Iíve been a Spider-Man fan since childhood, reading comic books and watching various animated incarnations of the character- some good, some awful. With the enormous success of the live action movie, SPIDER-MAN has been retooled once again for television-- MTV specifically, with CGI replacing traditional 2D cell animation. Of course, this particular retooling of the character has been influenced by both the live action movie, as well as the MTV venue. Stylistically, the TV series falls somewhere between the look of comic book padded out to three dimensions and a video game. Personally, I think the look of the show is cool, even if the implementation of the animation isnít always perfect.
As for the storytelling, it is constrained by keeping the episodes to a half hour time slot- so there isnít room for too much character development. However, the shows do zip along nicely and provide a good balance between action and story. The basic premise of the series finds Peter Parker (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) attending Empire State University with best friend/roommate Harry Osborn (voiced by Ian Ziering) and would-be girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (voiced by Lisa Loeb). Of course, there are plenty of villains (both super and otherwise) on the prowl near campus, all of whom need to be dealt with by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. For those of you that may have missed the MTV airings, SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES- SEASON ONE ($30) comes to DVD in a two-disc set that offers up all thirteen freshman-year episodes.
Disc one contains the episodes Heroes And Villains, Royal Scam, Law Of The Jungle, Sword Of Shikata, Keeping Secrets, Tight Squeeze, Head Over Heels and The Party. Heroes And Villains has Spider-Man Square off with a Robin Hood like villain, who is more popular with everyone than him. Royal Scam features the Kingpin in a story of Spider-Man being duped into pilfering a high tech computer chip. Law Of The Jungle involves genetic manipulation, which leads Spider-Man into conflict with a college professor who is transformed into The Lizard. Sword Of Shikata has Spider-Man going toe-to-toe with an ancient warrior in search of a worthy adversary. Keeping Secrets is what Harryís new girlfriend is doing, especially when Spider-Man discovers her illegal activities. Tight Squeeze finds Peter Parker being held hostage by former KGB agents, whose only demand is an appearance by Spider-Man. Head Over Heels involves Peter Parkerís flaky science lab partner and a malfunctioning invention that leaves her hallucinating dangerously about a love affair with Spider-Man. The Party takes place at a frat house, where a nerdy student is humiliated and transformed- with electrifying results.
Disc two contains the episodes Flash Memory, Spider-Man Dis-Sabled, When Sparks Fly, Mind Games Part 1 and Mind Games Part 2. Flash Memory finds Peter Parkerís old nemesis with a potentially fatal IQ boost. In Spider-Man Dis-Sabled, Peter Parker videotapes some incriminating evidence, which leaves an assassin willing to do any thing to get their hands on the tape- including killing Mary Jane and Harry. When Sparks Fly marks the return of high voltage villain Electro, whose desire for companionship leads to a shocking overture to love- that is unless Spider-Man can stop him. Mind Games Part 1 & 2 finds Spider-Man coming up against a couple of new foes, as well as a few from his past who have somehow joined forces- however, the web slinger soon realizes things arenít always what they seem.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made all the episodes that comprise SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES- SEASON ONE available on DVD in 1.78:1 wide screen presentations that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. While the image comes from wholly digital sources, it isnít quiet perfect on DVD. There are little inconsistencies in the finer points of picture, which I would imagine are a result of down-converting hi-def resolution to that of standard NTSC. In general, the image is a crisp and well defined as computer-generated animation can be. Colors appear vibrant and are rendered without any significant problems. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern. 5.1 channel soundtracks are provided in both Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. For animated television fare, the tracks are quite good. Directionality isnít at the theatrical level, but everything comes across with a great deal of clarity and zing. Music is a strong component of the show and is rendered with very good fidelity. Dialogue is nicely recorded and always completely intelligible. The differences between Dolby Digital and DTS arenít significant, but DTS does produce warmer sound with a tighter bottom end. No other languages or subtitles are provided.
Featurettes are offered on disc two, including the twenty plus minute The Making of Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, a program that covers some of the same ground as the audio commentaries. Spider-Man Music: The Composers runs seven minutes; Spider-Man Tech: Animating Performance clocks in at thirteen minutes, and Spider-Man Tech: Creating The Models is twelve minutes in length- all of which are pretty much self-explanatory. Other brief items include Abandoned "Spidey-Sense" Test, Initial Mainframe Pitch and some Rough Animation. Also, there is a multi-angle feature that looks at how the animation is built up through layers, plus there is also a gag reel included. An artwork still gallery, plus cast & crew filmographies close out the supplements.
SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES proves to be a pretty cool incarnation of the popular Marvel comic book character. Columbia TriStar has done a good job with the season one set, offing a fine presentation and solid supplements. If you are a fan of the show, or just someone looking to become acquainted with the series for the first time, you canít go wrong by picking up a copy of the DVD set.
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