Sometimes, it's easy to forget that actors are human too. Thanks to the magic of editing, we don't often see the mistakes they make or the lines they flub. In fact, one of the main reasons why outtakes, gag reels and bloopers are usually so well-liked is because they give us that chance to see actors at their most human. When you have to pull off a tricky stunt in just the right, there are a lot of takes that wind up on the cutting room floor. Such was the case for Tobey Maguire in 2002's Spider-Man.
As you might recall, in the cafeteria scene early into the film, there is a moment where Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is getting adjusted to his brand new Spidey powers. And he harbors a secret/not-so-secret crush on Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
In a moment of vulnerability, Mary Jane slips on some spilled juice (where's the janitor when you need them?) and she's about to crash onto the floor and have her lunch fall all over her face. But thankfully, Peter's Spidey senses are alerted, he catches the girl and, in one fell swoop, catches all the items that were on her tray. He makes it look completely graceful, but that is far from the truth.
As it was noted by The Independent, this scene with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the school cafeteria didn't come together quite as neatly as it did in the final product. Indeed, it took a lot of takes in order to get it right. And we're not taking five, or 10, or 20, or even 40. We're talking David Fincher/Stanley Kubrick-level takes.
That's right, this memorable scene required 156 takes in total in order for this shot to be wrapped. And the reason is because this special shot was created without any CG effects at all. Yep, it was all real and practical. As you can expect, it's not-so-easy for a mere mortal like Tobey Maguire to do what Spider-Man can so naturally.
This information was explained on Spider-Man's DVD commentary by John Dykstra, the head of the VFX team for the film and a special effects artist. In a pretty cheeky way, Dykstra admitted that it wasn't ultimately special effects that brought this shot to life. It was Tobey Maguire himself actually catching all the items on the trey, although it didn't entirely work the first 100-plus times. Here's how Dykstra explains this shot on the commentary:
To confirm John Dykstra's claims, Kirsten Dunst also confirmed this bit of information on her own commentary track, also going into a little more detail about how Tobey Maguire was able to stick all the items onto the tray in just a rapid fashion. You know, after nearly two hundred attempts ...
Alas, as you would expect, the studio — in this case, Sony — wasn't necessarily jazzed about having this scene in the film in the first place. But Sam Raimi insisted upon it, and while it required a whopping 16-hour day of shooting, they were finally able to pull of this shot. I imagine that after the take they used was finished, there was a lot of clapping and celebrating, because they finally got it.
And it's a good thing they did too, because it has become one of the most iconic shots from the film. It was seen in all the advertisements, and it is one of the first things you remember about the film and the wizardry that Sam Raimi used in order to bring this story to life on the big screen. It was a simpler time then. Even though we were given the false hope of a potential Spider-Man 4, it turns out that Sam Raimi's days with Spider-Man are done for good, sadly.
It's sad to think that a shot like this one will probably never be seen on the big screen again. While there are no shortage of great special effects in movies today, particularly in Spider-Man movies, there are only a few that are as impressive as the one seen in this particular film. The result is an incredible accomplishment. When you know about all the hard work and tenacity that went into this shot to bring it to the screen, it's hard not to be taken aback by the persistence and the quality filmmaking brought not only by Sam Raimi and the crew, but by Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst too.
But it's also important to remember that, while some actors can nail a scene in just one or two takes, there are some who need hundreds in order to get exactly what's needed for the film. After all, actors are human, like you and me. Even when they play larger-than-life superheroes like Spider-Man.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.