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Sam Raimi
Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson
David Koepp, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

With great power comes great responsibility.
Box Office:
Budget $139 million.
Opening weekend $114.844 million on 3615 screens.
Domestic gross $403.706 million.
Rated PG-13 for stylized violence and action.

2-Disc set
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $28.96
Release Date: 11/1/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Producer Laura Ziskin, Actor Kirsten Dunst, and co-producer Grant Curtis
• Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer John Dykstra, Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Stokdyk and Director of Animation Anthony LaMolinara
• Branching Web-I-Sodes
• “Weaving the Web” Subtitle Factoids
• Chad Kroeger Featuring Josey Scott “Hero” Music Video
• Sum 41 “What We’re All About” Music Video
• Filmographies
• Theatrical Trailers
• TV Spots
• HBO Making of Documentary
• “Spider-Mania”: An E! Entertainment Special
• Director Profile
• Composer Profile
• Screen Tests
• Costume and Makeup Tests
• Gag/Outtake Reel
• “Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century” Documentary
• Activision Game Hints and Tips “The Loves of Peter Parker”
• “Rogues Gallery”
• Conceptual Art and Production Design Gallery
• The Spider-Man Comic Archives
• DVD-ROM Features

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Spider-Man (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Finally – a comic book movie that got it right! One shouldn’t interpret that statement to indicate that I don’t like any superhero films. Superman and Superman II offer enjoyable experiences, and I’ve always absolutely adored both Batman and Batman Returns.

However, for all the pleasures of those flicks, I can’t say I think they really capture the spirit of the comics. They’re good pieces of work, but they didn’t quite reproduce the tone of the material that inspired them. Even as much as I liked the Tim Burton Batman films, they didn’t really seem to “get” the character as much as I’d like.

I finally found a comic book movie that matched its source with 2002’s Spider-Man. Though not a flawless piece of work, Spider-Man provides a tremendously entertaining flick that nicely matches the tone and attitude of the comic series.

Like a good first movie, Spider-Man starts at the character’s beginnings. We meet Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a nerdy and unpopular high school senior who gets picked on by his classmates. He maintains a friendship with rich kid Harry Osborn (James Franco), a behavior problem who transferred to public school after he got booted from a number of private settings. Peter’s parents died when he was very young, so he resides with Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris). Peter lives next door to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the object of his affection since that family arrived about 12 years earlier, though Peter can’t quite muster the nerve to declare his fondness for the bubbly MJ.

At the beginning of the flick, Peter’s class goes on a field trip to a science lab. At this place, they’re working on genetically altered spiders, and one of them bites Peter. When he gets home, he feels woozy and passes out for the night. After he awakes, he finds that quite a few changes have taken place. Scrawny Peter now looks decidedly buff, and he discovers that he possesses super strength and the ability to crawl on walls. Peter heads to school where he notices other powers like webs that shoot from his wrists and a “spider sense” that alerts him to potential dangers.

After a heady day of discovery, Peter decides to capitalize on his abilities when he sees that MJ gets happy over her oafish boyfriend Flash Thompson’s (Joe Manganiello) new car. He signs up for a three-minute wrestling match with muscle-bound brute Bone Saw McGraw (Randy Savage) and uses his powers to knock out the lout. However, when Peter thinks he’ll get the $3000 prize, the promoter (Larry Joshua) cheats him and gives him only $100 on the grounds that Peter didn’t last the whole three minutes.

As revenge, Peter fails to stop a crook (Michael Papajohn) who steals the promoter’s gate money. This backfires when Peter leaves to meet up with Uncle Ben, who gave him a ride to town; the crook carjacks Ben’s vehicle and shoots Peter’s uncle in the process. Ben soon dies, and in his grief, Peter takes Ben’s earlier message to heart: with great power comes great responsibility. This means that Peter decides to use his abilities to stop criminals.

In the meantime, we see the problems that befall Harry’s scientist/inventor/industrialist father Norman (Willem Dafoe). Contracted to deliver secret weapons for the military, he runs into problems because General Slocum (Stanley Anderson) opposes the Oscorp project and it displays problems. Norman takes chances with a “super soldier” formula and quaffs a sample himself. This increases his physical abilities but drives him over the edge mentally. In a set of increased paranoia and psychosis, Norman unconsciously adopts an evil alter ego known as the Green Goblin.

The rest of the film follows the development of the hero and the villain. Peter also tries to get to know MJ better, something that becomes more difficult when she and Harry start to date. A lot of exposition and character growth occurs along the way, but the film largely revolves around the battles between Spidey and the Goblin as well as the burgeoning relationship between Peter and MJ.

As a teenage comic geek, Batman and Spider-Man always resided at the top of my list of favorites. Interestingly, they both share somewhat similar origin stories, as the two characters became crimefighters due to the violent death of those close to them. However, Batman seemed more motivated by revenge, whereas guilt prompted Peter Parker’s transformation. In any case, this lends a layer of depth to their personalities that lacks from many superheroes and helps make Spider-Man so memorable.

First let me get some complaints about the movie out of the way. My prime problem with Spider-Man relates to its computer effects. Frequent readers will know my disdain for those processes, and Spider-Man often includes some weak material. Actually, it displays fairly solid sets and non-animated pieces, but the human components look rather artificial. Computer animation usually fails to capture motion accurately, and the scenes of Spidey and the Goblin jumping and flying mostly come across as cartoony and fake.

I also don’t like some of the changes to the original Spidey mythology. Despite my affection for the comics, I don’t feel that the movie needed to show a slavish devotion to those elements. I understand that filmmakers will want to adapt various components to better fit into the cinematic framework, so as long as the alterations remain consistent with the character, they’re fine with me.

Spider-Man makes two changes that I don’t like. One seems minor. In the comics, Peter uses his scientific brilliance to develop his web-shooting abilities, while the movie Spidey gains these powers through his physical transformation. Some of the comic character’s drama comes from problems related to the web-shooters, which the movies will lose. It’s not a huge concern that the film alters this, but I don’t care for it and I don’t understand why they felt the need to do this.

The other difference that I disliked seems more major. It also may offer a spoiler, so if you want to skip it, move ahead two paragraphs. In both versions, the criminal who Peter lets escape after he robs the promoter is the same guy who kills Uncle Ben. However, in the comics, Peter allows the crook to pass due simply to his own arrogance. The promoter doesn’t rip him off, so he fails to stop the dude just because he feels smug and superior.

In the movie, Peter’s refusal to stop the criminal seems more justified. After the promoter screws Peter out of the money he earned, it makes sense that he won’t lift a finger to help the jerk. Audiences cheered when Peter tosses the promoter’s sleaziness back in his face, something that wouldn’t have occurred if the film kept the comic version of the tale intact. The presentation makes Peter’s guilt seem less substantial. Sure, I understand that he’d feel very upset that the guy he let escape killed Uncle Ben, but this slaying appeared less related to Peter’s arrogance; the movie made his inaction come across as much more acceptable.

Aside from these minor gripes about Spider-Man, I think it does virtually everything right. For one, the cast seems perfect. Maguire aptly takes on Peter’s nerdiness and uncertainty and he also appears physically appropriate for Spidey. He brings the right level of tortured heroism to Spidey and makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.

Dafoe also seems born to play Norman and the Goblin. He needs to deliver a lot of different emotional tones to the role, and Dafoe takes on a slightly comic book influenced tones but never becomes broad or campy. Instead, he captures the vivid nature of the role and makes him alternately warm and paternal or harsh and cruel. Dafoe looks little like the comic book Norman, but he totally gets the part and makes him very effective.

As the third main participant, Dunst offers an exceptional performance as MJ. The character suffers from a conflicted home life but pretends to be chipper and bubbly all the time, and Dunst perfectly adopts the appropriate tones. She perfectly demonstrates the way that MJ fakes her happiness for the crowd. She conveys the sadness in her heart even as she puts up the shell of pleasantness. Dunst brings a layer of emotional nuance to the part that one doesn’t expect from this sort of movie, and she makes an underwritten role rich and compelling.

Spider-Man also benefits from excellent chemistry between the different participants. Dafoe and Franco really connect as father and son, and the combination of Maguire, Harris and Robertson creates a warm and convincing family unit in their limited time together. Best of all, Maguire and Dunst demonstrate tremendous energy in their shared scenes. The kiss in the rain between Spidey and MJ already has become legendary, and the pair show genuine life and spark in their other segments. I can’t think of another screen comic book pair who interact as well as Maguire and Dunst; they take the movie to another level.

The suits at Columbia did their jobs when they hired Sam Raimi to direct Spider-Man. As the DVD’s supplements repeatedly tell us, he grew up as a Spidey fan, and his love for the source material shines through via his affectionate and exciting approach to the project. Raimi doesn’t treat the piece with excessive reverence, but he also avoids allowing it to become too glib or campy. The tone feels absolutely perfect to me, as the movie always conveys the right sense of comic book energy and flair.

Spider-Man also manages to convey a level of depth that makes the flick more substantial than one might expect. The characters never come across like cartoon figures. They always seem surprisingly real and three-dimensional, and the film never forgets Spider-Man’s roots in tragedy. “With great power comes great responsibility” remains at the heart of the flick, and even in Spidey’s most high-flying moments, the theme of grief and pain stays within our consciousness.

Amazingly, Raimi delivers an ending that manages to seem heart breaking, heroic and exuberant all at once. It’s a finish that reminds us of Peter’s angst but sends us out with cheers nonetheless. Raimi walks the high wire with astounding skill throughout the whole movie. Somehow he manages to deliver a flick with terrific action, rich characters and emotional depth that never sacrifices its comic book roots. He also creates a piece that satisfies old-time Spidey geeks like myself while it effortlessly brings in new fans as well. I can’t count the number of times I smiled out of recognition simply due to the fact the picture appeared to nail the right character or setting tones. Spider-Man falls short of being a perfect comic book movie, but it comes awfully close.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio A- / Bonus B+

Spider-Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture remained pretty positive as a whole, it showed a few more concerns than I expected from a recent, big-budget blockbuster.

Sharpness usually seemed fine, though the image looked a little less detailed than I’d like. It remained reasonably crisp most of the time, but occasionally some shots looked slightly soft. Nonetheless, most of the movie appeared solid. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I noticed some minor edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, light grain appeared periodically during the movie, and I also observed a few too many examples of speckles.

Given the comic book setting, I expected a varied palette, and Spider-Man didn’t disappoint. The image presented nicely bright and vivid colors that consistently appeared rich and vibrant. Black levels generally came across as deep and dense, though they occasionally looked somewhat inky. Shadow detail presented some concerns, as low-light situations seemed a little too dark much of the time. This made those scenes a bit murky and tough to discern. Overall, Spider-Man looked okay, but I didn’t think the image seemed much better than average given the age and budget of the material.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Spider-Man offered a consistently solid presentation. The soundfield made good use of all five channels and created a nicely involving environment. Music presented clean stereo imaging, while effects cropped up from all around the spectrum. Though not the most active track in the world, it used the different speakers well as a whole. Much of the material remained atmospheric, and the mix did a nice job with small touches such as cars and voices like the yelling from MJ’s father. The action scenes kicked it up a notch, of course, and they provided a lively and engrossing set. The Goblin’s flyer offered some of the best moments, as it zoomed nicely across both the front and the rear.

Audio quality appeared very good. Speech seemed warm and natural, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. The score sounded nicely robust and dynamic, as the music showed clean highs and rich lows. Effects also came across as vibrant and distinctive. They lacked any signs of distortion and seemed vivid and rich. The track boasted nice bass response, as low-end material packed a nice punch. The audio for Spider-Man didn’t stand out as one of the best soundtracks ever, but it nicely complemented the material.

For the special edition release of Spider-Man, we encounter scads of extras across this two disc set. On DVD One, we start with two separate audio commentaries. Entitled “Filmmakers and Cast”, the first features director Sam Raimi, actor Kirsten Dunst, producer Laura Ziskin, and co-producer Grant Curtis. Unusually, the track presents two sets of pairs. Ziskin and Dunst sat together for their screen-specific piece, while Raimi and Curtis also were recorded together as they watched the flick. The commentary’s producers then combined the two for this one edited track. To their credit, they didn’t take the annoying approach found on pieces like Beauty and the Beast where they tried desperately to make it sound like all the participants sat together. The Spider-Man commentary doesn’t highlight the fact the pairs were apart, but it also doesn’t use any tricks to convince us otherwise.

I’d guess that the DVD’s producers originally intended to provide the two halves of this commentary on their own but combined them because the speakers offered so little content. Even with this package approach, the track still suffers from lots of gaps, as plenty of the movie passes without any information. When we do hear from the participants, they fail to offer much useful material. Occasionally some good tidbits appear, and Ziskin provides the commentary’s best moments as she fills us in on different behind the scenes notes such as how they made pre-transformation Peter Parker look scrawny. Dunst says little about her work but she tosses in some funny gripes about the movie that provide an amusing point of view.

As for the men, they mainly just praise different aspects of the production. Raimi occasionally offers some decent notes, and he also cracks wise from time to time; in particular, he gives us a humorous quip about Tobey Maguire’s motivation for a crying scene. Curtis offers little of consequence, however. Overall, this commentary seems listenable and modestly entertaining, but it doesn’t provide much information about the movie and it seems like a moderate disappointment.

Called “Visual Effects Designer and Crew”, the second commentary includes remarks from visual effects designer John Dykstra, visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk and director of animation Anthony LaMolinara. All three men sat together for this running, screen-specific track. Not surprisingly, this piece sticks mainly with technical issues, but after a slow start, it manages to provide a reasonably informative and entertaining experience. Some gaps appear early in the program, but it soon picks up the pace and the three fill most of the time. They go over a mix of effects related topics, with a particular emphasis on the computer material. They help give us a nice look at all of these subjects and offer one of the better discussions of effects that I’ve heard.

If you activate the Spider-Sense option, a Spidey icon will appear periodically during the movie. Hit “enter” when this occurs and you can check out a variety of “web-i-sodes”. These pop up sporadically during the movie and provide short featurettes about a mix of topics. Among other subjects, we learn about model making, spider wrangling, and production design. The featurettes run between 100 seconds and eight minutes, 45 seconds. None of them seem particularly memorable, but they help add a little depth to our knowledge of the film’s creation.

For another feature that appears as you watch the film, we find Weaving the Web. This displays a very cool text commentary that covers a myriad of different topics. We learn about the film’s casting, the actors and other filmmakers, various “nuts and bolts” challenges like visual effects and costumes, and lots of fun information about the comics. Many general Spidey facts appear, and we also get some useful notes about how the movie takes liberty with the source material. Overall, this text piece offers a fine way to supplement your knowledge of the flick.

Also on DVD One, we get a section called the Marketing Campaign. This starts with a collection of trailers for Spider-Man, XXX, Men In Black II, Mr. Deeds, Stuart Little 2 and Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters and Marvels. Alas, the withdrawn Spider-Man teaser that prominently featured the World Trade Center towers doesn’t appear, unless it exists as an Easter egg. We then find a whopping 11 TV Spots.

Also in “Marketing Campaign” we get two music videos. “Hero” by Chad Kroeger and featuring Josey Scott stages a lip-synched performance on a rooftop and intercuts shots from the movie; both the song and the video seem bland and boring. “What We’re All About (The Original Version” by Sum 41 features the same format, but at least it looks a little more interesting visually since the band members use their spider-powers to cling to walls while they perform. As for the song, it sounds like cut-rate Beastie Boys.

Character Files has nothing to do with the movie’s roles. Instead, it simply collects the usual simple filmographies for actors Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson. However, the disc’s DVD-ROM domain offers some departures from the norm. Most intriguing is “Record Your Own Commentary”. This allows you to add your own statements for the flick. Since I don’t have a microphone for my computer, I couldn’t participate myself. The DVD promises “bonus commentaries” that will appear online, but as I write this four days prior to the disc’s release, the site offers nothing along those lines.

Next we get the “Comic/Feature Comparison”. This extremely cool addition lets you do exactly what it says. Ala the standard script to screen feature, it shows the movie on the left and the comic book adaptation on the right. This allows you to examine both and it makes for a very fun piece.

Lastly, disc one’s DVD-ROM area on disc one offers some weblinks. It connects you to Columbia-Tristar Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment as well as a “Countdown to Spider-Man 2”. That Internet page doesn’t offer much right now, but it promises a mix of online events.

With that we bid adieu to the first disc and move to DVD Two, where we encounter lots more extras. These split into two different areas: Web of Spider-Man deals mainly with the comics, while The Goblin’s Lair offers information about the film. Within “Web”, we find another subsection entitled “The Evolution of Spider-Man”, and it includes a number of different components. Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century lasts 25 minutes and 26 seconds and covers topics related to the comics. Mostly it features comments from Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, Spider-Man artists John Romita Sr., Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, John Byrne, John Romita Jr., and Tim Gale, writer Jeph Loeb, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics president Bill Jemas, Wizard Magazine editor Brian Cunningham, filmmaker Kevin Smith, editor Axel Alonzo, artist Steven Platt, and Wizard Magazine publisher Gareb Shamus.

While “Mythology” doesn’t offer a great general Spidey history, it gives us a decent look at the creative side behind the comics. We hear some about the character’s origins and development, and we learn of variations that occurred over the years, both in the visual and personality domains. The best aspects come from the artists’ discussions about their approaches to the character. Overall, “Mythology” doesn’t provide much special content, but it presents a reasonably informative and entertaining piece.

In the Spider-Man Archives, we discover a Spidey chronology broken down by decades. These then go over important Spidey developments in a year-by-year manner. It’s not the most user-friendly feature, but it includes a decent piece of coverage, even though it skips some major issues.

The Artists Gallery breaks down into four smaller domains of stillframe materials. “Environments” shows 30 pieces of concept art for the movie’s settings, while “Spider-Man” offers 13 drawings related to the film’s web-swinger design. “Green Goblin” gives us 18 screens of the same kind of art for the villain. Lastly, “Comic Book Artist Gallery” includes 19 drawings from various sources.

Within the Rogues Gallery we find nice little biographies for 14 prime Spidey villains. The Loves of Peter Parker does the same for the comic series’ four main female protagonists.

The final element of the “Web” area offers Activision Game Hints and Tips for its first three levels. If you own that piece of software, this section might prove useful. I don’t, so it isn’t.

Now we move to “The Goblin’s Lair”, where we discover materials related to the movie. The HBO “Making of” program Behind the Ultimate Spin offers a general look at the film. The 24-minute and 40-second piece combines lots of movie clips plus behind the scenes shots and interviews with director Sam Raimi, actors Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, and Cliff Robertson, executive producer Avi Arad, co-creator Stan Lee, producers Laura Ziskin and Ian Bryce, director of photography Don Burgess, production designer Neil Spisak, and visual effects designer John Dykstra,

If you’ve seen any others of these cable documentaries, you’ll know what to expect from “Spin”. It covers a mix of topics, from the origins of the comic book to the cast, production design, and effects. Unfortunately, it does so in a rather superficial manner. Although some of the material from the set seems interesting, those snippets fly by quickly, which means that movie segments and interviews dominate. The latter offer little concrete info and mostly just tell us how great everything is.

For more of the same, check out an E! Entertainment special called Spider-Mania. During this 40-minute and 28-second program, we get the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from director Raimi, co-creator Stan Lee, actors Dunst, Maguire, Dafoe, and Franco, comic book artist John Romita Jr., executive producer Avi Arad, producer Laura Ziskin, entomologist Steven Kutcher, and assorted Spidey fans. Much of “Spider-Mania” resembles “Spin”, though it places a somewhat greater emphasis on the interviews. These add a little more depth to the program, but it still remains superficial and promotional in nature. The most compelling part focuses on Kutcher and his spider wrangling. “Spider-Mania” offers a moderately entertaining piece but it doesn’t provide a very good look at the movie.

Next we get something called Director Profile: Sam Raimi. This seven-minute and three-second program offers some comments about the director. It shows a few shots from the set as well as movie clips and interviews with Raimi, Maguire, Dafoe, Dunst, Harris, Ziskin, Arad, actor Bruce Campbell, composer Danny Elfman, Stan Lee, and visual effects designer John Dykstra. We see some funny bits from the set where Raimi threatens people, but otherwise we mostly get more of the usual praise. A few of the same stories appear and the featurette seems moderately useful as best.

A similar but more compelling feature pops up next with Composer Profile: Danny Elfman. The seven-minute and 25-second piece includes comments from Raimi, Maguire, and Elfman. Unlike the superficial “Raimi” piece, this one provides a decent discussion of Elfman’s approach to composing and he also talks about the different themes he wrote. A composer commentary would have been preferable, but this short program gives us a quick and interesting view of Elfman’s work.

Some fun clips show up in the Screen Tests domain. We see four of these: “Tobey Maguire” (73 seconds), “J.K. Simmons” (47 seconds), “CGI Spider-Man” (20 seconds), and “Makeup and Costumes” (two minutes, 54 seconds). All four segments offer some cool material. We see a shirtless Maguire for a fight scene; this seems kind of odd, but if you’ve checked out the other supplements, you’ll know why he did it this way. We also heard about the CG Spidey in the other extras; it’s the one the filmmakers showed to the studio execs to prove the viability of a non-human actor. The costume section also seems nice, though it’s too bad we can’t hear the audio from the shoot; the actors speak and it’d be nice to know what they said.

Although I usually don’t care for this kind of material, the Gag/Outtake Reel includes some amusing bits. It lasts three minutes and three seconds and shows the standard compilation of goofs and gags. Dafoe tosses out some funny clowning and this piece generally seems entertaining. Note that although the DVD doesn’t include any deleted scenes, the “Outtake” reel features a brief look at the Stan Lee segment that fell to the cutting room floor.

DVD Two tosses in some DVD-ROM materials that differ from those found on the first disc. The “Spider-Man Activision Game” offers a demo for that piece of software. Usually these programs seem really lame, but this one actually looks pretty cool – it actually makes me tempted to pick up a copy.

The “Spider-Man Visualizer” area includes a screen-saver as well as a program to affect the “visualizer” element of computer media players. At least, that’s the plan. For reasons unknown, I couldn’t either the screen-saver or the visualizer to work on my computer.

Another fun feature comes from three “exclusive Marvel dot.comics”. We can check out the following adventures: Spider-Man: Blue #1, Black Cat #1, and Peter Parker: Return of the Goblin. I really appreciated the inclusion of these comics. Finally, DVD Two repeats the same weblinks found on the first disc and adds one more for Marvel.com.

While the Spider-Man DVD offers a lot of different features, sometimes more is less. Not many of these components seem terribly memorable and they don’t add a tremendous amount to the package. Most of the pieces appear reasonably interesting, but this set remains somewhat disappointing in the supplements domain, as the DVD doesn’t give us a great look at the creation of the film.

Happily, Spider-Man itself doesn’t disappoint. The movie offers a lively and exciting piece that possesses greater depth and emotion than one might usually expect from this sort of film. It doesn’t seem perfect, but it works tremendously well as a whole and it captures the parts of the comic books that make them so memorable. The DVD provides watchable but somewhat flat picture along with strong audio and an extensive but lackluster collection of extras. While not an exceptional DVD, Spider-Man presents an excellent movie, and the package seems positive enough to warrant my strong recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3382 Stars Number of Votes: 204
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