I was lucky enough to get advance copies of the Spider-Man Blu-ray re-releases, so this will be the first of three posts telling you about these movies on disc, starting with the first film. Unsurprisingly, the disc opens with a lengthy trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man (the one with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone — and Sally Field as Aunt May, which I cannot accept as someone who saw Smokey and the Bandit in the theaters).
As expected, Spider-Man looks terrific on Blu-ray, vibrant and colorful. I still think Tobey Maguire is a bit flat, though.
Most surprising to me was how, although this movie isn’t very old (ten years), it feels ancient. That’s not a crack on the film, but a note on how so much has advanced so recently in comic book movies. I’m not just thinking of the effects, but also the acting, the writing, the expectations. They’re all so much improved that, in comparison, this one looks like it was made two or three decades ago. (Some of that may be due to director Sam Raimi’s appreciation for genre classics, too, as an influence.) The effect sequences, as when Spider-Man swings through the city or the Green Goblin rides in on his glider, inspire the imagination, but they look more obviously computer-generated these days. It’s all a bit too cartoony. Other sequences are in Matrix mode, with the slow-mo back dips and such.
Spider-Man is faithful to the origin story, and Kirsten Dunst looks terrific as Mary Jane Watson (even if her belly shirts look dated as well). The two leads together are the best part of the movie. Willem Dafoe reacts outrageously as the Green Goblin, but that’s what he does well. (Earlier this week, I was explaining his long-ago sledgehammer duel in Streets of Fire to a friend.) My favorite thing about the film remains J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, with that ridiculous flat-top and cigar. Especially when he explains to Peter, who’s accused him of slandering Spider-Man, “It is not. I resent that. Slander is spoken. In print, it’s libel.” Excellent line reading!
I feel, for this to be a proper review, that I need to explain the plot, but I’m pretty sure anyone reading this knows it and/or has already seen the movie. Here it is: Peter Parker is your typical nerd, hopelessly and secretly in love with the girl next door and picked on by the jocks, until an experimental spider bites him during a school field trip and he gets powers of speed, strength, wall-crawling, and sticky fluid coming out of his wrists. (Weirdly, the bite also gives him muscles and fixed eyesight overnight.) His friend’s father, Norman Osborn, has been experimenting on himself and winds up becoming the Green Goblin. The two eventually face off to save New York City. Along the way, Peter learns how with great power comes great responsibility.
Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin
Some of the scenes and events to get there, however, today read a little cheesy. It’s somewhat astounding to me to say this, but the writing isn’t as subtle as we expect today in superhero films. Still, we wouldn’t be where we are today without successes and stepping stones like this one. Spider-Man, at the time, was a record-holder for biggest opening day, highest box office gross in a single day, first movie to pass $100 million in its opening weekend, and highest-grossing movie of 2002. IMDB says that this was also the first Marvel movie to use the flipping pages logo now much more common on movie screens.
In the film, I miss Spidey’s sense of humor, since he stays mostly silent when fighting bad guys instead of wisecracking. Instead, we get Dafoe talking to the mirror and a mask in a chair, which is a different kind of humor (unintentionally). All that said, watching this again was a fun walk down memory lane and a good reminder of how far superhero movies have come. And if you can find this Blu-ray at a discount price, you may find it pays for itself, since it comes with credit for a free movie ticket (up to $10) to see The Amazing Spider-Man starting July 3.
The famous Spider-Man kiss between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst
When viewing, we didn’t experiment with either of the features new to Blu-ray. The “Spider Sense Trivia Challenge” is a game that runs with the movie (and we didn’t want to watch the film twice in close succession). You get scored on speed and accuracy, with a video reward at the end. The “Spider-Man Cutting Room” allows you to edit your own video with music and movie clips.
I compared the many extras here to those on my old two-disc DVD special edition, and most carried over, with a few notable exceptions. Here’s the full list of Blu-ray special features, with the exception of the two I just mentioned:
- Commentary with Filmmakers & Cast — Sam Raimi, Laura Ziskin, Grant Curtis, and Kirsten Dunst
- Commentary with Visual Effects Designer John Dykstra and Crew
- Commentary with Tobey Maguire & JK Simmons (this one was new to me, since it wasn’t on the DVD version)
- Historical Documentary – Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century
- HBO Making of Spider-Man
- “Spider-Mania”, an E! Entertainment Special
- Director Profile: Sam Raimi
- Composer Profile: Danny Elfman
- Costume Design Featurette
- Seven Behind the Scenes of “Spider-Man” Featurettes
- Screen Tests with Tobey Maguire, J.K. Simmons, and CGI Spider-Man
- Costume and Makeup Tests
- Gag/Outtake Reel
- Six Multi-Angle Webisodes
- Two Music Videos: “Hero” performed by Chad Kroeger and featuring Josey Scott and “What We’re All About” performed by Sum 41
What didn’t carry over from the earlier DVD Special Edition were the specifically comic-related extras. The movie had a subtitle factoid track called “Weaving the Web” that featured production notes. (I suspect some/all? of this material may be included in the webisodes.)
The second DVD bonus disc had an “Evolution of Spider-Man” interactive Who’s Who-type slide show that was based on comic book clip art and had sections on the character’s rogues’ gallery, love interests, year-by-year comic archives, and artist pinups. It wasn’t included here, although that may be because viewer expectations have changed since this kind of click-through flat visual feature was popular. There was also, on the first disc in a DVD-Rom section, a comic-to-feature comparison (that I couldn’t get to work because Flash has changed a lot over the past few years).
Also, and this is the reason I’m keeping the DVD as well as the Blu-ray, they appear to have eliminated the Easter eggs, which included CGI bloopers and information on famous Spider-Man artists the Romitas and Todd McFarlane. Most viewers won’t care, but I note these omissions here just for completeness. Instead, the Blu-ray comes with an UltraViolet copy of the film for streaming or downloading (US only).
Stay tuned for movies two and three!