Spider-manSpider-Man - the High Definition Trilogy

Want to see what the Blu-ray hype is all about? Here's your package.

If you take a look at the late '80s and early '90s versions of Spider-Man, The Punisher, and few other really, really bad attempts at bringing Marvel comics to the screen, you'll understand why they waited several years until the technology made it more plausible to try Spider-Man.

We all know Spidey by now: a high school nerd named Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a radioactive spider and, rather than dying or becoming violently ill (the latter of which, in fairness, does happen briefly in the film), he's given super powers. Suddenly, Peter has super strength, the ability to climb walls and shoot webs, and a precognitive "Spider-sense."

Rather than just sit idly by as criminals run the streets, Parker dons the red-and-blue tights and becomes the amazing Spider-Man.

There's nary a hero around who has more enemies than our favorite web-slinger, and this first installment features one of the silliest of the early Spider-Man villains, The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). In the comic book, he's a schizophrenic maniac who dons a rubber goblin costume and throws exploding pumpkins. In the movie, he's a technological genius who creates an armored suit and a flying board, and throws pumpkin-shaped explosives.

Spidey has his work cut out for him as he tries to juggle his job, his life, and his secret life, all while trying to woo Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

Superhero movies seem to fall into two categories: ones that are done rally well and ones that are done really badly. Spider-Man falls into the former category. Director Sam Raimi (of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness fame) gives the story a modern twist while hanging onto the important elements. Spidey remains the reluctant hero that the everyman can relate to, but everything is updated for the 21st century. At first, Tobey Maguire seemed an odd choice for the Parker/Spidey role, but he gets it bang on (Michael Keaton seemed an odd choice for Batman, too, and he did fine).

Not only do we feel for Parker and want him to succeed, but we also believe he's a normal guy with some extraordinary powers. Willem Dafoe, well, who would possibly make a better Green Goblin? J.K. Simmons also deserves kudos for his work as J. Jonah Jameson, Parker's tremendously pleasant boss at the Daily Bugle. In fact, the only cast member that doesn't quite work is Dunst, who comes across as far too ditzy to portray M.J.

Spider-Man is a great movie in almost every respect. The story, characters, acting, directing, production design, costume design, and cinematography are superb. For the most part, the visual effects are as well.

If you're looking for the best kind of Hollywood blockbuster, look no further. Spider-Man is an action-packed, story and character-driven emotional film that everyone can get something out of. Arguably the defining superhero movie thus far.

If you remember the first Superman movie from the late 1970's, with Christopher Reeve in the title role, you'll find a lot of similarities between it and this Spider-Man. The storylines are very similar, in fact, and perhaps that's one of the reasons Spider-Man works so well: Superman worked so well.

Spider-Man 2 and 2.1;;

Spidey's back and more angst-filled than ever in the first Spider-Man sequel. And the Blu-ray collection gives us both the original sequel (if that isn't too much of an oxymoron) and the extended, 2.1, version that's interesting but not necessarily superior. 2.1 adds some eight minutes of previously unreleased footage and some of it's welcome.

The story picks up some time after the first movie ends, and it actually gives you a pretty good primer on Spidey during the opening credits, which feature comic book-like drawings of events from the first film. But now Peter Parker a.k.a. Spidey, is in college and working freelance as a photographer for J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle as well as being a pizza delivery boy, er, person.

But Spider-man is destroying his life. After all, it's pretty tough to keep up with your life and your responsibilities when you're being called upon constantly to bust some low life, save some pussycat from a tree, or do whatever other task super heroes do willingly. So his studies are going badly and he's in danger of flunking out, and only a couple of minutes into the film he gets fired from his pizza delivery job for not being dependable.

Then there's Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the love of his life he dare not love lest his enemies use her against him. She has an acting career that seems to be going well and, much to Peter's chagrin, a relationship with an astronaut who also happens to be the son of editor Jameson (J.K. Simmons, repeating his terrific, over the top performance from the first film). He just can't give her the support she wants and needs – and he knows she loves him but just can't respond lest he endanger her.

It's a tough spot for any love-stricken guy to be in.

Further complicating things is Harry Osborn (James Franco), Peter's lifelong friend but a guy who wants to kill Spider-man for apparently murdering his father – though as anyone who saw the first film knows there was a lot more to it than that. And his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is about to be thrown out of her house via foreclosure.

Can anyone not understand why he'd be fed up with his Spider-man blessing/curse and want to be just a regular guy?

As events unfold and Spidey is doing his thing, his angst starts affecting his powers, making them unreliable. And of course this happens just as another super villain appears on the scene, threatening Spidey's ability to keep New York safe for humanity.

The villain's a delicious one: Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), who was a kindly but driven nuclear scientist in the employ of Harry Osborn until his fusion experiment went bad and the robotic arms he used took over his body and his brain. Now he's a maniacal villain as befits such a film, and it's all Spidey can do to defeat him – especially with powers that are only working sporadically.

Well, the extra eight minutes in Spidey 2.1 give you some new special effects scenes and they're worth seeing. Other than that, some of the new material is actually inferior to the original version – specifically a great scene where a suddenly powerless Spidey is forced to take an elevator to the surface and has to interact with another passenger. Apparently, they filmed several versions of this scene, basically as improv, and the one they chose for 2.1 is longer and a lot less funny than the original. Too bad.

Spider-Man 3

Love it or hate it, you can 't deny that Sam Raimi 's Spider-Man trilogy is awesomely epic.

The first installment broke records and made comic books cool again (well, okay…acceptably less nerdy) and, along with X-Men and Blade, kicked off the Hollywood superhero craze of the last few years.

The second film was (and still is) widely regarded as the best superhero movie ever made.

The third, which essentially wraps up this particular storyline, has garnered mixed reactions, but is nevertheless easily one of the largest-scale movies ever.

Peter Parker is finally in good spirits. Everyone loves Spider-Man, he has the girl of his dreams, and he 's getting good grades and all that. Things are looking up.

Things, however, don 't usually look up for long for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Harry Osborn still has a hate-on for the wall-crawler (and his alter ego), an escaped convict named Flint Marko – who may or may not be responsible for the death of Uncle Ben – is about to get some gnarly powers, and there 's a little glob of space goo that seems to really want a piece of Peter.

Add to that Mary-Jane becoming the least desirable gal on the planet and you have a recipe for a typical odds-against-Spider-Man scenario.

The film also brings comic book characters Gwen Stacy and Eddie Brock into the story.

There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, and on initial inspection it may seem too much for any one movie (heck, it 's almost more complex than Lord of the Rings, which had 185 hours to tell its story!). But the screenwriters have done an admirable job of giving every element the time it needs. And they managed to work in several really cool action sequences. Really, really cool.

It 's not perfect, though, oh man is it not. They always take certain "liberties" with comic characters to make them more "Hollywood," and the results are not always favorable. While the Mary-Jane in the movies is most certainly not the Mary-Jane from the comics, they 've seemingly modeled her this time around after your ex-girlfriend. To make matters worse, the "other girl" (ala Gwen Stacy) is so hot that you don 't even want Spidey to end up with the one you know he 's ending up with.

Furthermore, Spider-Man 3 suffers from the same major problem as Spider-Man 2, in that is features too many scenes that suck. We understand that it wouldn 't be Spider-Man without people giving him speeches on "responsibility" and "being a hero" and all that, but seriously…do they really need to go on so long? And the entire jazz club scene from the third film could easily be excised.

Fair is fair, however, and Spider-Man 3 's positive points are well worth sitting through the rest of it. There are plenty of huge action spectacles (at least one of which is one of the most grandiose of all time), with some amazing effects behind them, and some great elements of humor as well (who doesn 't always enjoy a Bruce Campbell cameo?). You could argue that the whole black suit debacle slows down the film (and you 'd be right), but as a longtime Spidey fan, it was totally sweet to watch it happen on the screen.

Is it the best or the worst of the series? Yes…no…who knows?

It 's a suitable end to an epic trilogy.

The Blu-ray format was invented with certain types of movies in mind. Films like 28 Days Later are much too dark and grainy, and just don 't do it justice. Then you have ones like Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer and the Spider-Mans. Watch these, and you 'll appreciate why people are going hi-def. The detail is bewildering, with everything down to the wrinkles on peoples ' faces more evident. Colors are richer, everything 's clearer, and even the effects are more bad ass, since you can better see how they seamlessly blend in with the real environment. A reference-quality disc to be sure. Well, there's some grain in some scenes, usually effects scenes and more in the first two flicks, but overall it's a wonderful presentation.

The audio is a perfect example of why 5.1 surround rules. Sony has mastered the Blu-ray discs in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and everything positively booms, with a full 5.1-star performance. There are no issues with inaudible dialogue, no thoughts of "where 's the surround?" and several thoughts of "gee, I hope my neighbors downstairs aren 't home." Again, a reference-quality disc to be sure.

Other than the 2.1 treatment for the first sequel, the extras are pretty well limited to Spidey 3 and are a pretty standard lot for such a high-profile release. Disc one provides us with two audio commentaries, some bloopers, photo galleries, and a music video. Disc two has all the meat, and in a glorious move, all the little featurettes are presented in 1080 high definition.

The first three featurettes (running about 40 minutes, collectively) cover bringing the three villains to the screen. Since all three are completely different characters, it 's interesting to see the unique effects that went into each of them. There are featurettes on editing, sound, location shooting, stunts, the love triangle, and more stunts. It all equals a good couple of hours, but there 's nothing really mind-blowing. Buy this disc for the audio and video.

Spider-Man, from Sony PIctures Home Entertainment
121 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) 1080p high definition, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris
Produced by Laura Ziskin, Ian Bryce
Screenplay by David Keopp
Directed by Sam Raimi

Spider-man 2, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
136 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) 1080p high definition, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris
Produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad
Written by Alvin Sargent, Directed by Sam Raimi

Spider-Man 3, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
139 minutes, 2.40:1 1080p high definition, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Sam Raimi

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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