July 19, 2003
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Gerry Becker, Bill Nunn, Jack Betts, Stanley Anderson, Ron Perkins, Bruce Campbell, Randy Poffo,
My Spider sense is tingling, so without further ado we present the astonishing, the amazing… Human Spider?
So Peter Parker had a few teething problems with his Spidey gig and it took some improv from a wrestling announcer to come up with the Spider-Man moniker. To think we could have been lumbered with Human Spider if it weren’t for Bruce Campbell.
With the Batman franchise doing its very best to kill off comic book adaptations once and for all the chances of Spider-Man ever making it to the screen were beginning to look remote. James Cameron had for years been desperately trying to get Spider-Man made, but ownership disputes were keeping the film firmly rooted at the concept stage. Every six months or so a new rumour would emerge about the film going into production, each time with a new actor touted as the web-slinger. All of these amounted to nothing though as James Cameron finally gave up hope, and it’s here that Spider-Man started to show signs of life.
One of the non legal problems holding Spider-Man back was the need for a CGI Spidey. It was decreed by Cameron way back when that no human actor would be able to perform the stunts and general web-slinging activities that Spider-Man so regularly made look easy in the comic book world. This would mean that any successful adaptation would require a few years development in the field of digital effects, and then a sizeable budget to make it all possible. With the disastrous Batman and Robin the belief that a big budget comic book adaptation could be successful was fast disappearing. Films such as the new Superman (supposedly starring Nick Cage) and the constantly off-then-on Batman/Superman collaboration were disappearing into the void of unsold comic books faster than the Flash.
Now all of that has changed. As Tim Burton’s Batman did in 1989, Spider-Man has sparked that burning fire of optimism about the comic book genre that was so prevalent in the mid eighties. Guys in tights can once again be successful, and it’s all thanks to Sam Raimi.
Spider-Man, despite all of its production complications and internal wrangling managed to brilliantly convey all of the aspects of the original comic, and still work as a Hollywood Blockbuster. These were two ingredients that films such as Spawn, The Punisher, the abysmal Judge Dredd and a score of others all failed at miserably.
Of course it would be naïve to say that Spider-Man was a thoroughly original movie. The similarities with Richard Donner’s Superman are clear for all to see, but then they are both based on very similar comic books characters to begin with – no letters please! Rather that concentrate on the similarities, let’s look at what differentiates Spider-Man from other super heroes. This can mostly be summed up with the film’s tagline “With great power, comes great responsibility”. When Peter Parker discovers he has all of these new and amazing powers the first thing he does he beat up someone in school who was bullying him, albeit accidentally. Then of course he really learns the consequences of his actions, or lack of them, when he allows an armed thief to escape just to get back at someone who ripped him off. This had dire consequences for Peter, showing him that he had a choice to make in life about how he was going to develop from that moment on. As his uncle had told him moments earlier, how he acts now will determine the man he becomes.
This theme is carried forward when Norman Osborne (The Green Goblin) tempts Spidey to join him stating that they don’t have to be like other people, they’re above them. It’s true, with the powers Peter had he could do anything, why should he waste his time helping people who would sooner see him arrested for being different? This is indeed the question that Spidey needs to ask himself, causing him to be a very torn and tormented web-slinger indeed. This was one of the driving forces of the Spider-Man comics; the thought that no-one really liked or trusted Spider-Man. He was reckless, arrogant and he made mistakes – he was human.
As with Superman, Spider-Man works with big city newspaper The Daily Bugle and a grizzly (initially) Spider-Man hating editor; J Jonah Jameson. This guy is a mirror image of The Daily Planet’s Perry White, and even has the same scenes and dialogue, but who’s keeping score? J.K. Simmons plays Jameson, and seems to think a comic book character has to be wooden, loud and easily pegged in the first frame. Not so, the depth of the Osborns and of Peter Parker’s character stay true to the comics in that the characters are actually more developed and intense than in most films. This is just about the only grumble I can find with Spider-Man, it’s that impressive.
The story kicks off with the well trodden tale that we’re all familiar with. Peter Parker; lives with his Aunt, high school geek and with a crush on the girl next door. As a character he appeals to the target audience of comic books. Peter is then bitten by a genetically enhanced radio-active spider and undergoes some pretty rapid changes, not least of which his body bulk increases as though he’d been doing heavy weights for six months – which of course Tobey Maguire had.
Peter then discovered his new found powers one by one, in a series of potentially embarrassing moments. The worst of which being when his web-slinging caused a dinner tray to fly across the school canteen and thump the local bully on the back of the head. This references any young male growing up and developing into a man; they notice new things and new abilities so it’s easy to see why so many people young guys emphasised with Peter Parker over the years in the Spider-Man comics.
One of the best aspects of this movie is he way it handles its villains. Norman Osborn was just an ordinary scientist who experimented on himself in order to secure his funding, much like David Banner as the Hulk. Unfortunately for him the side effect of madness created a new persona that he couldn’t control. Of course fans of the comic will know that the future of his son Harry Osborne, a school friend of Peter’s was equally, if not more tragic. It’s things like this that made the comics so successful, real characters coping with real problems in extra-ordinary circumstances.
It’s easy to place any given comic in the time period of when it was written by what the hero aspires to be. Peter Parker wants to be a commercial photographer with a newspaper. Had Spider-Man been written today he’d want to start up his own online gaming site with the biggest baddest PC set-up you’d ever seen.
The special features on this release are richer than a Marvel summer special bumper edition. They are split into two sections, one focusing on the movie and one on the comics – complete with interviews with Spider-Man creator and general hero to us all; Stan Lee.
The movie section features the usual Americanised film making documentaries including a HBO first look special on Spider-Man. Other features are a little more unique to Spider-Man, including a screen test section which features Tobey Maguire. It’s a suitably comic styled sequence featuring him laying waste to a trio of hoodlums in Spidey style. The sequence is actually polished with sound effects too so they went the full hog with their screen tests.
Something new to DVD features in the shape of costume tests is also included. These aren’t as exciting as they may seem, but to those with a genuine interest in how a comic came to life will be enthralled looking at the footage.
You can always tell when a film was fun to work on by looking at the out-takes, and Spider-Man must have been a hoot. Most of them seem to involve Willem Dafoe creasing up at the preposterous over acting he was doing. Funny how it never makes Al Pacino laugh. There is also a director profile of Sam Raimi which is great fun to watch. Sam plays up to the image of the tough director by walking around the set shouting at everyone and throwing people of his film. He’d have got away with it too if it weren’t for everyone laughing at him. Sam tells what happened in his interview for the job of directing Spider-Man too. His enthusiasm and Spider-Man wallpaper as a kid apparently carried some weight.
In the comic section you get the definitive documentary on the history of Spider-Man where the great Stan Lee himself tells you about the creation process. Did you know that Super Heroes were expected to die out after the fifties? Several top artists give their thoughts on working on Spider-Man, and everyone seems united in their accolades for Stan Lee in creating a character that has changed so little over the years.
We get a series of galleries in this section that provides us with comic art of Spidey, his villains and his loves. The loves of Spider-Man are even recapped for you, leaving you feeling even sorrier for poor Peter than before.
An interesting piece of info in the comics section reveals how a special 911 edition of Spider-Man was made to honour the events of September 11th, where Spider-Man arrives too late to be able to prevent anything and has to help in the aftermath. This shows a remarkable contrast in the sensibilities between Hollywood and the comic world. The advance trailer for Spider-Man was originally shot using the Twin Towers. This was promptly dropped in favour of something else. The comic book world actively set out to focus on the events, and the artwork and emotion involved were suitably pitched.
All of this makes Spider-Man one of the best DVD releases of the year, and depending on whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not it could well be the best. Fans of the comic will find fault, they always do, but this is a darn fine version of a comic favourite, second only to Superman? Perhaps.
Now of course with the runaway success of Spider-Man we’re going to be inundated with comic book movies. X-Men 2, Hulk, Daredevil and naturally a Spider-Man sequel: The Amazing Spider-Man. We may even get the almost mythical Superman v Batman that has been in pre-production since comics were invented! It’s boom time for the geek, and as the Simpsons’ comic book guy once said “There is no emoticon for how I am feeling right now”.
Worst review ever.