This disc combines excellent sound, a fantastic movie, and bales of extras with murky video to create a very acceptable – if not truly outstanding – first release of Spider-Man. I would heartily recommend this disc to anyone, but with some caution: this release (“Widescreen Special Edition” reviewed) leaves plenty of doors open for SuperBit Deluxe and later Collector’s releases. Both sound and video are good – but definitely not the best – so, watch for re-releases after the holidays.
This two-disc set is b… no means unworthy of purchase, however. Its highlights include sound with paranormally accurate special placement, wild menus, and a roster of extras that boggle the mind. Beware, however. The menus switch formats completely within different sections of the discs, so navigation can be confusing. Also, while there are some true gems amongst the extras, there’s also mountains of filler… take a look at the Special Features section below for suggested viewing.
One notable absence in this set is any mention of the controversy surrounding the production of this film. Everyone in the commentaries, documentaries, and so on seems to cautiously avoid mention the 40 years of legal wrangling and bitter lawsuits preceding this release. A good documentary on Hollywood/NYC licensing politics would have been an interesting feature. The revised New York scenes also go unmentioned and un-included… surely a deleted scenes area could have included the World Trade Centre by this point. Head-in-the-sand politicking omitted what could have been an interesting and poignant special feature. Finally, there was considerable uproar over the decision to make Spider-Man’s web slinging a genetic adaptation instead of a manufactured device (as it was in the comic book)… there would have been some good opportunity for humour here if this had been mentioned anywhere on either disc.
The movie itself, is an excellent blend of expert direction and perfect casting. Tobey Maguire does a fantastic job transitioning from Peter Parker to Spider-Man, Willem Dafoe is his remarkable self, and Kirsten Dunst pulls off a natural and inspired Mary Jane. Action and story are well balanced and both are equally well choreographed. Sam Raimi and the production crew also did an excellent job of updating the premise for the year 2000 – cars, laboratories, and technologies all flow very well. In summary, a fantastic movie, well worth owning and watching.
A final note: One feature strongly in this release’s favour is the ability to skip past the ridiculous FBI warnings… bravo Columbia-Tristar! Lets hope this isn’t just a feature of the screener we got, and becomes standard for all releases, already.
Audio is an exception 5.1 mix. Check out the scene where Peter Parker is taking pictures of spiders in the lab – the shutter clicking will come from directly behind you. The first time we heard it, we all jumped, then skipped back to hear it again. The rest of the film exhibits the same attention to placement, with all speakers used to their fullest extent, and sounds placed with extreme accuracy.
As good as this mix is, watch out for better (DTS or ES) coming out on a SuperBit or similar release in the near future.
Hmmmm. Video was a disappointment. We tested it on a widescreen rear projection TV, on an LCD, and on a Trinitron graphic design monitor, and found it to be consistently washed out or blurry. One trick that a lot of CGI animators appear to be using is the covering of action under motion blur or darkness, to reduce the appearance of animation (see Star Wars Episode 2: Landing on Kamino). Strangely, this does not seem to be the case here – the CGI rendered scenes are some of the clearest. In personal dialog situations, however, or plain ordinary daylight, colors seem to have been deliberately bled out of the transfer, and some kind of mask put over the transfer to reduce clarity. While the film is watchable, it was surprising to see a big slips in quality through-out. Which leads me to my conspiracy theory: expect a SuperBit edition in the near future with a much better transfer.
Columbia-Tristar pulled out all of the stops putting together features for this one, so this section is divided into Disc One and Two. As I mentioned before, prepare to be confused: the menus for navigating through the Special Features change radically from one area to another, making for a frustrating and confusing – if visually impressive – browsing experience.
Weaving the Web: “Pop-On” Production Notes and Historical Facts: Pop-On, eh? Copyrighted terms rule again! Modeled after Pop-Up Video, this is probably the best feature on the two disc set. If you can handle the distraction there’s lots of very interesting tidbits that come out. Recommendation: Watch It!
Branching Web-i-sodes / Spider Sense: As near as I can figure, these are the same feature, mislabeled on the case. “The Branching Web-i-sodes” mentioned on the case are referred to as “Spider Sense” in the DVD menu. These are “Follow the White Rabbit” style icons that spring up in the subtitle area. Clicking on it will branch into a short video featurette. To be honest, these featurettes had much more interesting and involving information that either of the documentaries on Disc 2. Recommendation: Watch It!
Commentaries: There are two commentaries on this disc – one with Sam Raimi, Kirsten Dunst and some producers, and one with John Dykstra (special effects). The former can pretty much be skipped. You thought George Lucas was a lousy commentator? Sam Raimi is barely there, likewise Dunst. Vast stretches of multiple minutes of silence break up comments that are lethargic and uninteresting at best. I expected better out of Sam Raimi – he was quite loquacious when recording commentary for Evil Dead – why not here? The second commentary is somewhat more worthwhile, provided you aren’t completely tired of CGI whizzes waxing poetic yet. Recommendation: Skip It.
Marketing Material: This includes trailers, TV spots, music videos, and character files. This is pretty fluffy filler material. Recommendation: Skip it.
This disc is entirely extras. They are split up between the “Web of Spider-Man” and the “Goblin’s Lair.” Items in the Web are historical in nature, and those in the Lair have to do with the movie or those involved in it.
HBO Making-Of: This is a disappointly fluffy documentary. If you are interesting in sound bytes of production staff gushing about how amazing it was to work on the movie, this is for you. If you are interested in a detailed deconstruction of the Spider-Man production process, look elsewhere.
But, don’t look at the E! Spider-Mania documentary either. Another fluffy marketing piece, devoid of meaningful content. Recommendation: Skip both of these!
Director Profile: Another disappointing feature, the Profile of Sam Raimi is a sterile and lifeless piece. The only thing really learnt about Raimi is that he likes Spider-Man a lot, and had him painted on his bedroom wall as a child. There you go – you don’t even have to watch it now! I was really hoping for more – Raimi is an interesting character when you start digging into his roots – it would have been great to learn more about his rise from schlock horror B-Movie territory to Hollywood A-List. Recommendation: Skip it.
Screen Tests: Short, and not particularly sweet, the screen tests are still worth watching. Tobey Maguire looks like a complete donkey in an action test that secured him the role – very amusing. JK Simmons does a great test, and appears to be completely in character on his first read. You can skip the Costume/Make-up Tests and CGI Spider-Man tests. Recommendation: Watch it!
Gag/Outtake Reel: Not that funny. A couple of clips of people screwing up lines and swearing about it, with the swears censored out. The only redeeming parts of this feature are Willem Dafoe going completely nuts into the camera. But, of course, he does that in the movie anyway. Recommendation: Skip it.
Galleries: Lots of galleries here in both the Web and the Lair. Comic books, sets, production drawings, et cetera. The Comics are about the most interesting – its fun to follow the evolution through the years. Another good one is the Rogue’s Gallery in the Web – this details all of the villains that Spider-Man fought over time, and will give you lots to think about in terms of sequels.
Composer Profile: Danny Elfman: Elfman’s score complements this movie perfectly, capturing the foreboding and creepiness of spiders, goblins, and NYC. Take a look at this feature, as the creative process for scoring is interesting to learn about. Recommendation: Watch It!
Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century: This is a great documentary featuring Stan Lee, and many of the other comic artists and writers who contributed to Spider-Man over his history. This documentary has little to do with the Mythology (?) of the 21st Century, but does provide a good sense of continuity for the entire Spider-Man franchise. Recommendation: Watch It!
Even More… There’s plenty more on these two discs that I haven’t touched. There’s more typical filler sucha as galleries and stills and so on, but also some interesting DVD-ROM features: gamers will enjoy the chance to try out the Activation Spider-Man game, and the rest of us will have fun fooling around record our own commentaries and browsing online comics.
The fact that this review is approaching two thousand words should sum it up for you: there’s a lot on this disc. Great features, great audio, tonnes of fun. There’s a few notable items missing (controversy, good transfer), but not enough to tarnish this otherwise sterling release. Recommendation: Purchase!
Special Features List
- Two Audio Commentaries
- Theatrical trailer
- Pop-up production notes
- Branching web-isodes
- HBO Making of Spider-Man
- Spider-Mania, an E! Entertainment Special
- Director & Composer profiles
- Screen tests
- Costume and makeup tests
- Gag/outtake reel
- Historical documentary
- Conceptual art and production design gallery
- Much More…