Spider-Rat, by Ric Meyers
Last week I discussed how great, illuminating, extras can turn a flawed film into a DVD must-have. This week, the worm has turned. I now aim to show that all the extras in the world can’t make a misguided movie a keeper.
Spider-Man 3 was a mess. It was especially disappointing because director Sam Raimi showed such a sure helming hand on Spideys one and two. But, perhaps because he thought number three would be his last, he apparently decided to do everything else he ever wanted to do in one go. Whatever the cause, there were too many plots, villains, love interests, moods, approaches, and concepts.
It also suffered from a severe case of co-starilitis – the same affliction which struck Superman Returns’ Lois Lane and Rise of the Silver Surfer’s Sue Storm – in that the heroine’s desire for communication and closure trump any concern for the good of the many, be it city, world, or movie audience. The result is that scenes of relative insignificance go on for what seem like forever, while important junctures are dismissed within seconds (the teaming of Sandman and Venom) or just ignored (the new Goblin’s blackmail of Mary Jane).
What also happens in a film as overstuffed, and therefore unavoidably unfocused, as this one is that the filmmakers develop tunnelvision – concentrating on the “cool” parts (like the multi-million dollar cgi Sandman intro) and ignoring what obviously doesn’t work or come together. Thus we have Spider-Man 3: Two Disc Special Edition, which has reams and reams of extras, signifying essentially nothing.
Normally such stuff as featurettes, documentaries, and audio commentaries are completed during post-production – that is, in the time between the shooting wraps and the finished film premieres — so no talking head yet knows how the film actually fared in the big bad world. So it can be both entertaining and edifying to hear just how misguided the producers, actors, and director were (the techs are mostly invulnerable to these embarrassments, because their work is invariably exceptional and it’s not their fault that the core staff bit off more than they could eschew).
In the case of Spidey 3’s commentaries and comments, however, another psychological truth may have come into play. Sam Raimi is not stupid. He, more than likely, knew what he had done. It’s also quite possible that Tobey Maguire, et al, knew that this one wasn’t as firm as the first two (what third in a series is?). So, instead of displaying blind enthusiastic optimism, the mood is somewhat professionally muted on all fronts, making for an essentially unexciting mass o’extras – unless you’re really, really interested in how they designed the characters or shot the many extraneous stunt scenes that only added to the film’s bloat.
Personally, I most enjoyed the bloopers, “The Science of Sound” doc, and “Signal Fire,” a funny short about a school play reenactment of the film with kids as Spidey, MJ, and the rest. Otherwise, I’m looking to regift this thing to anyone I can find who actually liked the flick.
On the other hand, by all rights, Ratatouille should not have worked. An unpronounceable and unspellable title, an awkward central concept, a contrived communication and control device, and not a single musical number nor pop culture reference in sight. How could it possibly be successful, not to mention good?
But both good and successful it was, Pixar and Brad Bird be praised, so the DVD is a welcome addition to my collection. However, surprise of surprises, while Spidey 3’s discs made me feel stuffed, Ratatouille’s single disc made me hungry for more.
There are precious few extras here, making each one all the more appreciated. There’s just a “making of” doc, deleted scenes with intros by the director, a fine (is there any other kind?) new Pixar short (entitled Lifted), and my favorite, Your Friend the Rat – an animated history of the disease-carrying vermin, hosted by several supporting characters from the film.
Personally, I want a featurette just on the creation of the film’s Paris, or more things involving the fascinating voice cast (Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O’Toole et al).
But beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take my single disc, and like it. It’s a great “wafer-thin” palate cleanser after my stomach churning indigestion from the third film incarnation of your friendly neighborhood…well, you know who….
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.