even offended that the famous bridge incident featured Mary Jane. I can understand, the death of Gwen Stacy was one of the most important moments in Peter’s life, but I don’t think the minds behind the Spider-Man movie franchise want to tell such a tragic saga, and I feel the same way.

In the comics, it’s plausible that Peter developed his own web, sure, but in reality, if 3M can’t make an adhesive even close to what Spidey has little old Peter Parker won’t be able to do it with his basement chemistry set. Lastly, the Green Goblin does look like a Mighty Morphing Power Ranger, yes, but once again, the changes made here are practical and logical- Norman Osborn was trying to gain a military contract.

Despite, all of this, I will now and forever speak of the greatness that is Spider-Man and my view will never be swayed. Spider-Man is hands down the coolest damn movie ever made.

Spider-Man: Special Edition (WS)
Video
The Video here is a mixed-bag. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, I’m surprised at Spider-Man’s transfer as this is not only a very recent film, but the biggest money maker of 2002. One would think that very special attention would be paid to the video presentation, especially with an A-plus company like Columbia Tri-Star at the helm. However, that is not the case, and what we get here is an admirable transfer with many little problems

Firstly, the print seemed just a little too dark. Specifically, scenes that occur at night lacked the visibility I recall from my time spent in the theater (saw Spidey five times). I could make out more of the picture watching the T.V. spots in the extras section. This isn’t a terribly bad flaw; it just had me readjusting the picture settings on my television, something I don’t have to do with most all other DVD’s in my collection.

Truly amazing, though, are the white specks on the print- they are awfully peculiar. Along with the white specks there is a bit of grain and edge-enhancement, which is not all that noticeable, but visible nonetheless.

Now, before you decide to wait for the Super-Bit (which I have no doubt is on the way), let me tell you what is good about the transfer. In truth, the image is terrific. It’s just that for such a high-profile release, and such a discernible eye, the whole shebang should have been good. Sharpness is virtually unequaled, colors are excellent and blacks are especially black. The film’s palette goes from realistic to romantic depending on the flow of the story, so very often the colors get quite vibrant. This transfer handles it all well. Detail (except for a few night scenes) is exceptional. This really is a good transfer, but the small problems are perplexing.

Audio
Big action movie, big action movie sound. Spider-Man is a boisterous, loud spectacle of a movie, and the English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound reflects that in the best way. Low-end is awesome. Lots of explosions, punches and a moving score give the LFE a lot to do. Dialogue is also crystal clear and I was truly surprised at the amount of background conversation I could make out. Aside from the cell phone with a dial-tone, the sound designers on Spider-Man were fantastic.

Several moments throughout the film really use the surrounds to great effect. For example, in one scene, the Goblin has drugged Spidey. As the webbed one wakes, The Goblin’s voice, quite ominously, echoes from the center-channel to the left-surround and then to the right surround channel, and then back again, with every word. Very, very cool. This track offers great range and movement, all which sounds very natural. Explosions fill the room and the Goblin’s glider zooms in and out of frame and right into the living room.

Extras
Note: Along with the extras that can be found on the regular 2-disc edition of Spider-Man, I will be going over what can be found inside of the Limited Edition DVD Collector’s Gift Set.

What we have here is quite a loaded disc which at first glance might seem a little, for lack of a better word, shallow. However, at second glance, Spider-Man’s bonus features are an overall good package, equaling a few hours of top-notch viewing.

The extras are laid out over both discs, so let’s start with disc 1. First, you’ll find two feature-length audio-commentaries. The first is with Sam Raimi, Laura Ziskin, Grant Curtis and Kirsten Dunst. This track, when compared to other tracks that include Raimi, is pretty dry. Ziskin’s voice is a little more than annoying and Kirsten Dunst offers comments that range from worthless to even more worthless (although, at one point, she does comment on how stupid the kid that Spidey saved from being crushed by a giant balloon is, and I agree whole-heartedly...little retard.) Anyhow, this track is not up to snuff; you’re not going to find anything Fincher-esque here and you probably won’t find yourself listening to this track more than once, if at all.

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The second track is better than the first, but some might find it uninteresting, as it deals heavily and extensively with the films special effects. John Dykstra, Scott Stokoyk and Anthony LaMolinara discuss in depth every shot in the film that had a visual effect. I liked this track, being a film student, but I’m sure that many will be put to sleep by the techno-babble.

The next couple of extras are in fact subtitle tracks. The first is the Spider-Sense. This feature is just the same as The Matrix’s ‘Follow the White Rabbit’ dealy. When a little icon appears at the corner of your screen, press enter and you will be led to little vignettes, with various topics. You get to learn about the production designer, the prop-master, the bug wrangler and so on. A very neat feature, although it would have been nice to have access to the vignettes from the extras menu, for easier viewing. The second pseudo-subtitle feature is a ‘Pop-Up Video’ like stream of info bubbles that appear as the film plays, called Weaving the Web Pop-Up Web-i-Sodes. Within the first half-hour, I was quite over-loaded, but in a good way. A lot of great info can be found in these pleasant little squares.

Next up are character files, which are nothing more than lists of all the major players past roles. To Columbia, I say this: save the space and don’t bother including something we can all find a better version of at the IMDb.

Following that is the Marketing Campaign. In here, we have trailers for Spider-Man, xXx, Mr. Deeds, MiB2, Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters and Marvels, and Stuart Little 2. I love the trailers for Sony’s films because they are for the most part anamorphic and have 5.1 soundtracks. After that, you will find Music Videos from Sum 41 and that guy from Nickleback. Cool videos, even though Sum 41’s track has nothing to do with the movie. Next up are 11 T.V. spots. These are all just re-edited versions of the same footage, set to different music and sometimes a different deep, guttural, movie-trailer voice-over narration. These spots are presented Non-Animorphically.

Note: Disc 1 has a Quick Navigation feature for its extra content. Click on the small icon just above the play movie icon, and you will be taken to a menu with all of the 1st disc’s extras listed in order, including chapter stops and Audio/subtitle options. Disc 2 does not have this feature.

Moving on to disc 2, we come across the meat of the extras. The bonus features are split up into two sections, Web of Spider-Man, which has to do with the comic and The Goblin’s Lair, which deals with the film. Starting with Web of, there is a cool documentary called Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century, in which several of the most popular Spidey artists are interviewed on their experience with Spider-Man (the comic), and their philosophies pertaining to the character. The doc is very cool, especially for anyone who reads the comics. You really get a great insight into how much the writers and artists care for the character.

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The next area is the Spider-Man Archives, which is a series of covers from the comic. Mostly only major events, these are some cool little ditties, each with their own description of what occurred in a specific issue. After that is the Artist’s Gallery, which are essentially production sketches. I felt that a lot was missing here, as the character designs went through numerous evolutions and we only get to see a few of each here.

Next up are two little features worth checking out: Rouge’s Gallery and The Loves of Peter Parker. The former gives brief bios on all of Spidey’s heavy hitters, from the Green Goblin to The Chameleon and the latter gives the skinny on Pete Parker’s most important girls: Gwen Stacy, Betty Brant and Mary Jane.

Also in Web of section are some hints for the game based on the movie and some DVD-ROM material which consists of some online comics I have in physical form, making that section pretty useless. However, these online comics might be a good introduction for those who have never picked up a Spidey book.

Halfway to the finish, we move onto The Goblin’s Lair. Here is where we will find the more movie-dedicated material. First is the fluffy HBO making-of special, Behind the Ultimate Spin that actually has some nice interview footage as well as on the set stuff. The second doc here is the E! Channel television special, Spider-Mania. This is pretty neat, only I saw it twice while it was on television and once on plane to Florida, so it kind of bored me. I will say that it is pretty lame, but does have a lot of great interview footage, much in the same vain as the HBO special. I am sick of people kissing Sam Raimi’s bum, though. It’s just sickening...

Then we have two profiles, one for Director Sam Raimi and one for Composer Danny Elfman. Skip the one for Raimi, though. It just repeats everything you hear in the first two docs. The Elfman one is very cool- we get from the man himself how he scores films. The man did Batman, Sleepy Hollow and most recently Red Dragon. One of my favorite composers, Elfman’s profile is a treat.

After that, there are Screen Tests. Tobey Maguire’s test is the best as it has him fighting to terribly cheesy 70’s music, with his punches accompanied by cruddy sound-effects. A true laugh riot, indeed. The actor who played J. Jonah Jameson, J.K. Simmons is spot-on the only actor to play the character, and that was definite from his screen test. There is also a screen test for an early version of the CGI Spidey. These are great little pieces that are worth watching more than once. The last option is the make-up tests. All of the main characters are staring straight into the gun, set to music from the film.

Lastly, there is the Gag/Outtake reel. All I’m gonna say is that they’re not funny, so don’t bother, more than once anyhow.

Along with the Widescreen and Pan ‘n Scan versions of Spider-Man, Columbia/Tri-Star have also released the Limited Edition DVD Collector’s Edition Gift Set. This set includes some other material which is a must for any Spidey fan. Aside from the Widescreen version of the DVD, you get a reprint of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, from 1962, an original illustration by both John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr., the best of the Spidey artists since Ditko. Also included is a little write-up on the Spidey story, the road to filming it and the grosses the film garnered.

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The coolest part of the Gift Set is the inclusion of a second DVD, Stan Lee’s Mutants Monsters and Marvels. This is a feature all its own, hosted by Kevin Smith, with Stan the Man talking about the genesis of the characters he created over the years. You will find my review of the disc in the DVD Shorts section very soon. This disc retails by itself for the same amount as Spider-Man, so its inclusion within a set that costs fewer than forty-five dollars is a nice touch. If you can afford it, I suggest picking up the gift set.

Overall
I love Spider-Man, I always will. This disc would have done well with a better transfer, more supplements that focused solely on the production of the film and many more stills, as it is all fantastic art. The widescreen edition is very good, but I urge people to go the extra mile and buy the Gift Set because the material there really helps to complete the experience of Spider-Man on DVD.


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