Studio(s): Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment
Disc/Transfer Information: Region A/B/C; 1080p High-Definition 2.40:1
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Blu-ray)
Director: Marc Webb
Starring Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Blu-ray Release Date (U.S. Region "A"): 11/09/12
THE UNTOLD STORY BEGINS.
This “review,” at the present moment, will only encompass my sentiments and analysis of the plot with regard to Marc Webb’s Spider-Man franchise reboot attempt, with detailed breakdown of the picture and audio quality to follow later once I get a chance to run the Blu-ray through its paces. I just picked up the “Blu-ray+DVD+UltraViolet Target Exclusive” version of The Amazing Spider-Man, which includes, as usual, the prerequisite “Exclusive Bonus Disc” as marketed by the Target superstore chain and a raised-relief slipcase featuring artwork of the re-imagined web-slinging hero (played this time by Andrew Garfield); also available, at Target at least, was a 3D Blu-ray (with an awesome holographic slipcase) and a very cool Four-Disc Gift Pack that bundles, if I am not mistaken, all the media versions of the film (DVD/Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray etc.) and collectible figurines of the main character and his long-awaited-by-fans adversary in this, The Lizard. Unfortunately, I just did not see any personal justification for purchasing the rather expensive Gift Set (funds are always tight too) as I would have no use for the 3D version of the film or any other version for that matter save for the “regular” 2D Blu – but those figurines are definitely cool and would look great on a collector’s shelf. I wish Sony would have released a more affordable 2D-only Blu-ray version that included the Spidey and Lizard figures.
So, as soon as I watch the disc later tonight, I will report back with my audio and video findings and thoroughly analyze the 2.40:1 transfer and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack – for right now, I will discuss my feelings on the film itself and where it fits into the regenerated franchise landscape. [UPDATE: AUDIO AND VIDEO ANALYSIS NOW COMPLETE AND INCLUDED BELOW.] To begin with, I find it ironic that the director of a new Spider-Man film possesses a last name of Webb – beyond that, my first thought when hearing the news of this franchise reboot was…”why?” Was this really necessary? Generally speaking, the three Sam Raimi-helmed Spideys weren’t so entrenched in passing years that a reboot of this was called for, as far as I was concerned. Alas, what always happens came to the forefront again – filmmakers and studio execs felt a burning need to “re-introduce” an iconic character to a new generation raised on sleeping and eating with their iPads (because, you know, Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of the main character was just so inexcusable to the teens and twenty-somethings that may have caught the original trilogy; ridiculous), and so Andrew Garfield was brought in to replace Toby Maguire in the role of Peter Parker and his alter ego. For what it’s worth, I can’t quite figure out what to make of Garfield in this role – sometimes, I feel like he’s okay, and other times (well, most of the time) he looks ridiculous in the getup and this new suit, or even out of the suit with his unkempt hair and Banana Republic model-esque approach. In the end, I bought Maguire 100 times over in the role of soul-tortured Peter Parker – from the goofy facial gestures to the way he spoke and acted behind the mask and costume. He was our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to me. Those gestures and dialogue line deliveries is what turned me off about Garfield in many places throughout this; specifically, the scene in which he sits in the back seat of a car and talks to a criminal with his Spidey mask on…the dialogue in this sequence was ridiculous, with Garfield suggesting to the criminal reasons why he shouldn’t dress the way he does or some such rhetoric. To me, this was not Maguire swinging on to a flagpole in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, looking Doctor Octopus in the face and exclaiming “WHERE IS SHE?” with regard to Mary Jane Watson’s whereabouts – that was a cool, comic-like, almost angry Spidey. We just don’t get that here with Garfield, but as I stated, this reboot seems geared towards a brand-new, very young demographic, the kind that packs into theaters to drool over the next Twilight saga or who sit at home and text one another about the “hot” bloodsuckers they’re watching in The Vampire Diaries. That’s exactly who this reboot feels aimed at; for serious fans of the comic, like me, there was a lot wrong with the approach here.
But beyond the poor casting (in my opinion) and what appears to be an unnecessary attempt at rebooting a viable, successful franchise (save for the semi-disaster that was Spider-Man 3), Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man had a primary saving grace in bringing a fan-favorite villain to the screen for the first time – The Lizard. Fans had been clamoring to see Lizard ever since Raimi announced his three-film contract with Sony/Columbia/Marvel, but the character was just never fully realized, whether for creative obstacles by CGI teams or Raimi himself having reservations about Spidey’s long-running adversary, instead concentrating on other classic villains such as Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman and, unfortunately Topher Grace as Venom (probably the worst comic adaptation character casting choice in the history of cinema). Anticipatory fans – yours truly included – were ecstatic beyond belief when we first saw the international teasers for Webb’s reboot that featured clips of the fight sequences between Lizard and Spidey, thinking “Finally! We’re getting The Lizard!” Alas, with the introduction of this long-awaited villain came some inconsistencies that bothered me and some other critics – in Webb’s version, we have Dr. Connors as the character, of course, that becomes The Lizard, but in this reboot he portrays a scientist that had something to do with Peter’s father…in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, Connors is portrayed as a one-armed college professor of Peter’s who has nothing to do with Peter’s past or real father or anything like that. Why the discrepancy, and which one can be considered more accurate when it comes to comparing this to the comic’s run? I’ll have to go back into my mental archives of when I was an enthusiast of the books and look into that.
In this version, Connors is definitely more menacing and threatening as compared to Raimi’s take on the character – of course, we witness him transforming into a half man half reptile in Amazing Spider-Man, so I suppose it’s fitting. While I had no issue with the casting choice for Connors, I didn’t buy – at all – Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae. Cliff Robertson in particular was so much more believable as Uncle Ben in Raimi’s films – and then there was the decision to initially concentrate on the Gwen Stacy character (played here by Emma Stone versus Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3) as Peter’s love interest instead of Mary Jane Watson (returning in the sequel, and played by Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s films)…I suppose this was a nice change from the kind of tired Mary Jane storyline that got a bit long in the tooth by the end of Spider-Man 3, but I wonder why Webb went with this right out of the gate in the reboot initial film. At any rate, Stone and her Stacy character seemed to be window dressing against the inevitable showdown between Peter and Dr. Connors in this, which we wait for after we witness their first confrontation when Peter swings onto a New York bridge and knocks The Lizard off his reptilian feet as he’s attacking someone in a taxicab. Oh – and then there’s Denis Leary as Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy of the New York Police Department, who seemed like an odd casting choice, almost as if he was thrown in as a favor to someone or because he’s simply Denis Leary…or perhaps because he was a fan of the comics and asked to be in this. It really does feel that way.
Another positive element we see in The Amazing Spider-Man – outside of the wise choice to call this franchise reboot launcher something different than just Spider-Man, as well as representing a nod to the title of the original comic run – is the exploration of Peter’s past before he lives with his aunt and uncle. While the opening sequence is brief, at least here we get to get a bit of a sneak peek at what happened to his parents and why he ended up living with Ben and Mae – still, the story itself and what it attempts to suggest is convoluted a bit and again begs the comparison to the original comic origin stories. Is this the way the original comic story went, with Peter’s father having something to do with Oscorp and Connors, specifically some kind of secret or deal that went sour? Consequently, does Peter end up tangling with Connors because of this? The whole Oscorp thing is also explored in a different light in this reboot – where in Raimi’s original, Oscorp is headed by Peter’s friend Harry’s father, Norman Osborn (played by Willem Dafoe), who also ends up becoming The Green Goblin, here Oscorp has something to do with Dr. Connors with no real mention (that I could recall) of Harry or his father. Are these just creative liberties being taken? If so, why? Why not stick with the way the comics went for the most part? As I said, I’ll have to do some research on this to refresh my memories of the books. The absence of Harry Osborn as Peter’s best friend was surprising here too – but we do get to see the “Flash” character that beats up on Peter routinely, albeit played by a different kid of course.
Then, there’s the issue of Peter’s homemade web slinger as compared to the way in which webbing flew out of Tobey Maguire’s wrists in Raimi’s original franchise – this has been the topic of controversy ever since the first teasers hit, and there are many who are divided on this subject. Some fans say it’s a more accurate approach to feature the mechanical web slinger, as this appeared in some runs of the comic, while others argue the webs always shot out of Peter’s actual body after he was bitten by the spider – I don’t really know which I care for, but there is no denying that Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man is a somewhat darker take on the character (irrespective of its gearing towards an absolutely idiotic, brainless young generation), much like Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. For what it’s worth, I am still more of a fan of Sam Raimi’s Spidey franchise.
And so the plot analysis…as I stated, Amazing Spider-Man opens not with a narration by the main character (as seen in Raimi’s original) already in his high school years living with Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben, but rather with depicting what happened to his parents and his father’s involvement with Oscorp’s secrets. Eventually, we learn he’s living in Queens, New York with his Aunt Mae (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen) and is almost being shielded and hidden from a terrible secret regarding his family. I just didn’t like Garfield in this role; I mean, most of his dialogue comes off as whiny and childish, and I did not buy him like I bought Maguire – once the action picks up, and he’s swinging through the New York City streets as his alter ego, you kind of forgive the shortcomings of his performance out of the mask and just look forward to the fight sequences with Lizard. In school, Peter’s love interest is, of course, the blonde Gwen Stacy (Stone), daughter of a New York Police captain (Leary), and during a trip to Oscorp headquarters (more a clinical research facility in this than the mechanical military factory portrayed in Raimi’s first film) he is bitten by an experimental genetically altered spider. The symptoms of his changes begin, this time manifesting themselves during a subway sequence in which Peter’s about to get bullied but immediately turns the tables with his new-found strength. We witness the typical Spider-Man formula – Peter goes through the cheesy original costume phase as he beats up on criminals with his new powers, eventually making his own iconic red and blue suit (which is as different compared to Toby Maguire’s as Superman’s suit was in Superman Returns compared to Christopher Reeve’s costumes) and web shooter, all the way up to finally mastering his swinging abilities and fighting powers to confront the master villain creature at the end. In between, Leary’s Captain Stacy character is attempting to arrest the masked vigilante while trying to keep his daughter away from Parker who appears to be a Spidey-fanatic misfit.
Meanwhile, Dr. Connors, who obviously has some connection to Peter’s father, is experimenting with DNA at Oscorp in a possible attempt to regenerate his missing arm – when reptile DNA gets into the mix, something goes horribly wrong and the scientist is transformed into a half man, half giant lizard creature, with the effect coming and going throughout the film’s run time. Of course mad with rage and anger, Connors’ creature goes on a rampage throughout New York, eventually coming face to face with the son of the man he once had dealings with – and having to square off against his alter ego, Spider-Man. The initial confrontation sequence between the two is kind of brief, and features Peter swinging in onto a bridge where Connors’ Lizard is attempting to attack a victim of his in a taxicab, knocking the reptilian beast over but also suggesting more fight sequences are yet to come. Peter knows exactly who this “Lizard” is – Dr. Connors – and begins to unravel the mystery behind the connection he had to his father. When he attempts to warn police and Gwen’s father in particular about what Connors has transformed into, his alerts pretty much fall on deaf ears and Peter decides he must confront the monster on his own with his spider abilities. This leads to exciting fight sequences involving a classroom in Peter’s high school, in which Lizard and Parker are duking it out, smashing each other through walls and floors while Stan Lee makes a prerequisite cameo in the foreground as well as final confrontation atop a New York building that I felt could have been a bit more lengthy and fleshed-out.
We get a glimpse at what is coming in the already-in-production sequel in a brief pre-end credits sequence, but what it suggests is still up for debate and was a bit confusing to me; it will also be interesting to see if like Chris Nolan and his Dark Knight in which he re-introduced The Joker, Marc Webb (or whoever helms the sequel) will re-imagine The Green Goblin.
I still can’t warm up to Garfield in the main Peter Parker role, though.
This “Target Exclusive” Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet release includes a plethora of extra material including the aforementioned Bonus Disc exclusive to the Target release entitled “A Hero Will Rise,” plus features such as “The Amazing Spider-Man Second Screen App,” “Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn,” pre-visualization sequences, image progression reels and much more.
And, I still have to ask – was rebooting this franchise just to appease a younger generation really that necessary?
[img]http://images.wikia.com/amazingspiderman/images/3/32/The-Amazing-Spider-Man-Screenshots.jpg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
What struck me right off the bat when viewing Amazing Spider-Man's 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray transfer was the inherent, obvious softness exhibited by the opening Richard Parker/Peter Parker childhood sequence -- this scene was coated in a smooth, waxy, detail-less characteristic that I was hoping wouldn’t set the tone for the rest of the film. While more than likely purposely done for flashback/vintage effect, it was a bit off-putting in terms of expectations from a high definition format. As the film progressed, this softness really didn’t clear up all that much, especially during interior shots – again, more than likely a stylistic approach on Webb’s behalf, or perhaps the result of digital manipulation of the cameras utilized (we saw this soft look on Superman Returns as well). Still, for the most part, I was not that impressed with Amazing Spider-Man on Blu-ray when taken as a whole. It wasn’t that razor-sharp in most places, and while there were definitely outstanding moments – close-up shots of Peter’s suit were stunning in terms of detail, as you can nearly make out every single strand of material he used to make it, while the blue and red of the suit was ridiculously vibrant from certain angles, in addition to certain characters and their close-ups in which you could make out nearly every pore and imperfection in their skin – in general, I have viewed more reference-grade video from this format.
However, I must add this -- I did not detect a hint of noise, grain, twitching, aliasing (well, to be expected in 1080p) or any other video abnormaility on Sony's transfer here. The entire feature, from start to finish, was rock-solid and so utterly stable it was almost as if someone did indeed get their webs on a DNR algorithm device. I am in the camp -- and very much in the minority, I know -- of those BD fans who don't care for film grain, and there wasn't a touch of it on display here at least from my viewing distance. Of course, this can come at the expense of some fine detail, and that is what may have gone wrong with some of the "pasty" looking faces and somewhat "flat" looking frames I experienced and reported on. What is also important to note is that Marc Webb's new direction for this series, with its more ominous overtones and darker look at the character's lore, is what puts it in stark contrast as compared to Sam Raimi's kind of over-the-top, brightly-lit and colorful style in the original trilogy, and as such, that opening sequence I spoke of which comes off appearing somewhat murky and soft can most likely be chalked up to the visual style decided on by the filmmaking team. This isn't a punchy, cheerful look at Peter Parker and his world -- the tones are definitely dialed down quite a bit here and in that regard, the transfer did in fact stick to authenticity. For example -- when Pete receives the deep scratches and wounds from his sewer battle with Lizard, the injuries and subsequent damage to his red and blue suit are exhibited with such dreary realism on this 1080p encode, it's almost surreal. For that, I have to applaud the production team and Sony's home video division engineers.
[img]https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSVeIeozsM0MAOI-toaUCvnePUw04-ZBc3YSUdUopMTmVA4cRmU[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
Similarly, the English DTS-HD Master Audio track Sony provides for Amazing Spider-Man on Blu-ray, in 5.1, wasn’t that wall-shaking to be completely honest – and therein lies one of the bigger problems with this track, which was its distinct lack of deep, low LFE. The mix required me to goose up the volume a bit more than I’m normally comfortable with, which was odd because usually the 7.1 tracks played back on my 5.1 arrangement causes this, and there appeared to be a distinct subdued quality to the audio from my perception. When the fight sequences begin between the main character and Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, the mix opens up quite a bit with chaos and thrashing being spilled into all channels, yet I felt like some surround activity could have been utilized a bit more.
This track wasn’t without its merits, though, much like the video presentation – some moments of surround activity were startling real, including audio cues supporting Spidey’s web shooting, car chases, traffic ambient support, gunshots and one in particular that I thought was pretty creative: In the opening title sequence, when “Amazing Spider-Man” is presented onscreen almost in the same fashion as Sony/Columbia presented it in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, there is a sudden whipping effect in which webbing seemingly shoots from the surround channels and grabs the lettering of this titling onscreen. The overall punch and volume of this moment wasn’t impressive, as it’s done in a very subtle way, but the approach was nice.
I suppose, all in all, The Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t a disappointment on Blu-ray, it’s just that I feel like this was a mediocre presentation in both audio and video…as if it just could have been a of a lot better and more involving. In fact, I couldn’t help but recall when watching the disc last night how Spider-Man 3 completely rolled over this one in terms of its visual depth, level of eye-popping detail and almost surrealism in the video department while its Dolby TrueHD track was miles more aggressive than this reboot’s DTS-HD Master Audio mix.
In taking a gander online at some other reviews of this title, it seems to me I am not really alone in my assertion that there was something a bit "off" with this mix and that it could have been more -- a quick glance at the audio quality section of High Def Digest's review on the title, for example, suggests indeed something kept this DTS-HD MA mix from hitting us over the head and really being a barn-stormer in terms of sheer dynamics. They even go so far to mention the element regarding the bass/LFE track which I brought up above -- essentially, something was lacking. I'll be honest; I actually enjoyed the lossy DTS mix on the SUPERBIT version of Spider-Man 2 on DVD (which I own) as well as the outrageously aggressive and expansive Dolby TrueHD track attached to Spider-Man 3 on Blu over the DTS-HD Master Audio track of The Amazing Spider-Man.
To me, this was a buy. I liked it enough in theaters to warrant a Blu-ray purchase when it was released, as I applauded Marc Webb for introducing The Lizard to us fans, something Sam Raimi was never able to do, and just thought it wasn’t a disaster in terms of overall execution. Was this Raimi’s Spider-Man world, though? NO way. Maguire had the feel of the behavior and voice behind the suit down so much better than Andrew Garfield did, and the original trilogy just felt like it stepped off the pages of the comic, what with the Aunt Mae/Uncle Ben renditions, the J. Jonah Jameson newspaper editor character (played brilliantly by JK Simmons), Kirsten Dunst’s accurate portrayal of Mary Jane Watson complete with the correct reddish hair and, most notably, the downright awesome fight sequences between the web slinger and Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, which I still regard as THE best comic adaptation film ever to be made.
Garfield’s behavior and acting in this is beyond awkward and off-putting and I just didn’t buy him as Peter Parker even with the glasses; the inconsistencies regarding Oscorp and the way in which Curt Connors fit into the picture, coupled with the Norman Osborn element hinted at here but in complete contrast to the way in which Raimi explained that end of the story plus the goofy, ridiculous dialogue delivery exhibited by Garfield in this especially when he first starts utilizing his powers to find the guy that kills Uncle Ben was just not effective. Still, I do appreciate Webb and Marvel attempting to show a different side of this story, as Chris Nolan tried to do with his Batman franchise, and in that way, Amazing Spider-Man does take a slightly darker look at the character and story. I just still don’t think a reboot was entirely necessary.
If you haven’t seen this yet in theaters but are concerned about a full purchase, give this a rental. As is standard fare today, the Blu-ray was released in several different variants to choose from – the standard 2D/DVD/UltraViolet digital download version I purchased and reviewed here (I am not sure if Best Buy did any kind of “exclusive packaging,” but Target had a bonus disc attached to this one), the 3D Blu-ray which has a very cool holographic cover of Spidey swinging into action and the special four-disc Gift Pack which bundles all versions of the release with two collectible figurines of Spidey and Lizard.
Thanks for reading!