RobinAge: Knowledge - Understanding Movies: Spider-Man (2002)

Understanding Movies: Spider-Man (2002)


written by Viplove Gupte

Spider-Man was released in theatres in 2002.
Directed by Sam Raimi. 
Based on the character by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. 

If Spider-Man was a living character, he would probably be 50 years old today. In 1962, Spidey made his first appearance in a comic book series called 'Amazing Fantasy' by Marvel Comics. It was the first time ever that a teenager, in this case the orphan Peter Parker who lived with his uncle and aunt, was made into a hero with superpowers in any comic book.

The movie, ‘Spider-Man’ (2002) was a huge hit and was nominated for a host of awards including the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Mixing, both of which it unfortunately did not win. Director Raimi was not a great fan of computer graphics but the scale and design of the film needed a whole host of computer graphics and special effects. So to begin with, an additional budget of about $20 million was allocated for computerised special effects. However, visual effect supervisor and multiple award-winner John Dykstra had to try very hard to convince his director to use technology for some of the key shots of the film--all of Spider-Man’s big jumps from buildings, the use of the spider web and all the swinging actions using computer effects. This was a huge achievement in  2002.

Many man-hours were also spent creating expressions for the masked characters as every move, including the flinch of a muscle, needed to be recorded and rendered onto the mask faces to show emotions. Some stunt scenes in the movie are so well animated that people do not believe they have been done on computers. The shots you see of New York City are also worked on. The animation crew had to replace every car in shots of the city with digital models to create a realistic image! The fight sequence between Spider-Man and Green Goblin was shot in a very interesting way. Shots were made more complicated because of the main characters' individual colour schemes, so Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had to be shot separately for effect shots—Spider-Man was shot in front of a green screen, while the Green Goblin was shot against a blue screen. Shooting them together would have resulted in one character being erased from a shot. The two were later fused with the aid of computers.

One of the deviations from the comic was the portrayal of  the 'Spider Sense' or 'precognition'. After Peter is bit by the radioactive spider and his DNA undergoes mutation, he becomes hyper aware of his surroundings. The scene where he encounters his super-sensitive spider power for the first time is when he looks at a fly as if it was flying in slow motion. This shot was canned using the technique of high-speed filming. These shots are still rated as some of the best shots in the film. Interestingly, Spider-Man’s webbing itself was made out of foam and fishing line and then enhanced with CGI (computer-generated imagery). According to Dykstra, animating Spider-Man was the most sophisticated task he had accomplished at that time. It included using a camera system called the Spydercam to express Spiderman's world and point of view. This camera would drop 50 storeys, that is over 600ft, and shoot lengths of just over 3,200ft. It was so fast that it would shoot six frames per second!

The Spydercam was only used in this film for the final sequence, but was brought into more use for the sequels. The next time you watch 'Spider-Man', try and look for these computer-generated nuances that made the movie such a runaway success. To know more about the effects used in the movie and read an interview with visual effects guru John Dykstra, log on to

This film features really wonderful performances by Toby Maguire, James Franco, William Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst and was the world's first film to cross the $100 million mark in its first weekend. It was released in over 7,000 screens in the US and Canada on May 3, 2002. When it released, it broke over half a dozen box office collection records and created history of sorts. Today, it stands at the third spot as the highest earning superhero film ever made in the world. Its success made the producers extend the franchise and thus came Spider-Man 2 and 3. 'The Amazing Spider-Man' (3-D) hit theatres in July 2012.


Viplove Gupte is a movie buff and has been involved in movie script development and script banks and has worked on the promotion of films for over 10 years.