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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Adventure > The Spider-Man Trilogy (Blu-ray Box Set)

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+



Sam 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 good example.


The Tobey 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.


Of 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.


When all 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.


There was 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.


As has 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.


Tobey 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 stronger.


Suddenly, 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.


Among the 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.


Though 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.


It is 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 best.


Though it 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.


With both 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.


Raimi, 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.


The 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.


With 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?


The 1080p 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.


This is 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.


In 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.


Unfortunately, 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.


As 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.


Extras 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.



That makes for a pretty good set that fans of the characters and format should be happy with.  For more on Spider-Man, try these links:


Spider-Man 2.1 DVD



Spider-Man – The Venom Saga (animated)




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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