Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spider-Man (5.3.2002)

Director: Sam Raimi
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe
James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons
Watch for: Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Macy Gray
Editor(s): Arthur Coburn, Bob Murawski
<--The version I own.

Let's be clear about this.
Spiders freak me out. I've never liked them. I don't know if it's the feeling of them crawling over my skin, how big and itchy their bites are, the fact that there's breeds of them that can just downright kill you, or what, but I frakkin'
hate spiders.

Spider-Man, however, I've loved since I was a child. I wonder where that widespread appeal comes from, considering he's a character thematically based on an insect (excuse me, arachnid) in which most people would share my sentiments.

I think part of it is the purity of the alter-ego. Peter Parker is merely a high school student when he receives the infamous spider-bite. He may be a genius, acing all his tests and getting all the science awards, but this is still something we can relate to. Even if we weren't that guy, we
knew that guy.
And honestly, with the exception of the moron Flash Thompson types, who actually didn't like that guy?
Maybe you didn't hang out with him much, but he was okay to be around in the classes you had with him... like gym, for example.

Let me dwell on that. Flash Thompson.
He's played out here and there in the comics, but so far his little existence in the beginning of Spidey 1 is all we've gotten. In the sixties, Flash was your varsity-letter-sweater, red curly-haired, cocky but somewhat nice all-star jock hero. Flash Thompson in SM1 is the guy my brother hung out with in high school back in '01, essentially.
Slick wheels (he didn't buy), rap music, metal dog-tag style chain wrapped around his wrist, spikey hair and I'm guessing
way too much cologne. Y'know, it works though. They modernized it. From what I've seen, the jock isn't necessarily the modern popular guy. Oddly, it's the party-thug douche.

You can attribute that, along with the wrestling scene to "we have to modernize it". Which I can understand. Still, there was part of me watching "Bonesaw McGraw" that wished they had found Crusher Hogan and put him in there. This is Raimi's thing with Spider-Man that I've noticed. Every film has at least one completely ridiculous scene, which is totally intended to be this way.
For Spidey 1, this is the wrestling match.

Okay, I'll just tell you now:
Spidey 3's ridiculous scene is obviously the Parker = Player montage. Almost no one likes that, but admit it. You laughed.
Spidey 2...
isn't the Parker "Raindrops keep dropping on my head" montage. Believe it or not. That was the first sequence like this, and it was a very good way of showing how he felt this massive weight shoved off his shoulders. Plus, everyone liked that scene so far as I know. It was cute.
ridiculous scene harkens back to Raimi's horror Evil Dead days. The attack of Doc Ock's tentacles. Man, was that a purely awesome cheesefest. I love it.

But we're talking about Spidey 1 today.
This film introduced the mainstream audience to a few new people. I believe Kirsten Dunst was one of those girls who you know you'd seen (
Virgin Suicides, Jumanji), but prolly couldn't name. This helped. I had seen Willem Dafoe in Boondock Saints (excellent role for him, too), and Tobey in Pleasantville... so I was fairly familiar with the main cast here. I think I was too geeked out by the intense trailers to really be disappointed in this movie, though.

In fact, that was the thing. The first time I saw this movie, sure I had some surprises, but overall I felt like I'd seen it before. Like, I wasn't surprised in the slightest when Uncle Ben's killer turned out to be the guy who Parker let go earlier. Anyone who's read the origin comic knew that. I also had a feeling that Goblin would die impaled on his goblin glider. That's just kind of what those things wind up being for in the comics. It had a lot of surprises in the action and individual scenes, but the movie felt short because I was so familiar with this character and his history.
I still loved it though.

I didn't realize it then, but noticing the pattern of disgust has revealed to me that I
hate, like just cannot stand, lengthy animated openings to live-action films. Leaving, my buddy said something to me that stuck for a while:

"That has nothing to do with the actual movie."

But you know what? Yes, it does. It's part of the movie, they put it there intentionally. X-Men did it, Spidey, Daredevil, Ghost Rider... all of 'em bug me. They have cool elements, like the braile in Daredevil, which formed out of lit windows of skyscrapers, and then into the actors' names. It's a cool concept, but is it necessary? Even
Juno had one that got kind of boring after the first 30 seconds. You just sit there and think "Come on, already. I came here to see the actress in the role, not her cardboard cut-out." I don't mind having credits in the opening of the movie, that's fine. I think this is a requirement of one of the American director groups... I forget who.
Anyway, the heavily dramatic impact of the recent
Iron Man's intro is something I feel can be attributed to it's simplicity. They leave the flashy credits for the end, and simply have a black title screen say "Iron Man", and then the movie keeps running. Why can't it be like that? The cool factor is there, which for some reason these earlier Marvel flicks feel can be achieved through a 3-4 minute "hint of things to come". Meh.
Michael Mann (dir.
Collateral, Miami Vice) didn't even have titles until the movie was over. Batman Begins had a very quick and cool shot of CGI bats forming the logo before the first scene. Simplicity is key, and I think this is something that all sci-fi/action/Marvel films should try to remember in the future.
Actually, now that I think of it... I wonder if it's Tim Burton's logo opener from
Batman that we have to thank for this trend. Hmmm.

I'm not going to really talk about the Green Goblin's design or Spidey's internalized webbing much. This was done to death before, during and after the film's release. If you don't know about it, here's the skinny:
-Goblin's mask used to be rubber, move when he talked. The movie gave him a helmet and green body armor. They cheesed him up.
-Spider-Man's webbing used to be a device he created, conveniently (and in one brief mention in one panel of the origin story) to assist him in his ventures. In the movie, his webbing is biologically produced.
What's kind of fun is that the comics later took this concept and wrapped an entire storyline on all the spider-like qualities Peter didn't really get, and what happens when he later gets them. ("The Others". Check it out.)

The Goblin outfit worked for me, but not in daylight. Nighttime scenes brought out it's latent awesomeness. I still think it could use a purple tunic and a bag for pumpkin bombs, but that might just be me.

Spider-Man's costume upgrades (raised webbing, white sunglass lenses rather than see-through fabric) were excellent. The only pet peeve I have with them is actually the marketing, merchandising. The webbing on his outfit is BLACK! Not white. It was never white. It will never be white. However, since the rubber-like material they used to make it stand out reflects light in a very cool way, all the toys, posters, whatever, decided that maybe the webs should just be white. Even my 12" Spider-Man figure (second movie, tho) has a black spider logo on the chest, but all the webbing is white/gray. If I had a steadier hand, I'd paint those in.

That's just me being a dork though. This actually DOES have nothing to do with the movie.

Basically, we got what we wanted. The story of the teenager who becomes the hero. "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility". All that jazz. I think this was one of the first hero films to tease the romance all the way through to the second, and that's a trend that's definitely been picked up. Like, no one gets the girl anymore. It's all this Facebook-style complicated story crap. It still works, I guess. Whatever.

One thing I thought they were going to do in the sequels, but it didn't really play out past the first Spidey, is keep going with this theme of objects dissolving past Peter as he thought about them. There was the MJ / get a car sequence early, but there was also the moment just after Norman dies where the Goblin mask shows up. I had this idea of all the guilt and secrets Parker has to keep building up on him. "Don't tell Harry" would've been a pretty big deal later, but they covered it fairly quick and my little theory got squashed, well, like a bug.
They did drop the dissolves in the sequels, which I think was a mistake. It was part of the style of this film, and a little bit of what separated it from other films like it. There's the costume design/get a car sequence, the "Who is Spider-Man?" montage (which I'm guessing is a quick replacement for the pulled World Trade Center sequence).
I'm guessing the guy who talked them into getting rid of these sorts of scenes is the same one who thought of shooting the sequels in 2.35:1 rather than SM1's 16:9.
I'd like to know who had these ideas, as I'm not certain I agree with the changes they brought.

Another thing about this movie that I noticed is that it is definitely what I would call "post-
Matrix". We don't get any bullet-time per say, but just look at every slow-mo shot in this film and tell me what you think of. If you haven't seen the Matrix, well trust me. The slow-mo is reminiscent of the Matrix, except for the ridiculous camera moves. I honestly believe if the Matrix hadn't happened, these action sequences would be a bit different.
I mean, they even do the Neo backwards bend at one point, except the reason Spidey's awesome is that he doesn't fall over afterwards. So that was kinda neat. Being able to stick to surfaces with your hands and feet is generally good for stuff like that.

Still. Film should inspire others to create and adapt. Ripping off completely is something else, and that's not what I'm saying is happening here. I love the action, it's all excellent. There's a couple of moments where you think "Grrr, CG" (which I think is how that same buddy phrased it), but it was 2002. It's forgivable.

Then there's the moments in which I got entirely choked up, because they were so very what I had been waiting my whole life to see.
1) The first time he web-swings. Not the goofy one where he slams into a wall, but when he's chasing Uncle Ben's killer. Sometimes the choir in the score bugs me. They might as well be singing "ooooh... he's so greeeaaat". Music like that in a film about one person always seems a little preachy. I can understand it in a war movie, perhaps.
Anyway, just how he moves in this scene is very fluid, but not too practiced yet. I mean, he dodges the street lamps for crying out loud. It's definitely an upgrade on the animated series, where even the TV spots made fun of how the web always just kind of attached to nothing.
2) "C'mon, move kid!" During the first battle with the Goblin, when Spidey saves the young boy from the falling stage. That whole bit is just so perfectly executed. Well, actually the money shot of him grabbing the boy doesn't transition well into him handing him off to the mother, but it's easily overlooked. Even watching it today, I still get chills from the moment that girl points and shouts "It's Spider-Man!" all the way through the kid's rescue. Perfect.
3) Duplicating the death of Gwen Stacy scene. Those who know their Spider-history are prolly familiar with the Goblin dropping Gwen off the bridge. It's possible she dies because Spider-Man shoots his web down to catch her, and it's possible the resulting jerk snaps her neck. Later in the comics (one of the ones I had as a youth), Peter's dressed in the Scarlet Spider outfit and a clone of Gwen falls off this same bridge (ah, fate), and the writing around the pictures is "He only knows what not to do this time." One of my favorite moments, and while the scene with MJ isn't shot-for-shot, they still pulled the scene off rather well.
The falling tram and MJ in each of his eyes is a little campy, but they used do things like that in the comics all the time (like when someone mentioned Spidey to Parker, his face would be drawn in half a mask to show he was thinking about it).
4) J.J. Jameson. They could not have found a better person to play him. Also, they managed to show that J.J. is really a good guy under all this. He does have a strong sense of morality, we just don't always see this side of him when he's playing the editor. When Gobby busts into his office, and J.J. refuses to give up Parker, that's very J.J. Then there's Ted Raimi (director's brother, but I know him from "SeaQuest DSV") who shows up as a quirky little office-goer. Greatness.
5) "There's someone still up there!" "I'm going." "I'll be here when you get back." "Not coming back, Chief." "Go, go!"

'nuff said.
5) The final shot. One-shots floor me, they're just pure artistry. It's a little easier to do when it's entirely CGI like this scene, but that was a great sequence. I was just so ridiculously happy, I could've cried.

I <3>

For some reason, Blogger is shrinking my text after this point when I look at it in the previews, so I'm gonna take that cue and try to wrap this up. I could talk about Spidey forever.

See how I did the exact opposite of what I did with X-Men, and I focused on all the comic/sci-fi fanboy goodness rather than the slower, dramatic moments? Spider-Man definitely has these, but unlike X-Men, these are not the things I've remembered it for.
They're necessary, and it is wonderful Raimi holds Peter Parker so close to his heart that the story is more about him than it is Spider-Man, but they didn't pop out in the same way that they did in

Different directors, different styles. My favorite film professor would tell you I lean towards the darker styles anyway, so this is a normal and expected preference on my part.

Okay, so something I noticed, but I'm not sure if I'm just overthinking it.
There's a shot of MJ's diner that she walks out of, putting a coat over hear Spidey-colored waitress outfit, and we see Spidey's eyes go wide, so I'm guessing that means spider-sense has just told him she's right there. So, he turns around and goes after her.
MJ makes a little motion to her head, "Buzz off!"

Comic joke? The little squiggly lines? "My spider-sense is tingling/buzzing"? Anyone get what I mean here?
I thought make they were having a little fun, I'm not sure.

So, no rating system.
It's a quality superhero flick. Definitely better than the crap they made in the 70's. A lot better still than some of the more recent releases. The family can watch it, two civilized adults can watch it (I would think), and come away feeling satisfied.
I'm assuming you've seen it, since that's the theme around here, but if you haven't... what're you waiting for?

//obligatory thwip

Next time:
It's Friday.
Blade won't be here until at least Monday. What do you want from me?

1 comment:

*_*Antoine*_* said...

Opening titles at the beginning is a very "old-school" way of film (i.e. Gone With The Wind) and I agree it really is boring. Opening title should only be present if somethings going on screen, you know? Actually the best I've seen of this (an integration of footage and titles) would actually probably be from a video game and not a title at all. Have you seen the opening titles for GTA IV!? Fantastic, they were!

But I do see the appeal to having no titles at all. Collateral really did engage me a bit and I wasn't distracted by "Tom Cruise" or "Jamie Foxx" running by the bottom of the screen.

I must agree with Goblin's suit. It needed more and I satchel of bombs would have done nicely. Cape, though. Too much.