The summer 2007 movie season included several high-profile disappointments, most notably the “big three” trilogy-closers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek and Spider-Man. None of the movies was bad, per se, but none really lived up to the hype and hope created by the first two films in its respective series. With the upcoming Blu-ray Disc of Spider-Man 3, Sony Pictures has an opportunity to get Spidey fans’ senses tingling once again. And after having spent more than eight hours with the Blu-ray Disc of Spider-Man 3, we’re here to tell you Sony is taking serious advantage of that opportunity.
Spider-Man 3 tries to sew up the trilogy’s narrative by bringing together Peter Parker, Mary Jane and Harry for one last hurrah for (and against) the forces of evil. As the third film in the series, Spider-Man 3 includes much more character development than the previous two films combined, and although there’s still a fair share of action and special effects, the meat of the movie really does revolve around Peter’s coming to terms with his abilities and responsibilities, and how those elements both align and conflict with the film’s secondary and tertiary players (including Sandman and Venom). This character development and exposition is a large reason the film received less acclaim this summer, but in terms of telling the Spider-Man story, it was absolutely necessary. If only they could’ve done more to bring some finality to Sandman’s story….
In spite of its lukewarm summer reception, the feature film itself is still the highlight of the two-Disc set. Unless moviegoers had the chance to see Spider-Man 3 in a digital projection theater, this will be the first chance for home viewers to see the film in its flicker free and high-definition form. Since Blu-ray Disc is a Sony-produced format, it’s no wonder Spider-Man 3 looks so sharp, vivid and well-balanced in the color department. It’s worth noting that several scenes do suffer from some a bit of accidental motion blur, and at least one makes it painfully obvious that the on-screen characters were computer-generated. However, these aren’t likely the effects of a transfer to Blu-ray Disc; rather, they were assuredly in the theater release as well, and their obviousness in this Blu-ray release is simply a matter of the overall picture clarity and the fact that viewers can see such detail when viewing the film on a 1080p monitor.
In addition to the feature film, Disc One also includes two full-length commentaries, one with the producers, visual effects team and editor, and the other with the director and cast (Tobey Maquire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco). Unlike many commentaries, neither of these overrides the entire audio track, thus leaving viewers with a silent film between comments. Instead, the comments are insightful and casual at just the right times, almost like you’re watching the film with friends. Really, really rich friends. The bonus features on Disc One are rounded out with Bloopers and Outtakes (6:43), a Music Video of “Signal Fire” by Snow Patrol (4:35) and a Galley of 19 on-set photos that viewers can either manually browse or watch as a slideshow while the theme song plays in the background.
Disc Two of Spider-Man 3’s Blu-ray release is really where the bonus features take off, and like the movie itself, many of these features are driven by the characters and their development in the film. Eleven featurettes comprise the bulk of Disc Two’s content, clocking in at a combined 2:06:01 in total behind-the-scenes time. Grains of Sand: Building Sandman (13:57) is the requisite special-effects feature you’d expect would follow this sort of name, and the work documented in this segment shows that the feat of producing Sandman’s the sand effects was nothing short of astounding. However, the “building” aspect in the title also addresses how the casting director decided on Thomas Haden Church for the role of a tall tower of silica. In the movie, Sandman is surprisingly fleshed out in his motivation and emotional range, and Church’s own range of emotions is what ended up earning him the gig. Through interviews with Church and the casting director, it becomes clear that Sandman needed to have power and passion, and by the time this featurette ends, it’s clear that Church was the right man for the job.
Likewise, Re-imagining the Goblin (10:37) recounts how James Franco deepened his character during both pre-production and filming, and even without this featurette to back him up, it’s clear during the movie that Franco is arguably the best actor in the film. Covered in Black: Creating Venom (15:36) brings viewers back into the realm of special-effects documentary while addressing how the filmmakers both embraced the traditional comic-book presentation of Venom and added their own elements to make Venom “their own.” An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing the viscosity of black goo, but on the whole we are posed with some intriguing conceptual questions like “how do you make good aggressive?”
Hanging On: Gwen Stacy and the Collapsing Floor (10:14) documents the logistics of creating the scene in which Spider-Man rescues the police chief’s daughter after she falls from a building that’s been struck by an out-of-control crane. Anyone who’s taken the Backlot Studio Tour at Disney MGM Studios knows that hydraulics can create some massive but controlled collapses, and that’s basically what this featurette addresses. For 10 minutes. It’s a bit excessive, to say the least, but it’s basically like structural engineering porn. Speaking of porn, Tangled Web: The Love Triangles of Spider-Man 3 (9:14) is a nine-minute attempt to point out the obvious fact that no one loves Peter Parker quite like Peter Parker, and that everyone around him wants to get in somebody else’s pants. The conflicts are intriguing, but this bonus feature easily feels like the most forced of the bunch.
Fighting, Flying and Driving: The Stunts (19:00) is a surprisingly entertaining documentary about the number of stunts performed by the actors themselves. Although most viewers won’t be surprised to learn James Franco is the most athletic of the bunch, it will definitely surprise some to see how many stunts were actually filmed 10 feet or more in the air in front of a blue screen rather than done via CG. Wall of Water (7:21), a featurette about engineering the pipe burst in Spider-Man’s second fight against Sandman, is also a pleasant surprise. The prospect of watching engineers talk about pipes and fast-moving water may not sound intriguing, but when you see how much work went into creating what amounts to a 45-second scene, there’s a certain level of appreciation that can’t be denied.
Four more features round out Disc Two, none of which will knock viewers socks off: Inside the Editing Room (3:59), a short fluff piece about the relationship between the storyboard artists and CG editing teams; The Science of Sound, a 16:22 segment about the orchestra and composer; New York: From Rooftops to Backstreets, a 12:55 discussion about the challenges and rush of filming on-site in Manhattan; and Cleveland: The Chase on Euclid Avenue (6:47), a featurette about the filmmakers’ decision to use seven blocks of this Cleveland street as the ‘Manhattan” setting for Spider-Man’s armored-car encounter with Sandman.
Yet even with these last few underwhelming features, Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray Disc easily makes up for the not-quite-there delivery this past summer. From great video quality to lossless audio to six hours of special features (including the commentaries), all this two-disc set is missing is a BD-J game. And maybe a mini Stan Lee packed in every box. The character development in the movie itself may still rub some viewers the wrong way, but as a Blu-ray Disc release, Spider-Man 3 is all a Spider-Man fan could have realistically asked for or expected.
- Overall: 9
— Jonas Allen