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For my money, SPIDER-MAN ($27) is one of the best superhero movie adaptations to come from the world of comic books. This is an intelligently written and acted film that takes a reverential approach to the material, instead of the dismissive, campy adaptations that failed to really bring superhero lore to life. Of course, SPIDER-MAN features all of the expected visual pizzazz that the material demands, thanks to the keen sensibilities of director Sam Raimi. Additionally, this movie version of Spider-Man comic book is very faithful to the character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, although the film brings all the necessary modern updates to the material, which gives SPIDER-MAN a very fresh and up to the minute feeling. Also, the wonders of digital special effects help to make the abilities of the filmís superhero protagonist believable, not to mention, making his battles with an equally powerful super villain leap off the screen.

The plot of SPIDER-MAN sets up the Spider-man characterís origins and mythology, as well as that of his first nemesis- The Green Goblin. Actor Tobey Maguire makes for an excellent Peter Parker, a geeky teen science wiz, who develops superhuman spider-like abilities after being bitten by a genetically engineered arachnid. Willem Dafoe delivers a standout performance as Norman Osborn, a driven scientist, who becomes hopelessly insane and alarmingly powerful after using himself as a test subject for a performance enhancement drug. Of course, what would a superhero movie be without the requisite damsel in distress? In SPIDER-MAN, that role falls to the positively luscious Kirsten Dunst, who portrays Peter Parkerís unrequited love Mary Jane Watson. The cast of SPIDER-MAN also features James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made SPIDER-MAN available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. The Superbit version of SPIDER-MAN provides a marked visual upgrade over the initial wide screen release of the film on DVD. Sharpness and image detail are definitely better on the Superbit version of SPIDER-MAN than they were on the past release. Of course, the visual improvement of the Superbit version donít smooth over an occasionally dubious special effects shot that may look a little too computer generated for its own good. Colors are very strongly rendered on the DVD, with excellent saturation and very appealing flesh tones. There are no signs of chroma noise or smearing to take away from the fine color reproduction. Blacks appear rich and inky; white the whites are crisp and stable, plus the image produced great shadow detail and contrast. The film elements appear cleaner her than they did in the initial DVD release, plus appreciable grain also seems minimized. The Superbit process virtually eliminates instances where digital compression artifacts become noticeable.

For this Superbit release, SPIDER-MAN comes with 5.1 channel soundtracks in both the Dolby Digital and DTS varieties. As expected the Dolby Digital soundtrack matches the very fine presentation of the original DVD release, but the DTS version is where some sonic improvements come into play. In DTS, SPIDER-MAN seems a bit punchier, with better definition in the entire soundstage and stronger bass. Now, donít get me wrong, the Dolby Digital version does not disappoint in any way, shape or form, so donít think the standard bearer is going shortchange you. Both tracks are aggressively implemented, making full use of all the discrete channels for sound effect deployment and musical presentation. Danny Elfmanís marvelous score sounds terrific and is presented with full, rich musical fidelity. The bass channel has the expected punch of a pile driver, which certainly makes the action sequences and explosions all the more fun. The DVD also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean.

As a Superbit title SPIDER-MAN has the most basic of interactive menus, which provide one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a single supplemental feature. In a break from typical Superbit releases, SPIDER-MAN also included an audio commentary with Tobey Maguire and J.K. Simmons. This is actually a fun little track and worth listening to, although it was obviously included on Superbit release as an added incentive for fans to purchase SPIDER-MAN for a second or third time.

In my humble opinion, SPIDER-MAN is one heck of a terrific superhero action movie. The filmmakers obviously respect the material, giving it both intelligence and a genuine sense of fun. As for the Superbit DVD, it is a definite step up from the original release in terms of visual and audio quality. If you have been holding off on purchasing SPIDER-MAN in hope of a better quality release- it has arrived.



Spider-Man (Superbit Collection) (2002)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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