Spider appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture consistently looked very good and showed almost no real concerns.
Sharpness seemed solid. The movie always came across as crisp and detailed, and I noticed no issues connected to softness. While jagged edges and moiré effects seemed absent, haloes from edge enhancement occasionally created slight distractions. The film lacked any problems related to print flaws, as the image was nicely clean and free from defects.
Not surprisingly, the somber film featured a rather subdued palette. Dark tones and sickly greens dominated the flick. Despite the lack of vibrant hues, the colors remained solid and well developed, and they showed no concerns. Black levels were deep and tight, while low-light sequences appeared very clean and accurately defined. Spider lost points mainly due to the mildly annoying edge enhancement. Otherwise, this was a very positive transfer.
Given the movie’s quiet tone, I expected little from its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. However, the soundfield seemed surprisingly involving. To be sure, the forward spectrum dominated and focused mostly on general ambience. Howard Shore’s gentle score showed good stereo presence, and the mix always gave us a subtle but successful sense of place.
The track also sprang to life nicely when necessary. The opening sequence in the train station created a fine feeling of atmosphere in all five channels, and a rainstorm also appeared to submerge the listener in the environment. For the most part, the surrounds remained moderately supporting, but these and other scenes used them more actively. A surprising amount of split-surround material appeared, such as when a mental patient acted up; that audio came from the rear right speaker and served the track well.
Audio quality came across as perfectly acceptable. Speech remained natural and distinct at all times. Of course, Fiennes’ dialogue mostly seemed unintelligible, but that occurred due to his acting choice and not the recording. Music sounded vibrant and concise, while effects appeared realistic and clean. The mix featured very nice bass response during the occasional louder bits, and it always lacked distortion or other flaws. Spider wasn’t dynamic or broad enough to enter “A” territory, but it definitely mustered a solid “B+”.
This DVD release of Spider includes a decent set of supplements. We begin with an audio commentary from director David Cronenberg. He provides a very solid running, screen-specific discussion of the movie. Cronenberg occasionally discusses nuts and bolts topics like locations or the challenges related to the adaptation of the original novel. However, mostly he gets into issues connected to the film’s themes, interpretation and characters. Always insightful and never pedantic, Cronenberg adds depth to the proceedings but he avoids pitfalls as he doesn’t simply spell things out for us. Cronenberg fleshes out his thoughts without making matters obvious. It’s a very informative and thought-provoking commentary.
Next we get three separate featurettes. In the Beginning: How Spider Came to Be lasts eight minutes, eight seconds, and follows the film’s early path to the screen. We get comments from Cronenberg, writer Patrick McGrath, producer Catherine Bailey, and actor Miranda Richardson. The program discusses how Cronenberg signed onto the project, some elements of casting, and the severe budget problems experienced. Though brief, the show gives us a decent introduction to these topics, especially since Cronenberg remains an intriguing speaker.
Entitled Weaving the Web: The Making of Spider runs nine minutes, eight seconds and presents information from Cronenberg, producer Bailey, writer McGrath, and actors Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, and Ralph Fiennes. Cronenberg again dominates as we hear of topics like Spider’s conscious on-screen isolation from others, the director’s evasion of strict examination of schizophrenia, and the film’s layers among other topics. On the positive side, the issues examined appear intriguing and illuminating. However, almost all of them appear in Cronenberg’s commentary, so “Making” becomes much less useful for folks who already screened that chat. In addition, it appears to be a poorly titled program, for it tells us very little about the actual shooting of the flick. It’s still worth a look, especially if you skip the commentary, but it doesn’t add much to the package.
Finally, Caught in Spider’s Web: The Cast fills 12 minutes, 22 seconds as it examines the subject listed in the title. We find remarks from Cronenberg, Fiennes, Richardson and Byrne. Mostly they discuss the various approaches taken to the roles of the main characters as well as some nuts and bolts material from the set like the efforts of young Bradley Hall. The participants add some depth to the proceedings and give us a decent examination of the film’s acting.
The DVD ends with some old standards. Filmographies gives us entries for director Cronenberg, writer Patrick McGrath, and actors Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne and Lynn Redgrave. The trailers domain includes ads for Spider, Adaptation, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Devil’s Backbone.
If you enter Spider with the expectation of another shocking horror film from David Cronenberg, you’ll likely leave disappointed. If you enter Spider with the expectation of a rich and subtly depicted examination of a troubled man, you’ll probably exit satisfied. The DVD offers consistently solid picture and audio along with a small package of extras highlighted by a very good audio commentary. Spider seems too understated and unusual to work for a mass audience, but those with a taste for this sort of psychological examination should take to it.