Spider-Man on DVD
Spider-Man spins the tale of mild-mannered teen Peter Parker, bitten by a mutant spider and forever after endowed with the ability to climb walls, leap huge distances, swing Tarzan-like between buildings on steel-like filaments of web he spins himself, and, in general, keep New York safe from crime and evildoers. Along the way he pines for the love of the girl next door, develops more than his share of teen insecurity and angst, battles the supervillain Green Goblin, and, finally, accepts the sacrifices that fate demands of any superhero worthy of the title.
Based on the long-running comic-book series, Spider-Man isn't just the latest entry in a movie genre ripped from the pages of pulp graphic novels. It might just be the best movie of its kind ever made, challenged only by the 1978 Superman. In fact, a few obvious bits of business and plot points have been recycled from Superman and one or more of the Batman films. Hints: look for a falling heroine, a clothing change, and a "who do you choose to rescue?" dilemma for the hero. Apart from that, it's perfectly cast, well-acted across the board, and directed without camp by Spidey fan Sam Raimi. And while the special effects are convincing (apart from a few CGI shots that don't look quite right), the movie is grounded not in its technology but in its story and characters. Most important, a real emotional undercurrent runs beneath all the comic-book window dressing—something you seldom see in this sort of film.
The movie is rated PG-13, though that has apparently not discouraged Columbia TriStar from including kid-friendly Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network in the list of outlets it employs to heavily promote the video. Parents can expect any kid old enough to pronounce the title to be clamoring for them to buy it. While there really isn't anything here unsuitable for older kids, the movie is a little darker in tone than your average comic-book adaptation (Batman excepted), and includes a scary villain, spiders, and several violent (though bloodless) deaths.
The two-disc set contains a ton of extras. In addition to the feature, disc 1 includes two commentary tracks, the first from director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, co-producer Grant Curtis, and Kirsten Dunst. The second is by John Dykstra and the visual effects crew. The first is the best; the effects group provides interesting information, but often talks about aspects of the production in random order with no direct connection to what's going on onscreen.
Two other features can also be viewed concurrently with the film. One includes branching "Web-i-sodes." When an icon appears onscreen and you click Enter, the movie is interrupted while you're routed to a mini-documentary on a specific aspect of the film. I found this a little underwhelming; there are only five or six of these overall, and none is so compelling that it needs to interrupt the movie. Another far more interesting feature provides written factoids that pop up onscreen to provide interesting bits of information. Either of these onscreen running features can be selected to run simultaneously with one of the audio commentaries—a useful time-saver for those who prefer to run the film three times rather than five to catch all the running features.
Disc 1 also includes trailers and TV spots, character files, filmographies, two music videos, DVD-ROM features, and, appropriately, weblinks. Disc 2 has two "Making of" featurettes that include a lot of interesting visuals and too much of the usual "He/She/They were great to work with/highly talented, etc, etc" chatter. There are also screen tests, gags and outtakes, conceptual and design art, profiles of Raimi and composer Danny Elfman, and much more—several hours' worth in all.
And for those for whom too much is never enough, the limited-edition Collector's DVD Gift Set adds a reprint of Marvel Comics' Amazing Fantasy #15, in which Spider-Man first appeared, plus other goodies; the DVDs themselves are apparently identical to those of the standard release.
But the movie itself will be more than enough for fans who don't need to know everything about everything. As will the technical presentation. The video transfer is generally excellent—everything you expect from Columbia TriStar in their best 1.85:1 discs. The color is good, and there's no obvious noise or distracting edge enhancement. The picture is reasonably sharp, though not as crisp as the very best transfers or, in particular, Columbia TriStar's Superbit releases (might one of those be in our future for this title?).
The sound is also fine, though a little less pristine than that of the best recent titles. We have to downgrade it a bit because the bass, while deep, is a bit soft, and the balance is a little bright and lacks the natural ease that the best DVD soundtracks can provide. But few viewers are likely to complain about the spectacular dynamics, robust-sounding music score, clean dialogue, and excellent use of the surrounds.
Spider-Man was the first summer blockbuster candidate to reach the screen, way back on May 3. Big things were expected of it, and it didn't disappoint. It was the summer's biggest hit, and deserves a place on anyone's list of candidates for best film of the season. Spider-Man earned its success. Those who pre-judge movie quality in inverse proportion to box-office take will be pleasantly surprised.