Spider-Man: The New Animated Series review by Mike Long

I promise that this review will not turn into a tirade on how much I hate MTV. I will promise to stick to the topic and...oh no...I HATE MTV! Not only has the network stopped having anything to do with the "M" in their name, they have no idea what to do with good product when they get it. First, they mis-handled the very clever Undergrads (which many people, including myself, didn't discover until it had left MTV), and now they are mistreating Spider-Man: The New Animated Series. I knew of the existence of the show, but was never able to catch a full episode on MTV, as it seemed to be aired at random times. God bless Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment for bringing the show to DVD so that it's rightful audience can enjoy it.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series takes cues from several sources. It's clearly influenced by Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man feature film. Also, it's noted in the extras that the Ulitmate Spider-Man comic book. (Which I'm not familiar with, as it came along after I left the world of comics.) And of course, there's over 40 years of "Spider-Man" history acting on the show as well. As in the film, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) is a student at Empire State University, and is roommates with Harry Osborn (voiced by Ian Ziering). Of course, Harry doesn't know that Peter is actually Spider-Man, as Harry hates Spider-Man, blaming the super-hero for his father's death. Mary Jane Watson (voiced by Lisa Loeb) often pals around with Peter and Harry, and she obviously has a crush on Peter -- something that he is either oblivious to or chooses to ignore (it's never quite clear). When Peter isn't in class or hanging out with his friends, he dons his costume and Patrols the city as Spider-Man, where he tangles with villains such as Silver Sable (voiced by Virginia Madsen), Kraven the Hunter (voiced by Michael Dorn), or a new-fangled version of Electro (voiced by Ethan Embry). Peter faces the challenge of juggling college life and the life of a super-hero, all the while worrying that his double-life may put his friends in danger.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, or simply Spider-Man, which is the on-screen title, is an interesting experiment and is successful on several levels. The crux of the "Spider-Man" character has always been the burden of power which he carries and his need to keep his secret from his family and friends. Those themes are handled well here, as the relationships between Peter, Harry, and Mary Jane are a major focus of the show. While the themes in Spider-Man should appeal to all ages, the animated "Spider-Man" series in the past have been aimed at children. (Although, the series from the early 90s certainly appealed to adults as well.) However, this new show is set at a college and is clearly aimed at an older teens/college aged audiences, as it brings in many of the issues which face college students, such as managing a class schedule and struggling to fit in. Also, as in the comics, Peter must deal with the fact that many people, like Harry, see Spider-Man as a menace. This makes his dedication to crime-fighting all the harder.

And while all of those things are great, let's face it, we're here for the action, and Spider-Man delivers. The show features computer animation, which is done by Mainframe Entertainment, the company which brought us ReBoot. The style of the animation takes some time to get used to, as it falls somewhere between comic-booky, abstract, and realistic, but once you're accustomed to it, the art is quite satisfying. The show deftly mixes the Spider-Man movements introduced in the feature film which bold colors and creative shadowing. The action sequences are very well done and each episode features several scenes where Spider-Man must do his thing to save the day. My only complaint about the show is that it veers away from the classic comic book villains and gives us some very generic terrorists and burglars for Spider-Man to fight. I realize that this is the first season of a show which is attempting to appeal to an audience who most likely aren't life-long Spidey fans, but it wouldn't hurt to throw in The Scorpion, or the Vulture, or, of course, the best of all, Venom. I would love to see Venom animated for this show. At this point, I have no idea if there will be a second season of Spider-Man, but rest assured, I will tear apart the TV Guide to ensure that I see it when it first airs.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series swings onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The 2-disc set contains all 13 episodes from the show's first season. The show is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and the image has been letterboxed at 1.78:1. In short, the video here is incredible. I'm not sure if this transfer from taken directly from a digital source, but I can say that the picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The clarity of the image is quite satisfying and the picture has a great deal of depth. The show displays a very wide color palette, and all of the hues look fantastic here. In a surprising move, the DVD contains both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks are quite impressive, as the show is loaded with opportunities for surround sound action. The dialogue is always clear on both tracks, and they both feature great use of stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. The DTS track is slightly crisper and offers a wider soundfield, but you can't go wrong with either one. All-together, this DVD has a great audio/video package.

This 2-disc set contains a number of extra features. All 13 episodes carry an audio commentary. These commentaries are hosted by series co-executive producer Audu Paden, and features a revolving group of crew members who discuss the show's origins, the making of the show, the special effects, and so on. There are some interesting moments in these chats, but they are often quite technical and get a bit dull at times. Also, each show give the viewer the option to see "Amazing Spider-Facts", which are series of "Pop-UP Video"-like on-screen balloons which contains tid-bits about the show and the comics. Disc 1 has 4 galleries of production artwork --- main characters, villains, guest characters, and miscellaneous, and there are also filmographies for the talent involved in the show. Disc 2, which has the rest of the extras, has 4 featurettes. 'The Making of Spider-Man" (23 minutes), allows co-executive producer Audu Paden to give us an overview of the show. We learn about the origins of the show and discover that auditions were held to find the right CGI studio. This segments contains comments from Neil Patrick Harris, but none of the other voice actors. If you enjoyed the technical nature of the commentaries, then you'll love "Spider-Man Tech: Creating the Models" (13 minutes), where the show's animators describe the look of the show and discuss the lighting and background characters. This train of thought continues with "Spider-Man Tech: Animating Performance" (13 minutes), which demonstrates how the animators use the existing dialogue to animate the performance, and also show how motion capture was used in the show. This segment contains some clips which weren't in Season One. "Spider-Man Music: The Composers" (7 minutes) focuses on John Digweed and Nick Muir, who talk about how they compose music for the show. The DVD contains a humorous, yet pointless outtake reel, which are Pixar-like bloopers. "Building With Layers" allows the viewer to use the multi-angle function to view the five different layers of animation which make up a 30-second sequence. The initial pitch animation from Mainframe is included here, and I actually like it better than the style used for the finished show. Also, we see another style of animation in the "Abandoned 'Spidey-Sense' Test", which is shown in black & white. Finally, there is 2-minutes of rough animation, which shows how the animation evolves.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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