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Since Tim Burtonís BATMAN was released, superhero movies just seem to get better and better. Instead of campy irreverence, these comic book heroes are being treated with the kind of dignity and respect that should be afforded to this type of modern mythology. I eagerly anticipate every new release in the superhero genre, because serious filmmakers are now turning these stories into serious motion pictures. Bryan Singerís recent X-MEN adaptation really set tone for this type of film entertainment, and I am glad to see that this type of reverence to the original material has been carried through with Sam Raimiís SPIDER-MAN ($29). Of course, Raimiís hyperactive visual style is also a great fit for the action-oriented nature of the material, which is probably why I absolutely loved the movie version of SPIDER-MAN.

Iíve been reading Spider-Man comic books on and off since childhood and have always counted the character amongst my favorites. This new movie version of Spider-Man is very faithful to the character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the early 1960s, although the science behind the characterís origins had been updated to the more modern state-of-the-art. Tobey Maguire is an excellent choice to portray Peter Parker, the geeky teen science wiz, who is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and then develops superhuman, spider-like abilities. Even better than Maguire is Willem Dafoe, who gives an amazingly good dual performance as driven scientist Norman Osborn and his insane alter ego- The Green Goblin. Kirsten Dunst is perfectly luscious as Mary Jane Watson, the filmís resident damsel in distress and object of Peter Parkerís unrequited love. The plot of SPIDER-MAN follows the origins of the character from nerdy high school student to superhero who faces off against The Green Goblin to save both the innocents of New York City and those that he loves dearly. In addition to the three stars, 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. A separate full screen edition has been made available for those whose biggest concern is making sure their entire picture tube has been filled. SPIDER-MAN may not been the absolute best-looking DVD on the market, but the wide screen transfer offers viewers a truly great looking picture. The image is generally crisp and provides a very nice level of detail. There is a bit of grain here and there, but the film elements used for the transfer are free from noticeable defects. The brightness and cleanness of the transfer sometimes makes the filmís CGI effects look too cartoony for their own good, but the effect was even worse in the theater, where the image was many times larger. Colors are vibrant and fully saturated, although the picture pushes towards red just a bit more than it should. All of the hues are rendered cleanly- without any visible noise or smearing. Blacks appear pure, whites are clean and the picture produces excellent shadow detail. The dual layer DVD keeps digital compression artifacts very well concealed.

SPIDER-MAN comes with a very good sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack, although I wouldn't call the mix demonstration quality. Considering the nature of the material, the mix should have been bigger and a little more exaggerated. Surround usage is very good during the action sequences, but a bit too subdued during the quieter passages of the movie. The forward soundstage is highly active throughout, which compensates for the rear channels' subdued moments; however, surround junkies are certain to have been anticipating more from the sound mix. Still, the sound is very dynamic and is reproduced with excellent fidelity. Danny Elfman's musical score does sound great and does find its ways into the rear channels, although the musical presence in the rear channels could have been beefed up just a bit more. The bass channel is deep, solid and gives quite a bit of rumble. Dialogue reproduction is very clean and consistently understandable. A French 5.1 channel track has also been encoded onto the DVD, as has an English Dolby Surround track. Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, which have been spread across both discs of this two-disc set. SPIDER-MAN includes two running audio commentaries; the first is with cast and crewmembers that include director Sam Raimi, co-producers Grant Curtis and Laura Ziskin, and actress Kirsten Dunst, while the second commentary features special effects guru John Dykstra and his team members. Both commentaries are a bit slow, but each does have more than a few interesting moments.

Also included on disc one is the Spider Sense interactive viewing mode for the movie, which allows one to view supplemental footage by hitting their DVD player's remote control enter button, whenever the Spider-Man icon appears on the screen. Weaving The Web is a fun feature that provides an encyclopedia of pop-up factoids on a subtitle track. Character Files is a nicely laid out of cast filmographies that takes a page right from the Daily Bugle. The Marketing Campaign section offers the SPIDER-MAN theatrical trailer (in addition to bonus trailers), as well as eleven TV spots and music videos for the songs Hero by Chad Kroeger and What We're All About by Sum 41. On the DVD-ROM side there is a comic-to-feature comparison, the ability to record your own commentary and links to the countdown to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movie.

On to disc two, one will find two sections Spider-Man: The Comic and Goblin's Lair: The Movie. In the Spider-Man: The Comic section, there are various programs related to the comic book character's background. Spider-Man: The Mythology Of The 21st Century is a twenty-five minute featurette that interviews Stan Lee and various comic book artists who contributed to the Spider-Man comic for roughly four decades. Spider-Man Archives covers the characters career in the comics- decade by decade, from the sixties, until the present. Artists Gallery and Rogues Gallery offer collections of artwork by various artists, which look at the characters that have populated the Spider-Man universe for all these decades. The Loves Of Peter Parker looks at the women of consequence in this superhero's life. More DVD-ROM material is on tap in this section, including an Activision game demo and web links.

Goblin's Lair: The Movie are the supplements related to the film itself. Starting things off is the HBO program on The Making of Spider-Man, which runs twenty-five minutes and offers some fairly typical PR interviews with cast and crew. Spider-Mania: An E! Entertainment Special is a meatier forty-minute program that features a better round of interviews with all the usual suspects. Director Profile: Sam Raimi is a bit on the fluffy side, but the seven-minute program does show the director's sense of humor and love for the Spider-Man character. Composer Profile: Danny Elfman runs seven minutes and allows the composer describe how he created the musical score for the film. Screen Tests include tests for Tobey Maguire and J.K. Simmone, as well as some CGI test footage and makeup & costume tests for the rest of the principals. Gag/Outtake Reel offers the actors flubbing their lines and other amusing bits.

SPIDER-MAN is a great superhero action movie that struck a cord with the masses and became one of the biggest hits of all time. The SPIDER-MAN DVD may not be the most fantastic looking or sounding disc on the market, but it is still pretty darn impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed watching SPIDER-MAN at home, maybe more so than in the movie theater, because my home theater system offered a cleaner presentation than what was offered in a large auditorium. Anyway, SPIDER-MAN is a movie that every DVD collector is going to want to own, so get out there and get a copy.



Spider-Man (Widescreen Edition) (2002)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 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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