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DVD Review: Spider-Man

By Glenn Abel

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Spide art When Sam Raimi got the job as director of "Spider-Man," was the studio thinking of his feature work with the comic hero "Darkman"? Or, perhaps, his high-voltage, low-budget breakout with "The Evil Dead"?

Nah. Raimi was just a major fan. "Sam grew up having 'Spider-Man' painted on the wall of his room," executive producer Avi Arad says. Adds Raimi: "All I did was explain to the executives how much I loved (the character)." To his amazement, the edgy director got the highly coveted gig the next day.

This most important credential makes sense considering the skyscraper-high expectations for the project. Throughout the extras on the DVD for "Spider-Man" runs a subtext that the fan base -- the notoriously cranky demographic of male comic readers -- had to be accommodated, not antagonized.

The trick, says Arad ("X-Men"), was to find a director who would respect the history of a comics classic but at the same time "tell a story that anyone can see."

The filmmakers must have become pretty good at wrangling this dynamic. The extras on the swinging new "Spider-Man" DVD -- pointedly segregated at one point into sections for the comic books and the movie -- should appeal both to hardcore Spidey fans and serious film folk.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has released "Spider-Man" in widescreen and full-screen versions (retail $28.96). The two- disc set is packed with extras that are well-organized and worth the effort to wade through. A gift set (retail $49.95) includes a reproduction of the first "Spider-Man" comic and the previously released DVD docu on superhero creator Stan Lee.

The movie looks fine, especially considering all the disc space devoted to extras. The DVD faithfully renders the feature's surprisingly restrained color scheme of rich reds (Spider-Man), algae greens (the Goblin) and golds (the dawn ambers of the sun hitting Manhattan). Images range from OK (the Parker household set) to spectacular (the famous scenes over Gotham). The amazing look of the trailers collection hints at the potential for a reference-quality DVD -- hopefully, Columbia is plotting one of its audio-and- video-first "Super-Bit" discs for the title.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 only. The fun takes awhile to get started, but the soundstage soon enough does a home invasion on the viewing room. Rear effects consistently keep listeners on edge, delivering a few solid jolts (the Green Goblin's flashback, for instance). Danny Elfman's score sounds terrific. Dialogue is clear and natural (Raimi tolerates no mumbling).

Raimi and co-producer Grant Curtis provide entertaining commentary, their talk paired with a separate session by producer Laura Ziskin and star Kirsten Dunst. The men and women don't know what the others are saying, but the blend feels mostly seamless.

Many producers waste their commentary time playing straight men to talent; Ziskin offers a rare perspective on what it's like to be a working producer, playing the budget game for time and money. Looking for more funding, she briefly tricked Sony film chief John Calley into believing a fantastic CG shot was star Tobey Maguire in his Spidey outfit. The cafeteria scenes in which Peter Parker decks a bully almost weren't shot because of cutbacks

Ziskin says the two decades of frustration that it took to bring "Spider-Man" to the screen may have, in fact, been a good thing. The technology only now exists to "have Spider-Man do what the fans expected," she says. (There is no discussion of legal battles.)

Ziskin and Dunst exhibit a delightful chemistry, in which the producer shifts from role model to giggling sister. Dunst says her heroine probably hasn't figured out that Parker is the web crawler: "She isn't that smart."

Raimi's a DVD commentary veteran, upbeat, offbeat and informative. He spends a lot of time crediting co-workers like the second unit, showing just how intensely collaborative modern action films are.

The director lavishes particular attention on Cliff Robertson, who plays Parker's ill-fated uncle. Raimi points out how Robertson, "an old-school gentleman," expertly works off other actors.

Producer Curtis tells of Marvel comics chief Lee visiting the set "with a big grin" and getting a cameo. Hollywood respect goes only so far -- his lines were cut.

The film has two huge effects scenes -- the Times Square clash between Spidey and the Green Goblin and the final sequence of our hero swinging through Manhattan. Both are covered in detail on a separate commentary by effects designer John Dykstra and digital co-conspirators Anthony LaMolinara and Scott Stokdyk.

Raimi's marching orders for the final scene: Create "the all-time best animated shot in history."

The effects pros point out how the Times Square sequence was actually a potpourri -- images from a gigantic set, street scenes from New York, crowd shots from Downey, Calif., and computer imagery. The scene's giant character balloons tied the pieces together, providing much-needed perspective, Dykstra says.

Other extras of note include pop-up trivia, docu webisodes, profiles of Raimi and composer Elfman, an archive of "Spider-Man" covers and some repurposed interviews with Lee and filmmaker Kevin Smith (now a part-time "Spider-Man" writer).

Maguire's audition tape shows off his martial arts chops, battling a pack of bad guys. Promo pieces from HBO and E! cover the basics with a happy face. Crafts show-and-tells include production designs and tests for CGI, costume and makeup.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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