Spider-Man 2.1

With Spider-Man 3 rapidly approaching to open 2007’s summer movie season, it seems only appropriate that Sony pictures releases a new version of Spider-Man 2 on DVD, much like they did with Spider-Man when the first sequel hit theaters. Spider-Man 2.1 includes new trivia, a more focused look at the visual effects of the film, and eight minutes of new footage, fully integrated into the movie. It needs none of it, however, as Spider-Man 2 was already close to comic book adaptation perfection. I still remember watching Spider-Man 2 in theaters vividly. The score, which I mistakenly once referred to as “forgettable” began as the Columbia Pictures torch lit up, giving me goose bumps by the time the Marvel Production logo started flipping by. The recap of the first film through images created by legendary artist Alex Ross set the stage perfectly for the film to come, the film that, in every way, upped the ante from the first Spider-Man movie and showed some arrogance by making it absolutely unquestionable that there would be a third chapter.

Even a couple years later, I can’t believe how much Sam Raimi gets right with the franchise. Life, as usual, is hard for Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), who just can’t seem to get a break. Within the opening of Spider-Man 2 we watch him as he is fired from a job, challenged by one of his friends, and delivers a strong reminder of how unlucky he is in life. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to swing from rooftops as Spider-Man, Parker just might be the least fortunate guy in the world. So what does the movie do? It begins to take that away as well. Parker begins to discover his powers fading, leading him to question whether all the sacrifices he makes to be Spider-Man are even worth it. The story perfectly captures Peter Parker from decades of the comic book. From his origins even to present day, this is what Parker’s life is like, and it’s why fans like me absolutely adore and connect with the character.

Meanwhile, Raimi spins a tale of the other direction Parker could have gone if he hadn’t been given the creedo “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”. Scientist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) sees science and intellect as a blessing, but when his experiements go awry, fusing him with mechanical arms, he becomes something more akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, following whims driven by the artificial intelligence of the mechanical arms to a life of crime as Dr. Octopus.

Reading those last two paragraphs it would almost sound as if Spider-Man 2 tells two different stories instead of one story about the titular hero facing off with a new villain. That’s because it practically does. The film attempts to create a sympathetic character in Octavius despite the villain being a strong part of Spidey’s rogues gallery for years. Parker and Octavius meet a few times in the beginning of the picture, but the Octopus and the Spider barely cross paths for the bulk of the film, with two out of the three encounters between them taking place in the last quarter of the film. Instead the story takes time to explore both the good and the bad of both characters, from Spider-Man’s selfish desire to give up his life as a super hero to the love Octavius shares with his wife, and how her death leads to his transformation.

Moreso than the first film, Sam Raimi’s style really comes into play in this picture. It’s not just the casting of Bruce Campbell (this time as a tough usher who gets the best of Parker). Instead Raimi brings his horror style made so familiar by the Evil Dead movies into play as Octavius becomes Dr. Ock and puts tricks like the “dead cam” (originally used to show the point of view of the unseen terror chasing people in his movies) to good use to show the terror brought about by Ock’s tentacles.

To say that Spider-Man 2 ends with a bang is a bit of a cliché, but it does set up the third chapter beautifully. Three years ago my biggest complaint about the movie was that it ended, leaving the audience wanting more. Now that we are so close to the debut of that third chapter, my biggest complaint is that the second chapter may have raised the Spider-Man bar too high for the next picture. Every other super-hero franchise out there has stumbled with the third chapter. Can the wall crawler overcome that curse? If anyone can, Spider-Man 2 shows us Sam Raimi is the one. Spider-Man 2.1 is the DVD release we should have been expecting to coincide with the new movie coming out in theaters. Although Sony Home Entertainment probably could have just reissued the old DVD release with new packaging and a preview of the third film, they go beyond that and add to the movie, truly creating a version “2.1” of the movie. On top of that very little of the bonus material from the previous Spider-Man 2 release will be found here. This is a new edition of the movie, with new bonus material to back it up.

So the big question everyone is asking is, what are in those extra eight minutes? The truth is, not terribly much. The extra time is spread throughout the film, sprinkling a little bit here and there, much of which will probably go unnoticed by less dedicated fans. Here’s a few of the things I spotted:

- An extended scene between Peter and Harry at the beginning where Harry tries to get more information from Peter about Spider-Man, but then forgives him for not telling him. The original version left the scene on a more tense note.

- When Mary Jane tells Peter she’s seeing someone, he suggests it’s a therapist, which she corrects.

- When Spider-Man is forced to ride down an elevator after losing his powers, the scene with actor Hal Sparks is longer. Instead of a commentary on Spidey’s costume, Sparks, playing an advertising agent, riffs some suggestions to help promote Spider-Man.

- M.J. talks with a friend about whether she loves John Jameson, the man she’s engaged to, and why she’s marrying him when she clearly has emotions for someone else.

- After J. Jonah Jameson acquires Spidey’s abandoned costume, there’s a sequence that shows Jonah prancing around wearing the costume making “thwip” gestures with his hand while making gunshot noises. All of this is done while he smokes his cigar of course. This singlehandedly might be the funniest addition of the movie and makes 2.1 completely worth it.

- A variety of extra footage added to the fight sequences between Spider-Man and Doc Ock, including the two crashing through a window into an office and a little more brutality added to the train fight.

Like the first release, the movie is accompanied by a commentary track (this time by Producer Laura Ziskin and Alvin Sargeant, the screenwriter behind the film) and Spidey-Sense trivia, which does its best not to repeat information from the first release of Spider-Man 2. The commentary is a little less interesting than the previous one, which boasted Raimi, Maguire, and Avi Arad, but the Trivia track is fun and of particular interest when it minimizes the film to show rehearsal footage or a raw take of the scene. Both of these methods of watching the film are a bit tricky to navigate however. You have to activate them in the menus and then play the movie from their option screens. Returning to the main screen or using scene selection turns the trivia back off, and the commentary isn’t available just by scrolling through the audio options on your remote.

Of course, the added footage isn’t the only reason to look at Spider-Man 2.1. A second disc holds a small amount of behind the scenes featurettes, with a strong focus on the Oscar-award winning visual effects behind the movie. While the bonus materials aren’t the 10+ hours that the previous release held, it’s still a decent amount of material, clearly aimed at an audience that already owns Spider-Man 2 on DVD.

The “Inside 2.1” featurette explains how and why this 2.1 cut exists. They mention some of the previously deleted sequences I’ve listed above and why they were originally removed from the film. Setting up the disc’s focus on the visual effects, members of the visual effects team talk about some of the processes they had to go through to complete these scenes for the 2.1 edit. I was glad to hear Avi Arad claim that most people would always think of the original edit when they thought of Spider-Man 2 - this version is meant to be a special edition, not a revision of the film itself. However, there is one thing I found troubling about this featurette. Showing storyboards of the visual effects needed, a white board shows the team at work on “SM 2.5”. Was that simply the working title for this version or is there a Spider-Man 2.5 edition coming in the future? Only time will tell.

The disc makes use of the multi-angle option on your DVD player with a four minute sequence of the score from the movie. One angle shows the recording of the score in the studio, while the other angle shows an interview with Danny Elfman. The interview is reused from the last DVD release, although parts of it weren’t shown before, but the angle feature is poorly used – something all too typical for this kind of feature. There’s really no reason to jump between the different angles since the score being recorded is audible during the Elfman interview.

Of course, what conveniently timed DVD release would be complete without a look at the latest chapter, which 2.1 provies with a short sneak peek at Spider-Man 3. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ve seen all the footage they include in this featurette. The only added detail they let slip is that this movie starts out a bit differently than the first two – Peter’s finally on top of things following his victories in this film. He has the girl, he’s beaten the bad guy, and the public is finally beginning to support him. That means the third chapter has to spend some time getting things back to status quo – which, as fans of the comic book know, is where that black costume is sure to come in to play. It’s only a tease, but the featurette makes me want Spider-Man 3 to start tomorrow… later today even. Bring it on!

The rest of the bonus materials focus on the visual effects of the movie and the people behind them. “With Great Effort Comes Great Recognition” allows John Dykstra to hold his Oscar as he talks about the steps the movie producers and other visual effects supervisors had to go through to win the award. “VFX Breakdowns” is a multiple part look at the effects of the movie. While it’s more in depth than the section on visual effects on the Spider-Man 2 DVD, it’s more technical and less interestingly presented. While it’s great to get that reminder of all the steps that go into visual effects (especially because well done effects have a tendency to be invisible during the film), something simpler may have served the purpose better than this half hour look.

Spider-Man 2.1 carries the same perfect movie, slightly enhanced for a new release. There’s nothing here that makes the movie an absolute “must have” other than the film itself, which most people probably already have. This isn’t a bad release by any means, however, and worth picking up, if only to see J. Jonah Jameson prancing around like Spider-Man.