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SPIDER-MAN
Deluxe Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J. K. Simmons
Director:  Sam Raimi
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  121 Minutes
Release Date:  June 1, 2004

“Who am I?  You sure you wanna know?”

Film ***1/2

I know it sounds foolish and condescending, but my strongest reaction to Spider-Man?  Pride.

Having been a devoted fan of director Sam Raimi for some twenty years, I was thrilled at the news that he would be helming this major A-list project.  I knew no better subject for pure motion than Spider-Man, and I knew of no filmmaker more imaginative and inventive and capturing motion on film than Raimi.

Despite budgetary concerns and less than ideal working conditions, he helmed two of the most exhilarating independent horror releases ever in Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2.  With very little money, Raimi proved he had an uncanny ability for making his camera move at tremendous speeds, cover vast amounts of ground, and zip through tight spaces like nothing was there.  What could he do with a lot more money and a legendary web-swinger to work with?

After finally earning the right to make some major projects…some great, like A Simple Plan, some far less suited to his talents, like For Love of the Game, Raimi stepped up to the proverbial plate when given the chance to make Spider-Man.  And he knocked one out of the park.

“As long as I live, I’ll always remember these words…”

Spider-Man had seemed ready for the modern Hollywood big time for quite a while, but Hollywood wasn’t quite ready for him.  Throughout the 90s, the project started, stalled, switched hands, switched leads, and so on.  At one point, James Cameron was slated to make the movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.  As much respect as I have for those gentlemen’s talents, I can say without reservation that their picture wouldn’t have been as right as the one Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire crafted.

Maguire, a proven young talent in films like The Cider House Rules and Pleasantville, was the right choice for our comic book hero, Peter Parker.  A high school student and social misfit, the plucky young man finds his life changed with the single bite of a genetically enhanced spider.  Suddenly, his vision is improved, his strength and agility is multiplied, and his sense of danger is acutely tuned.  And of course, he can climb walls and spin webs with incredible tensile strength.

Despite his newfound gifts, he still has difficulty connecting with the one girl he’s loved all his life, the rosy haired Mary Jane Watson (Dunst).  But while he struggles with his adolescent woes, an even bigger threat is brewing. 

Scientist and millionaire Norman Osborne (Dafoe), in a desperate attempt to save his company and his life’s work, subjects himself to an experimental treatment to enhance performance.  It makes him stronger, all right, but also brings on madness.  Soon, as the newly named Green Goblin, he seeks to wreak terror on innocents everywhere.  And his main target is our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

“…‘With great power comes great responsibility…’”

And Peter, who learns a hard lesson at a terrible cost early on in the story, comes to realize two things:  one, he’s the only hope of stopping the Green Goblin’s reign of terror, and two, his enemies will always try to hurt him by targeting those he loves.  His path is a noble one, but it will also be terribly lonely.

“It’s my gift…my curse…”

Maguire and Dunst bring real fireworks to the screen, and keep the film spicy in between action sequences.  Their upside-down kiss scene has already become something of a modern movie icon.  Willem Dafoe, though a brilliant actor, gets a less thankful role with Osborn/Green Goblin, spending most of his time behind an unyielding mask.  However, he does enjoy one scene of split personality mayhem in front of a mirror that proves he wasn’t a wasted casting choice.  And my best friend and I both thought that J. K. Simmons was dead-on perfect as Parker’s boss and frequent agitator J. Jonah Jameson.

But the real star of the picture is Raimi and his action.  Using state of the art special effects, including the new “digital stuntman” program, you’ll feel the unbridled exhilaration of Spider-Man in flight.  Nothing quite like it had been seen before.  You’ll really believe that a man can swing at incredible speeds and lengths, as well as leap, cling to walls, and fight more acrobatically than any movie has had the chutzpah to show.  An incredible team put it all together, but Raimi’s vision is what makes Spider-Man fly.

This is possibly the best comic book movie ever crafted, because it so beautifully captures fans imaginations the same way the original graphic offerings did.  It gleefully presents the heroic and the incredible as feasibly despite being fantastic.  It took the panels of the books and filled in all the empty spaces in between.  It didn’t harbor a dark look like the Batman movies, or the adult themes of Blade.  It simply did what the original Superman did…making a character that existed so strongly in our imaginations seem as real as we always envisioned him to be…and did it even better.

“Who am I?  I’m SPIDER-MAN.”

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for longtime Sam Raimi friend and collaborator, Bruce Campbell, as the emcee of a cheesy wrestling match!

Video ****

This is another reference quality offering from Columbia Tri Star.  Spider-Man is a colorful film with a tremendous eye for detail; none of it gets lost, softened or distorted here.  The varied tones play against each other with good contrast and no bleeding, from the orange and blue of the Spider-suit to the rosy color of Mary Jane’s hair…everything plays with a natural integrity.  Sharpness is good throughout; from the widest shots to the closest close-ups, every iota of Raimi’s vision is intact.  This is the kind of movie DVD was made for…highest marks!

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is equally impressive.  Bold and dynamic, the web-swinger’s action sequences makes full use of digital surround, keeping every corner of your living room engaged.  When Spidey fights the Goblin, you’ll feel right in the middle of it…it’s OK if you duck.  Danny Elfman’s score is powerful and well-orchestrated for 5.1, and dialogue is clean and clear throughout…a good trick, considering how much talking is done through masks!  ;-)

Features ****

This new Deluxe Edition set bridges the gap between the first and second Spider-Man movies with a full three discs' worth of extras.

For starters, Disc One includes two commentary tracks; one by director Raimi and co-producer Grant Curtis mixed in with producer Laura Ziskin and star Kirsten Dunst, and a second SFX commentary by designer John Dykstra and his visual effects crew.  Raimi’s commentaries are always a good listen, especially this one because of his affinity for his subject.  However, I enjoyed the effects one as well, being very interested in this film’s revolutionary new techniques.  The disc also includes “Weaving the Web”; pop-up factoids about Spidey and done on screen in the Marvel comic style, special web-i-sodes that you can accesses when a special icon pops up during play for more behind-the-scenes info, plus two music videos, trailers for this and other new CTS releases, 11 TV spots (the “review” one is probably the most well-done television ad I’ve seen for a film!), talent and character files, and DVD ROM content.

That’s almost enough for highest rating alone, but we’re not done!  Disc Two contains two good featurettes:  a 20-something minute HBO making-of special, and an even longer and more in-depth one that aired on E!.  There are profiles for both Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman, screen tests for Tobey Maguire, J. K. Simmons and the CGI Spidey, an amusing short gag reel, a conceptual art and production gallery, plus a whole section devoted to the Spider-Man comic!  In it, you’ll find a documentary on the mythology of Spidey (featuring interviews with some of his artists over the years), a rogues gallery, a comics archive, an artists gallery, the loves of Peter Parker (don’t laugh; the bit on Gwen Stacey actually brought me close to tears), tips for the Activision Spider-Man game, and even more DVD ROM content.  This is enough special content to keep you busy in your web for days!

And finally, the third bonus disc looks toward the sequel, starting with both teaser and theatrical trailers for Spider-Man 2.  On DVD ROM, you can play a few levels of the Spider-Man 2 PC game by Activision before anyone else...very cool!  Rounding out are seven new behind the scenes featurettes for the first film, including costume design, backgrounds, the spider wrangler, the wrestling match, the world unity festival, OsCorp lab and the Green Goblin's arsenal.  A heckuva package sure to please all Spider-fans!

Summary:

Sam Raimi, not unlike Peter Parker, was the small-time brainy kid who made the big time.  It’s appropriate that he was given the reins for Spider-Man.  This is an exhilarating comic book adaptation, and one of the year’s most all around satisfying action pictures…not to mention a great release made even better with this new three disc Deluxe Edition.

“We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!!”