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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
English DTS 5.1
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Thai

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $26.96
Release Date: 6/1/2004

• Audio Commentary with Actors Tobey Maguire and JK Simmons


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Spider-Man: Superbit Edition (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2004)

Finally Ė a comic book movie that got it right! One shouldnít interpret that statement to indicate that I donít like any superhero films. Superman and Superman II offer enjoyable experiences, and Iíve always absolutely adored both Batman and Batman Returns.

However, for all the pleasures of those flicks, I canít say I think they really capture the spirit of the comics. Theyíre good pieces of work, but they didnít quite reproduce the tone of the material that inspired them. Even as much as I liked the Tim Burton Batman films, they didnít really seem to ďgetĒ the character as much as Iíd like.

I finally found a comic book movie that matched its source with 2002ís 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 characterís 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. Peterís 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 canít quite muster the nerve to declare his fondness for the bubbly MJ.

At the beginning of the flick, Peterís class goes on a field trip to a science lab. At this place, theyíre 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 ďspider senseĒ 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 Thompsonís (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 heíll get the $3000 prize, the promoter (Larry Joshua) cheats him and gives him only $100 on the grounds that Peter didnít last the whole three minutes.

As revenge, Peter fails to stop a crook (Michael Papajohn) who steals the promoterís gate money. This backfires when Peter leaves to meet up with Uncle Ben, who gave him a ride to town; the crook carjacks Benís vehicle and shoots Peterís uncle in the process. Ben soon dies, and in his grief, Peter takes Benís 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 Harryís 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 ďsuper soldierĒ 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 Parkerís 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 donít like some of the changes to the original Spidey mythology. Despite my affection for the comics, I donít 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, theyíre fine with me.

Spider-Man makes two changes that I donít 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 characterís drama comes from problems related to the web-shooters, which the movies will lose. Itís not a huge concern that the film alters this, but I donít care for it and I donít 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 doesnít rip him off, so he fails to stop the dude just because he feels smug and superior.

In the movie, Peterís refusal to stop the criminal seems more justified. After the promoter screws Peter out of the money he earned, it makes sense that he wonít lift a finger to help the jerk. Audiences cheered when Peter tosses the promoterís sleaziness back in his face, something that wouldnít have occurred if the film kept the comic version of the tale intact. The presentation makes Peterís guilt seem less substantial. Sure, I understand that heíd feel very upset that the guy he let escape killed Uncle Ben, but this slaying appeared less related to Peterís 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 Peterís 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 doesnít 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 canít 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 DVDís 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 doesnít 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-Manís roots in tragedy. ďWith great power comes great responsibilityĒ remains at the heart of the flick, and even in Spideyís 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. Itís a finish that reminds us of Peterís 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 canít 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 C

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. When the original Spider-Man DVD hit the shelves in November 2002, I and some others felt less than impressed with its picture quality. I thought the flick looked okay but not up to the heights I expected of a brand-new, big-budget movie, so I gave the image a ďB-ď.

Immediately some cynics speculated that Columbia may have intentionally dropped the ball on the transfer to create a market for the inevitable Superbit release. Get Oliver Stone on the phone, because I canít dispute that concept. The Superbit Spider-Man still had a couple of minor issues, but it presented a noticeably improved picture that seemed to come from a different transfer altogether.

With only a couple of slight exceptions, sharpness looked solid. A few wider shots demonstrated slight softness, a factor created by a little light edge enhancement. Nonetheless, the majority of the flick seemed pretty concise and well defined. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no concerns. As for print flaws, light grain appeared periodically during the movie, but that was it. Unlike the prior DVD, this one suffered from no other source defects. Thatís why I suspect the Superbit came from a different transfer; it presented none of the specks that periodically popped up during the original DVD.

Given the comic book setting, I expected a varied palette, and Spider-Man didnít disappoint. The image presented nicely bright and vivid colors that consistently appeared rich and vibrant. Black levels came across as deep and dense, and shadow detail was clean and concise. Low-light situations appeared appropriately dense and never were too thick. The light edge enhancement and occasional slight softness knocked my grade down to a ďB+Ē, but I waffled and came close to giving Spider-Man an ďA-ď; the transfer often looked simply outstanding.

As noted, that created a distinct contrast with the lackluster image of the original DVD. Not only did the Superbit lose the modest print flaws, but also it simply seemed a bit tighter. Sharpness was somewhat more detailed, and blacks appeared deeper and darker. For the prior disc, shadows came across as somewhat dense, but they opened up and were clearer here. Across the board, the Superbit DVD looked substantially superior to the old one.

On the other hand, the audio of Spider-Man was very similar, despite the addition of another option. In addition to the originalís Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the Superbit gave us a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Both offered a consistently solid presentation and demonstrated no significant differences. The DTS version gave us slightly tighter bass, but that wasnít a big improvement, and I felt the pair mainly sounded identical.

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 MJís father. The action scenes kicked it up a notch, of course, and they provided a lively and engrossing set. The Goblinís 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 didnít stand out as one of the best soundtracks ever, but it nicely complemented the material.

Superbit titles normally come with no extras. Actually, thatís part of the seriesí declared mission: eliminate everything but the movie. However, Spider-Man marks an exception to that rule, as it provides an audio commentary from actors Tobey Maguire and JK Simmons, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The track originally was available online, but this is its first ďdisc-basedĒ appearance.

Donít expect much from the chat. The pair remain pretty low-key throughout and donít offer a great deal of useful information. We learn a little about their casting, Maguireís training and physical work on the shoot, character arcs, different effects elements and various challenges. Since Maguire appears onscreen literally about 20 times as much as Simmons, he dominates the discussion; Simmons tosses in occasionally witty remarks aimed at the movie and some general notes about the movie business, but doesnít give us a lot about Spider-Man itself.

Maguire occasionally picks up the slack, but the commentary can be pretty spotty. It starts slowly and peters out during the third act. For the flickís middle, it picks up fairly well, however, as the pair engage better, fewer gaps appear, and more solid information gets disseminated. Ultimately, though, this remains a largely lackluster commentary best left for the filmís biggest fans.

One other temporary bonus comes with the Superbit Spider-Man. The DVD comes with a free pass to see Spider-Man 2. Worth up to $12, this pass is good only through July 30, 2004. Because the offer only benefits those who buy the DVD early, I didnít factor its presence into my extras grade, but itís a nice bonus if you get to it in time.

Cynics and conspiracy theorists rejoice, for the Superbit edition of Spider-Man will likely validate some of your concepts. Although the DVDís audio seems the same as what we heard on the prior release, the picture quality appears substantially improved and seems to come from a different transfer. The inclusion of an audio commentary not available on either of the other Spidey releases makes it even more enticing for fans.

If you have the older version and feel satisfied with the picture, donít bother with the Superbit. The audio commentary seems mediocre and not worth the additional expense on its own. However, if youíre one of the many who thought the old discís visuals seemed less than positive, youíll probably be unable to resist this upgrade. I wish Columbia got it right the first time, but at least youíll find a pretty significant step up with the Superbit discís picture quality.

To rate this film visit the original review of SPIDER-MAN