Rave : 2002 : Spider-Man: The Movie: The DVD: The Review

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Date: Oct 2, 2002
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Well the DVD is out in its multiple varieties and since we're all pretty excited here at Spiderfan.org a couple of us decided to jump in with reviews. First up are Will's thoughts:

Like any DVD, the main benefit to the recent release of Spider-Man is the movie itself. Seeing Spider-Man after over five months felt almost like welcoming home an old friend. But part of the fun of buying a DVD is checking out all of the extras and behind-the-scenes features that they tack on. We all know the Spider-Man movie was outstanding. Will the DVD measure up?

As with every DVD, Spider-Man comes with the usual commentaries, TV specials, and actor bios. There is a section for trailers, but Columbia inexplicably only has the last Spider-Man trailer, forgetting about the 2:30 spot that came out around Christmas last year ("Who am I? You sure you want to know?") While the abundance of TV spots provided makes up for it somewhat--I had no idea they did that many--would it have been too hard to provide both major trailers for Spider-Man instead of including xXx, Mr. Deeds, or Stuart Little 2?

(I must point out that the missing trailer shows up in the limited edition gift set, at the beginning of the "Mutants, Monsters and Marvels" DVD. But "limited edition" means exactly that, which means the bulk of consumers won't get this trailer. It's not that big of a deal, but why?)

Getting back to the two-disc set, probably the best feature was the piece on director Sam Raimi. Watching this segment, you really get the sense that nobody could have done a better job with this film than Raini. His love for the character and his approach to filmmaking made this movie. A segment on the evolution of the Spider-Man comic character was also nice, especially it's tribute to JMS' 9-11 issue, but the section detailing Spidey's love interests somehow managed to misspell the names of both Betty "Brandt" and Gwen "Stacey." Weak!

Also, the menus are a little difficult to navigate at first. The trailers and music videos are listed under "Marketing Campaign," and if you use a DVD computer drive to watch the DVD, finding the right spot to click the mouse button is tricky. Instead of clicking the words, often you need to click and tiny button NEXT to the words. More reason to buy a stand-alone DVD player, I guess.

The "Mutants, Monsters and Marvels" DVD is nice enough. A little Stan Lee can go a long way, but the man's obvious love for his characters and stories makes those segments fun to watch. The biggest benefit of this DVD is that it rectifies the one major disappointment of the regular two-disc set: Steve Ditko barely occupies a footnote. While Stan Lee talks at length about Ditko on the MMM disc, he is mentioned in passing on the main set, while other artists like the Romitas, Todd McFarlane, and Erik Larsen are all featured. No knock against those talents, but Ditko's style and visuals played just a big a part of the creation of Spider-Man as Stan Lee's words and ideas. The fact that he's barely mentioned on the DVD's features and commentaries is just wrong.

Ah, but then you have the movie itself, and that's really what you pay the money for. Spider-Man worked very well on the big screen, but it works just as well if not better on the small. Sure, a theater is an ideal setting for the battle scenes and special effects, but the more intimate setting of television plays to the movie's coming of age story. Early scenes between Peter and MJ come through so clearly they're almost painful to watch (not because they're badly done, but they're almost TOO GOOD.) The human side to Spider-Man is what made the movie so good to begin with. It comes through very well on the small screen, too.

Overall, a very good buy with a few problems that don't tarnish an incredible movie.

Now here's a further review:

[Note: This review doesn't cover the SFX commentary or factoid tracks of the Spider-Man DVD, nor the Mutants, Monsters And Marvels DVD, nor the extra crap included in the three-disc and four-disc box sets.]

The main commentary by Raimi, Dunst, and the two producers starts out rather boringly with some useless filler comments at the beginning: stuff like what building they're recording the commentary in, and other assorted general moviemaking stuff-there's very little about the actual scenes playing on-screen, but this picks up later on.

Peter Howell of the Toronto Star was right when he pointed out the "conspicuous absence" of Tobey Maguire. Dunst doesn't really say much outside of repeatedly observing how cute Tobey is at various points. The producers' comments are just as uninsightful, and could easily have been dumped into the SFX commentary track, instead.

The worst thing about the commentary is how it's pieced together from two separate commentaries: Raimi & co-producer Grant Curtis on one, producer Laura Ziskin & Dunst on the other. It's the same thing you'll find on, for example, the Fight Club DVD, where Helena Bonham Carter's commentary is recorded separately and mixed into the main commentary. The difference is they don't tell you about it on that one; here, it's implied in the introductions that the commentaries are being done separately. Even if this weren't the case, you'd eventually figure it out when the two commentaries occasionally overlap, such as when they talk about shooting the backyard scene on Kirsten's birthday and racing the sun to complete the scene. This sort of patchwork commentary is a real cop-out, and a disappointment because you just know you're missing comments by one pair while the other pair is speaking. That said, there are also a few unusually long stretches without comments.

The commentary is overall a positive one. If you've seen the movie enough times (I've seen it about seven so far), anything with Raimi's commentary is appreciated, even with the faults this one has. It ends at the same time as the feature, unlike other DVD commentaries that run on throughout the credits.

The two movie discs have nicely complementary interfaces to go with their labels: disc one has a red Spidey-themed menu screen, while disc two has a green Goblin-themed one. The Goblin menu is less visually appealing because there isn't a CGI sequence for the character, as there is for Spidey.

If you have trouble finding the trailers, it's because they're hidden in the "Marketing Campaign" section. This sort of excessive menu nesting is most noticeable on disc two, and a bit confusing to navigate. There's only one Spider-Man movie trailer, but there are eleven more familiar TV spots to go with it, and various trailers from other non-Spidey crap.

The featurettes on disc two include one containing some good interviews with comic creators; if you navigate to the top-right corner of the screen leading to this featurette (the one with the spider-background and the Spidey head in the middle), you'll reveal an Easter Egg. It's called "The Romitas", and is just more of the same from the creator interviews, only focusing on John Sr. And Jr.

Captions are sorely needed in the artist's gallery, as it's often difficult to tell what the art is depicting. Some background music here couldn't have hurt, either. You never really notice how much background music helps until you don't hear it. The absence of music is also keenly felt in the CGI Spidey screen test. You can see the enormous contribution it makes in the makeup and costume screen tests, which might have been boring to watch silently, but are actually quite engaging to watch with music; this particular screen test is a feature I've never seen on any other DVD, and it's surprisingly interesting.

The villain profiles are satisfactory, if a little hard to read (a recurring problem in various elements of the menus). The hobgoblin profile is done correctly, with Ned Leeds noted only as one of several people to assume the mantle. Kraven's profile makes no mention of his suicide, but I'm not up on current events in the comics, and for all I know, it may have been retconned like the Ned Leeds thing. What I do know is there are a couple of typos in the profiles, but nothing major...

The major typos are saved for the "Loves of Spider-Man" section, where Betty Brant's name is misspelled as "Brandt", and Gwen Stacy's name is misspelled as "Stacey". Ouch. The errors continue within their profiles; at least they're consistent. It's nice to see Gwen's history here, if just to let more people know how things really went down on whatever bridge she fell off. :) Fans appreciate this kind of acknowledgement of the books; we don't want people thinking it was always Mary Jane there. Peter Howell (of the Toronto Star) claimed to be a longtime fan, but in his review of this DVD, he was surprised to learn about the Black Cat from this feature-he'd never heard of her before!

Another notable absence besides that of Maguire in the main commentary is the absence of deleted scenes. There's a short, not very good gag/outtake reel feature, but it's nothing amazing.

The stupidest feature has to go to the "branching web-I-sodes". I figured these were deleted scenes that could be viewed within the movie (like on the X-Men DVD), but it turns out they're just short interviews with the production crew! The option to view these comes at specific points in the movie with a spider-logo in the corner, just as in X-Men, but here the content is absolutely and utterly unrelated to the scene it's linked to. It's ridiculous, intrusive, and disruptive of the experience, and would have been far better presented in a separate "production-of" featurette.

As a longtime fan myself, I was looking for less of the basic character history (often poorly transcribed on-screen), and more of the meat-and-potatoes DVD stuff from the movie (e.g. commentaries, deleted scenes), but I think it's still a great addition to any collection, and a must for anyone who loved the movie.