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review added: 10/21/02



Spider-Man
Widescreen Special Edition - 2002 (2002) - Marvel/Columbia TriStar

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Spider-Man: Widescreen Special Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
121 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:17:46 in chapter 21), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, actress Kirsten Dunst and co-producer Grant Curtis), audio commentary (with special effects designer John Dykstra and the visual effects crew), Web-i-sodes branching feature, Weaving the Web subtitled factoids featuring production notes and historical facts, theatrical trailer, TV spots, filmographies and character files, Hero music video by Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott, What We're All About music video by Sum 41, DVD-ROM features (including comic-to-feature comparison, record your own commentary and countdown to The Amazing Spider-Man), Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
HBO First Look featurette, Spider-Mania: E! Entertainment Special, video profiles of Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman, screen tests (for Tobey Maguire, J.K. Simmons and CGI Spider-Man), costume and make-up tests, gag/outtake reel, conceptual art and production gallery, Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century documentary, Spider-Man Comic Book Archives, Rogues Gallery profiles, The Loves of Peter Parker profiles, comic book artist pin-up gallery, Activision game hints and tips, DVD-ROM features (including two playable levels of Activision Spider-Man game, three exclusive Marvel dot comics and Spider-Man Visualizer), animated film-themed menu screens with sound


"Go web!"

I think I can admit this without hurting my own feelings... I'm a comic book snob. I'm also a major "creator whore". I'm a big fan of cover artists. Phil Noto, J. Scott Campbell, Art Adams, Shane Glines -- these guys impress me because their art is so incredibly detailed and stylized. Now, I've never been a big Spider-Man fan, but I have to admit that this new run of Amazing Spider-Man with Joe Straczynski at the helm is really grooving me. I don't know how I'll react to the series after Kevin Smith climbs aboard, because quite frankly, I'm just not a big fan of his non-View Askew comic work. I think Daredevil worked because of the art, but Green Arrow was too *shrug* and Black Cat with Smith's take on Spider-Man is really not my cup of tea at all. I'm not saying his comic work isn't any good, I'm just saying I'm not a fan.

So, although the above is a hellish digression, it also shows that I'm a fanboy with an opinion. And when I first saw Spider-Man in theaters, I didn't think too much of it. Fitting in with my "creator whore" label, I love Sam Raimi and was willing to go the extra mile to love the film, but three things irked the hell out of me.

One: they screwed around with the history, nay, mythology of the character. Live or die, in the mythology, Gwen Stacy gets thrown from the "Washington Bridge" (59th Street Bridge in the film because Goblin, like Simon and Garfunkle before him, was feeling groovy), not Mary Jane. Besides that, MJ only dates Peter after Gwen is murdered by the Green Goblin and Peter enters his "I'm cursed" funk. I'm sure the incredibly talented Michael Chabon will dance with that issue in the sequel he's penning, but I take my comic mythology very seriously and I don't like years of continuity thrown away - even for a film. So the fact that they used that plot up for a throw away sequence in the first film rubs me the wrong way. But, hey, what are you going to do?

Oh, and for those who think I'm spoiling the film, MJ's heave from the Bridge is a major point of the trailers used to promote this film.

Two: the CGI, in most cases, is awful, awful, awful. Some may disagree with me violently, but the character CGI in this film sucks about 75 percent of the time.

Okay, and if I haven't pissed enough people off, the third thing I also didn't dig was the whole "discussion through masks" thing. Two characters having a discussion where you can't see their mouths move got to be highly annoying. Highly. I can live with not seeing Spider-Man talk, but two characters going at once was too much.

So that brings me to the DVD version of the film... where I have to say, the film really shines on disc. Movie theater enthusiasts will want me lynched, but I think this film was made for a TV-sized presentation. On TV, I think this film pretty much rocks. Don't get me wrong, most of my points made above still apply, but TV gives the film more definition and hides some of the flaws. Nothing can repair my first problem with the film, but on DVD, the CGI (although still awful) is actually watchable. Plus, because of the detail and clarity of the transfer, you can actually see Willem Dafoe's mouth move through the mask giving the conversation sequences a bit more personality. Granted, you won't see his mouth move ALL the time, but it's visible enough.

On the story side, what Raimi and company did was make a film that essentially told the origin story of Spider-Man, as well as brought in the epic story flux enough so that people weren't too bored with the "coming of age-itis"... although I do think Spider-Man would have been a much better film if the focus was solely on Spidey becoming and dealing with his status as hero rather than throwing in the Green Goblin stuff on top of that. They could have shot two films with the material crammed into the first and been the better for it. As it is, I like this film, but I like the idea of a new one coming in a couple of years more... now that they got the first one out of the way. I don't think I'll ever be huge fan of this film, but I do like it more now than I did when I first saw it. It's growing on me.

As for the disc, the Spider-Man DVD is quite good. It's not the greatest DVD for a summer blockbuster to ever come out, but it gets the job done nicely. First up, the presentation quality is very good. Colors are bright, there are no digital compression issues to be seen and black density is spot on. The transfer keeps the cinematic look of the film by showing some grain, but the smaller presentation also hides some of the digital look of the CGI in most scenes. You'll still cringe at some shots, but seeing this film in your home does wonders to keep that down. The audio is also pretty top notch. The Dolby Digital 5.1 is the only option you have, but it sounds incredibly good. The surrounds are active and the dialogue is all centered up front. It's a very appealing presentation.

The extras are little more disappointing. Strangely, the first disc features the real treasure trove of material. First up is a subtitle feature called Weaving the Web, which is nothing more than text factoids featuring production notes and historical facts. An audio commentary with director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, actress Kirsten Dunst and co-producer Grant Curtis is here, but proves to be quite uneventful. Raimi takes a "filmmaking is magic" approach and doesn't really delve into the process. Getting Raimi in a room with Campbell and his partner/producer Bob Tapert obviously loosens him up - but alas, that doesn't happen here. There is more fulfilling audio commentary in the second track with special effects designer John Dykstra and the visual effects crew. They discuss the ins and out of the special effects with personality and some fun - even if the track is a bit more serious than I would have liked. Also with the film is a thing called Web-i-sodes, which is a branching feature (not unlike the "white rabbit" feature from The Matrix) where you can see behind-the-scenes featurettes that appeared on the Screenblast website. Also crammed on Disc One are the theatrical trailer (but sadly not the WTC spot), some TV spots, filmographies of the cast and crew (with hidden character files about the characters the actors are playing), the Hero music video by Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott, the What We're All About music video by Sum 41, and some DVD-ROM features (including comic-to-feature comparison, record your own commentary and countdown to The Amazing Spider-Man). That's a lot of stuff, to be sure, but that's really the meat of the presentation. Sad thing is, it's slightly obvious that Columbia plans to pull a Fox and cut the second disc out eventually, because all the "good" stuff is here on Disc One, while the vacuous stuff, as you will see, is on Disc Two.

The second disc is broken up into two areas: the first is the Goblin's Lair, where you will find all of the material for the film. There's an HBO First Look featurette, the Spider-Mania: E! Entertainment Special, video profiles of Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman, the legendary screen test for Tobey Maguire along with J.K. Simmons' audition and a CGI Spider-Man test that looks better than anything in the film, sadly said. You'll also find costume and make-up tests, a fun gag/outtake reel, reams of conceptual art and a production gallery. It's cool enough, but aside from one or two really cool bits, it's pretty throw away informatively. Nothing here tops what we find on Disc One, and that's a shame. Slightly cooler is the Spider's Web side of Disc Two, where we go into the comic. A very well produced documentary entitled Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century features interviews with just about every major player in the Spider-Man creative universe. No joke. The Spider-Man Comic Book Archives is summaries and cover art of all of Spidey's comics broken down by decade. The Rogues Gallery profiles is just what it sounds like, filled with nice information and new CGI art of Spidey's main villains. The Loves of Peter Parker profiles all of Peter's great heartbreaks, illustrating the world a little better and giving perspective to possible future filmic love-ins for our hero. The comic book artist pin-up gallery is great but wasted in a format like this. This is something that would do better on DVD player with a zoom feature, considering some of the detail that went into most of this work. There is also game hints and tips for the Activision game on Xbox, Gamecube and PS2. Rounding it all off are some DVD-ROM features, which include two playable levels of said Activision Spider-Man game, three exclusive Marvel dot comics and the Spider-Man Visualizer... whatever that is.

Spider-Man on DVD won't disappoint the people who loved the film empathically in theaters. For those of us who were so-so on it, it's a nice chance to possibly take a second look and maybe fall in love. For die-hard DVD fans, this disc is only good. It could have been great, but there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm (or too much restraint) for the subject matter. The discs are packed with stuff, but only halfheartedly. This DVD could have been way cooler. Just like the film. But that's why they made sequels, right?

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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