As another "Spider-Man" movie makes its way to theaters with "The Amazing Spider-Man," Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has taken to polishing Sam Raimi's movies that kickstarted the superhero genre into overdrive in 2002 and bringing them to Blu-Ray. How does the web-slinging hero hold up in high definition?
As everyone must surely know by now, Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" represented the first big-screen incarnation of Marvel Comics' most durable and enduring super-hero. During a class field trip to a lab, nerdy high-school student Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) accidentally gets bitten from by a genetically altered spider. He soon discovers that he has developed very unusual abilities: enhanced strength, the ability to climb sheer vertical walls with ease, spin web strands at will and heightened ESP or "spider sense." When a robber kills Peter's beloved uncle, a tragedy that might have been averted, he dedicates his life to fighting crime as Spider-man. He remembers something his uncle told him: "With great power there must also come great responsibility." Of course, just as a benevolent superhero is born, so must an equally malevolent archenemy emerge: the Green Goblin aka maniacal businessman and scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe). With similarly augmented strength and intelligence - but also driven insane by his own physical power - Osborn/Green Goblin and Peter/Spider-Man clash in a series of epic showdowns in and around the Big Apple itself.
In many ways, director Sam Raimi was the perfect candidate to bring Spidey to the big screen. There's a comic book sensibility to most of his films, especially 1990's "Darkman." He brought a real reverence to the production, rarely straying too far conceptually from the character's comic book origins. For the die-hand fans, Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp kept Spider-Man's world intact. This movie is not retro, campy, dark or brooding. It is fast-paced, very colorful, vivid and alive at times. The first major skirmish between Spider-Man and Green Goblin amid Macy's Parade type balloons offers the type of action that previously only existed in the comics, but with the aid of a visual effects army led by guru John "original Star Wars'" Dykstra, Raimi stages the fantasy with a fair amount of energy and swagger, especially in the swooping camera shots of Spider-Man swinging through the steel canyons of Manhattan.
Ironically, Raimi's iron-fisted devotion to the concept is what many found most disappointing about the film. Raimi has faithfully transferred Spider-Man from the two-dimensional comics page to the two-dimensional movie screen, but he also seemed to have backed away from giving the character or the property any subtext. Again, the most sterling example of comic book filmdom for me is Richard Donner's "Superman." Christopher Reeve's Gary Cooper-esque interpretation of the character proved the perfect counterpoint to Donner's mythic filmmaking. The resulting juxtaposition created the subtext of conquering the ego - something anyone can relate to. In the Tim Burton "Batman" films, the undertones gets a little murkier. Probably more so in "Batman Returns" than in "Batman," the Caped Crusader's vigilantism represented the fear of middle age. (Once you consider the casting in those films, the theory fits.)
Peter's guilt over his uncle's death may be a psychological motivation for his superhero mantle, but it doesn't allow us to connect Peter on an abstract, more emotional level. Consequently, I found some of the later scenes with the Goblin and Spider-Man quite anti-climatic. For one thing, having a mask that allows no expression or even facial gestures made it difficult to connect emotionally. Spidey's frozen pupil-less face may work fine on a static comic-book panel, but not at 24 frames per second.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's new high definition release spares no bits in giving the viewer every conceivable detail of the project. It contains a 1080p high definition transfer that is simply sparkling with detail. It has extremely bold colors and deep blacks, giving the image incredible visual depth and a vibrancy that suits the comic book adaptation very well.
The release is filled to the brim with special features, including a selection of commentary tracks. These commentaries are broken down into "Filmmakers and cast" and "Visual effects crew." Director Raimi, producers Grant Curtis and Laura Ziskin and star Kirsten Dunst all chime in with varying degrees of success, and the visual effects commentary by Dykstra, visual effects producer Scott Skoroyk and animation supervisor Anthony LaMolinara just got too technical for me.
Also included on the disc is a Gag Reel, and the original Costume and Makeup Test footage. There is also Tobey Maguire's screen test on the release, along with others.
Also included are HBO and E! Specials, both of which play more like electronic press kits than actual investigative reporting. The Sam Raimi and Danny Elfman profiles seem also to be culled from EPK materials since they feature the actors and producers on-set for their laudatory comments about their respective subjects.
One of the new features for this release is the "Cutting Room," which allows you to re-edit the film and create your own version to share with other fans. It's a nice little gimmick that can be found on numerous Sony Pictures Home Entertainment titles.
To round out everything on this disc, the release also includes an UltraViolet version of the film.
"Spider-Man" is - as expected - a top notch Blu-Ray release. Featuring a wonderful high definition presentation of the feature film itself, and spicing it up with a plethora of bonus materials, this is the release you have been waiting for.