Judge Dennis Prince must have Spidey senses because something is tingling inside him that says this is only the first of many Blu-ray releases of the web-headed moneymaker.
Our reviews of Spider-Man: Superbit Edition (published July 6th, 2004), Spider-Man 2 (published January 24th, 2005), Spider-Man 2.1 (published April 9th, 2007), Spider-man 2 (Blu-ray) (published June 18th, 2012), Spider-Man 3 (Blu-Ray) (published October 30th, 2007), Spider-Man 3 (Blu-ray) (published June 21st, 2012), Spider-Man 3: Two-Disc Special Edition (published October 30th, 2007), Spider-Man (Blu-ray) (published June 21st, 2012), and Spider-Man: Deluxe Edition (published July 12th, 2004) are also available.
"What's happened to you?"
Indeed, what has happened to Stan Lee's greatest creation? The celebrated web-slinging wonder has looked great on the big screen but the CGI renditions are missing a depth of character. Likely bitten by a bug that likewise afflicted another ill-fated superhero franchise, something seems to be wrong with the Big City's red-and-blue benefactor and he's clearly in need of franchise intervention before it's too late.
Secondarily and to the point of this particular release, here is Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy in the much-vaunted Blu-ray format. This is likely the day that many fanboys have awaited, hoping to proclaim that their backing studio's tent-pole attraction delivers the final blow to their vilified opponent, HD DVD. And so the sides will continue to battle in back-and-forth fashion, hopefully recognizing the impact their preferred formats might have in a way that benefits all, not just some.
"With great power comes great responsibility." Truly, Sony is a power in a position to do great things for the home video consumer, even putting that consumer's needs before their own needs; is Sony up to the moral challenge?
Facts of the Case
Since there are few among us who would actually be unfamiliar with Spider-Man, I'll spare you the protracted plot synopsis, offering this "trilogy-eye's perspective" of the saga thus far:
In 2002's Spider-Man, we meet Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, Seabiscuit), the apple of his eye, Mary Jane "MJ" Watson (Kirsten Dunst, Elizabethtown), and his best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco, Fool's Gold). Peter is bitten by a genetically altered "super spider" and is physically altered himself, becoming the wall-climbing, web-slinging Spider-Man. When Harry's father, Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire) is subjected to a chemical experiment gone awry, he emerges as the mentally unstable and physically overpowering Green Goblin. As the Goblin, Osborn exacts revenge on his company's board of directors but soon finds he's facing a foe on the side of the law, Spider-Man. The battle between the two mutated men ensues until justice wins out, the Goblin is defeated, Peter is still unable to profess his swelling love for MJ, and brooding Harry is left to seek revenge against the web-headed hero responsible for his father's death.
In 2004's Spider-Man 2, Peter is back and still pining for the emotionally mercurial MJ. Harry is now heading his father's corporation, Oscorp, and is presently funding the fusion research of Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, The Hoax). But Octavius' experiment surges out of control, permanently fusing the four fusion-handling arms onto his body while altering his own mental stability. When the now-criminal "Dr. Octopus" threatens Harry for more of the raw fusion material to pursue his work, the vengeful young Osborn demands Spider-Man in exchange. Octavius and Spider-Man clash and Peter ultimately unmasks himself to a befuddled MJ. Harry also discovers Spider-Man's true identity just as he stumbles upon is late father's arsenal of Green Goblin warfare.
And in 2007's Spider-Man 3, Harry had decided to take up his father's work, not within Oscorp but as the New Goblin, pursuing Spider-Man. Meanwhile, another exercise in scientific advancement goes wrong when an escaped convict, Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church, Idiocracy) stumbles into a form of particle-displacement machinery and is left with a body consisting of sand. While Spider-Man must battle with this "Sandman," he's unaware that an alien symbiote matter has crashed to Earth and has infiltrated his Spidey suit, giving the hero a euphoric feeling that culminates in an exaggerated aggression toward others. Then, there's a new freelance photographer, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace, Mona Lisa Smile), gunning for Peter's job at the Daily Bugle; his cutthroat style could become problematic under certain circumstances. All the while, Peter struggles with the high-maintenance MJ, the girl still unable to accept Peter's responsibility as a city hero and incapable of making a commitment to him, much to his perpetual chagrin.
Amusingly, upon watching the trilogy in back-to-back-to-back fashion, I was reminded of the classic Warner Brother's Daffy Duck cartoon, "The Scarlet Pumpernickel," where Daffy lumps on calamity after calamity in a studio executive's office in desperation to sell his script. To paraphrase:
"Yeah? Yeah? Then what happened?"
The Spider-Man trilogy plays out in similar fashion—largely in the third installment—as a story that piles on bigger and more bombastic events as an answer to an audience's desire to be entertained. In the end, some audience members echoed, "Is that all?!"
The danger of a franchise such as Spider-Man is its inherent temptation to substitute action for intelligence, visual excitement for mental stimulation. Sadly, we saw this same unraveling happen to 1989's Batman franchise, a series that delivered two entertaining—albeit somewhat flawed—adventures, only to completely lose any shred of sensibility by the third picture. Similarly, the Spider-Man franchise seems to be scaling the wall over the same precipice. The first film was entertaining and, after a bit of protracted exposition, delivered a formidable foe in the Green Goblin, played to manic excess by skilled Willem Dafoe (comparing favorably to Jack Nicholson's Joker). The second film served as a pinnacle in that it presented a pitch-perfect Dr. Octopus played expertly by Alfred Molina. A large portion of the film, however, wallowed in the pouting of the perpetually dissatisfied MJ (and, likewise, Batman Returns did well in its villainy and exploration of duality but got a bit heavy in the overplayed psyche of the Penguin). And, comparative to the pointless action-laden train wreck known as Batman Forever, so too does Spider-Man 3 lose its focus by trying to entertain with too many villains while harping on the still-unresolved personal issues between the tiresome triangle of Peter, MJ, and Harry. Actually, there's a good story buried in here—maybe two or three—yet the gotta-have-it-all script fails to develop any one of them, leaving us with a mess of a narrative that happens on screen with little regard for involving the viewers.
Technically, the three films are to be admired but technical prowess alone does not entertain for long. Just as the Batman franchise discovered, audiences want a more cohesive trail of events, one that considers the patrons' investment from their theater seats, and strikes a collaboration that thoroughly involves the moviegoers. This is clearly the reason for the reboot of the franchise, which was deftly resurrected in the spellbinding Batman Begins. Potentially, then, the Spider-Man franchise came along a bit too soon, at a time when audiences were seen only in terms of box-office value but not as participants—partners, even—in ensuring an enduring franchise. In this time where it has become acceptable to "return to start," it might make sense to revisit Stan Lee's original vision of Spider-Man, jettisoning the fluff and flash in deference for a more contained and more comprehensible storyline.
If this all sounds a bit too harsh, it stems from viewing these three films in rapid succession. It's not the time investment that will wear at you but, rather, the lack of care taken to properly develop and grow the characters. Peter is understandably awkward in the initial outing (though overplayed to ineffectual extremism by unlikely Tobey Maguire) and we're patient, since his newfound superpowers are the crux of what keeps him from resolving his romantic dilemma with MJ. After a fun standoff with the Green Goblin, we're patient that Peter will get his personal matters sorted out in the next chapter. Unfortunately, the second installment finds Peter still something of an emotional adolescent, withstanding the incredible onslaught by the unhinged Dr. Octopus yet still incapable of remedying his unconsummated relationship with the passionately unpredictable MJ. But, in the end, she seems ready to profess here love for Peter and his identity as a crime fighter and, surely, by the third go-round, harmony will prevail so both characters can evolve. Nope—Peter is still a flaccid suitor come Spider-Man 3 and MJ is so self-consumed with her dreams of Broadway stardom that she ensures Peter will pay dearly for her unending dissatisfaction. After three outings, one wonders who the real villain of the series is. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, then, we're thrown four villains this time around in a decidedly over-compensating move. Unfortunately, as interesting as each villain could have been, four at one time simply confounds everyone involved and leaves all grasping to make a connection with the viewer; they don't succeed. And, therefore, by the time the credits begin to roll on Spider-Man 3, we're left to wonder what is the overall point of the series. Many films can effectively balance action with romance with comedy and betrayal, but not this one, since it can't seem to find a common thread that will connect it all in a smart and satisfying way. It can be argued that the Spider-Man trilogy, co
llectively, lacks a strong nucleus, a compelling purpose. Spider-Man/Peter Parker, the dual character, is wholly reactive, rarely taking steps to head off troubles, content to "arrive just in time" every time and sometimes even a little late. Although he's a brilliant boy-man, this franchise fails to utilize Peter's intellect to outsmart and outthink his foes, relying on brute force and glibly quipped one-liners as a villain bites the dust. Surely, Peter would improve and perfect his powers in a way that would allow him a healthy relationship with MJ—if she could ever mature—while keeping pace with the villainous potential that surrounds him every day. Frankly, Peter's revelation to MJ in Spider-Man 2 offered a tantalizing promise that she could become his ally and, although she'd likely become victimized by whomever or whatever dark force befell the city, she could smartly compliment her lover-hero's cause; that didn't happen and the ultimate irony has been that MJ is unable to put her man's needs ahead of her own—a matter that Aunt May should take up with appropriate scorn and scolding.
Again, as much as this is an unflattering analysis of the vaunted franchise, it's an honest reaction to a studio's take on a time-honored character, one that quickly lost track of its duty to a comic-book icon and decided to boastfully bask in self-congratulation based on box office and home-video receipts. While the bankable take of the franchise is enviable, the uneven reaction by fans—new and hardcore alike—indicates trouble is afoot and in need of immediate correction lest we're presented with Spider-Man Forever. The Spider-Man faithful certainly deserve the same level of coherent adventure as was originally presented in the pulp pages of long ago, those that entertained a single villain at a time (occasionally indulging in a tag-team assault in the infrequent "super-special" issues). The first film found success in focusing on the Green Goblin, engagingly setting up Harry to be the vengeful heir to his father's deviant deeds. The second film similarly succeeds by maintaining focus on Dr. Octopus (a fan favorite) made all the better by the incredible Molina. But the third time around the villain action is disjointed and disconnected, then illogically fused together in unlikely ways (see the immediate rapport Venom strikes up with Sandman). Plus, this latest installment also cheats the fans by hastily rewriting the established events that led to Uncle Ben's death, those well-chronicled in the first two films, in order to force-fit a motivation for a conflict between Spider-Man and Sandman. Add the additional narrative spoke of the alien symbiote that infiltrates the black Spidey suit and you've wasted a perfectly stand-alone excursion into a matured Peter who might have finally integrated his heroics and romance into a manageable existence only to be threatened by this unnamed threat.
But, hey, maybe you're just here for the high-definition glory of this Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy set and aren't hung up on the unevenness of the content matter. Fair enough. If eye candy is your pleasure, you'll find plenty of it on tap here, some sweeter than others. While Spider-Man 3 is also being offered in a stand-alone Blu-ray package, it's this boxed set that offers the only means of securing the first two features in high-definition splendor. Without question, the upgrades of Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are a marked improvement over the previous standard-definition releases. First up is Spider-Man, delivered on a single disk and sporting a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation. The image clarity is striking as is the enhanced detail, revealing textures never before seen. The color saturation is good if not a bit on the muted side. Spidey's suit pops from the frame in a pleasing manner yet is sometimes challenged by some rather exaggerated white levels. Overall, it's the best the film has looked and will certainly be worth the HD investment. Spider-Man 2 betters its predecessor by delivering even more detail, skin and hair textures being most noticeable here. Colors are even more saturated than in the first film although the run a bit too pink in the flesh tones. The source material for the 2.40:1 widescreen transfer is blemish-free although there is infrequent intrusion by visible grain, most noticeable in the scene where Doc Ock prepares to set up a new makeshift laboratory. As expected, then, Spider-Man 3 boasts the strongest image of the bunch, the improved detail and spot-on contrast noticeable from the opening Columbia branding. Again, source material in this 2.40:1 transfer is perfect (as it should be) and the color palette is the most vibrant in the set, again tending to become a bit over saturated on occasion. Details are incredible, especially the excellent shadow detail that effectively argues in favor of the Blu-ray mantra, "beyond high definition." Overall, this is a trilogy that is highly enjoyable, on a visual scale.
On the audio side, each new transfer is accompanied by a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. While the first film is technically lowest on the source master scale (originally mastered in 16 vs. 24-bit encodes), the differences are negligible in most settings. Each film delivers a realistic soundstage with smooth imaging across and around the channels, offering an enveloping listening experience. The low-end receives a near-constant feed of pulsing and pounding while the score is well represented throughout. Most important, the dialog is always easily discernible and discrete effects emerge clearly in each film. Audibly, this is an excellent collection that will surely serve as demo material for high-end home theater setups.
As for extras, here's where this otherwise technically impressive set falters a bit. The two films are offered in single discs without any of the features that were included in previous standard-def editions, save for Spider-Man 2, where viewers are offered the option to view the extended 2.1 version (via seamless branching). As for Spider-Man 3, this is the same two-disc presentation that can be purchased separately on Blu-ray and includes two commentary tracks, a blooper reel, photo gallery, music video, and non-related trailers. The second disc offers an HD-enhanced (MPEG-4) feature-length documentary, viewable in segmented fashion in a way that chronicles the entire production. Running at 126 minutes, this is a well-rounded excursion behind the scenes of the making of the film (regardless what opinion you might have of the finished product). Lastly, there's a full ad campaign section that includes various domestic and international trailers as well as TV spots. As you can see, then, the third film is done up in appropriate fashion, extras wise, and needlessly makes the first two films seem underdone in this capacity. Surely, this smells of another tip, likely another set that would include full-fledged arsenals of bonus features and likely topped off with a Spider-Man 3.1 configuration.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As enjoyable as are the technical aspects of this Blu-ray boxed set, it somehow smacks of unmasked exploitation on the part of Sony. While the studio is to be commended for bringing this trilogy to their proprietary high-definition format, the move is undeniably commercially fueled in a way that further cheapens the headlining superhero, he serving as a puppet to perpetuate the "our format versus their format" squabble. It's ironic, then, that Sony's acclaimed high-definition hero would be garbed in alternating patches of red and blue, amusingly mocking the manufacturer-driven "format war." It's comical, also, to recall the philosophy of the Spider-Man character, he who fights for the common man without motivation for personal gain; his is a selfless endeavor that serves all peoples of all affiliations, this in stark contrast to the battle waged by HD opponents, Sony vs. the DVD Forum.
Clearly, the Spider-Man franchise hasn't been properly developed and disciplined to win favor in this particular court. Visually and aurally, this Blu-ray boxed set is plenty of fun but the unevenness of the subject matter might leave you wishing all three were released individually in the HD format, allowing you to buy only your favorites. Then again, that would get the old Spidey senses tingling to reveal this was the exact reason for a boxed set on this first go around. Be confident, then, that this isn't the last time you'll encounter the Spider-Man franchise on Blu-ray.
Out of fairness, this court must acknowledge the varying pluses and minuses of this boxed set release and, therefore, declares a mistrial until future evidence (in the form of double- and triple-dips) are presented. It's this court's considered opinion that this case will resume in reasonably short order then, don't you agree?
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Spider-man
Perp Profile, Spider-man
Distinguishing Marks, Spider-man
Scales of Justice, Spider-man 2
Perp Profile, Spider-man 2
Distinguishing Marks, Spider-man 2
• 2.1 Version Option (seamless branching)
Scales of Justice, Spider-man 3
Perp Profile, Spider-man 3
Distinguishing Marks, Spider-man 3
• Audio Commentaries
• IMDb for Spider-Man
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