Spider-Man The New Animated Series: Complete Season One
R4 - Australia - Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (11th August 2004).
The Show

Since his debut in the comic world 42 years ago in Marvel's Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man has become a classic and beloved hero and certainly one of Marvel's best selling properties. Over the years Spidey has had a live-action TV show, many Animated incarnations, countless video games, and of course the two movies by Sam Raimi. In just about every decade since his creation Spidey has managed to resurface and reinvent himself into a new entertainment format. After the huge success of the first film MTV along with Columbia decided to create a new animated series for Spidey. Along with Marvel productions and the help of animation studio Mainframe, a new animated series was born - completely inside a computer.
This is the first all computer generated Spidey series ever, but what makes this unique is that it does not look like traditional CG animation (like Pixar's Toy Story or Monsters Inc.) the animation has a hand drawn feel to it, the character outlines actually have lines that you would see in traditional animation. Overall the look of the finished product is gorgeous. This and the combination of good voice acting make for a pretty good show, first off we have Neil Patrick Harris as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Lisa Loeb as Mary-Jane and Ian Ziering as Harry Osborn. Additionally the show features a slew of guest voices that also include rover-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie and rapper Eve.
The show takes places right where the first film left off and includes all 13 episodes of the first season split onto two discs, below is a complete episode breakdown:

DISC ONE
Episode 1: Heroes and Villains
Empire State University, where Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry attend school, is trying to buy a low-income housing development so that they can build new science facilities. This angers the residents who picket and protest the sale, but when a new villain, Turbo Jet, shows up on as a modern-age Robin Hood he steals valuable objects and from the sale gives some of the money to the people fighting the sale. When Spider-Man tries to stop him the people start to turn against Spidey.
This is not the best episode of the series, and certainly not a good way to kick off the season, I felt that the new villain was rather weak, it was an interesting creative choice going with a new character rather than delve into the already countless wealth of interesting villains the Spider-Man universe has seen in the comics. This episode shines in setting up the series but really misses mainly due to the introduction of Turbo Jet.

Episode 2: Royal Scam
Spider-Man is tricked by the Kingpin into stealing a computer chip that will allow him to steal billions of dollars from encrypted satellite bank transfers. Spidey realizes his mistake after he hands the chip over, and must find a way to get it back.
The second episode overall is much better than the first, with the use of the Kingpin voiced here by Michael Clarke Duncan who played the character in the 2003 film version of Daredevil. This episode features some of the best writing the series has to offer.

Episode 3: Law of the Jungle
Peter is working for Dr. Connors, after having lost his arm years ago in a lab accident he devotes his time researching a method of tissue regeneration based on the DNA of lizards, in order to grow back his arm. When the serum he creates looks promising, he injects himself and turns into the Lizard. Can Spidey stop him before he kills Harry?
This is a great episode that shows the origins of one of Spidey's most dangerous villains, the Lizard. Keeping with the tone of the comic book this episode features great visuals and action scenes as well as great voice acting by Rob Zombie who plays the Lizard.

Episode 4: Sword of Shikata
A wealthy collector of rare animals hires a new villain, Shikata, to capture Spider-man alive.
Aside from the first episode this one is notably the weakest of the series, again featuring a new villain. Although the general tone and action of this episode is well done it's the story that lets it down as being rather uninteresting.

Episode 5: Keeping Secrets
Spidey is after a new villain, Talon, who has been pulling a lot of robberies in the city. Things get sticky when he learns her identity: she's Harry's new girlfriend.
This episode solidifies the trend of creating new villains for the series, which begs the question why the creative team decided to go in that general direction? Unlike the previous episodes with new villains this one is probably the better of the new villain episodes. What this episode does well is drive the point of whether Peter should risk his secret identity of Spider-Man in order to protect his best friend Harry.

Episode 6: Tight Squeeze
Peter Parker is in a group of hostages captured by three ex-KGB agents who have purchased state of the art battle suits. The only demand they have is to see Spider-man. Can Peter save himself and the hostages without revealing his secret identity?
A somewhat continuation of theme from the previous episode where Spidey is yet again faced with having to reveal himself, Peter finds a way of course to save the day and not have to expose himself as Spider-Man. A satisfactory episode with some nice moments including the board-room battle and the TV station hostage scenes are also exciting.

Episode 7: Head Over Heals
A friend of Peter's, Christina, has invented an ESP device that will allow her to read minds. When she tries it on Peter, the device short circuits, and Christina finds herself in love with Spider-Man. O much so, that she tries to force Spidey to love her by getting rid of Mary-Jane.
Another well-done episode, this time without any major villains but rather a psycho girl who takes her obsession of Spider-Man a little too far.

Episode 8: The Party
When Peter's friend Max is initiated into a fraternity, things go horribly wrong. Max doesn't die, instead he turns into Electro, and tries to get revenge on the students.
One of the best episodes of the series, which deals with the origins of Electro, which is a modern update to the characters beginnings, The character has been given a new look unlike the comic book version, which is clothed in tacky green and yellow spandex the new Electro is a complete electro-particle being.

DISC TWO
Episode 9: Flash Memory
Flash Thompson, the jock that is always picking on Peter, has a new drug tested on him by Dr. Zeliner. It makes him much smarter, but it is also killing him. If the drug can make a dunce like Flash a genius, what would it do to a smart kid like Peter Parker? The doctor decides to find out.
It's nice to see some of the other minor characters getting some exposure on the show, this time with Flash Thompson, Peter's high school bully.

Episode 10: Spider-Man Dis-Sabled
While covering a news event, Peter accidentally films Silver Sable in an assassination attempt. Sable wants the tape, and will kill MJ and Harry to get it.
Another excellent episode that demonstrates great writing and the use of classic Spidey character the Silver Sable as an assassin whose motives are not what they seem.

Episode 11: When Sparks Fly
When Electro returns, he wants to transform the new woman in Peter's life, Sally, into a being like himself so they can live together forever.
The return of Electro, another excellent episode that plays out like a Twilight Zone episode, with great visuals and a satisfying ending.

Episode 12: Mind Games Part One
An armoured car is attacked transporting two villains who possess strong mental powers, the Gaines Twins, escape. Spider-Man is able to capture them, but Kraven the Hunter is tracking Spidey, and when MJ gets in his way he kills her!
Clearly the best episodes of the series are these final two, with the Gaines twins escaping and Kraven on the loose going after MJ. The ending leads into the second part.

Episode 13: Mind Games Part Two
Spider-Man confronts Kraven and tries to kill him for murdering Mary Jane, but not is all, as it seems when the Gaines Twins are controlling what's happening in Spidey's mind.
The second part reveals the twist and the involvement of the Gaines twins in MJ's death, the season gets wrapped-up nicely.

What we have here a fairly good show with slick animation and excellent voice acting, but what this series doesn't bring to the table is the same level of energy and charisma that the film had, although different artistic genres (animation and live action) I though the series had a sense of humour that felt at times forced or placed simply because the story demanded it, overall the writing is well done with certain episodes standing out more than others like the last two episodes Mind Games parts one and two being the strongest of the season as well as The Party being the introduction of Electro also standing out as one of the season's best. It would have been nice to use some of the classic villains instead of create new ones that where for the most part uninteresting. Perhaps in the next season we'll get to see villains such as Venom, Mysterio, The Vulture, and Sandman.
The look of the series will certainly gather mixed reactions, the look captures the essence and feel of the comic book rather well with bold lines and 2-D images mixed in with 3-D backgrounds, the images provide a luscious array of colours but fails with lack of background detail and shading. While the action scenes and swinging scenes are presented excellently some character movements feel puppeted and unnatural, just look at the way MJ and Peter walk for an example of this. Now perhaps this can be attributed to a first-time round syndrome where the animator and the production team are just getting used to the characters and environments for the first season and that these minor aspects will be done better for season two. Either way I can't wait to see what they have in store for Season two going with the trend I'd hope that it takes places after the events in Spider-Man 2.

Video

Each episode is presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 and has been mastered in High-Definition for the best possible image transfer, what we get here is not 'the' best but a near perfect product. Having done the transfer directly from a digital source helps. The image is strong with well-rendered colours and is always sharp, I did notice that a few episodes featured some edge-enhancement that sometimes caused an annoying halo-effect around some characters and backgrounds, there was also a considerable amount of aliasing, one other flaw I spotted was due to the CG modelling some detail lines on characters and most notably on backgrounds tend to either appear, disappear and even wiggle. This is usually a result of some sort of video glitch. Although these flaws are evident they are in no means overly distracting to the common viewer, for the most part the transfer is adequate.

Audio

This DVD features English audio in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround. I has rather impressed with the inclusion of a DTS soundtrack, as most TV DVDs don't usually include such an impressive surround option. I had the opportunity to view episodes in both these tracks, lets start with the DTS.
The DTS surround is very impressive, directional surrounds where utilized well with web slinging, gun shots, explosions as well as the music where placed extremely well throughout the tracks and added a welcomed dynamic feel. Dialogue came out clear and distortion free, aside from some lip-sync inadequacies you can't be too disappointed with this well-rounded track. It will give your set-up a good workout.
The Dolby track was also just as good and could not detect any major differences between the two aside from the fact that the DTS track had a bit more depth to the atmospheric surrounds such as city noises and background sounds.
Each episode is also subtitled in English, English captions and Hindi.

Extras

DISC ONE
The first extras on disc one are the commentaries, each episode features one.

The first commentary on Heroes and Villains is by writer Brian Michael Bendis and directors Tim Eldred and Audu Paden who is also one of the series developers. This is a great commentary where the participants discuss how this series came to be from its origins as a comic book, additionally Bendis also talks about the writing process.

The second commentary on Royal Scam is by series developer/director Audu Paden, character designer David Hartman, background animator Vince Toyama and executive producer Morgan Gendel. This track covers the look of the series and how it came about as well as creating characters and backgrounds for each episode.

The third commentary on Law of the Jungle is by executive producer Morgan Gendel and series writers Tracy Forbes, Todd Felderstein and Rick Saval and they discuss the writing aspect of each show and how the ideas are turned into a script.

The fourth commentary on Sword of Shikata is by developer/director Audu Paden, character designer David Hartman, executive producer Morgan Gendel and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee. Here the participants talk about how characters are developed and touch on aspects such as colour use, how they should act, movement etc.

The fifth commentary on Keeping Secrets is by developer/director Audu Paden, story editor/writer Marsha Griffin, voice director/editor Susan Blu and actor Neil Patrick Harris. Here we have comments made on the dialogue and how each character is unique as well as all the sounds associated with that particular character.

The sixth commentary on Tight Squeeze is by developer/director Audu Paden, director Tim Eldred, actor Neil Patrick Harris and executive producer Morgan Gendel. This track focuses on the directing process of an animated show.

The seventh commentary on Head Over Heals is by developer/director Audu Paden, Executive Morgan Gendel, and director Vincent Edwards and Alan Caldwell. This is another track about directing an animated series as well as the complexities that lie within.

The last commentary on disc one on The Party is by developer/director Audu Paden, CG producer Steve Wendland, associate producer Gio Corsi and supervising animator Robin Shea, On this track the participants discuss how the show is created inside the computer, the CG process and rendering process.

Each episode also features a Trivia Fact Track that is an option you can select while watching an episode. While viewing the show text information pops up on the screen giving the viewer some additional information about characters, plot points, comic book and pop-culture references etc.
This disc also boasts a DVD-ROM feature for your PC entitled Character Modeller this is an interactive feature that allows you to create your won character.

A production artwork gallery is also included with a host of images from the series, following that we have a series of filmographies for Audu Paden, Rick Ungar, Morgan Gendel, Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Loeb and Ian Ziering. To round off the extras on disc one we have a trailer for this series plus bonus trailer for the Japanese animation Metropolis as well as trailers for Cyborg 009 and Astro Boy

DISC TWO
The commentaries continue on this disc with the ninth commentary on Flash Memory by developer/director Audu Paden, CG producer Steve Wendland, director Sebastian Brodin and supervising animator Rav Grewal. Here the participants talk about the animation process and who does what specifically.

The tenth commentary on Spider-Man Dis-Sabled is by developer/director Audu Paden, CG producer Barbara Zelinski, director Johnny Darrell and supervising animator Rex Ahn. The participants here discuss the time constraints of creating an episode and how many animators are actually involved during this process.

The eleventh commentary on When Sparks Fly is by developer/director Audu Paden, editor Bruce King and composer Will Anderson discuss the post-production aspects of an episode, from editing to composition and completion.

The twelfth commentary on Mind Games Part One is by developer/director Audu Paden, executive producer Morgan Gendel, series writer Steve Kriozere and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee. The participants discuss how this two-part series ender came about.

The Thirteenth and final commentary on Mind Games Part Two is also by developer/director Audu Paden, executive producer Morgan Gendel, series writer Steve Kriozere and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee and is a continuation from the first part, these two commentaries are the only scene-specific commentaries on the DVD where they discuss the actual episode rather than about the series as a whole.

The Trivia Fact Track as seen on the first disc is also available here for the five episodes on this disc.

Additionally we also get 4 featurettes, the first entitled The Making of Spider-Man is a 23 minute 21 second featurette that explores in brief the general making of aspects from story to storyboard, then casting and voice recording to animatic and rough animation to the final render and the post-production that comes after that including the editing and scoring of the music for each episode. The featurette plays like a standard EPK style piece with cast and crew interviews edited with some clips from the series.

The next three featurettes deal with the technical animation side of things, the first is Spider-Man Tech: Creating the Models is a 12 minute 33 second piece on the CGI process from character modelling to creating the action scenes.

The following featurette is entitled Spider-Man Tech: Animating Performance runs for 13 minutes 39 seconds and deals with how the animators listen to the pre-recorded dialogue from the actors and have to match that with the animated character onscreen, this includes character emotion and also syncing.

The final featurette is entitled Spider-Man Music: The Composers runs for 7 minutes and 1 second and is an interview piece with DJ John Digweed and musician Nick Muir on how they got involved in the project with composer Will Anderson and their interest in creating music for TV and film.

Next we have a 1 minute 32 second outtake reel, which includes some funny stuff including Peter causing a motorway accident.

Following that we have a multi-angle feature Building with Layers this is a clip from the Turbo-Jet chase scene from the first episode Heroes and Villains and by switching angles on your remote you can shuffle through the 5 different layers that are added along the animation process to create the final rendered image you see in the episode.

Next we have the Initial Mainframe Pitch this is the actual 1 minute 7 second video reel that animation house Mainframe submitted to the producers of the show in order to get the contract to create the thirteen episodes, the reel is introduced by series developer Audu Paden.

Following that we have some Abandoned Spidey-Sense Tests. This is a 59 second reel that shows in black and white an alternate look at the Spidey-sense, the video is introduced by series developer Audu Paden.

The Final extra on this disc is a Rough Animation feature that runs for 1 minute and 39 seconds and is introduced by series developer Audu Paden, this shows us the rough computer models of scenes prior to being submitted to the final render, we get to see two scenes the motorcycle chase across the train tracks from the Flash Memory episode and the Mayor's dangling limo scene from Spider-Man Dis-Sabled.

Overall

This is a rather entertaining show, with some episodes being better than most, Spider-Man fans will certainly be into it. Columbia's DVD is excellent in terms of extras, it was great to see that every episode included a commentary as the trend for most TV DVDs is selected commentary on a few episodes. The featurettes although short are informative. Although the image wasn't spectacular it certainly wasn't poor, combined with the great DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks we have a sure winner.

The Show: B+ Video: B- Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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