Along Came A Spider

Along Came A Spider (2001)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Michael Wincott, Monica Potter
Extras: Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

Fans of popular fiction often run into a frustrating dilemma. That is, wonder what Hollywood will do when a favorite book is brought to the big screen? What will be left in and what will be thrown out? Or maybe they won’t change anything, so there will be no surprises to those familiar with the novel. And what about casting? Will the actors on the screen look like the characters in the readers’ imagination? Most of the questions become moot points with the adaptation of James Patterson’s novel "Along Came a Spider". The filmmakers have basically thrown the book out the window and left us with an interesting, but troubled film.

"Along Came a Spider" is the second film to feature Patterson’s Alex Cross character, but this film is not presented as a sequel to 1997’s "Kiss the Girls". (Actually, "Along Came a Spider" was the first Alex Cross novel, and was then followed by "Kiss the Girls". So, the movies are out of order to begin with.) As "Along Came a Spider" opens, we meet Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott), a teacher at an exclusive prep-school in Washington, DC. We are also introduced to Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who is assigned to protect Megan Rose (Mika Boorem), a Senator’s daughter. All seems well and normal until Soneji kidnaps Megan and spirits her away from the school. As this is a high-profile case, the FBI is immediately involved, but Soneji contacts D.C. police detective Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) personally and invites him to join in the game.

Following a meeting with Megan’s parents (played by Michael Moriarty and Penelope Ann Miller), Cross agrees to be involved in the investigation, but only if Jezzie can assist, as she knows both Megan and Soneji very well. From that point on, "Along Came a Spider" is a game of "cat and mouse", as Soneji leads Cross on many different paths. However, Cross is anything but your average investigator and he soon realizes that there may be more than just a little girl’s life at stake in this case.

As a novel, "Along Came a Spider" was a competent thriller, its brightest point being the introduction of the Alex Cross character. In turn, the film version of "Along Came a Spider" is also a competent thriller, but brings nothing new to the genre. The amazing thing is how much the two versions of the story differ. Screenwriter Marc Moss took the most basic elements of the novel (the kidnapping and the Cross character) and threw everything else out the window. The resulting film is something of an anomaly. It’s based on a novel, which was read by millions, but most of those people will find themselves being surprised by the film because so much has been changed. (Trust me, according to this movie they won’t be making a film version of James Patterson’s "Cat and Mouse"!)

These changes have their pros and cons. The streamlining of the story has made the plot much more linear and the film moves along at a nice pace. The problem with the book version of "Along Came a Spider" was that it ended… and then there were 100 more pages. But, with that streamlining, some of the elements that made the novel enjoyable are simply gone. There is no mention of Cross’ family, which is his main support system in the book, nor his tough-as-nails partner, Sampson (who, ironically, was in "Kiss the Girls"). There is a woman at Cross’ house in the film, but we’re never told who she is. So, basically, the film can be enjoyed by those who have and those who haven’t read the novel.

While the story in "Along Came a Spider" is perfectly acceptable, the casting is not. Granted, Morgan Freeman is a great actor, probably one of the best of his generation, but he’s simply not Alex Cross. In the books, Cross is in his 40s and is a vital man. Actually, he typically has a love tryst in each of the books with an attractive female character. (In "Along Came a Spider", he fell in love with Jezzie. That sub-plot is nowhere to be found in the movie.) Freeman definitely brings class and style to the role, but as a fan of the books, it just doesn’t feel right. I’d always pictured Julius Carry of "Brisco County, Jr." as Cross, and for the record, L.L. Cool J as Sampson. But, apparently Hollywood wanted to take star power over authenticity.

"Along Came a Spider" creeps onto DVD from Paramount Home Video. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1, and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The image is very sharp and clear. Actually, the image is too good at the beginning, as it reveals all of the flaws in one of the worst CGI shots ever. There is practically no grain present in the daytime shots, nor is any dirt visible. This transfer shows no flaws from artifacting and only slight edge enhancement effects. The colors are noticeably sharp, with the deep blacks showing a nice contrast to the reds and whites. The framing appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the frame.

This DVD offers a superb <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack. The surround sound placement on this track is well done and the action scenes benefit greatly from it. The dialogue is clear and intelligible, with no discernible hissing on the track. Bass response is quite good, and the sound field is very wide. All in all, this is a very good transfer.

While the transfer is long on quality, as with basically all Paramount releases, the "Along Came a Spider" DVD is short on extras. We have a 14-minute making-of featurette, which offers interviews with cast and crew. Unlike many corporate featurettes, this one has a looser feel and style, making it actually watchable and informative. The best parts are the quotes from author James Patterson, especially when he says that he can’t wait to see the movie. I wonder how he responded to all of the changes. The only other extra is the theatrical trailer, which has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The trailer is worth watching, as it contains many shots that didn’t make it into the finished film. With that in mind, one can’t help but wonder why there was no deleted scene section on the DVD.

Despite the fact that "Along Came a Spider" is based on a novel, the film has a voice of its own. While it’s not the perfect thriller, it does offer some shocks and suspense and is well-paced. Fans of the book can rest assured that there are going to be some things in this film that they weren’t expecting. The audio and video on the DVD are first-rate, but sadly, the DVD is lacking in extras. So, thriller fans should pull up a tuffet and check out "Along Came a Spider".