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Amazing Spider-Man, The

Entry updated 8 July 2018. Tagged: Film, TV.

1. US tv series (1977-1979). Charles Fries Productions for CBS-TV. Character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for Marvel Comics, debuting in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) and appearing in his own title The Amazing Spider-Man from March 1963. Produced by Robert Jones, Lionel E Siegel, Edward Montagne. Directors included Cliff Bole, Michael Caffey, Don MacDougall. Writers included John W Bloch, Howard Dimsdale, Stephen Kandel. Cast includes Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Nicholas Hammond, Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Robert F Simon and David White. One 92-minute pilot film, Spider-Man (1977) plus 13 60-minute episodes 1978-1979. Colour.

Peter Parker (Hammond) is bitten by a radioactive spider at a science demonstration he is covering as a photographer for the newspaper The Daily Bugle – whose unsympathetic editor is J Jonah Jameson (White in the pilot; thereafter Simon) – and shortly discovers he has gained Superpowers. These include great strength, the ability to climb walls with only his hands, and feet, and an ESP "spider sense" which warns him of impending danger. Designing a costume, and mechanical web-shooters, he begins his career as a crime-fighter. He deals mostly with routine criminals and occasional terrorists, owing to the technical limitations of the period and the limited time available in a one-hour programme; Comics enthusiasts were disappointed by the lack of flamboyant superpowered Villains. The series was poorly scheduled, airing on a very erratic schedule, and is almost forgotten today. Hammond nevertheless holds the distinction of being the first actor to portray Spider-Man in a live-action format. [GSt]

2. Film (2012). Columbia Pictures presents a Marvel Entertainment/Laura Ziskin/Avi Arad/Matt Tolmach production. Directed by Marc Webb. Written by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves; story by Vanderbilt, based on the Marvel Comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Cast includes Sally Field, Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen and Emma Stone. 136 minutes. Colour, 3D.

This curious film's existence is a mark of how vital the big Marvel franchises had become for the outside studios to whom they had been licensed in the years before 2004 – Spider-Man to Sony, Fantastic Four and the crown jewels X-Men to Fox, who would soon be forced into similar measures with X-Men: First Class (2011) (see X-Men Films). Creative tensions between Sony and the previous three films' director, Sam Raimi, were already apparent in the overcrowded storyline of Spider-Man 3, and extensive work on the fourth instalment (with Vanderbilt as screenwriter) failed to find a mutually agreeable scenario; Raimi and his cast exited the franchise, leaving Sony with the urgent challenge of restarting the franchise before the rights reverted to an increasingly confident and muscular Marvel. Eventually elements of Vanderbilt's version, including scheduled villain Curt Connors/The Lizard, were folded into a recast and rebooted version of the origin story, ejecting Mary Jane Watson for Gwen Stacy (Stone), and rewriting canon elements to keep Ben Parker (Sheen) alive as Peter explores, without resolving, the mystery of his parents' death. (In the comics they were revealed as SHIELD agents, but this option is not available to Sony as Marvel Studios own the rights.) Garfield and Stone, accomplished players both, do their professional best to impersonate teenagers with some degree of conviction, and all the cast do their best to distance their interpretations of the characters from the generally (sometimes far) superior Raimi versions. A longer and more languid prologue makes time for more extended high-school character business, though at the expense of the colourful Daily Bugle settings and characters from Raimi's films. The major new asset is 3D, for which Spider-Man's aerial swingabouts are a natural subject; but the digital Lizard effects are surprisingly sub-par, and the villain's plot an insipid retread of Batman Begins (see Batman Films). Nevertheless, the film did what was wanted, and a sequel was duly greenlit: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). [NL]


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