“The Amazing Spider-Man” and Thoughts on Reviewing What Is and Isn’t Onscreen

A quasi-review of "The Amazing Spider-Man" in relation to how it was advertised - and whether what was advertised should be analyzed in a review....Read More
The Lizard and Irrfan Khan in a scene cut from Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man

In February, it puzzled many when the first official clip of “The Amazing Spider-Man” dropped and it was intentionally anything but amazing. Spider-Man wasn’t shown at all, nor was it Peter Parker looking as if he were ready to rip off a shirt to delve into action. Instead, the only brawl Parker was headed towards was an out-of-context war of words with the doorman at girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s apartment building, a 52-second exchange that seemed more like it was pulled out of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” than the one the webslinger traditionally presides over.

That scene ultimately isn’t the film that was released this past week, but it’s noticeably missing. Since a corollary scene exists where Parker arrives at Gwen’s place, 20 stories above the street,  she presses him on how he got to her window, he makes the crack, “Your doorman’s intimidating.” The bon mot, like so many things in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” comes off as the punchline to a joke that wasn’t told, but in fact, it was  — just not in the finished film and yet still distributed to millions with the blessing of its creators behind it. This begs the question of whether marketing now can or should be considered a part of a story’s canon in terms of film criticism?

“The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t the greatest test case for this since it’s obviously a product of creative compromises behind the scenes that were intended to remain behind the scenes. An origin story that’s own origins seemingly lie in its studio Sony’s desire to make a Spider-Man that at first the “Spider-Man” trilogy director Sam Raimi didn’t entirely want to make (two films being squashed into one, resulting in a villain he wanted – Sandman – and one he didn’t – Venom) to making another when he and the original crew became too expensive (with the Lizard, a villain Dylan Baker had been building to play since the first film, and a script from James Vanderbilt in 2007 developed both as a fourth film and a contingency plan), this new incarnation was destined for story complications when the script for “Spider-Man 4” had to be rebuilt to accommodate the introductions of an entirely new cast and crew.

In the past, these things would usually passed along as hearsay, possibly alluded to in a filmmaker interview or after the fact in a DVD extra. But now they can be exhaustively researched and reinterpreted as Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci did in a recent post about the “untold story of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,'” the film’s early tagline which touted the revelations to come in a story centered around Peter’s parents, but remains largely untold in the finished film because of late-inning edits.

Faraci’s article is fascinating not only because it catches the residue of what could’ve been, but because it applies those deductions to what’s likely on the way – appropriately addressing blockbusters as franchises to be tended to rather than as individual films. It also inadvertently hits on another modern phenomenon to consider since he makes this analysis on the back of marketing, a department that may be responsible for many of the mainstream films we get these days, but is expressly designed for a purpose outside of a film’s production. Of course, this has changed dramatically in the past few decades.

With audiences requiring more sophisticated marketing over a longer period of time to reach a saturation point, marketing on blockbusters in particular has been forced to reveal more and more material from the film with teasers being cut before production and trailers being cut during, with little regard for what will happen in the editing process. While it’s the trailer makers’ job to seduce an audience, it’s the filmmakers’ to tell them a complete story and since those aims (and timelines to make them happen) are quite different, it’s understandable that often scenes end up in a trailer that will never make the final cut of a film and yet could point to the filmmaker’s original intentions.

However, making matters murkier is the fact that marketing has become more sophisticated in other ways that more explicitly converge with the creative, going beyond the role of being a tastemaker to become the first teller of a film’s story. This year’s extensive campaign for “Prometheus” arguably overshadowed the film itself, establishing the world of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi flick without using a frame of footage from the actual film to do so or Scott at the helm. Since the director helped produce through his RSA production banner the teasers such as the David 8 video that revealed Michael Fassbender’s character and writer Damon Lindelof and Guy Pearce helped to create the memorable TED Talk that introduced Pearce’s character Peter Weyland, should their success at priming audiences for the film be accounted for in assessing the film, especially when their ambition made the movie’s pale in comparison once rolled into theaters?

After all, it seems only fair when the film’s third-party marketing firm Ignition Creative’s director Chris Eyerman crowed to FastCoCreate‘s Ari Karpel before the “Prometheus” release that the company’s goal was to “blur the boundaries between content and marketing, fiction and reality, story and game.” Of course, this blurring has been happening at a consistent rate for some time now, even touching the indie sector when Wes Anderson’s short film “Hotel Chevalier” was used through an early release on iTunes to build buzz for his feature “The Darjeeling Limited” in 2007, with many giving better reviews to the former. (The short is believed to have been created more with art in mind than commerce, but it was effective in both respects.)

Incidental as it may be, having access to all of these trailers and other pre-release footage Sony put out into the world for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” it made me more sympathetic to what Marc Webb and crew were going for with the film, even if it also made what they actually accomplished with the final cut to be all the more disappointing. This train of thought flies in the face of what generations of film critics have been programmed to consider – tuning out anything that doesn’t happen within the boundaries of the frame, except perhaps its place in the cultural conversation. Now, to borrow a phrase from the “Prometheus” campaign, “Big things have small beginnings” and it appears the actual movie may be taking up a smaller part of the picture.

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