Agents and Marketers Movie Reviews
Over the course of his forty year existence, there have been many different animated incarnations of the classic Marvel Comics superhero on televison. The first "Spider-Man" series produced by Krantz Animation (in its first season) and Ralph Bakshi (in the second and third seasons) from 1967-1970 turned out to be a seminal favorite among fans. Although the animation was limited, the cartoon featured character designs which held close to the John Romita comic book artwork from the 60's, tripped-out visuals and the ever-famous title song ("Spider-Man, Spider-Man ... does whatever a spider can! ... Look out! There goes a Spider-Man!"). This was followed by "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" in the early eighties, another 80's solo series from the same production team focusing on his solo adventures, and the seriously flawed FOX television series from the nineties.
After much fanfare as well as a few delays, the latest "Spider-Man" series was broadcast on MTV in the summer of 2003 -- and the entire first season is collected here in this special edition DVD set. Naturally, there was plenty for fans of the wall crawler to enjoy as the episodes followed the adventures of mild-mannered college student Peter Parker, who leads a double life as the costumed crime-fighter, Spider-Man. By using a process called "cel shading" on computer generated characters, the animators of the show were able to incorporate the viewer in a collection of dizzying web-slinging sequences and action scenes like never before. Finally, here was a cartoon where Spider-Man actually moved (and swung above the streets of New York City) as he should -- along with delivering a few amusing, choice wisecracks in between punches.
But the series also was hampered by several glaring flaws -- including a few obvious limitations inherent in the techniques used by Mainframe Animation (i.e. the characters often look and move like disturbing mannequins, their clothes seem as though they were painted on their bodies, etc). There were also some serious drawbacks in terms of the overall creative execution of the series. The storylines unfortunately tried to capture a "Dawson's Creek" atmosphere in terms of the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, and this often felt extraordinarily trite. Classic villains (aside from the updated Electro, Kraven, Kingpin, and the Lizard) were often ignored in favor of new, younger, and sillier adversaries. The ragged pacing often went into overdrive too often, the writing sometimes would get repetitious (think of all the scenes where these college kids are drinking coffee), and there was also an annoying cliche of having Peter Parker "instantly" change from his street clothes to his Spider-Man costume inside of a split second (and always off-screen as well). This literally happens three times in the episode "DisSabled," and at several other points in the series. Apparently, producers Morgan Gendel and Rick Ungar thought Spider-Man had the same abilities as the Flash -- or that Peter changing to Spidey should be treated exactly like a video game.
There were also frustrating reports that MTV had demanded that almost no old people appear on the series (since their audience supposedly "didn't like seeing old people"), which led to a complete dismissal of Aunt May -- a terrible mistake considering her impact on Peter's life and the decisions he makes -- and the scaling back of J. Jonah Jameson as a major character. There also seemed to be a massive attempt to "hip up" Peter Parker and his world -- with very mixed results. Favorite characters from the comic books including Gwen Stacey, Betty Brandt, Robbie Robertson and Flash Thompson either appeared once in the first season or were almost unanimously dropped in favor of forgettable romantic interests like budding TV reporter "Indy."
Brian Michael Bendis (of "Ultimate Spider-Man" fame) is credited as executive producer, but his talents are barely felt in this series -- outside of a single episode entitled "The Party."
Despite this, fans of the characters and young kids will find enough here to enjoy. There is some violence and mature themes, but nothing for parents to worry about. The entire first season and extras are certainly worth the DVD's price, and some fans may not mind the problems that I've listed here. Hopefully, a second season on a different network will allow the producers of this series to correct the missteps of this first season -- and give the public a definitive Spider-Man cartoon series. Until then, this first season DVD will certainly suffice.
With Brian Michael Bendis as an executive producer, how could this not be good? The visuals were excellent, lending a nifty neo-comic-book feel to the environments. The stories were inventive, coming up with some nifty new spins on classic pieces of the Spidey mythos. The best revision, of course, was that written by the not-infalliable-but-close BMB himself; taking the one-d villain Electro in a direction different from either the main or Ultimate comics stories but no less entertaining.
The Legion of Super Voice-Actors is in great form here: Neil Harris, Lisa Loeb, and Ian Ziering turn in performances that are almost always sonically superior to Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco respectively. The guest stars shine, most notably Stan "the Man" Lee himself as Ezekiel (or whatever they called him, the guy who advised Peter to kill Kraven).
In short, if you're any sort of Spider-Man fan and you didn't catch it the first time around, I highly recommend purchasing the DVD of this series. It's something for everyone: a continuation of the movie in bite-size chunks, an animated adaptation of Ultimate Spider-Man, a way to get pumped for 2004's Spider-Man 2, and just a rollicking great cartoon all around. Five stars.
A single caveat: If you didn't know, this cartoon originally aired on MTV. With that sort of a target audience in mind, it should be no surprise that they made this series
UNSUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN.
If you're a parent who considered 2002's Spider-Man movie too intense for your child (as many, quite reasonably, did) this series is not a wise investment. Rather, find some of the other fine animated Spider-Man DVDs avaliable on Amazon.com- the ones you're looking for say (Animated), in parentheses, after the title, and are suitable for all ages.
When taken as a simple thrill ride House on Haunted Hill delivers some wonderfully creepy and disturbing moments, but the movie does suffer from fuzzy character development and plot holes big enough to fit the house itself. What it most resembles is a feature length episode of HBO's now defunct Tales From the Crypt, not surprising when you consider that the producers and director both worked on the show. Still it makes for a great Halloween party movie. Recommended.