The Spider-Man Trilogy (Blu-ray Box Set)
Picture: A-/A-/B+ Sound:
A-/A-/B+ Extras: D/D/C+ Films:
One (2002) B-
Two (2004) B-
Three (2007) C+
Raimi’s Spider-Man films have been
an unusual proposition for this critic.
They are certainly good films and deliver enough that their massive
blockbuster success makes sense. They
have the ambition, energy, money and effort you would expect from such films,
even if they do not work consistently.
For a long time, I tried to think of an analogy to explain how these
films differ from the character’s history prior to these films. Sony’s new Blu-ray box set finally led to a
Maguire era of Spider-Man films are much like the time Diana Ross continued her
career at RCA Records in the 1980s after a record-setting deal with the label
to leave her home record label of Motown.
Good and even underrated work was produced and even some peak moments
were among the ups and downs, but it is just not the same as the classic
era. Something is lost. Unlike a music career, Spider-Man has to do
with a fixed narrative followed closely enough not to disappoint fans. Unlike Miss Ross, previous Spidey outings
like the late 1970s TV series and amusing Electric
Company Spidey Super Stories have
not aged well, but the 1967 animated series continues to be an enduring gem.
course, a Spider-Man feature film has been considered a great idea by Hollywood
since the first Superman film in
1978 was such a big hit. Landing up on
TV delayed that a good bit. Marvel has
gone through many changes, some notorious when it comes to licensing, ownership
and how the company was handled by many different owners. This caught up with Hollywood in the early
1990s when James Cameron (on his way to directing immortality) was set to do a
big budget Spidey film. He wrote the
script, was directing, producing and even had his company doing the visual
effects and sound effects.
Unfortunately, four companies claimed they had the right to do the
film. Cameron’s version was never made,
never meeting its Summer 1993 release date, though he was on an A&E
Biography of Spider-Man talking about his film at one point. Bet they edited that part out later.
this was settled, Cameron had moved on, Leonardo DiCaprio was among the actors
who almost wore the costume and Columbia Pictures was the victor in the rights
battle. With Sam Raimi taking over, the
film was finally on its way almost a quarter century after Superman – The Movie proved a superhero franchise could fly. After a brief live action stop as a TV series
that never worked, with Spidey slinging rope and cord that turned into webbing,
only animation would serve as any sort of in-motion appearance for the
character until Columbia & Raimi made their film.
no doubt the 2002 film would be a hit, but the size of it was so enormous, it
became one of the biggest hits in the studio’s history (up there with Lawrence Of Arabia and Ghostbusters) with more than a few
blockbusters under their belt, the first first-run release to break $400
Million at the box office, remains the commercial peak of the current cycle of
Marvel Comics films that began with the first Blade feature, completed Raimi’s trip from formidable indie
director to big time filmmaker, took advantage of a huge budget by putting the
money on the screen and further solidified the character’s position as one of
the “Big Three” Superheroes (along with Batman and Superman) in the history of
the Superhero genre.
been the case with so many new big screen relaunchings of these characters,
David Koepp’s screenplay (more effective here than his interesting stab at The Shadow) revises the origins a bit,
limits the comedy and runs smoothly for the most part, though it cannot escape
some of the trappings by previous Superhero films, including the 1978
Superman. However, there are some smart
choices besides Raimi at the helm that helps the film work.
Maguire, who was so good in films like Pleasantville
and Wonder Boys, is nicely cast as
Peter Parker, soon to find himself at the center of a fantastic world due to
one simple accident at his school science lab.
A stray spider walks into his lab on radioactive study. He is bit.
In most cases, the radiation should have killed him instantly, but as is
always the case in the Marvel Universe, what does not kill you makes you
his glasses are blurry, he has the best sleep of his life and other things
start to change. This includes a new
hope for getting together with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and dealing with a
life of struggling to get ahead. Living
with his aunt and uncle, he starts to realize that he is so strong, he could
profit from this. His shortsightedness
lands up costing him gravely and changing his life forever.
nice touches in this version of the legendary character is the elimination of
web shooters, a fun joke in the comics including Parker being smart enough to
manufacture this product in him own home all the time, the webbing comes out of
his wrists naturally. That allows the
pace to increase. He also faces his
greatest nemesis (outside of J. Jonah Jameson) first with the rise of The Green
Goblin, played with intentionally disturbing resonance by Willem Dafoe, who
along with the Japanese Ultraman/Megalon styled outfit, is the furthest the
film drifts from the comics.
the film is not perfect, it is consistent and wants to be as fresh and new as
it can without crossing the line and it just manages this high wire act, going
over well and holding up well considering it was made just before 9/11. Everyone still talks about the teaser trailer
where Spider-Man captures crooks but shooting webbing between the Twin Towers
like they discuss the Ridley Scott Apple Computer ad only run once “so that
1984 will not be like [George Orwell’s police state novel] 1984” though all have wisely withdrawn it since. The huge reaction to the teaser speaks
volumes about how much people love the character and the under-explored ties he
has with the idea of what America stands for.
that idea that sometimes surfaces in Spider-Man
2, where he is still haunted by events of the last film and finds that one
of his professors (Alfred Molina) is up an experiment that could help advance
man and labor, but becomes self-aware, turns on him and turns him into Doctor
Octopus. More so than in the first film,
there are some interesting parallels between old teacher/young student, super
powers applied correctly/incorrectly and the madness in between. The amazing Alvin Sargent’s screenplay
adaptation from an Alfred Gough/Miles Millar/Michael Chabon story is the best
of the trilogy and allows Raimi to express his auteuristic tendencies at their
is better than the first film in some ways, it loses some other qualities that
the first film had (i.e., editing and pacing are different and not always to
its benefit) but the cats is solid once again (including Rosemary Harris’ Aunt
May at her best) and Molina (an underrated actor to begin with) finds
inarguably shining moments.
films working as well as they did, expectations were very high for Spider-Man 3, especially with it
possibly being Raimi’s last time directing.
What should have built up into a classic and shock surprise on the level
of Goldfinger or even Mad Max – Beyond Thunderdome instead
played it too safe, with Raimi saddled with the Venom character he obviously
was not as interested in dealing with, a new revisionist Goblin that may have
strayed too far from the book and sudden narrative breaks for comedy that go on
far too long.
Sargent and Ivan Raimi co-wrote the script this time and the one thing that
does work is Thomas Haden Church as The Sandman, who serves the same function
The Joker would in Tim Burton’s Batman
as a catalyst for the birth of the hero.
Convenient, but after overdoing the origins before, that makes this
third installment too much of a follower and not enough of a groundbreaker and
fans know how much great material has been made since the 1960s. These slip-ups and poor decisions hurt the
film, but it is still a big production with the money on the screen and was a
third blockbuster in a row.
biggest problem is what I was complaining about in the second film, which is
not enough heart and soul moments. When
I said that, I did not mean add them as a side order to the main story, but
integrate them into the story. It would not have hurt the film or killed the
franchise and this idea that you need to hold payoffs behind forever is a bad
thing to do to the audience in the long term.
As bad as so many commercial films have been lately, it is a riskier
proposition that ever before.
Raimi set to likely only produce and not direct, that ends his idea of the
character’s world. Needless to say,
whether the cast is changed or not, it will be interesting where the franchise
goes next. Now comes the Blu-rays of all
three films, easily one of the biggest events in the format yet. So how do they play?
1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on the first film is the best, with the
best sharpness, clarity and depth, though the digital (as good as it was and
partly still is) has dated. Director of
Photography Don Burgess, A.S.C., offers some moody shots, interesting
compositions and loads the frame with all kinds of information. It is impressive and like the drinker who can
hold his alcohol consumption, the picture sharpness, depth and solid color can
hold its digital visual effects.
the same for the 1080p 2.35 X 1 framing in the sequels, both nicely shot by
Bill Pope, A.S.C., with state of the art visual effects and pretty much the
same consistency as the first film. The
newest film is the first-ever film release with a 4K (4,000 line) digital
internegative, from Technicolor labs.
This was used to print the 35mm prints and even IMAX blow-ups. However, the problem is that the downtrade to
Blu-ray has affected the Video White, making hotter and a little more blown-out
than it should be. Except for that, it
can look as good as its predecessors.
When technology is this new, that kind of thing can happen. Maybe they’ll find a way to fix this later.
another great move, Sony has made the soundtrack on all three available in Dolby
TrueHD 5.1 mixes, with foreign language tracks in standard Dolby Digital and
the third film with an alternate PCM 5.1 mix.
In all three cases, the film was issued in all three digital sound
formats (Dolby, DTS, SDDS) and all offered in IMAX blow-up prints. The SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) is the
8-channel/7.1 type, plus the latest film is one of a growing number of IMAX
films with the Sonics-DDP system (used on 300,
V For Vendetta, Superman Returns, all reviewed elsewhere on this site) that is the
newest format for the better IMAX productions.
the first two films have the best soundfields and sound mixes, with the new one
lacking surround use and even a certain character that made the first two so
interesting. Notice in the use of B.J.
Thomas’ Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,
the classic Burt Bacharach/Hal David 1970 #1 hit from Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid notorious for that film’s
narrative break, sounds good but limited.
Did they use the original master tape?
They should have. Music is also
important and though I am no fan of Danny Elfman’s scores, his work in the
first two films are among his better efforts.
His theme is retained for the third film, scored to its advantage by
Christopher Young, whose score helps save the third film and makes it distinct
from the first two in a good way with a more serious approach when need be.
performers, the three discs are good, but I have reservations about the third
and though it is better than most Blu-rays we have seen to date, it misses the
mark a bit.
are only available for the third film, unless you include the availability of Spider-Man 2.1 (recently issued on DVD)
on the second film’s Blu-ray. The third
is a two-disc set. Blu-ray One includes extensive
stills with subsections, bloopers, Snow Patrol Music Video and cast/crew audio
commentaries. Blu-ray Two adds High
Definition extras including three featurettes on the stunts (instead of just
doing everything digital, they still use stunt people) in the film, other
pieces including a inside look at the sound and picture editing, On Location in Cleveland & New York,
Re-imagining The Goblin, Covered In Black – Creating Venom, Grains Of Sand – Building Sandman and a
nice set of teasers and trailers on the film.
makes for a pretty good set that fans of the characters and format should be
happy with. For more on Spider-Man, try
Spider-Man 2.1 DVD
Spider-Man – The Venom Saga (animated)
- Nicholas Sheffo