Amazing movie becomes a spectacular two-dvd set

After 40 years in print and 20 years of development, Spider-Man finally crawled onto movie screens. The film was a swinging success, and Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment has packaged the summer's biggest hit with a tangled web of extras.

Raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter Parker is a kind-hearted kid who tries to make it through every day of his high school career without getting picked on too badly. But Peter has a secret: at night, he sheds his studious trappings and dons the garb of the city's mysterious new protector: Spider-Man!

Marvel has always had an advantage over their Distinguished Competition: while Superman soared high above his imaginary Metropolis, Spider-Man swung through the streets of Manhattan; when Bruce Wayne retired to his stately manor house at the break of day, Peter Parker had to head back to Queens, finish his homework and try to catch the bus to school; in short, DC's heroes were archetypes, and Marvel's were human. They had problems.

The problem that Sam Raimi faced when he took on Spider-Man (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 2 hours, PG-13) is best summarized by one website: When early discussions of the film revealed that Tobey Maguire would not have the same technological webshooters as his comic counterpart, there was a huge backlash from the geek community; Spider-Man needed to build his webshooters, they said, or the movie would be betraying the character. The fanboys registered as their clearinghouse for whiney complaints about a movie they hadn't even seen.

Raimi, who had developed his quirky visual style on such disparate films as Army of Darkness and The Quick and the Dead, had to contend with naysayers before a single frame of film had been shot. He had to find a way to appease the hardcore comic geeks while still making the film accessible to a new, wide audience.

The film is housed on Disc One, along with two full-length commentaries: director Sam Raimi, producer Laura Ziskin, co-producer Grant Curtis and actress Kirsten Dunst share their stories on one track, while special effects designer John Dykstra leads the visual effects crew commentary on the second.

You can choose to view on-screen trivia, follow branching documentaries, peruse trailers and television spots (though, alas, not the quickly-pulled WTC teaser), watch two Spider-Man music videos (Chad Kroeger featuring Josey Scott, Sum 41), or read actor/character files.

Part of the film's success is that it, like Marvel Comics, wasn't above poking fun at what came before. From the Superman-esque shirt opening to the battle among the balloons, Spidey tips the hat more often than Harland Sanders at a lesbian bar.

Disc Two is split into two sections: Goblin's Lair and Web of Spider-Man, focusing respectively on the movie and comicbook realms of Spidey. First we have a few previously televised "making of" specials from HBO and E!; then resumes for Raimi and composer Danny Elfman; screen tests for characters, make-up, and technology; and finally a collection of out-takes.

On the comicbook side, "Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century" is a historical documentary covering Peter Parker's creation and current incarnations, offering insights from quite a number of Spidey's creators, including the Romitas, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Todd McFarlane and, oddly enough, John Byrne, whose one contribution to the Spider-Man mythos was extremely poorly received. There are features about the comics through the decades, Spider-Man's greatest enemies, Peter Parker's girlfriends, and even a piece about the Activision videogame.

If you liked the movie (and, judging by its box office and the fact that it's the fastest-selling home video ever, you probably did), you should definitely check out the comicbooks from whence it came; the stories found in those monthly pages are just as good as what you saw on the big screen. I particularly recommend Ultimate Spider-Man, which is closest to the tone of the film and has arguably the best creative team working in comics today.

For whatever reason, Spider-Man joins in the recent DVD trend of releasing separate widescreen and fullscreen editions, with two different covers. I'm not sure to whom this is intended to appeal, since by now most everyone knows that letterboxed movies do not "cut off" parts of the movie, but for all both of you, there is a screen-filling pan-and-scan edition out there.

The animated menus are designed to reflect the main characters - Disc One is Spider-Man red, while Disc Two is Goblin green. Lest you become tired of the extended film clips that accompany the various menus on disc one, there is an all-in-one plain text menu that will lead you to all the disc's features (minus the Easter Eggs, of course -- seven found so far).

Overall, this is a very good set. The film is well presented, with good sound, and there are enough extras to lure even the wiliest fly into this parlor. That makes four in a row for Marvel, but can they keep up the momentum?

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