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page added: 10/26/07



Hi-Def Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Spider-Man:
The High Definition Trilogy

2002, 2004 & 2007 (2007) - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 30th, 2007


Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy (Blu-ray Disc)

Blu-ray Disc Format1080p - Analog Full Resolution
Dolby TrueHDUncompressed LPCM

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Disc 1 - Spider-Man

Film: B-
Video (1-20): 15
Audio (Dolby TrueHD- 1-20): 15
Extras: N/A


Specs and Features:
121 mins, PG-13, MPEG4 AVC 1080p standard (1.85:1), BD-50 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (28 chapters), languages: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese, Korean and Arabic, Closed Captioned

Disc 2 - Spider-Man 2/2.1: Extended Cut

Film: A-
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (Dolby TrueHD- 1-20): 19
Extras: N/A


Specs and Features:
127 mins, PG-13 (Spider-Man 2), 136 mins, unrated (Spider-Man 2.1: Extended Cut), MPEG4 AVC 1080p standard (2.40:1), BD-50 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (52 chapters), languages: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean and Arabic, Closed Captioned


Disc 3 - Spider-Man 3

Film: D+
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (Dolby TrueHD- 1-20): 19
Audio (Uncompressed Linear PCM - 1-20): 20
Extras: A+


Specs and Features:
139 mins, PG-13, MPEG4 AVC 1080p standard (2.40:1), BD-50 DL, Dual-tray Elite Blue HD packaging, audio commentary (with director Sam Raimi and cast members Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard and Thomas Haden Church), audio commentary (with producers Avi Arad, Grant Curtis, Laura Ziskin, editor Bob Murawski and visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk), blooper reel, photo gallery, music video for Signal Fire by Snow Patrol, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (52 chapters), languages: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Uncompressed Linear PCM 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai, Mandarin and Cantonese, Closed Captioned

Disc 4 - Additional Bonus Material for Spider-Man 3

Specs and Features:
AVC 1080p standard (1.78:1), BD-25 SL, 11 featurettes (Grains of Sand: Building Sandman, Re-imagining the Goblin, Covered in Black: Creating Venom, Hanging On...: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor, Fighting, Flying and Driving: The Stunts, Tangled Web: The Love Triangles of Spider-Man 3, Wall of Water, Inside the Editing Room, The Science of Sound, New York: From Rooftops to Backstreets, Cleveland: The Chase on Euclid Avenue), Ad Campaign (three theatrical trailers, teaser trailer, 8 international TV spots), animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, languages: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English), subtitles: Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Thai, Korean


This decade has probably seen more "event" movies debut in such a relatively short time span than almost any other six or seven-year period in the history of cinema: The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Wars are just a few of the culprits. These films are met with insatiable enthusiasm from movie buffs: kids stay up way past bedtime to catch midnight premieres, adults take long lunch breaks to steal off to the megaplex, and the public as a whole herd together like cattle on opening weekend to be the first on the block to see the next big thing. It's easy to attribute shameless amounts of marketing, coupled with this newfangled Internet dealie, in creating levels of over-saturation and artificial hype never before experienced in past decades. But there is no mistaking the excitement felt when an honest-to-goodness blockbuster comes knocking on your door.

When Spider-Man finally came knocking in summer 2002 the movie-going public the world over embraced the late-blooming cinematic superhero with $820 million open arms. The compulsory sequel in 2004 was met with more hype and higher expectations. It proved to be the best film of the trilogy, but earned about $40 million less than its predecessor. 2007 witnessed the third, and possibly final, entry into the series (at least with the same cast and director) and brought with it expectations that I'm not sure it could ever possibly have met even with a more efficient script. Audiences rushed to theaters in droves and surrendered almost $900 million at easily the weakest entry in the cycle.

Taken as a whole, the Spider-Man trilogy is one of the best comic book adaptations that Hollywood has undertaken. The films are not 100% accurate to the lore, but they are grandiose, bold, entertaining and close enough to the mythology to be effective tributes to the source material. But each film is relatively weak on its own and relies heavily upon the entire mythology to make its point. Thinking of the trilogy as one long miniseries serves the films much better and helps even out the inconsistencies of the individual entries, especially considering the conservative, by-the-book approach of the first and the sheer overkill and inefficiency of the third.

With the Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy set, Sony is offering Spider-Man fans a chance to experience one of the studio's most successful franchises in its entirety, with the best audio and video available today, across four Blu-ray discs (the fourth disc houses only supplements for the third film). Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are only available in this box set, while Spider-Man 3 can be purchased a la carte. Given the exorbitant list price of $43.95 for the third film alone, the list price of $92.95 for all three films in the box set appears to be a bargain. But is it worth trading in your special editions and/or SuperBit editions of the first two films to upgrade to the Blu-ray box set? We'll soon find out together...

Spider-Man

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a shy, soft-spoken high school student with a crush on Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the beautiful girl next door who is seemingly out of Peter's league. On a class field trip to a science lab Peter is bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider. Overnight his own genetic structure mutates and Peter takes on the ability to sling webbing from his wrists, scale walls and leap great distances. Peter decides to hide these powers from his elderly guardians, Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), to save them from worry. When Uncle Ben is killed by a car jacker Peter decides he must use his new powers to fight crime as Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the father of Peter's best friend Harry (James Franco) is developing a chemical agent for the military to enhance soldiers' effectiveness in battle. Because the chemical is potentially too dangerous for consumption, Norman's company, Oscorp, could lose its lucrative government contract, which would mean the firm's end. Norman desperately ingests the chemical himself to prove its safety, but instead transforms into a physically-enhanced lunatic feeding off of his own anger. After donning a demonic green suit of armor, Norman becomes the Green Goblin and rains down chaos and destruction on Manhattan. Spider-Man, meet your first nemesis.

The first entry in the trilogy is a fun film to be sure, but director Sam Raimi doesn't take any chances with his storytelling. Spider-Man is a straightforward, predictable film and a prototypical "birth-of" superhero adaptation. The result is a movie that fails to grab the audience as much as it should given the mythology. Further hampering the cause is the casting of Tobey Maguire. Maguire is a very good dramatic actor and did a fine job in films such as Pleasantville and Wonder Boys where his low-key style fit the characters. However, as Peter Parker he falls flat. My impression of Peter Parker is that of a plucky, wide-eyed young man who rolls with the punches as opposed to the morose, almost lethargic version that Maguire portrays. While the more serious themes of the second and third entries fit more within Maguire's subdued style, I wanted a bit more energy and excitement out of Peter Parker in the establishing chapter.

Despite these flaws, Spider-Man remains an entertaining film. While the digital character effects get progressively better as each film is produced, the sense of scale - both in height and depth - of the action sequences and web slinging above the city streets is effective. This sense of scale is what sells Spider-Man's action to the audience. Audiences wanted to see Spidey slinging high above the streets of New York and that's what they got.

On Blu-ray Spider-Man is a noticeable step-up from every previous DVD incarnation, but I expected a bit more from this 1080p AVC offering. The film is only five years old yet fine picture detail is only slightly better than the SuperBit edition. The image is slightly hazy and has a very subtle milky quality that becomes more apparent in darker scenes. However, the benefits of high def shine through in the bolder colors and the complete lack of compression artifacts. Overall the benefits outweigh the detriments and fans should appreciate the improvements.

The Dolby TrueHD track is a minor, yet notable, improvement from the DTS track on the SuperBit edition. The listener will hear a greater level of detail and more precise sound placement than before. Bass response is also stronger. But when you listen to Spider-Man after experiencing the thrilling audio of its sequels, the original film's soundtrack feels outdated.

The Blu-ray edition of Spider-Man contains no extras at all. If you want to avoid the inevitable double-dip that Sony is probably already planning, make sure you hold on to your standard DVD special edition.

Spider-Man 2

Now a student at Columbia University, Peter Parker is finding it almost impossible to balance his heroic responsibilities as Spider-Man with his studies and personal relationships. Despite his brilliant mind, Peter's grades are low. His distractions alienate his best friends, Mary Jane and Harry, and Peter does not visit his lonely Aunt May in Queens as often as he should. Every attempt to enjoy a private life is thwarted, as Spider-Man is always needed in the bustling streets of Manhattan. Eventually our hero gives up his alter ego and decides to live his life as Peter Parker, A-student, loyal friend and loving nephew.

Harry, now the head of Oscorp, is funding the research of noted scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (played by the incomparable Alfred Molina) in his journey to create a renewable fusion-based energy source. In order to manipulate the energy, a set of four large appendages are attached to Dr. Octavius' back and are hard-wired to his nervous system so they can be controlled by thought. When a demonstration of the technology goes awry, the appendages become permanently attached to him. The A.I. of the machine takes over his personality and Dr. Octavius is transformed into a madman driven to finish his work with fusion no matter who he has to hurt or how catastrophic the outcome might be... the evil Dr. Octopus is born! The M.I.A. Spider-Man is needed more than ever and Peter must finally make peace with his conflicted sense of responsibility and embrace Spider-Man as his destiny.

Sam Raimi produced a much more interesting and satisfying film in Spider-Man 2 when compared with the initial entry. It's themes of self-acceptance are effective but never preachy. The action sequences are outstanding and don't feel overlong, while the inclusion of Alfred Molina as Dr. Octavius was a great bit of casting. Molina is a wonderfully diverse actor and was able to deliver as much menace to the role as he did promote a sense of empathy for the villain.

What truly sets Spider-Man 2 apart from many other superhero films (including this film's own siblings) is that evil is overcome not by a violent melee, but by reasoning and understanding. This unexpected turn in the finale is a welcomed change of pace to the genre. Hopefully it taught a good lesson to the younger members of the audience that violence is not always the answer. And the "Go get 'em, tiger" ending is so completely satisfying that it's impossible not to cheer with sheer delight as the credits roll.

The Blu-ray edition of Spider-Man 2 boasts more improved video than the first film in this set. The 1080p AVC image detail is more defined when compared with previous DVD editions and the picture is much sharper without blown-out edge haloing. And, as should be expected with the capacity of the BRD format, compression artifacts are non existent. But it's not a completely perfect endeavor as skin tones are inconsistent and colors seem a bit washed out. Also, brighter scenes have a slightly hard, digital/processed look. But even with these flaws, the BRD version of Spider-Man 2 easily surpasses any of the previous DVD incarnations.

As far as audio is concerned, Spider-Man 2 on Blu-ray is a phenomenal step up from the SuperBit DTS track. The overall character of the Dolby TrueHD track is incredibly rich and full, especially in Danny Elfman's sweeping score. Everything from quiet, dialog-driven scenes to the bombastic action sequences sing out with exciting audio that really involve the listener in the film. The improvements in presentation found on this BRD are what consumers should expect when they spend their hard-earned money to upgrade their older DVDs to the new HD formats.

Like the previous film in this set, Spider-Man 2 on Blu-ray contains no extra features. Again, keep those special edition DVDs handy to avoid the double-dip syndrome. On the plus side, Sony did include the nine minute longer 2.1 extended cut on the Blu-ray edition via seamless branching (this was available on a previous DVD edition of the film). Instead of a couple of additional full scenes, most of this extra footage is made up of short snippets sprinkled in here and there throughout the movie. I enjoyed the new material (especially Mr. Jameson's playtime), and I recommend 2.1 as the preferred version of the film.

Spider-Man 3

Peter Parker and Mary Jane have become a serious romantic item. But as Spider-Man's popularity skyrockets among the people of New York, Mary Jane's theater career is flagging almost before it begins. Peter lets Spider-Man's popularity go to his head and a rift grows between the lovers as Peter's ego makes him blind to Mary Jane's unhappiness. Strange black symbiotic slime emerges from a crashed meteor in Central Park and when it attaches itself to Peter he goes through a wicked transformation. This transformation feeds off his darker emotions and turns the lovable Peter into a real jerk. And as Spider-Man, he becomes unnecessarily violent and vigilante-like.

Meanwhile, Harry still holds a deadly grudge against Spider-Man as he believes that the web head is responsible for the death of his father. Harry puts himself through the same transformation as his father and becomes the New Goblin. The New Goblin attacks Peter, but our hero gets the better of the young villain and a nasty blow to the head puts Harry in a state of amnesia.

Meanwhile still, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) escapes from prison. His daughter is very ill and he will do whatever it takes to find the money to make her well. While being chased by the police Marko takes cover in a particle accelerator and his DNA is altered to take on the consistency of the sand in the machine. Marko, now the Sandman, can transform his body into any shape, become as fluid as sand and fight with superhuman strength. With his new powers the Sandman goes on a robbery bender to amass money for his daughter's treatment.

Meanwhile even still (*sigh*) the cocky, unpleasant Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is looking to become The Daily Bugle's star photographer and beat out Peter Parker for the staff photographer job that has recently opened at the paper. But Brock is short on scruples and will stoop to dishonesty to get what he wants. When bad karma catches up to Brock, he undergoes a transformation similar to Peter's that feeds off the rage and anger within.

All of this culminates into a predictably overwrought finale where multiple superheroes clash in an extended, sense-numbing battle. Spider-Man 3 was so poorly conceived that it amazes me that enough money men thought that the script was good enough to shoot. It's really a mess. There are so many characters, villains, subplots and love triangles that everything Raimi was trying say with the film is watered down by the end. And Venom, the one villain that fans have been desperate to see since the first film, is relegated to an afterthought in the final quarter of the movie. But where Raimi really went wrong was including Sandman in the story. The character of the Sandman is completely pointless to the plot; he is superfluous and does nothing but exhaust the audience in a film that is already 20-30 minutes too long. It also didn't help that the Sandman visual effects were more than a little reminiscent of those in The Mummy flicks. What's more, the character of Flint Marko is shoehorned into an ill-conceived, eye-rolling plot twist. That's not to say that the film is a complete waste. Spider-Man 3's action sequences retain the flashiness and kinetics of the previous films' and this entry contains its own awesome spectacles. There is fun to be had here, just be prepared to mow through a lot of bramble to find it.

Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray is feast for the eyes and ears. The 1080p AVC video is just perfect. It's as sharp and crisp as can be and explodes off the screen with bold, yet never oversaturated colors. And, of course, not a hint of compression artifacts can be found. Videophiles can put this disc up there with Ghost Rider and Casino Royale as an example of the best video the format has to offer.

The audio is no less disappointing. Encoded with both Dolby TrueHD and linear PCM tracks, Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray is a breathtaking aural experience. The entire soundstage is used to full effect with clear dialog, pounding low frequencies and split-surround effects. Between the two high-end soundtracks, the linear PCM track is the preferred choice. Differences are slight, but there are differences nonetheless. The Dolby version has a slightly more plugged-up sound when compared with the airier, more transparent PCM track. This is likely due to the lower, variable bit-rate of the Dolby technology compared with the higher, fixed bit-rate of PCM. Again, these are not differences that slap you in face, but they're enough to notice.

While the first two films in this set are as naked of features as can be, the third film is a two-disc extravaganza of supplementary material. The first disc includes two audio commentaries. The first is a fun track with director Sam Raimi and actors Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard and Thomas Haden Church; all participants were recorded as a group. It's a great track that is more than a meeting of the mutual admiration society. The discussion is kept alive with production stories and discussions about the plot and characters. The second commentary includes producers Avi Arad, Grant Curtis, Laura Ziskin, editor Bob Murawski and visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk; the participants were not recorded together. While on paper it might seem boring or superfluous compared with the other commentary, it is a good listen for film fans and film students. Listeners get another perspective on the production of the film and the development of the plot. Disc one also includes a photo gallery broken into different categories and containing a hundred or so images. A short blooper reel can also be found on this disc and is pretty much what you would expect: flubbed lines and general goofiness. Finishing up the features on the first disc is a music video for Signal Fire by Snow Patrol (note that all supplementary video features on disc one are MPEG2 standard definition, while features on disc two are presented in 1080p AVC high definition).

Disc Two is home to an outstanding set of featurettes that can be played individually, or back-to-back (with the "Play All" function); they run a solid two hours when put together. These featurettes cover almost every aspect of the making of Spider-Man 3 and contain gobs of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a study of the post-production effects work. I'll cover them in a thematic order:

Three featurettes are dedicated to the creation of the film's bad guys: Grains of Sand: Building a Sandman runs 14 minutes, Re-imagining the Goblin runs 11 minutes, and Covered in Black: Creating Venom goes for 16 minutes.

The next set of featurettes is pretty self-explanatory by each one's title; this group focuses mainly on the big action moments in the film and the gigantic, detailed sets used for shooting. Hanging On...: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor runs 10 minutes, Fighting, Flying and Driving: The Stunts runs 19 minutes, Wall of Water runs 7 minutes, Cleveland: The Chase on Euclid Avenue goes another 7 minutes, while New York: From Rooftops to Backstreets lasts 13 minutes.

Inside the Editing Room is a 4-minute visit with the film's editor Bob Murawski. The 16-minute The Science of Sound includes a picture-in-picture feature comparing the scoring session with the final film.

Tangled Web: The Love Triangles of Spider-Man 3 runs 9 minutes and examines the more personal aspects of film's story and the relationships between the characters. The supplements on disc two wrap up with an ad campaign tab featuring three theatrical trailers, a teaser, and a series of TV spots from all over the world.

Sony went above and beyond with the sheer magnitude of quality features included with Spider-Man 3. Even though the quantity is overwhelming, there is no waste to be found and every included piece is unique and informative.

Conclusion

I cannot unconditionally recommend Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy box set because it contains a couple of faux pas that are impossible to ignore or wave off. The first two films are completely lacking any of the extra features available on the previous special edition DVDs and the audio/video quality of the first film is not a significant leap over the SuperBit DVD edition. But the set has plenty of strong points as well: Spider-Man 2 has been given a new life on Blu-ray with its stunning audio and video presentations and Spider-Man 3 is not only a reference-quality disc to show off your home theater, but includes hours of outstanding supplemental video content and commentaries. Overall Sony did a respectable job with the box set and anyone picking it up at retail or unwrapping it Christmas morning will not be disappointed. Just be aware that the lack of features on the first two discs spells an almost guaranteed double-dip sometime in the future.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com
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