Amazing Spider-Man, The (1977)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/18/05 17:40:48

"It makes 'Catwoman' look like 'Steel.'"
1 stars (Sucks)

Let’s stop for a moment and give thought to the poor schlub who turned on his TV in 1977 to witness the pilot movie for the “Amazing Spider-Man” television series. Or, worse yet, the poor schlub who wandered into a European movie theater later that same year to see said pilot movie projected twenty feet tall in a brief overseas theatrical run. Willem Dafoe’s Power Ranger outfit doesn’t seem so bad now, does it? Well, yeah, it still does, but you get the idea.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” both the pilot movie and the (very) short-lived series that followed, was part of a brief Marvel Comics renaissance of the era - “renaissance” being Italian for “holy crap, make it stop.” “The Incredible Hulk” had some bright spots, sure, including a darn good pilot movie, but what of failed pilots like the abysmal “Dr. Strange,” or the TV movie double whammy of “Captain America” and “Captain America II: Death Too Soon?” And that’s not forgetting the dropped “Human Torch” project; one can only imagine how awful that would’ve been had execs not feared us kids would’ve set ourselves ablaze in imitation.

The granddaddy of Marvel mistakes, the one that might win you a No-Prize, if you will, was “Spider-Man.” Good lordy, “Spider-Man.” With only a handful of episodes, the series entered legend as one of the boob tube’s biggest calamities, ranking somewhere in between “AfterMASH” and Craig Kilborn.

We know we’re in for something special right from the start, as soon as the wacka jawacka guitars kick in. The theme song properly burned into an unshakable portion of our brains, the plot kicks in: rich, successful white folks are inexplicably robbing banks and then crashing their cars into brick walls (at a wicked fatal three miles per hour - feel the rush!). Slimy goons sneak out to swipe the stolen loot before the coppers arrive, and we eventually learn that there’s a motivational speaker (Thayer David) who’s been brainwashing Manhattan’s elite during their self-help seminars, and if the city doesn’t give him some cool millions by the weekend, these brainwashees will kill themselves.

That’s an awful lot of excess storyline for a movie that’s supposed to be a superhero origin tale, but seeing Nicholas Hammond in action as the title character, I realize that the less time spent with Peter Parker, the better off we may just be. Hammond, whose voice sounds remarkably close to Rob Lowe’s (sending images of Sam Seaborn as Spider-Man rushing through my head), takes the notion of Peter Parker-as-loser to new heights. He’s this dopey 70s-era white bread goober, Greg Brady gone to college, and you kinda wish that radioactive spider would’ve given the guy less super powers and more radiation poisoning.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to that spider, anyway? Knowing my sci-fi movies, a spider dosed up with that much glow juice should’ve grown to the size of a house and started picking off extras. And yet in all of these Spidey stories, we never find out the fate of this arachnid. I say if it can turn a college kid into a tights-wearing action hero just from a quick bite, it oughtta also be able to terrorize a small midwestern town as well. (Screw this Venom crap; there’s your “Spider-Man 3” plot right there!)

Anyway. The magic of this “Spider-Man” movie comes entirely in its completely unconvincing yet well-meaning attempts at special effects. For if you have not seen video of a crawling Nicholas Hammond blue screened against a postcard of a house, with proportions blown all to hell, you haven’t lived, my friend. And what of those fantastic web-shooting shots, in which Hammond is asked to hold his arm straight and still in order to hide the rope-shooter? Bad Movie gold, my friends.

I’m guessing the filmmakers understood just how bad all this looks, for the story forces our hero to be Peter Parker more than Spider-Man - it’s Pete, not Spidey, who infiltrates the baddies lair (although it is Spider-Man who must confront three brainwashed samurai who wear giant corporate logos on their robes, and oh, how I wish this were not true). Peter, being the loser that he is, even winds up as one of the potential suicide victims in a finale that suggests that a) the Empire State Building is fairly lax in its anti-jumper security, and b) if you’re going to brainwash people, using cheaply made and easily broken lapel pins as alpha wave transmitters might not be your best bet.

One wonders: had “Spider-Man” been a success on the scale of “The Incredible Hulk,” had “Dr. Strange” and “Captain America” been welcome with open arms, what other Marvel characters might we have seen flooding our television sets during the Carter administration? Might we have seen the adventures of Ant Man, the man with the strength of an ant? Or what of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, what he lacks in superpowers he makes up in greying temples and eye patches? How about the Spock look-alike Sub-Mariner, who’s kinda like Aquaman, only without the ability to communicate with krill?What busty lass might have starred as She-Hulk?

Me, I’d have like to have seen Bruce Jenner as the Mighty Thor.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.