Sales of the Spider-Man DVD have already set records within days of its release, which can make any mere reviewer’s criticisms of the package feel somewhat beside the point. What criticisms there are might seem decidedly beside the point, since Sam Raimi’s take on the Marvel superhero is fast and smart and, thanks to the unlikely but successful casting of Tobey Maguire as Spidey, imbued with a subtle wit.
Raimi’s direction takes its cue from Spidey’s mode of transport, leaping along at a sometimes hurtling pace, alighting on themes or plot points for no longer than necessary, which is a pleasant departure from the ponderous and leaden Batman franchise of the 90s. Unfortunately, this nimbleness renders the enormous and obviously intended pathos of Peter Parker’s superhero dilemma, and the threat that it poses to everyone he loves, somewhat underplayed.
The death of Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben, the pivotal moment in Peter’s life as Spider-Man, disappears into the film’s frantic surface without a ripple, and the stark, lonely fate Peter faces at the end of the film - with its forthright set-up for a sequel - has as much aftertaste as a breath mint.
Added features on the DVD package include the usual “making of” featurettes, commentary tracks, and music videos, along with copious extras on film and DVD-ROM for the comic geeks who made the film a hit right out of the gate, a sign that the studio knows its audience intimately.
The Sum of All Fears
Bonus material on DVD releases is rarely really informative about the creation of a film. Most of the time you have to sqint hard to read between the lines, past the usual grateful reminiscences of actors, directors and writers who were glad to have a job, but sometimes there’s a glimpse of discomfort.
On the featurettes included with The Sum of All Fears, there’s something gratifyint about watching director Phil Alden Robinson, screenwriter Daniel Pyne, and various other production principals try to justify the decision to change the terrorist villains of Tom Clancy’s novel from Islamic extremists to the far more conventional neo-Nazi conspiracy. In the aftermath of 9/11, it made the theatrical release of the film seem oddly out of step.
It didn’t help that Ben Affleck’s Jack Ryan was not only a dim shade of Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin’s take on the character in films like Clear and Present Danger and The Hunt for Red October, but that he effectively had the film stolen from him by Liev Schreiber’s supporting role as a reluctant CIA enforcer. Affleck’s lack of presence was only slightly less perplexing by the film’s astounding inability to face the awesome implications of its central event: a nuclear explosion in downtown Baltimore. The film’s jaw-droppingly banal, business-as-usual ending is just one more tone-deaf element in a movie too essentially lightheaded for its subject matter.
The half-built construction site view of Tehran in Majid Majidi’s Baran is fantastically grim in a way that, subtly but marvellously, gives way to unexpectedly beautiful moments and vistas. The story of a bratty, selfish young man’s awakening to love and self-sacrifice is told with grace and a measured gravity that overcomes the starkness of the setting and the distinct acting limitations of the non-professional cast.