Judge Mike Pinsky thinks Sony's marketing department is populated by supervillains with a sinister plot to take over the world. All they need is more pants.
Our reviews of Spider-Man: Superbit Edition (published July 6th, 2004), Spider-Man (Blu-ray) (published June 21st, 2012), and Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published November 1st, 2007) are also available.
"I love shoving Spider-Man around."—Sam Raimi
Sony can, Sony can
I'll get right to the point. You have probably seen Spider-Man. You saw it in the movie theater or on DVD. Perhaps you already own the DVD, either the two-disc set (widescreen or *cough* full-frame) or the "collector's edition" boxed set. If you have not watched the entire movie, you are probably so familiar with the clips that ran endlessly on television over the months of its original 2002 release that you were able to reconstruct the entire film in your mind without actually having to visit a theater.
In light of this, I will not spend a lot of time analyzing the film here. Suffice it to say that Spider-Man is a pretty good film. Sam Raimi's cartoonish visual style was a good choice for the material, as his penchant for Dutch angles and wild camera moves echoes expressionist-influenced "comic book movie" idiom that has been in effect at least since the '60s Batman television show, if not longer. Raimi, with the help of a solid screenplay by David Koepp, also succeeded in playing up the angst of poor Peter Parker, a schlimazel who only succeeds when he dresses up in tights and swings between buildings.
Tobey Maguire turned out to be a fine choice for Parker, thoughtful and sensitive. His alter ego can be played by stuntmen and computer graphics, but the teenager required a real actor. I know my colleague Michael Stailey (in his review of the Superbit edition of Spider-Man) complains about Kirsten Dunst softening the Mary Jane Watson character from her more quick-witted comic book incarnation. But given that the film has to develop the attraction between MJ and Peter quickly, giving her a rougher background and giving her more emotional vulnerability makes us understand why she empathizes so easily with Peter, even though her desire for success and the beautiful life leads her to hook up with more traditionally powerful men (Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, and, in the sequel, John Jameson). It helps that neither Maguire nor Dunst are "Hollywood beautiful," but rather attractive in a recognizable and accessible way, adding to the more down-to-earth tone that Raimi tries to establish by using real New York locations.
Willem Dafoe is also strong as the Green Goblin (although I do agree with Judge Stailey that the costume was rather clunky). Norman Osborn can be benign and poised one minute—then tormented the next (a little like Dafoe's portrait of Jesus for Martin Scorsese). And he always seems quite game to play the scene as far as it needs to go, even down to doing his own stunts. If he sometimes seems to go too far—well then, that has always been the standard for manic comic book villains. Dafoe's performance is much like Raimi's film: always just on the verge of spiraling out of control, and always swinging back right at the last moment to sanity.
Sure, the CG work in the film is not always realistic. You can blame some of it on the fact that Spidey had to be shot on a green screen, and the Goblin on blue (because of the color schemes of their costumes), resulting in some occasionally weak compositing. But Raimi wisely allows the action scenes to move so quickly (far faster than a stuntman could) that the audience stays too busy just trying to follow the action to worry about technical glitches.
In short, Spider-Man is not a perfect movie, even by the standards of a "comic book film." But it works, because everyone, from Raimi to his cast to his crew, throws themselves headlong into the project with as much commitment as, well, Spider-Man jumping off a building into traffic, trusting only that thin strand of webbing to hold him up.
But you knew all of this already. What you want to know is, what is the deal with Sony re-releasing the Spider-Man DVD in a three-disc "deluxe edition?" And at the same time as a Superbit edition to boot. Surprise: it's about money. Not just making a whole new boatload of money, but recouping some of the money spent to produce the previous 2-disc set. Even though the two-disc edition was reportedly successful, Sony must have had cartons still left over in the warehouse. How do I know this? Because the separately shrink-wrapped copy of the two-disc set included in this box still had stickers on it for promotional offers that expired a year ago. Somebody in the marketing department said, "Hey, the only way we can get rid of these white elephants is to make the same idiots buy them again. Maybe if we repack them in boxes, so nobody will see the expired promotional stickers, people will think they are getting something fresh! And we'll stick some leftovers on an extra disc to make it look like a great bargain!"
For your consideration: Spider-Man: Deluxe Edition.
Okay, so what's on the original two-disc set? You get one commentary track with Sam Raimi and producer Grant Curtis in one room, and Kirsten Dunst and producer Laura Ziskin in another. The boys spend most of their time praising anyone and everyone who appears on screen, and the entire affair is generally lightweight. No surprises here. The second track features veteran special effects guru John Dykstra and some of his staff chatting about the CG shots, how to digitally alter scenes to maximize product placement (ah, Hollywood), and how to disregard the laws of physics and get away with it. Honestly, this one is more interesting.
You can also watch the film with trivia subtitles, which I have always advocated as a great way for studios to add extra content inexpensively. Spidey fans probably know everything on this trivia track (I did), and a few tidbits you will hear repeated in other features. Disc One also offers an optional "white rabbit" feature: hit your remote during the film for a handful of useless behind-the-scenes "webisodes." But don't blink or you'll miss them. They are so few and far between (I counted five, spread over a two-hour feature) that this is really a waste of disc space.
Disc Two is split between fluff about making the movie and fluff about the comic book. During the former, you get to see an HBO making-of special—and if that's not shallow enough, it's followed by an E! Network special! Brief profiles of Sam Raimi and composer Danny Elfman, along with a few screen tests and a gag reel, round out this section.
The other half of Disc Two is devoted to the comic book. A stunningly disorganized documentary, Spider-Man: Mythology of the 21st Century, does not actually say much about mythology. It does offer Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane opportunities to stroke their own egos, while other Spidey artists squeeze in a few comments about how they approached the character over the years. An Easter egg focuses on the father and son John Romita art team, both of whom come across as really nice, in addition to their formidable talents. There is also an Easter egg about Todd McFarlane, but after the documentary, you may just wish he would shut up. Meanwhile, browse through a cover gallery (seemingly picked at random), a rogues' gallery of Spidey's enemies, some conceptual designs for the movie, and something called "The Loves of Peter Parker." 'Nuff said.
Oh, and lest we forget who calls the shots here (that is, Sony's marketing department), there are some hints for the Spider-Man video game.
If you already own the two-disc set, then you know everything I have just told you and thinking to yourself, "Should I buy this anyway and get that third disc?" The answer is no. The third disc contains a whopping half-hour of filler. Sony offers up some leftover documentary footage, probably "webisode" outtakes, that should have been on the original two-disc set—preferably instead of that silly E! special. You will learn nothing new here. And just to make you think you are in on some super-secret information, you get a teaser trailer and a five-minute "sneak preview" of Spider-Man 2. Wait, you say that you already saw that movie in the theater? I guess you don't need a sneak preview then.
So what does this all add up to? Here is the short version: if you like the movie and you do not already own it, this is a reasonably priced edition (cheaper than the Superbit at least). If you already have it, do not bother upgrading—and I use the word "upgrade" here in the loosest possible sense.
I may have made it sound as if I do not like Spider-Man. Quite the contrary. The film itself is the sort of slick entertainment that makes you look forward to the summer blockbuster season, with enough emotional depth that you do not feel guilty about enjoying it. And the sequel is even better. My complaint here is that Sony, as usual, thinks its audience is a bunch of morons when it comes to DVD marketing.
The marketing department for Sony obviously did not listen to Uncle Ben's admonition that "with great power comes great responsibility." But that does not mean you should blame Sam Raimi and his talented collaborators. Spider-Man is an entertaining film. This is one of those reviews where the Scales of Justice, geared toward reviewing the quality of the movie, do not give an accurate reflection of the review text itself. I like the movie. I think this three-disc DVD set certainly delivers on the extras in quantity, if not quality. But I am extremely frustrated with Sony's tactics in repackaging the previous two-disc release in this deceptive fashion. If you already own Spider-Man, do not buy this disc. And if you can still find the two-disc set around, buy that less expensive edition and do not bother with this wasted third disc. And if you ever see another edition of Spider-Man hit the shelves in the future, run far away.
Sony is judged guilty of deceptive marketing and poor treatment of its customers.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Director Sam Raimi, Actor Kirsten Dunst, and Producers Laura Ziskin and Grant Curtis
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