Friday, April 20, 2012

B-Movie Marvels: "The Amazing Spider-Man" (1977) is absolutely terrible and I've got nothing witty to say about it



In the 1970s, there was a sort of superhero renaissance in other media, where finally superheroes were being adapted into media that recognised that their audience was potentially more expansive than 5 year olds. The most obvious example is Richard Donner's "Superman: The Movie" which made $300 million at the box-office a year after "Star Wars" took over the world. Most other live-action superheroes of the '70s existed on TV. Some, like "The Incredible Hulk" and "Wonder Woman" were so successful and iconic that they remain the most iconic versions of the characters, even today. Others like "The Amazing Spider-Man" are almost universally forgotten, with good reason.

I've already had a dalliance with a 1970s interpretation of the Webbed Wonder. Suffice to say, this is not that same giant-robot-wielding version. No, this is quite simply the most drab superhero TV show ever. I can't believe they made a Spider-Man series that was less entertaining than the "Knight Rider" remake, but they did. I cannot express how much of a piece of dogshit this series is. But don't worry, I'll back up my claims.



Obviously this show has really dated special effects. Spidey's wall-crawling looks ridiculous and he is almost never seen swinging on a web-line as we see him do at least ten times in any Spider-Man comic book story. Similarly, it shouldn't come as much to a shock that there was never going to be any proper supervillains in this show. Like "The Incredible Hulk", this was going to have to be a show revolving around simple plots involving mobsters and crooked businessmen. That's no excuse for how bad this series is, though.



Principle among the reasons why this show doesn't work, is because the producers didn't understand why Spider-Man is a superhero (and I'm not talking about the radioactive spider - luckily that's still in there). Neither (you might say) did the crazy Japanese version, but nevertheless, Aunt May, the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson and Spidey's familiar set of powers are all part of the show! So why then does the show just not get it? Simple. Uncle Ben isn't in it. Peter Parker just decides it might be a good idea to become a superhero, for no particular reason based on great power or great responsibility. To quote a character from the (much better) 1990s cartoon "This is pitiful, Spider-Man!". Sure, there's an episode where he talks about how being Spider-Man is less a blessing and more of a curse, but without Uncle Ben, that just becomes a whiny, self-righteous statement. We don't believe that this is a Spidey who won't quit. He's a phoney in every sense.

(Oh yeah, his spider-sense in this is all wrong for reasons I won't get into)

Beyond the serious problems of depth though, there's also the problem that the show is just dull. The camerawork and the atmosphere is just cheap and lifeless-looking. Very little vibrance or colour. The series actually makes New York City look like a really drab place in which to live. Low-key action, no depth in the characters, and lifeless environments. Sound like Spider-Man to you?

And that brings to the episode "Night of the Clones", which I foolishly decided to watch for the sake of this review. I chose this particular episode because it at least had the kind of plot that might appear in a Spider-Man comic. And truth be told, in concept this sounds exactly like something out of the pages of a comic, or at least a generic science fiction adventure: Peter Parker is attending a showcase of scientific geniuses one of whom is researching the practice of cloning. Unfortunately, the doctor has cloned himself and the clone has become a dark, evil reflection of the fairly innocent scientist. The evil clone goes on a rampage, attempting to kill off everyone who has crossed his original counterpart.



Of course, when Spider-Man intervenes the evil clone manages to get a sample of the Wallcrawler's blood and create an Evil Spider-Man clone. Somehow, this show even manages to make the concept of an Evil Spider-Man Clone boring. There is one astonishingly fake fight between the Spider-Men at the end of the episode where the evil clone clumsily crashes into a fusebox, killing himself instantly. The Evil Doctor-Clone then dies because of "Age-Acceleration" as a result of the cloning (a.k.a., the reason clones always die in everything).

I know this episode is at a disadvantage compared to the other full-movies I've reviewed. It's not presented as being grand and unforgettable, because it's not supposed to be. It's just the adventure-of-the-week in a series of self-contained episodes. In a sense, I probably should have reviewed the pilot of this show rather than just a random episode, but again, it was too much of a struggle to watch the pilot before that I never wanted to do it again. There's different kinds of 'bad' in entertainment: there's the kind of 'bad' that suffers because of dated goofiness (The Incredible Hulk Returns) but is endearing and entertaining anyway; there's the kind of 'bad' that suffers from budgetary restrictions or bad acting (Captain America) and executive tampering (The Punisher). All of these types of inferiority are interesting and entertaining.

With "Amazing Spider-Man" we have something that was always going to be underwhelming, but just never tries to rise above its restrictions. There's no reason under the Sun that this series couldn't have been just as full of tragedy and triumph (on a smaller scale) as the original comics. The basic level of craftsmanship is certainly there in terms of acting (Nicholas Hammond is fine as Peter/Spider-Man if a bit effeminate). Instead, it is one of the most lazy, mundane pieces of forgettable nothingness I have ever seen involving a superhero. In no way is it 'so-bad-it's-good'. There's nothing endearingly silly or lovable about it. It just falls in that awful Phantom Zone of mediocrity - it's as close to unwatchable as anything I've seen so far.



But brother...do we have a-ways to go yet...

2 comments:

  1. I totally disagree with you Gothamite. I saw this show as a kid and I loved it. For it's time it was great. Remember, this show was before the movies and the 1990's Spiderman cartoon series. It was the 1990's cartoon series that established the modern mythology and idioms of Spiderman that fed into Raimi's movies and then (more successfully) into Marc Webb's current incarnation.

    James Cameron had tried throughout the 1990's to get a Spiderman movie into multiplexes, Cameron eventually ditched this and directed Schwarzenegger in True Lies. His reason, special effects technology (i.e. CGI) was not capable of realising his vision of Spiderman. Which was true: how could a 1970's TV show (ist season) show a man climbing up walls, swinging and spinning web? It's a wonder that there was ever a TV show in the 70's.

    Now Gothamit, you say that the 70's TV show didn't capture the spirit of Spiderman: "no Uncle Ben". I disagree. Uncle Ben has come into prominence because of the Raimi movies and the new film of course. But up until these movies, it was always Aunt May who was the linchpin. Uncle was a very minor backstory in the comics (perhaps appearing in three or four comic squares...not a big feature). I would argue (as a Spiderman purist) that the TV show was successful in capturing the spirit of Peter Parker as a scientist because he designed the web shooters. This was absent in the Raimi movies. The aforementioned James Cameron was responsible for the in-built genetic mutation allowing Peter Parker to have webbing...I never liked this element.

    So, an interesting blog. But, clearly, you were not of the generation that watched the show. You are likely to be in your late teens of early twenties which is why you have completely missed the charm of the show for some people and are very biased in tearing it apart. Next time, be more impartial and give a balanced argument so that your point of view might hold more weight as a blog.

    Nice shootin' tex!

    RobB.

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  2. My only guess for the lack of Uncle Ben in 1977 is that he was killed eight times in Spider-Man 3 during flashbacks, just for the sake of balance.

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