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Alive 5

"Spider Man, Spider Man, does whatever a spider can," 
"Spins a web, erm, writes reviews," 
"Catches thieves just like flies." 
"Look out! Here comes the Spider man!"

Well  this is nothing whatsoever to do with the kitschy cartoon series  made
several years ago.  Gawd knows, the catchy title tune lyrics above have been
slightly  reinvented  by myself as well.  However,  this is everything to do
with the big-screen mega budget summer blockbuster debut of Spider Man.

Now  when  you normally put the words "summer" and  "blockbuster"  together,
certain  expectations  are raised,  and others are lowered.  So you will get
something  big,  and  loud,  and very flashy.  The cinematic equivalent of a
fairly  violent  fairground  ride,  and guaranteed to leave you  shaken  up,
nearly  throwing  up  by  the  end.  The things that  may  be  in  miniscule
quantities are character portrayal, plot, suspense, and any notion of depth.
But with this movie, we are pleasantly surprised for once.

Spiderman is a happy series of things that it isn't.  It is not as cardboard
as Christopher Reeves' Superman series,  not as hammily gothic as the Batman
films, and thankfully not superficial masquerading as very deep, like Attack 
of the Clones does! Spiderman portrays light and dark in varying but roughly
equal  quantities,  which  makes it more lifelike than a film of this  genre
usually is.

Spiderman  on  the screen is an almost faithful reproduction of  the  Marvel 
Comics  character.  We  are  given  an accurate portrayal  of  the  troubled
underdog  Peter  Parker  lifted directly from the  comics.  As  'Mr  Marvel'
himself,  Stan Lee is involved,  it is a fair bet that Hollywood hasn't been
allowed  to  interfere  too  much with a sacred  memory  of  American  youth

There  is  a  pretty good use made of the leading  character.  The  audience
oversees a gradual development from the personable and put-upon nerd in  the
opening  minutes,  through an aloof and awkward spider bite-victim,  finally
becoming  the smooth (when in costume and character) crime fighter.  We  are
lucky  with  this  film,  it  could  have been made in  a  lesser  and  more
superficial  fashion.  Tobey  Maguire  gets it spot on,  and  maintains  the
credibility  of  the lead role throughout the film.  Anakin Skywalker,  take 

Fans of dodgy scientific practice might be interested to know that Peter was
bitten by a performance enhancing Genetically modified 'GM' spider. It seems
that a radioactive spider does not cut it anymore in plausability terms!

We  get a feeling that friends and family matter in this film more  than  in
most  other  summer  blockbusters.  The portrayal of Peters Aunt  and  Uncle
(Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson) might be a little bit sentimental, but
still rooted in reality (his last words to his uncle were in the form of  an
argument,  for  example.)  The love interest,  in the tasty form of  Kirsten 
Dunst is developed slowly,  and left inconclusively,  so you get the feeling
there  is  more to come next time.  She didn't have a lot to do,  apart from
being rescued, and a midnight snog-session with Spidey in the rain!

The love interest never quite gets there,  as there is a gulf forced between
the  would-be  lovers  by Spiderman's emotionally  monastic  life  of  crime
fighting.  Willem  Dafoe  makes a decent fist of the  wealthy  industrialist
father  of  Peter's best friend Harry.  He is the man who suffers  the  slow
descent  into madness as he succumbs to the malign split personality of  the
Green Goblin.

I also enjoyed a memorable cameo of the megalomaniac newspaper editor of the
Daily Bugle, J.K Simmonds, played with obvious enjoyment by J.Jonah Jameson.
Any  resemblance  to  real-life members of the Alive!  team,  picked  up  by
readers of this article will be sued on mentioning it!

J.K  Simmonds  happens  to  be the focus of  the  authorities  (if  not  the
public's) less than happy relationship with Spidey,  who is portrayed by the
Bugle as a vigilante attention-seeker.  Happily, the public on the receiving
end of Spiderman's  heroics are somewhat more appreciative.

The special effects are pretty fair.  My best moment is seen where we take a
spiderman's  heightened sense view of the action,  with everything seemingly
slowing  right down around him.  There are touches of John Woo influences in
Spidy's physically dextrous fighting and leaping moves.

There  is  even room for comedy,  when Peter Parker first discovers his  new
powers,  in  his  bedroom at home.  This is shortly topped when he is in the
canteen  at  school,  when he stuffs the school bully.  The last instance of
Spiderman  played for laughs,  is at an amateur all-comers wrestling  match,
when he tries to use his powers for mercenary ends.  "The Human Spider?  You 
mean you couldn't come up with a name better than that?!"

If there is a weakness,  it is with the villain.  William Dafoe turning into
the creeping gradual madness of the  Green Goblin is very well executed, but
the Green Goblin himself is strangely two-dimensional, as if lifted straight
off the comic book pages into the film? He cackles evilly, flies around, and
blows up stuff. The costume design brings out the harsh and simplistic comic
book artist sketch lines,  strangely at odds with the atmosphere of the rest
of this film. Was it not possible to make a costume that had a moving jaw?!

You probably know that this film was one of the ones that suffered post 9-11
editing,  as  a  scene  with  Spiderman using the World Trade  Towers  as  a
catapult was stricken from the final version.

The  ending  is  not a happy one,  the difference between evil  villain  and
loving  father  is too close to call,  but it is an ending which leaves  the
probability of a whole series open.  And as I write this,  I understand that
there already is a second Spiderman movie in production

Taking  this  first  attempt,  this is an endeavour worth  persisting  with.
Overall,  Spiderman  is a better than average translation of a classic comic 
book hero to the big screen.

CiH, for Alive! Mag,June '02

Alive 5