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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Spider-Man

Here we go again with Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the many movies I own, and ramble about it.  We're going to start on Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy now, kicking off with the appropriately titled Spider-Man.  This shows up in my notes at May 17, 2014.

Ever since I started doing Fishing in the Discount Bin, I've been looking at Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and thinking, "I have to do that someday."  And when I went into the city a few weeks ago to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I saw the whole trilogy had been re-released on Blu-Ray for the discount bin price of $30.  That's $10 per movie!  Many years ago, when I started upgrading from DVD to VHS, I said I'd only upgrade on two conditions:

1)  It's just one of my favourite movies
2)  There's enough new bonus materials to warrant the double dip

Now, as I upgrade from DVD to Blu-Ray, I find I've added a third criteria:  the discs are just so darn cheap, you guys.  Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy was in my shopping basket, and now, let's review the trilogy.

I will never forget what a triumph it was to finally see Spider-Man on the big screen.  Way back in 1996, when I started going to college, and discovered this thing called "the Internet" late one night in the computer lab, the very first words I typed into a search engine were "Spider-Man movie."  I heard rumours from friends for years.  The guy who did The Terminator movies was going to do it.  Arnold Schwarznegger as Dr. Octopus.  I had to find out if the rumours were true. 

I found the truth, and was treated to the Coles notes version of the legal battle.

The legal battle over who owned the movie rights to Spider-Man dragged on for most of the 1990s.  Books have been written about it.  As best I remember it, Carolco Pictures, the production company that made such classics as Total Recall and Terminator 2, did have the movie rights.  And yes, they did get James Cameron attached to write and direct.  But Carolco was about to go belly-up, so in order to stave off bankruptcy a little longer, they started selling off portions of the Spider-Man movie rights to other parties.  When Carolco finally did go out of business, all these various movie studios and production companies stepped forward, saying they owned Spider-Man.  And then, the lawyers got involved. 

It was 1999 or Y2K when I finally saw the headline, "Sony owns Spider-Man!"  If I recall the ultimate resolution, all the potential owners got whittled down to two:  Sony and Marvel.  Realizing a Spider-Man film franchise could be very lucrative, they called off the lawyers and settled out-of-court like big boys.  With that mess finally resolved, Sony fast-tracked production of Spider-Man.

Needless to say, a lot of eyebrows were raised when Sam Raimi landed the gig.  At that time, he wasn't known for directing big Hollywood blockbusters yet.  He was still best-known as the creator of the low-budget, cult classic Evil Dead franchise.  But, he'd been gaining respect throughout the 1990s.  His 1998 thriller A Simple Plan gained much critical acclaim and even picked up an Oscar nomination.  He was in the middle of directing another similar thriller, The Gift, when he landed the Spider-Man gig, and if I remember right, Sony paid the producers of The Gift a hefty fee to get Raimi to hurry up and finish so he could start on Spidey. 

Filming began in January 2001 for a Christmas 2001 release.  I didn't quite have my blog up and running as it is today, so I e-mailed everyone I knew with the news.  Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man!  Willem DaFoe as the Green Goblin!  Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson!  Some new guy named James Franco as Harry Osborn!  Everyone was fine with that casting at the time.  I think the only casting choice I remember reading objections to was "Macho Man" Randy Savage.  Everyone started groaning, fearing this was going to turn into some WWE straight-to-video actioner, but when people realized that Savage would be playing the wrestler that Peter Parker fights in the ring at the start of his adventures as Spider-Man, people calmed down. 

Everyone was fine with the casting, but the big controversy was the organic webshooters.  Rather than a gadget that Peter Parker builds with his science knowledge, Spider-Man's webshooters were now an actual thing that grew in his wrists thanks to that radioactive spider-bite.  Many felt that this downplayed Spider-Man's skills with science, which many consider to be one of the greatest aspects of the character.  Raimi countered that it never made sense to him that a nerd in his aunt and uncle's basement could develop a formula for artificial spider-web...a formula that's baffled real-life chemical engineers for years. 

The release date got pushed back from Christmas 2001 to May 2002 so they'd have a little more time to finesse the special effects.  But we did get that wonderful teaser in the summer of 2001...a teaser that is now buried in the Sony vaults in our post 9/11 world.  For those who don't remember:  the teaser involved some bank robbers making their daring escape via helicopter, and Spider-Man stops the helicopter by spinning a giant web between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. 

It finally came out in May 2002.  I was there with some friends on opening night.  I saw it again about a month later on a double feature with Attack of the Clones.  It was officially the last movie I saw in the theatre before I went to Japan.

I even have fond memories of the film in Japan, when it came out on DVD.  Christmas rolled around , and I got a care package from my parents.  Inside was a Christmas present.  After work, went out with some co-workers, and I let one of my co-workers open it.  See, in Japan, Christmas is a holiday more like St. Patrick's Day.  Yeah, you put up decorations, and some bars have drink specials, but it's still a regular day at work for the most part.  So, to some of my co-workers, the idea of a Christmas present was still pretty novel, and my co-worker admitted she had never opened one.  So I let her.  And my parents gave me the "box full of swag" version, which included a DVD, a reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man's first appearance), a strip of film, a Spider-Man print from John Romitas Sr. and Jr., and the DVD Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels, a neat little DVD where Kevin Smith interviews Stan Lee about the history of Marvel Comics. 

It's hard to believe the movie is 12 years old.  It was a movie we thought we'd never see for so long.

Watching it again this afternoon, I forgot how sad it is.  Mary Jane Watson comes from a borderline abusive home, and she sees going to the big city as being some escape, only to get shit on by a bunch of minimum wage jobs while she tries to become an actress.  She seems so sad for most of the film.  When she does start dating Harry, you think maybe there is something to Norman's accusation that she's only in it for the money.  Hey, if dating some billionaire was your only way out of a shitty, shitty life, wouldn't you go for it?

Harry, too, is a guy who's always sad.  No matter what he does, he's just not good enough for his father. 

And Peter.  Well...we all know his story.

So, yeah.  Our three main characters are very sad people for a lot of the film. 

Which probably helps make the comedy relief scenes with J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson so memorable.  Simmons is still just pitch-perfect in the role.  When I saw it on opening night, and Simmons first appeared, there was a cheer.  People were instantly in love with that characterization.  The makers of the reboot have said they've purposely avoided putting in J. Jonah Jameson because they know Simmons is just such a tough act to follow.  So, I say, give it back to him for Amazing Spider-Man 3. 

And I forgot that a before-she-was-famous Elizabeth Banks played Betty Brant. 

Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin...man, that guy just oozes crazy when he becomes the Goblin.  It's a little bit hammy and over-the-top, but you know?  It works.  And I never had a problem with the Green Goblin suit.  I know the criticisms...it looks too much like a Power Rangers villain, but I think it makes sense as an armored suit, and a more realistic take. 

There's a few stylistic choices in the film I like.  Like the montage where Peter designs his Spider-Man costume, and the montage where Spider-Man makes his presence in the city known.  I felt that the montage was a very good and quick way to establish Spider-Man as a hero. 

This film was also the first appearance of Marvel's now well-known and beloved "flipping comic book pages" movie logo.  They mention its creation on the DVD running commentary.  As it was the first film where Marvel was a credited co-producer, they wanted a logo at the start of the film.  So they asked the guy who designed the opening credit sequence to whip something up.  And that's what he whipped up. 

The first Spider-Man film is pretty good, but it's not as great as it could have been.  I mean, being the second out of the gate with our current run of superhero films, it did establish the formula that most superhero movies use:  you take the hero's origin story, and you mash it up with the best -known storyline, in this case, many elements of the death of Gwen Stacy were used.  A lot of times, you wind up cramming to much together.  That's why Batman Begins was so great...they saved the arch-enemy for the sequel so they could purely focus on the origin story. 

And that's why the next one we do, Spider-Man 2, is considered to the best.  Unhampered by the origin, they can purely focus on the plot and characters. 

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