By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
SPIDER-MAN 3, directed by Sam Raimi, is a perfect escapist film. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent, story by Sam and Ivan Raimi, is dazzling bling, every facet a window emitting particular brilliance. The film represents the finest traditions of Time Honored story-telling, utilizing the absolute latest in state-of-the-art technology, artistic design, and musical scoring to fashion what will prove to be one of the most endearing volumes in the Hollywood Library. Assembled in its Cast of Characters are the brightest and best. Spider-Man 3 is on the first leg of an eternal orbit.
In typical IMAX theatres, Spider-Man 3 spews its web on a screen 65-feet wide by 90-feet high. Larger than life in this case translates to – its frame can encompass at least one life-size whale. The goal is to be immersed in the vision and lost to everything but the experience, providing the image/the episode can hold one’s attention.
DEPTH & PERSPECTIVE – View of An Ideal City (1490), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Michelangelo used a ceiling to probe the depths of Heaven, many a computer screen displays preferred reductions and increased pixels; prolonged daydreams are ignited with triple page centerfolds, and vintage 8 x 10s are inserted in archival-safe protectors. It’s all about displaying the content. In this third installment of Spider-Man are the components that fascinated us way-back in ’02 with Chapter 1, and likewise terrified our ancestors way-way back in 1903 – huge moving pictures projected onto a neighbor’s white bed linens, quick & easy-to-understand villains and heroes, merciless violence, a faster than lightning locomotive, and some dude named “Barnes” shootin’ your lights out at the end. Nothing was bigger than that – not then, not now. Only Time will tell what reels survive.
Holding up TRADITIONAL VALUES
Enter the Impossible Dream – the larger than life presence that fills the screen – the Movie Star. It seems nothing has changed. The similarities between Yesterday’s Hollywood gods and goddesses and the three romantic leads of Spider-Man 3 are remarkably fascinating, maybe a bit eerie.
KIRSTEN DUNST and CLARA BOW – They have IT
BRONCHO BILLY BUSTER – The Great Train Robbery (1903) and TOBY MAGUIRE – Spider-Man 3 (2007) – The Alpha & Omega of Hollywood Action Heroes
JAMES FRANCO – beside Robert Taylor (1935) and Basil Rathbone – as Sherlock Holmes
The controlling gimmicks of the entire Spider-Man series are chemical imbalances, multiple identities, and opulent drag. Peter Parker’s veins pulse with spider venom, Aunt Mary thrives on old-age meds, Harry Osborn (James Franco) is juiced on booze and nuclear–neat. Chapter 3 adds yet more molecular fusions and alterations – from the hand of man and from the outer limits. By chance, a machine turns escaped convict “Flint Marko” (Thomas Haden Church) into “Sandman”. A meteor lands near a grove where Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker are madly making-out.
The rock breaks open, out crawls some cognizant inky-black ooze-thing which eventually creeps onto Peter and – voila! – a darker Spider sits down beside her. Tobey Maguire freely enjoys many an actor’s longing to tackle a dual role. This installment gives him a third ego and amazing it is what emerges from the Make-up, Wardrobe, and Lighting Departments.
TOBEY MAGURE – Where the underworld meets the elite
At 80 years old, Rosemary Harris represents the glowing stamina of a Lady of the Theatre. With three blockbuster appearances as “Mary Parker” Ms. Harris settles into the hearts of a new generation who will one day remember her and the Good Old Days of IMAX. Some reminisce now about her Tony Award winning performance (before she hit 40) as “Eleanor of Aquitaine” to Robert (The Music Man) Preston’s “Henry II” in the original Broadway cast of The Lion In Winter. Long before that, Rosemary appeared alongside Helen Hayes in A School For Scandal. Perhaps destined for the same roles, Kirsten Dunst as “Mary Jane” makes her one and only Broadway appearance across the street from the Helen Hayes Theatre singing “They Say It’s Wonderful” from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. When Helen Hayes made her final TV interviews on The Tonight Show in the early ’90s she counseled young actors to feel fortunate if they achieved even one performance – anywhere! – that brought them artistic satisfaction.
ROSEMARY HARRIS – IMAX tea and sympathy with Aunt Mary
Director Sam Raimi and screenplay author Alvin Sargent create an incredible opportunity for Rosemary Harris that film buffs will instantly appreciate – pouring tea for Peter. It’s about American Tradition – a collectible porcelain flowered teapot with matching cups, the cream goes in after the tea is poured, not before (notice Aunt Mary’s nearby collection of prescription chemicals). Peter pays close attention to both the ritual and to Aunt Mary’s sage advice. In Gone With The Wind – Jane Darwell, as busybody moralist “Dolly Merriwether”, overrides an exchange about public behavior as the director draws our attention to a well-tempered teapot. As a vital veteran, Ms. Darwell is cherished in the magnificent “Feed the Birds” scene from Disney’s Mary Poppins. However Rosemary Harris might assess her commercial success as “Mary Parker”, her place in the rarified pantheon of the never-to-be-forgotten Wisdom Figure is absolutely guaranteed.
More Traditions, Guarantees, and Associations. Spider-Man 3 invites more than cursory assessments and quick judgments. Amazing performances were turned in by television stars such as Topher Grace (as “Eddie Brock” and another transformed victim of the ooze-thing, “Venom”) and by Thomas Haden Church (as the beefy “Flint Marko” and then alternately as the molecularly dispatched “Sandman”). For many actors versed in other mediums, these assignments represent how “Hollywood” sometimes takes care of its own. Mr. Grace is best known as “Eric Forman” from THAT ’70S SHOW, chalking-up 175 episodes between 1998 and 2006. Underneath Mr. Church’s newly-acquired hulking appearance is the former “Lowell Mather” from the TV series WINGS. For five seasons Church delighted audiences with cameo appearances in no less than 123 episodes. Sixty-seven year old James Cromwell (“Captain Stacy”) credits include SIX FEET UNDER as “George Sibley”, THE QUEEN (2006) as “Prince Philip”; and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) as “Capt. Dudley Liam Smith”.
TOPHER GRACE – as VENOM and EDDIE BROCK
Finally, a Valentine to Marilyn Monroe. Having failed on Broadway and fed-up with multiple-personality spider men in drag, Mary Jane is reduced to being a singing waitress in a local jazz club. She’s called to the mic. She bursts into the classic ballad by Gus Kahn, “I’m Through With Love”. Lead vocalist Sugar Cane (SOME LIKE IT HOT) was fed-up with trumpet players – except the whiskered one, Josephine (Tony Curtis) in her All-Girl band. “For I must have you or no one”, she sings, “and so I’m through with love.” With that, down goes the trumpet – the lady trumpet player wraps his lips around all that Sugar. End of the drag scene for Josephine. Similarly, Peter removes the “Spidey” mask, enters the club holding Aunt Mary’s engagement ring, takes Mary Jane’s hand and … well, the rest is Motion Picture History.
Spider-Man 3. A web of delight.
See Seán’s recent articles and reviews:
LA VIE EN ROSE (La Môme) – Biography of Edith Piaf A Sensation at the 50th San Francisco International Film Festival
SPIDER-MAN 3, An All-American Cinematic Marvel
RIGOLETTO – SF OPERA Broadcasts on Classical 102.1 KDFC
JERSEY BOYS – Smashing Records in SAN FRANCISCO
NORMA SHEARER – Headlines the 12th ANNUAL SILENT FILM FESTIVAL
DON QUIXOTE – An Impossible Dream at SF Ballet
THE DAMNATION OF FAUST – Absolute Heaven at Davies Symphony Hall
JEANETTE MacDONALD – First Lady of “San Francisco”
An Interview with PASCAL MOLAT – Principal Soloist, San Francisco Ballet
TERRA HAUTE – An Interview with The Stars, John Hutchinson and Elias Escobedo
San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.