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Spidey may be able to do whatever a spider can, but only the combined might of Sony’s Blu-ray capable Playstation 3, director Sam Rami, and the finest comic-book based trilogy to date, will have fan-boys swooning in delight.

Warm up your PS3’s kiddies, it’s time for a much needed Blu-ray work out, red and blue spandex not required. To quote the late Uncle Ben (sort of) “With great power (Ps3+ Blu-ray) comes the great responsibility (purchase the Spider-Man Trilogy on Blu-ray).” Yea, I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant.

Personally, I have owned seven (yes 7) different versions of Spider-Man one and two. Starting with Spider-Man 1 on VHS, as well as the collectors edition DVD box set which I picked up about 2 weeks later. Two years later, the Superbit disk (Sony’s attempt at high’ER’ definition DVD’s), along with the DVD version of Spider-Man 2, and the 2.1 release that hit stores earlier this year. Now (catching my breath) I have the third installment Blu-Ray set. That’s a whole lotta Spider-Man here, so I guess you could say that I am a pretty big fan of the web headed nerd in tights.

It seems pointless to review the storytelling quality of the first two films. Proof of its success, worldwide adoration, and sheer domination are not only derived from its mega box office status, but on display daily in every aisle of Walmart and Toys R Us.

While other characters or franchises may go through the typical highs and lows, according to recent theatrical releases (like Star Wars or Batman), Spider-Man appears to be embedded in the publics conscience, an unstoppable force of nature. From snack foods to fast food, glassware to underwear, cereal, action figures, video games, clothing, shoes, candy, bed spreads, vitamins… oh, and lets not forget that he has a few comic books to his name as well. Your friendly neighborhood capitalist is webbing up your pocket book as you read this review. All that said, you came here for a review, and a review is what you shall get…

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Lets start off with a quick run down of the first two movies. Spider-Man 1 was really good, as it set a bold new direction for comic book movies, much like Tim Burton’s Batman a decade before. Spider-Man 2, could be considered as the greatest comic book movie ever made, with Batman Begins trailing as a very close second. Flawless? Of course not. Spectacular? Without a doubt true-believers! The biggest drawback however, happened in the films final moments, as the death of on of Spidey’s greatest villains, Doctor Otto Octavious (portrayed perfectly by Alfred Molina’s) left much to be desired . There ya go. Review over. Move along…

What I am obviously here to share with you is my opinion of Spider-Man; The High Definition Trilogy. As both a comic book and home-entertainment completist, I prefer to have all my disks, of a particular series, in the same format. Hence, my disappointment in the 007 films, as they are not yet all available in Blu-Ray format. With Spider-Man however, that is thankfully not the case.

The trilogy looks and sounds beautiful, yet it is by no means perfect. One of the major flaws with the advent of high definition entertainment, is its attempt to bring classics onto Blu-Ray or HD. These movies were filmed before technology junkies could predict how clean a picture HD would require, so many releases (while gorgeous beyond the capabilities of standard DVD) still have traces of grain that simply don’t show up in modern fare. That’s where Spidey 1 & 2 take a hit. For this reason alone, while 1 and 2 look better than ever on Blu-ray, they are not even in the same realm as Spider-Man 3. Thank digital film for that.

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Spider-Man 2 includes the 2.1 cut (a nice bonus, but a little underwhelming since there’s only 8 additional minutes). I was perplexed and borderline upset to find that none of the five or so commentaries from the first two movies were included. Considering the size of a Blu-Ray disk, it is quite inexcusable. Sam Raimi is famous amongst Evil Dead geeks for his hilarious commentaries, and while his Spidey-versions are a little more subdued, they still make for informative, and highly entertaining tidbits, especially for those who consider themselves Raimi-Spider fans.

Also missing; the special features from Spider-Man 1 and 2. While I don’t miss the special features of movie 1 (lame HBO documentaries), I did thoroughly enjoy going behind the scenes of 2 and 2.1 in the DVD release. The vision for the sequel, was to place it in the realm of “The Empire Strikes Back” in regards to a sequel outperforming it’s predecessor. From casting, to story and especially the incredible L-train sequence, Spidey 2 deserves to be recognized on every level, and it’s a shame that Blu-Ray fans won’t get that chance.

It could be that Sony thought that anyone flipping the cash for a Blu-Ray trilogy, would be more interested in the A/V quality than the special features. It was probably a tough decision on their part, and NO I am not be sarcastic. On the one hand, including every special feature would create a definitive collection that fans would hopefully pay through the nose for. On the other hand, what if these fans (like myself) already owned them?

Would the company then be alienating its long list of early adopters by repackaging materials that wouldn’t be in Hi-Def anyway, essentially forcing those individuals to pay for the extras they already had? Not to mention that the HD war is a struggle on both sides, with movies like Spider-Man and Transformers trying to sway the balance of power in the direction of their respective format. Taking all of that into consideration, one can see how upping the price point could be seen as a tough sell.

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Art by Michael Bencic. He writes, he draws, the kid is practically a super hero.

Despite my partial-complaint regarding these missing features, I also despise the over-stuffing of useless materials. Sure the idea of a 10 disk Matrix Ultimate set may SOUND cool, but have you tried WATCHING most of the self-important garbage on there? Well I have, and as a result, I still have yet to finish a 2-month old review, because I can’t bring mysely to stay awake through the bonus disks! Keeping Spidey 3 jam packed while leaving the other two disks pretty much bare-bones, is a wise way to keep the price down, the quality high, and the majority of customers happy.

And now, a drum roll for our feature presentation… Spider-Man 3! Here’s the deal, REAL Spidey fans know that the comics have always been up and down, in both quality and popularity. You have your small, personal stories, followed by gigantic, all encompassing epic battles. What has always made Spidey, well … AMAZING, is that he was fun and enjoyable in both story types.

In the movie universe, Spidey ONE was the origin and introduction of our hero, as well as arguably his greatest foe, the Green Goblin, played to a bipolar ‘T’ by Willem Dafoe. Spidey TWO took us to a different level, allowing us to experience a deeper, more personal battle consisting of doubt, love, and admiration. Spidey THREE, is a throwback to the great cross over super villain team ups of the 1990’s comic book series. We get 3 villains, one of which is Venom, some of the greatest action sequences ever put to celluloid, a reversal of allegiances, and a Gwen Stacey who is hotter than Satan’s pitch fork itself! Grrrrrrrrrr Tiger.

venom_comic.jpgSure, we may not get exactly the same Venom we all imagined, or a whole lot of him on screen for that matter, but this has to be somewhat expected, as the depiction of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and even Doc Ock strayed a bit from the comic. Does that detract from the film, or from the characters in our memories? Not at all. Instead, view them as additions to a deep tapestry of mythology that will always grow and evolve with time.

As a Venom fanatic for almost 20 years now, I must admit that I found myself giddy as I watched Topher Grace’s scene stealing performance as Eddie Brock! Todd McFarlane must have felt like a very proud pappy to see his baby symbiote get the audience on their feet! Some fan-boys and critics wished he was on screen for a longer period of time, but in the end, Venom, represented throughout the film as Spider-Man’s “black suit”, gave us a true monster once united with Eddie Brock.

Remember, the maniacal Green Goblin died a loving father, and Doctor Octavious saved the city by taking his own life in the end. Even the Sandman was motivated by a very personal purpose; saving a sick child, but Venom, or rather Eddie Brock, is the only villain thus far who seemed to have a real bad guy complex. Sure, there’s a dance number, but it’s Sam Raimi guys… dancing Zombies were just as silly, yet Evil Dead 2 still rocks!

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Thomas Hayden Church as the Sandman was and example of great, yet shamefully under utilized, casting. While a majority of the action revolves around the Sandman’s powers and special effects, he has so little dialogue that all the attempts to make him unlucky or sympathetic come in tiny doses, rendering them almost pointless.

MJ ultimately has MORE screen time than the title character in this installment, leaving me wishing she that she met her maker back in Spidey 2. I understand studio/movie making politics. The Spider-Man series is adored by fans of all ages, race, gender. I speculate that emphasizing Peter and Mary Jane was an executive decision, made to broaden the appeal and of course, to make Titanic-esque coin.

How much is too much though? THIS is too much. I went from being mildly interested in their love story in the first two films (because it gave Peter an emotional backdrop, although Uncle Ben’s death did the same) to just wishing her dead in the third. By no means do I wish harm on the actress Kirsten Dunst, but by the end of Spider-Man 3, you are PRAYING for Kraven the Hunter to make a special guest appearance, if only to accidentally snipe her in the head. Oh no, Peter is in more pain! Hey, a 4th installment with no MJ, could mean more incredible action sequences, instead of Aunt May blathering on about a marriage.

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Then there’s Harry. Harry, himself, is well done. The NEW Goblin though, is abysmal. With the dozens and DOZENS of possible Spider-foes available, Raimi (who co-wrote this sequel) decided that he would rather CREATE a New Goblin. Not only is Rami’s creation poorly designed and visually uninspired, but it throws away every bit of tension that was built over the course of the first two films, ultimately delivering what ends up being a joke with no punch-line.

I think I speak for Spider-fans everywhere when I say… WTF Sam? The answer to why, might be a very simple one however. By creating their OWN character, and generically naming him, Sam, his writing team, and Sony now retain the New Goblin rights, meaning they can share an even larger piece of the sweet Marvel-Merchadising-Money pie.

Ultimately though, this blew up in their face, and I hope the fan reaction has taught Sami and Sony a valuable lesson. Tell us a decent story with the characters we know and love, don’t try and shoe-horn your own creations. If you want to do that, make another Evil Dead movie. This was the WORST possible direction for the Green Goblin saga to go. While Sandman and Venom are battling each other for precious seconds of screen-time, the NEW Goblin some how kept nudging his way in. Word on the ol’ internet is that Sony is not interested in Raimi as a writer for a 4th trip, and that very well may be the first positive step taken towards the next Spider-Man film.

With the enormous success of Spider-Man 3 ($800+ million so far) a sequel is inevitable. However, nothing lasts forever, and Sony needs to take a break and reassess the franchise. Another drawback is Toby’s acting, which in Spider-Man 3, was the polar opposite of Topher Grace’s entertaining performance. Toby seems almost devoid of Spider-Man’s personality in this episode. He lacks the charisma, and the delivery that made Spider-Man 1 and 2 fun to watch. He looks and sounds tired, and maybe that is because he is A) too old for the part, or B) tired of portraying the same character on screen. The answer may also be that he is both. You had your moments Toby, thanks for the memories, but maybe now is the time for some new blood.

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Avi Arad and the production team need treat the movie-series like the comic book series. That said, a new creative team and or cast may be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t call the next movie Spider-Man 4, instead create a NEW story-arch/trilogy, and call this one “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Then in another 9 years, launch a “Spectacular Spider-Man” trilogy. The point is, I’m not concerned about having the same actor play the same role in every movie, what I am concerned with is that the characters and quality of the films remain at a high level.

The Special Features on Disk 2 are packed, and interesting. However, I wanted to see more on the history of the Sandman and Venom (a feature that was included and perfectly produced for the Silver Surfer on the Fantastic Four DVD/Blu-Ray). Sam Raimi was very open about his hate for the Venom character before production began, and it comes across even here. Including Eddie Brock was a Marvel decision, and now I am sure they are regretting putting this Rogue into Raimi’s hands.

The amount of effort that went into Sandman and Venom by the artists is exceptional though. The SFX teams interviewed are definitely fans, and they wanted to make the big-screen debuts of these characters very special. Mission accomplished, as both villains look incredible. The commentary track with the cast and crew is only interesting when Topher (a self professed geek) and Todd McFarlane go over the history and importance of Venom to the Marvel universe. Todd basically helped bring Spider-Man back into the forefront of comics back in the early 90’s, and Venom is one of the most iconic (and popular) introductions of a Marvel character in the past 20 years.

The blooper real is funnier than much of the the scripted comedy, excluding the on-screen performances of Bruce Campbell. He would be fun to watch even if he was beating a puppy. I am not justifying beatings puppies, or declaring Mr. Campbell as some sadistic puppy-hater. The point I’m trying to make is that he has more personality in his finger than the entire Spider-Man cast combined. In other words, I would have purchased a Blu-Ray disk called “Spider-Man’s Pal, Bruce Campbell!” at any price.

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The video is gorgeous. Blu-ray has it’s new… well, Prince. I say Prince because Casino Royale sits would have to be considered Blu-ray’s King as it’s not only as crystal clear as Spider-man, but it is a much more entertaining movie overall. So we must all still hail to King Bond, however Spider-Man 3 is no slouch. It is practically flawless, and will stand out even more if you watch the movies in order. The sound is just as delicious, although I have a personal gripe with some of the compositions. Spidey’s theme remains intact, though Danny Elfman unfortunately jumped ship. That said, Venom and Sandman’s new orchestral cues are ominous and well performed.

Overall, Spider-Man 3 has its ups (Topher Grace, Action, Special effects, Bruce Campbell with a french accent while NOT beating puppies) and its downs (Mary Jane/New Goblin/lack of actual Spider-Man on screen/Sam Raimi’s greed for Goblin cash), but if you scene-select to everything that looks-like it contains the following you’ll get a much shorter movie… but the one you actually wanted to see: a fight, webs, Spidey-mask, Bruce ‘Frenchy’ Campbell, Venom, Sandman, J. Jonah Jameson, or Gwen Stacey falling from a skyscraper.

My Venom-fanboy praise and hatred of Sam Raimi’s New Goblin (blech!) aside, as a total package, Spider-Man; The High Definition Trilogy is a must have for web-heads who have taken the dive into Blu-Ray ownership. This Halloween, the real treat won’t be the Spider-Man lollipops you steal from the kids, but this disk-set spinning in your PS3.

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Michael A. Bencic; Where the 'A' stands for Awesome! Forged in the fiery pits of Canada, Michael has become world renowned for his skills in writing, illustration (http://michaelbencic.com/zilla-studio.htm) and ability to hold down his Tequila... oftentimes, simultaneously. Currently Mr. Bencic (when your this big, they call you Mr.) is dating the Cortanna mo-cap model fresh off the hit game Halo 3. In his spare time, Michael chews bubble gum and kicks ass for RipTen (duh), www.CanuckZillaStudios.com, UMM Magazine, Bobbi Magazine, www.XboxLiveNation.com, and many others... by the way, he's all out of bubble gum.

8 COMMENTS

  1. There is really only one aspect of this column that I disagree with and that is the casting and portrayal of Venom by Topher Grace. I thought he was utterly disappointing. Venom was supposed to be a buff and rough sounding individual. I realize finding a buff guy for the part isn’t the ideal answer for the problem but they could have done better. Venom was supposed to sound evil with a haunting voice. I’m not suggesting that Vin Diesel should have been cast but his voice is what I picture for Venom. Instead we were treated to Peter Parker # 2 with a whiney voice.

  2. I think Mark Wahlberg would’ve been a more appropriate Eddie Brock. His physique would’ve better reflected the character in the comic.

  3. First, I agree with the first poster, Topher grace, while at first seemed like an OK actoer for the role. He definatley left me wanting at the theaters. Secondly, to the reviewer, have you ever picked up a Spidey comic? They ruined Venom in this movie! He doesn’t refer to himself as “WE”, he constantly goes back to being Topher/Eddie completely taking away from the character I came to see. Besides that if any chick needs to be nixed, it’s Gwen Stacey, who by the way is attractive, but no where near hot (see Megan Fox for proper hottness). Spider man three was a sever let down compared to the quality of the first two films. New Goblin aside, how do you mess up a character who’s been with the books for so long (Venom). And can we please get a Spiderman movie that doesn’t have Tobey Maguire Balling his eyes out every five minutes? Also, if I’m shelling out in the neighborhood of 30 bucks for a movie I alraedy owned, I want every napkin with a doodle pertaning to the movie on the disc!!! If your gonna rave about your discs capacity and then not use it you should be penaliozed for misleading consumers. Also, the movies have been out for years and we couldn’t get a PiP comentary, Pop up video, no HD bonus content!? When your Flagsip Discs are being out done by Hot Fuzz, and Transformers, on there first at bat, you got some issues that need straightening out. And lastly, The PS3 is a GAME SYSTEM!! Sure it plays Blu-ray discs, but my Microwave tells time and that don’t make it a watch.

  4. I disagree with all of you posters regarding Venom. I grew up with Spider-Man, infact I have all the comics featuring Venom. And I believe he is the greatest villain of all time…well..maybe sharing first place with Dr. Doom. And I gotta say..I couldn’t be happier with the choice they made for Eddie Brock Jr./Venom. Topher was the perfect as Eddie and his alter-ego Venom. Anybody who thinks that Venom should be a f*cking steroid abusing giant, is crazy. They made it so perfect with him being the opposite of Peter. So angry and full of revenge, granted they should have saved him for the fourth installment. But since you clearly hate how they’ve done it, I guess you wanted to see The Green Goblin in a leather spandex with a halloween mask on.

  5. When I made the post earlier about the casting for Venom I thought I made it clear that casting a muscle-head would be a bad idea but I guess some can’t understand unless it is implicitly spelled out for them. All I was saying was that he wasn’t a good choice. As Wade pointed out, they failed on pretty much all accounts with Venom’s character in his portrayal. Honestly I just don’t see how anyone can think that they did a great job with him in the movie. Sam Raimi even stated in an interview that he wasn’t a fan of Venom…only the older characters. He threw him in as fan service but didn’t worry about doing it right. His other castings were great (except maybe Dunst) but come on….really.

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