Spider (2002) (NTSC)

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Released 13-Oct-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-David Cronenberg (Director)
Featurette-In The Beginning: How Spider Came To Be
Featurette-Making Of-Weaving The Web: The Making Of Spider
Featurette-Caught In Spider's Web: The Cast
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Adaptation, Punch-Drunk Love, The Devil's Backbone
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 98:31
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (54:54) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By David Cronenberg
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Miranda Richardson
Gabriel Byrne
John Neville
Bradley Hall
Lynn Redgrave
Case ?
RPI ? Music Howard Shore


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Spider is a somewhat dark film from Canadian director David Cronenberg (Crash, Dead Ringers, The Fly). Those who are familiar with his earlier works will see similarities with some of those films, especially in the very dark storyline that somehow includes the slightest traces of even darker humour. When I saw Spider theatrically, I was expecting a thriller in the vein of Sixth Sense or The Others. It's not, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised by this quality movie which combines great acting with a complex plot. It does build up its momentum slowly, without ever really reaching any great speed, but this was all deliberate according to Cronenberg to ensure that it paced itself according to the principal protagonist's pace of life.

    The entire cast, almost all of whom are English, perform admirably, with an especially good performance from Ralph Fiennes, the never-smiling actor from English Patient and Red Dragon as Dennis 'Spider' Cleg. He has a very difficult role to play, that of a clinical schizophrenic who spends his time thinking about particular events in his past. Other particularly good performances include Miranda Richardson (Rage in Placid Lake, Get Carter, Blackadder series), displaying her versatility in a role quite different to her many comedic roles. Fans of Blackadder will fondly remember her in recurring roles including that of  Queen Elizabeth I in the second series.

    The other cast members, including Gabriel Byrne, Bradley Hall and Lynn Redgrave all deliver great performances which really help draw the viewer into the mind of Dennis 'Spider' Cleg.

     I won't reveal anything of the plot as to do so would ruin the film. It is a rather complex story told almost entirely from Spider's perspective, of which a considerable and key portion is of events from his childhood.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Not surprisingly, given that this is a recent film, this was a great transfer, free of almost any film artefacts that I could see.

    The feature is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. I was surprised that the Region 4 version is presented in NTSC, which smacks a little of cost-cutting by using exactly the same transfer as used in R1.

     The picture was slightly softer than other recent films I've seen which is probably inherent in the source material itself and a deliberate choice by the director. Shadow detail was good throughout which was just as well, as the majority of the film occurs in gloomy sets indoors, or outdoors on overcast London days. Overall the colour was muted, which resulted in a feeling of slight blue-greyness when I think back over the movie. Somehow, this gave me that feeling of watching typical good quality English films! There were a few scenes of bright colour which really stood out, again probably deliberate choices by Cronenberg.

    There was no visible grain at any stage.

    The only transfer artefact I spotted was just a very faint trace of telecine wobble during the opening credits. This was nothing serious and I noticed it only because I had my 'critical' eye on!

    The subtitles were presented in yellow and were obviously using the US version given some of the spelling used. They follow the spoken word closely at all times which was handy during some of Spider's frequent low mumbling. I was amused that the subtitlers interpreted "toe rag" as "towel rag" at one stage, perhaps revealing their lack of knowledge of Cockney slang. All my years of watching The Bill on TV have finally paid off!

    The layer change occurred at 54:54 and was reasonably well placed during a change of scene. It did result in a half-second pause on my player, but didn't interrupt anything other than the music.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The good video transfer is matched by an excellent audio soundtrack.

    The only soundtrack on this disc is Dolby Digital 5.1. The director's commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.

    Spider is primarily a dialogue-driven film so it was just as well that the dialogue was clear at all times, except during the frequent mumblings of the main character. Listening carefully on subsequent viewings, you can more clearly interpret his mumblings, which help add something to the film. I used the subtitles during these times to help, although even they gave up on some of the lowest mumbles.

     The music was by Howard Shore who is a composer of renown in more recent films, including both Lord of the Rings releases. His music for Spider is quite different to the music in the Rings films. Instead of the big-screen epic sound, here he has composed a more minimalist soundtrack, more suited to this dark, intimate character-driven film, and while not memorable, it does seem to suit the film quite well.

    For a dialogue-driven film, the rear surrounds are actually well used for directional effects. Particular examples include the train on the left of the screen at 3:54, another train on a bridge at 19:00, and a great loud noise and voice from the rears at 59:09.  However, I was surprised that on occasion, ambient noise such as rain wasn't mixed enough into the rears.

    The subwoofer was called upon to support the occasional effect such as the industrial noises in the background at 18:50.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu Audio and Animation

    The main menu was nicely themed with the film and was presented in 1.85:1 and was 16x9 enhanced. There was a slideshow of images from the film before the menu, and a looped segment during the menu. I thought it was a very nice looking menu.

    The audio during the menus appeared to be Dolby Digital 2.0.

Audio Commentary

    The director, David Cronenberg, provides us with a full length commentary which I thought was one of the better ones I've listened to. It was very informative and interesting right from the beginning of the opening credits when he described in detail the music and the images used. This was a good example of how a director's commentary track should be, as he covered technical aspects, production difficulties, tricks used, and background trivia. It was almost always related directly to what was unfolding on screen.

Featurette - In The Beginning   (8:09)

    Presented in 1.33:1 full screen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, Cronenberg and the author of the source novel, Patrick McGrath, discuss their coming together to make this film. McGrath ended up writing the screenplay as well. Cronenberg is quite frank about the many problems faced by this independent film, especially in regard to its financing.

    Other cast and crew members interviewed included Catherine Bailey (one of the producers), and Miranda Richardson.

Featurette - Weaving the Web   (9:10)

    This featurette is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Segments of the film are shown in 1.78:1 letterboxed.

    This concentrates primarily on the director's view of making this film. There is a little bit of the usual mutual admiration back-slapping that is common in these documentaries. However, overall it was quite interesting as the director does explain the story quite well. This featurette should definitely be watched only after seeing the film for the first time as it does give away almost all the key plot elements.

Featurette - Caught in the Spider's Web - The Cast     (12:23)

    This featurette is also presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There was more of the same interview with David Cronenberg that was used in the other two featurettes.

    There was also additional discussion with Fiennes, Richardson, and Byrne about their specific roles in Spider. I was a little amused that Gabriel Byrne, who I thought was the least effective of this great cast, not once but twice states that he believed his was the most complex role of all those in this film!

    Again, this featurette reveals quite a bit of the plot and should also be watched after the film, as indeed should any features on any disc...

Filmographies

    A couple of pages on each of the principal cast and crew briefly listing their past work. This was silent and presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen.

Trailers

    A nice collection of trailers for Spider, Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love, and Devil's Backbone.

   Spider   (2:14)

    The original US trailer for the film, presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded audio.

    Adaptation  (2:33)

    This trailer is presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

    Punch Drunk Love  (2:33)

    Presented in 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

    Devil's Backbone   (2:11)

    A trailer for what seems to be a good spooky film from Pedro Almodovar, presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R4 version appears to be identical to the R1, right down to the NTSC formatting.

Summary

    Spider is a great film which really provokes discussion long after the final credits have rolled. It's a character-based film, with little in the way of special effects or big-screen excitement. In fact, I found I enjoyed it as much on DVD as I did in the cinema.

    The plot is quite complex, with much left to the viewer's interpretation, even after multiple viewings. It's a film that would definitely not be to everyone's tastes, and one that wouldn't be suitable for watching on a Friday night video night with a group of friends, but it is one that rewards the viewer who is prepared to put in the effort.

    It does start out somewhat slowly, but the high quality acting and the weaving storyline draws the viewer in, which is essential in this film which is told primarily from the central character's viewpoint. It is precisely these qualities, combined with the sensitive portrayal of schizophrenia, that makes this film worthy of multiple viewings. A bonus on the DVD is the reasonable collection of worthy extras. The only disappointment was that we have the R1 NTSC transfer foisted on us in R4.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Satish Rajah (don't read my bio!)
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using S-Video output
DisplaySony KV-XA34M31 80cm. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2801
SpeakersMain: Mission 753; Centre: Mission m7c2; rear: Mission 77DS; Sub: JBL PB10

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