A Look Back At Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man film mania is reaching new levels of excitement with the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and the revelation that the latest Spider-Man film will introduce the previous cinematic universes of older Marvel films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This was seen with appearances of the Spider-Man villains from the original Spidey films, which heralds many highly anticipated crossover events for future MCU films. With all this hoopla it is time to take a look at the original Spider-Man film trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi from 2002 to 2007.

The very first film based on Marvel Comics’ most popular superhero, Spider-Man, helped usher in a new age of superhero films at the turn of the century that eventually changed the cinematic landscape.

For the longest time it seemed as if there never would be a live-action film about Spider-Man. Marvel Comics, then later Marvel Entertainment, had the hardest time properly adapting their properties into respectable films or TV shows. The best they achieved was The Incredible Hulk TV show from the ’70s. Then things turned around with the releases of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000). With those film successes it was only natural for Marvel to turn to its flagship superhero.

Before Marvel was acquired by Disney, the film rights to their characters were sold to major and minor studios. This created a legal mess when it came to Spider-Man as it prevented a film from being produced. The best known effort was a film to be directed by James Cameron. Rumors had it that Leonardo DeCaprio was slated to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the film would have deviated wildly from the famous comic book source. One of those changes was that instead of crafting web shooters, Spider-Man had the ability to shoot his own organic webbing. This turned out to be one change that survived in the eventual Spider-Man, released on May 3, 2002 and directed by Sam Raimi, known by fans for his Evil Dead and Darkman films.

Spider-Man is a largely faithful adaptation of the Marvel Comics story about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a lonely and nerdy teenager in Queens, New York, who is bitten by a genetically altered spider during a class field trip at a laboratory. This updated the origin in that the spider was not radioactive as in the comics. During the ’60s radiation exposure was the cause du jour for how characters gained super powers. Of course, most people know better today that such exposure would have been fatal to living organisms such as humans!

Naturally, Peter developed spider-based powers because the venom from the spider’s bite changed his DNA. While he is elated with his new powers and physique he is pining for his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She comes from a troubled home but hides her pain by exhibiting an outgoing and friendly demeanor. While the two seem attracted to each other she has a boyfriend with his own car. Being that he doesn’t have a lot of money, Peter decided to enter a wrestling exhibition to win money to buy a car.

He’s dropped off near the exhibition by his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), who tried to counsel Peter about his growing pains, but the teenager disregarded him. For the wrestling match, Peter adopted a flashy costumed identity that covered most of his face and called himself the Human Spider. The announcer (Bruce Campbell in the first of many humorous cameos in these films) renamed him Spider-Man and watched in disbelief, along with the audience, as Peter took out his far larger opponent.

Looking for his reward, Peter is instead ripped off by the wrestling promoter, who refused to pay him over a technicality. After Peter left his office, the promoter is immediately robbed at gunpoint, and the robber was able to escape because Peter refused to stop him. This decision would later haunt him as the same robber killed Uncle Ben in a carjacking. Afterwards, Peter bitterly recalled his uncle’s message about “with great power comes great responsibility” and decided to use his powers for good as Spider-Man.

During Peter’s emotional journey, Spider-Man examined the story of Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), a billionaire industrialist and head of his company Oscorp. Facing competition and deadlines as a military contractor, Osborn subjected himself to an experimental chemical that enhanced his strength, durability and reflexes, but was driven insane. Peter and Osborn’s paths are intertwined as Peter’s friendship with Osborn’s son, Harry (James Franco), develops. Harry is also dating Mary Jane, but is aware of the mutual attraction Peter and Mary Jane have for each other. Meanwhile, Osborn adopted the armored identity of the criminal Green Goblin, and soon came into conflict with Spider-Man.

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A Brief Look Back At Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time

The previous post about Terminator 2: Judgment Day brought to mind the extinct theme park attraction Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time or T2 3D at Universal Studios.

The attraction was a live-stage show combined with a 3D film that embedded audiences into the action-packed world of the Terminator franchise. T2 3D premiered at Universal Studios Florda on April 27 1996 and closed on October 8, 2017. It also ran in Universal Studios Hollywood from May 6, 1999 to December 31, 2012. The only remaining theme park where it still operates is at Universal Studios Japan, where it opened on March 31, 2001, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer the attraction will run there.

Being that the film was directed by James Cameron himself, T2 3D would be the final time that he directed a Terminator film, even though it was a short film that ran about 12 minutes. It was also the final time that the actors from Terminator 2: Judgment Day reunited to reprise their roles: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, Edward Furlong as John Connor, and Robert Patrick as the T-1000. Needless to say, it was the last time Cameron directed these actors.

Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time amped the scale and quality of live-stage shows and 3D films for its time and was considered very revolutionary in how it seemlessly combined both aspects to create an immersive experience for visitors that began during the pre-show portion of the attraction.

After entering the attraction’s building, visitors where exposed to company propaganda from Cyberdyne Systems in the form of an annoying PR spokeswoman who appeared live and videos that touted the coming cybernetic and robotic products from the company.

The videos get hacked by Sarah and her teenage son, John Connor, who warn the visitors about the dangers of Cyberdyne complete with footage from the Terminator films. Their video hack ends and the PR spokeswomen dismissed their warnings before ushering the visitors into the main theater for a demonstation of the company’s latest product: the T-70 infantry unit aka prototype terminators.

Several T-70s (actually audio-animatronics) were lined up on walls alongside the seats and demonstrated their firepower. After that, live actors representing the Connors arrive and shut down the demonstration. But before long, a 3D metallic image of the T-1000 forms from a displayed logo of Cyberdyne Systems on a screen in front of the audience and it emerged from the screen as a live actor. The T-1000 kills the spokeswomen to the delight of the audience then starts chasing the Connors. However, a vortex formed in the movie screen and from it a live-action T-800 riding a motorcycle came to the rescue. A brief firefight ensued as clever maneuvering by the live actors hid their faces while overhead monitors displayed the film actors. This was very well choreographed considereing that the live actors ran through the aisles in front of the audience.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The 30th Anniversary Retrospective

Thirty years ago one of the greatest sequels of all time was released, when James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, sometimes called T2, appeared in theaters. Coming off the success of the first Terminator film as well as another classic sequel Aliens, Cameron reintroduced audiences to his nightmarish future world where the planet was taken over by Skynet, a supercomputer gone rogue that was attempting to wipe out the remnants of humanity. As with the first film, the beginning of Terminator 2: Judgement Day shows human resistance forces led by John Connor in a pitched battle featuring colossal hunter killer machines against a ragtag group of human fighters. This is certainly one of the highlights of the film that really hasn’t been matched by later Terminator films. 

The film subsequently moves to the present where the terminator sent back in time (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his career) arrives, this time to protect John Connor as a ten year old. The change of Schwarzenegger from villain in the first film to hero was risky, but it pays off as he and John Connor (Edward Furlong) have a great rapport, with the emotionless killer cyborg learning about what it means to be human from the sarcastic, but strong child. His strength, obviously came from his mother Sarah Connor, played brilliantly by Linda Hamilton.

Her character also has a dramatic change from the first film, where she was an innocent bystander who then transformed into a warrior willing to do anything to protect her child, knowing he is the savior of humanity. Her reunion with her son, and with the machine of her nightmares is a highlight, as is their first encounter in a mental health institution with the iconic T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a liquid metal killer cyborg that ruthlessly hunts down John. The nearly silent and deadly T-1000 is an interesting contrast to Schwarzenegger’s hulking T-800 model. Our heroes’ journey takes them south of the border and finally back to where it all started at Cyberdyne Systems, the place where Skynet itself was created, as they attempt to stop the nuclear war and rise of the machines from ever taking place. The final battle with the T-1000 at a steel mill is another thrilling highlight in a movie filled with show-stopping scenes, as the T-800 makes the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of all humanity, having learned from John about humans in general.

The theme of what it means to be human permeates this film and raises it past the level of just another cool action movie. From Sarah confronting her nightmares of the future and almost losing her humanity in trying to commit murder to change the future, to John seeing his machine protector as a father figure, to the terminator itself telling John at the end that he knows why humans cry, even if he could never do it. T2 has so much to say about the future of humankind and how our fates are not set in stone. This directly affects events in the film when the T-800, John and Sarah attempt to destroy Skynet with the help of its creator Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), who realizes his future creation will result in a nuclear holocaust and threaten humanity with extinction.

Having said all that, the film also has a well deserved reputation as a fantastic and influential action movie, with incredibly exciting stunts and special effects that revolutionized the genre. The “morphing” effect that brought the shape-shifting T-1000 to life forever changed how we saw what was possible in science fiction and films, in general. This directly led to the stunning dinosaur effects in Jurassic Park two years later, as well as other films that demonstrated that new worlds and creatures could be realized. The film also enshrined Terminator as a franchise, which in retrospect had mixed results. The direct follow up, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took the story to an interesting place and had a great ending, and the next film Terminator: Salvation finally showcased a future war that was hinted at in earlier films. But the most recent films, Terminator: Genisys and Terminator: Dark Fate were both reboots that were lacking, to put it mildly.

However, the franchise is still intact with a new anime series in development at Netflix, and a recently released video game Terminator: Resistance that is an excellent foray into the future war and leads right up to the opening sequence in T2, which is revealed to be the final battle between Skynet and John Connor’s forces before the terminators are sent back in time. All of these sequels, as well as the great and still-missed TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the Universal Studios theme park attraction T2-3D: Battle Across Time used Terminator 2: Judgement Day as the springboard to new plotlines. That is because T2 did such a great job of showcasing its world of killer cyborgs and brave, yet flawed heroes fighting against a seemingly inevitable fate of death and destruction.

Whatever the future has in store for the Terminator franchise, it can be certain that the influence and impact of Terminator 2: Judgement Day will always be felt, both for its epic scope and excitement, as well for its insights into at what makes us tick. That, along with its equally great predecessor, will keep this film going for another 30 years and beyond and keep it enshrined as not only a brilliant sequel, but a superior film in its own right.

C.S. Link

The Blue Ending Of A.I. Artificial Intelligence

One of the most debated moments in the underrated Steven Spielberg classic, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, was with its ending. When the film first premiered twenty years ago, many viewers came away thinking that Spielberg gave the film a happy ending. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, A.I. Artificial Intelligence turned out to be Spielberg’s first genre film to take on a more mature and downbeat tone, which reflected many of his non-genre films. Spollers ahead.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence starred Haley Joel Osment as David, an android or a Mecha built to be a surrogate son for a couple (Frances O’Connor and Sam Robards), whose son, Martin (Jake Thomas) was in a coma. David’s programming was altered so that he could experience emotions and be imprinted onto his “mother” Monica. This created problems when Martin recovered and sibling conflicts led to David being abandoned by his mother.

For the rest of the film, David embarked on a frightening and fantastical quest to find a mystical Blue Fairy, who he hoped would turn him into a real boy so he could be loved and accepted by his mother. David became obssessed with the Blue Fairy thanks to his mother reading him Pinnochio earlier in the film. He met many Mechas in his journey, including the male prostitute Mecha, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who helped David with his quest. Eventually, he made his way to a partially submerged Manhattan (climate change and rising sea levels have claimed many coastal cities in the future setting of the film) where he became trapped underwater in a vehicle. It is revealed that he is in Coney Island, which was completely underwater, and he discovered a statue of a Blue Fairy. Trapped in the vehicle, but with the statue in clear sight, David begged her non-stop to be turned into a boy, and that is the first ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

The film’s coda took place two thousand years later. The Earth was turned into a frozen wasteland and humankind is long extinct. Their only legacies being crumbling infrastructures and Mechas who have evolved into alien-like beings. David was found frozen and revived by the future Mechas. After they downloaded his memory files, they granted his wish of reuniting with his mother by cloning her. The catch was that the clone can only live for one day, yet she is able to provide the unconditional love and acceptance that the original Monica never could. Once she died at the end of the day, a content David allowed himself to sleep and go to the place “where dreams are born.”

This is a very ambigous ending, although on the surface it can be interpreted as a happy ending. After all, although David’s wish of becoming a real boy is unfullfilled, he attained his ultimate goal of being loved by his mother, the reason for wanting to be real. But it came at a cost. The clone of his mother died, and it is implied that he died, too, in a manner of speaking. Once he achieved his desire, his reason for existing was gone because the clone could not be revived and the cloning process cannot be repeated. So, it’s possible that he shut down his system in a type of suicide. Or maybe he took one step closer to becoming real. At one point in the film, he met his creator (William Hurt), who told David his ability to feel love and go beyond his programming by believing in abstract and mystical concepts proved that he has evolved. Then again, this could just be faulty or corrupted programming that left poor David in a loop.

It can be difficult to watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence because of the emotional torture David underwent in the film and his ultimate fate: left alone in a frozen world; his only companion being a semi-sentient super toy called Teddy. Without his mother, why would he want to continue existing? An irony here is that his Teddy also seemed imprinted onto David, but he largely ignored the toy If David did indeed die, then Teddy is the one to pity since by the end of the film, he is the last survivor, or did he shut himself down, as well?

At the second end of the film, David is given a false copy of a mother who was not able to love or accept him and while he was happy, this was just a one-time fantasy. He was never able to attain any of his dreams and was incapable of realizing this. In fact, David had an unhealthy obssession with his desire, which indicated an inability to move past his imprinting. In the end, David was unable to grow and move on past his parent.

While the ending may seem like a bittersweet wish fullfillment, and many argue it was typical for Steven Spielberg film, the conclusion up being a hollow victory for David. It is also sad to see that David was not able to realize or accept his circumstances and that he probably shut himself down instead of moving on. The ambigous ending of A.I. Artificial Intelligence is certainly open for discussion, but its downbeat and blue tone is undeniable and a testament to Steven Spielberg’s growth as a filmmaker.

José Soto

Raiders of the Lost Ark Turns 40

It’s hard to believe 40 years has gone by for this priceless treasure of a movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was great then, as it is now. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark was conceived by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas while the two were on vacation at the time Star Wars was released in theaters in May 1977. The two filmmakers wanted to collaborate on a project. Spielberg wanted to do a James Bond film, but that did not pan out. Instead, he and Lucas decided to create their own hero and over time, Phil Kaufman helped flesh out Lucas’ story, and later Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted June 12, 1981, it made us realize that Hollywood did not make movies like this anymore. Directed by Steven Spielberg and executive produced by George Lucas, the film was a tribute to the old black and white adventure serials (often done by Republic Pictures) that appeared in cinemas back in the early days of film.  

It was an adventure movie set in the 1930s with a touch of the religious and otherworldly—namely the mystical artifact, the Ark of the Covenant, which was sought after throughout the world by the archeologist Indiana “Indy” Jones (Harrison Ford, who was never more dashing) and Nazis led by Indy’s dastardly rival archeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman). The film boasted a handsome and rugged hero, a beautiful, but tough, female lead (Karen Allen), smarts, spunk and pulse-pounding action. It’s why many moviegoers still consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be the all-time greatest action movie.

What helped Raiders stand out from other action films were Spielberg’s directing which injected so much passion and energy into each scene and the hint of the supernatural when the Ark was finally opened. Basically the film was a Republic serial on a steroid budget as it boasted topnotch production values and effects, which consisted of blue screens and miniatures. One chilling effect that was unique at that time was that of one of the villain’s face melting off when the Ark was opened. The effects crew constructed a mold using a stone skull and gelatin that was melted between two propane heaters. It took about ten minutes for the face to melt, which of course, was sped up in the film to a gruesome effect.

Another star of the film was the film’s composer, John Williams. Already famous for his memorable scores for Jaws, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams was picked for Raiders thanks to his association with both filmmakers. Originally, Williams had two distinct themes for the film, and Spielberg suggested he combine the two and viola, that is how we got the famous Raiders March that evokes a feeling of grand adventure and thrills.

The film was wildly beloved when it burst into the scene that summer. Later in 1982, it won five Oscars and was even nominated for best director and best movie of the year, though as usual the Academy Awards voters chose to bestow those honors to less deserving winners (Warren Beatty for his overstuffed Reds, and Chariots of Fire, a real yawn fest of a film that is largely forgotten). As noted before, Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on cheaply made serials, yet it was made on a budget of less than $20 million. However, the film grossed almost $400 million (very high for its time), which proved that audiences still liked good old-fashioned adventures.

American actor Harrison Ford on the set of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the followup Indiana Jones films dispelled any doubt that Harrison Ford could only be a box office draw for the Star Wars movies. Ford stood out so clearly with his iconic wardrobe, bullwhip and tough-as-nails demeanor, except when it came to snakes! After his role in Indy, Ford went on to become one of the top earning action stars of the ’80s.

At the same time, Raiders helped disprove that George Lucas was a one-trick pony, since he is best known for his Star Wars films, while it cemented Steven Spielberg’s deserved status as one of our greatest film directors.

The sequels were well received for the most part with exceptions. The first sequel, or rather prequel (since it takes place before Raiders), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was criticized for being too violent and helped inspire the PG-13 movie rating. The third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was considered by some as the best of the Indy films, though most still think that forty years later, the first one is the best. Unfortunately, the last one, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which came out in 2008, is considered to be the weakest film, thanks to the obvious use of CG, clumsy antics and Shia LeBeouf, who played Indy’s son, but it still has some terrific moments.

Thankfully, that film will not be the last we have seen of Professor Jones as a new adventure is being filmed for release next year. But given Harrison Ford’s advanced age (he is 78), it is hard to see how the film will convince us he is still a man of action. It’s too bad, there were not more Indiana Jones movies made when Ford was in his prime, otherwise we would not have this dilemma. But keep in mind that the actor wanted to branch out and do other films, plus Spielberg and Lucas were also busy with other projects, which meant that all three getting together to do more Indy films was a logistical nightmare and it still is, as seen by the fact that Steven Spielberg is not directing the fifth film; James Mangold has taken over for the directing duties.

With three sequels released and a fourth sequel currently filming we should take a moment to consider the appeal and influence of Indiana Jones.

The concept of Indy being an outdoor adventurer looking for things of importance no doubt influenced Tomb RaiderUncharted, the Temple Run video game franchise, the Jumanji films, Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, and even Dora the Explorer. Lesser known properties inspired by Indy’s film adventures include the cult classic The Rocketeer, the fairly recent Journey to the Center of the Earth movies with Brendan Fraser and The Rock, and TV shows like Tales of the Golden Monkey. There was even an Indy- themed episode of Magnum P.I. starring Spielberg and Lucas’ first choice to play Indiana Jones—Tom Selleck. The actor almost got the part, but had to bow out due to contractual obligations with his TV show.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is so influential that any imagery in media showing a person or people exploring the jungle, with table cards flashing a bold logo is no doubt influenced by Indiana Jones. It even re-popularized the fedora hat that Indy often wore along with his leather jacket. These are just some of the reasons why we celebrate Raiders of the Lost Ark forty years after its release. Simply put, it still holds up as an exciting, innovative and lavish adventure yarn that is timeless.  To paraphrase Belloc, who mentioned in the film that if he buried a cheap watch in a thousand years it would become priceless, well in a thousand years we sense that this movie will still be priceless!

Walter L. Stevenson