By Tim O'Shea
Spider-Man Airs Fridays at 10 p.m. ET
If you told me in the early 1990s that I'd be watching an animated Spider-Man show on MTV in 2003, I would have viewed you as a deranged lunatic. Of course, this was before Marvel actually had a successful movie and before Brian Michael Bendis became a talent popular enough to have three names.
This series is being touted as the first time ever that Spider-Man would be 3-D animated. "Combining state-of-the-art CG imaging (CG neon noire [reviewer side note: whatever that may be]) processing a classic feature animation style, the series will combine bright, lively abstract colors including a seemingly realistic neon-lit city of the immediate future." Before I go any further, may I implore to PR writer of the world, never use the adjective "state-of-the-art" please, but enough with the unsolicited PR review.
The opening of the premiere starts where the series strength and genuine appeal will need to focus to succeed-action. In the first few minutes, you see Spidey stop a runaway bus, a mugging on a subway and prevent a construction fatality. The animation shows its strength in the action, but its weaknesses with the CG work. As the bus scene opened, I felt like I was watching a dramatic recreation of a crime for Dateline NBC or some news show. There's a certain drabness to the scenes when Spider-Man is not in them, he lends so much kinetics in general. That may be the point, subconsciously making the viewer crave an appearance by Spider-Man.
Fortunately, the producers don't try to set up the whole life of Spider-Man in this premiere. It's clear that the series spins out of the movie continuity, with a continued focus on Peter Parker, Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson in college. Thankfully, they don't try to squeeze in scenes with J. Jonah Jameson or Aunt May in this episode. This makes the story far more accessible and (wisely for the MTV target audience) we are thrown into the Matrix-like action scenes pretty quickly.
The show features the voice talents of Neil Patrick (Doogie Howser) Harris as Peter Parker, Lisa "Stay (I Missed You)/I'm Not Jeph" Loeb as Mary Jane Watson and Ian "Yes my ex-wife is in the 2004 Lingerie Super-Bowl" Ziering as Harry Osborn. The voice casting is an effort to tap into the right voices for the characters, don't get me wrong. But I think on some level it's also an effort to tap into pop culture interest with name recognition casting, I could be wrong.
The plot for this episode is a rich fellow who happens to be bankrolling Mary Jane's independent film is also a psychopath who wants to put Spider-Man in a cage. So he gets himself an assassin for hire (with a crazy sense of honor, I love those kinds of killers) that goes by the name of Shikata. Elements of the plot are contrived to be sure, but it works reasonably enough and allows for the introduction as to how and why Mary Jane can be involved with the resolution of the show. But the non-action scenes are awkward to watch, as they are a tad too realistic without being realistic (it's strange to describe, but you'll understand if you see it). The best way I can compare is, it's like watching the Max Fischer Players, from the 1999 film Rushmore, doing theatrical adaptations of popular films (as many will recall Wes Anderson did for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards). It's professional, but it's stilted.
That being said, the CG technology improves every day. These creators will probably learn from their early mistakes and I expect to see improvement in future shows. Friday nights at 10 PM may or may not be the best time to catch the show for many, but it being MTV, I'm sure it will be replayed many times over.
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