Talking (Spider) Sense with "Spider-Man 3" Director Sam Raimi

Tue, April 24th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Andy Khouri, Editor

"Spider-Man" 3 opens nationwide on May 4th, and in anticipation of the event, CBR News will be in the coming days presenting a number of new special spider-features. In this first of a series of interviews with the cast and crew of "Spider-Man 3," CBR News spoke with venerable director Sam Raimi about the new film, its story, its cast, and his future with the franchise.

I understand you were reticent about having all of these villains in the film.

There are so many fears I have making this movie, that's just one of them. That's just one in my vast array of things that I'm terrified people won't like. I had worked on the story with my brother Ivan. Primarily, it was a story that featured the Sandman. It was really about Peter, Mary Jane, Harry and that new character. When we were done, Avi Arad, my partner and president of Marvel at the time, came to me and said "Sam, you're not paying attention to the fans enough. You need to think about them. You've made two movies now with your favorite villains and now you're about to make another one with your favorite villains. The fans love Venom. He is the fan-favorite. All Spider-Man readers love Venom. Even though you came from '70s Spider-Man, this is what the kids are thinking about. Please incorporate Venom. Listen to the fans now."

So, that's really where I realized, "Okay, maybe I don't have the whole Spider-Man universe in my head. Maybe I need to learn more about Spider-Man. And maybe incorporate this villain and make some of the real die-hard fans finally happy."

Are you concerned about becoming a slave at times to expectations of the fans?

Well, no. I made choices that I thought were true to the spirit of the character and sacrificed the detail of what's in the comic book. I have sometimes fallen under criticism and I can't say it isn't justly deserved. The fans -- like myself, I'm one of them-- have a right to love everything about the comic book. Everything . From the web-shooters to a particular incident that happens in issue #121. But as a filmmaker, realistically, to stay true to the spirit of the character -- which I think is the most important, at least in my mind, that's my choice -- I can't be true to all the details. A translation process must take place. To be true, for ,instance to the spirit of Spider-Man, Peter Parker has to be a regular human being, someone I can really identify with. I can't also make him a rocket scientist who can make the mechanical web-shooters and a formula of adhesive that is air-drying that even 3M couldn't make at this time. So, I choose certain choices to be true to Stan Lee's spirit. I understand fans have a right to be upset, because I don't have a right to change it, but I have to as the director. Any time anyone makes a comic book into a movie, in some way I think they have to kill the comic book.

What would it take to bring you back to the fourth film? You've said "a great story," obviously. But it feels like this third film really wraps up a nice neat trilogy.

Well, we really did try and wrap up a lot of the story elements that we had in the first and second picture. But I look at it more like the end of a chapter. If you've read the Spider-Man comic books you know there are so many more villains and stories that can be told that have already been told that are very exciting and very vivid. But it's true, for me to come back, I have to have a breather and look at the character and say, "Where does he next have to grow to? Where can he now develop to in a meaningful way?" And if I can recognize, honestly, a real deficit in the character, if I can fashion a story where the character, where this young man could learn his next life lesson in a meaningful way and we could make a good story about it, then I would die to direct the picture.

What about the rumors that you have been approached to do "The Hobbit?"

The truth is I just don't know what I'm going to do next. That's the most honest answer I can give you. I can't honestly say, even though I have spoken to Bob Shaye. I don't know that I can honestly say that anything's been offered to me until sometime in the future. It just wouldn't be exactly true.

When you say you've had conversations with Bob Shaye, what kind of conversations have you had about "The Hobbit?"

Well, I spoke to him once. It's a little more overblown I think. That's why I don't want to pretend it's bigger than it is. I had one conversation about the possibility of it and that's really where it's at.

In the back of your mind you have to be thinking, Peter Jackson did such a great job with the trilogy. Is there any fear in your mind about the fans being so attached to Peter Jackson's vision? And if you did go to the project, is there any thought about taking some of the actors from the original trilogy over to your project?

I haven't had any of those thoughts yet. It's still Peter Jackson's project. I'm so overwhelmed with my own insecurities I can't take his on just yet. I have to burn through all my fears first. I'd have to know that he wasn't making the movie. Then it would have to be officially offered to me. And then I will be the first one to take on those fears if all of those things were to come to pass.

So you wouldn't take it on unless Peter Jackson said it was okay for you to take it on?

I'd have to know that he was okay with it. It's really his picture. I don't even want to put him in a position where he's forced to respond to me. I'm not even in a position where I want to ask him that. I guess I should say "no comment!"

Would you like to go back and do another film where the "Spider-Man"-level pressure doesn't exist? A much smaller film. Back to your roots, basically.

I don't look at it as any pressure. I feel that I've been offered a fantastic opportunity to make these Spider-Man films because I love the character so much and I feel like I understand him very well. That's what empowers me as a director. If I understand the character, I really believe I can make the picture and understand what they want and where they have to go. That's why understanding this deficit is so important. I actually don't think I could do a good job unless I understand that about Peter for the fourth one. That's why I can't actually answer that question, either. These movies don't leave me with a desire to go make my little art picture or my little character drama or my little love story, because somehow I've been given the creative freedom to make all those when I make the "Spider-Man" pictures. I'm allowed to do my character drama, the exploration of the dark side of any man. I'm allowed to tell my love story. They really satisfy me in so many ways. I can make a little bit of a horror movie. I can do some action scenes if I want to. They allow me a tremendous range of possibilities so I feel very satisfied.

There are a lot of powers associated with Spider-Man, but in this movie you don't touch on his spider-sense. He gets beat up a lot. Was that under discussion at all?

Well, the truth is, in the previous pictures he's always had spider-sense and still we take him by surprise often. It's really turning out to be a device that I use when I want it and I pretend it doesn't exist when I don't want it. I felt that there was so much in "Spider-Man 3" already. And in addition, his spider-sense does not work with Venom. So I thought I'd have to not only cheat at times and show it, but I'd have to also show that it doesn't work with Venom. I thought, "Where is this all leading?" There's too many elements in the picture already.

I know it's a bit early, but have you already started thinking about the DVD? Were there any sequences that you had to cut out of the film that might end up in the DVD?

There were a lot of things that we wrote but didn't shoot, or things that we shot that we didn't think were appropriate. Like any film, you'll lose lines and bits. Usually it's exposition that might be unnecessary. Although some of it adds character, it's always a balancing act. So, yes, there were things cut out of the picture and yes I've begun thinking about the DVD, but only in the crudest sense. I've got a time after the promotion to work on the color timing with the director of photography Bill Pope and my editor Bob Murawski.

What kind of features are you thinking about for the DVD?

I don't develop what they are. I just look at them and say, "You guys have already used that shot, can you take it out?" I'm more like a very distant editor on it.

But you approve the DVD extras.

Yes, I do.

Can I ask about how many minutes were cut out of the film and how much of it will be included on the DVD?

I have no idea about that. I don't know if they're going to include extra minutes or not.

Recently there was a "Spider-Man 2.1" that came out with 8 additional minutes. Were you involved in that?

Yes, that I supervised. Sony came to me and said, "We want to make a 2.1 that gives fans more of the movie." I said, "Well, but the problem is I want to be good to you, Sony, but you gave me my director's cut with the main picture. I don't want to punish you now but that was the movie I wanted to make and you let me make it." Then they said, "But don't you have things that you could still put in that the fans may want to see?" So I said okay, we won't call it the director's cut, but there as some additional insights to character, there are a few lines, a few little action bits that maybe were unnecessary to make the point that they said the fans may want to see. So that's what that is.

Is "Spider-Man 3" completely your director's cut, then?

Yes, we've had a very good relationship like that throughout all the pictures. There are discussions and compromises that you make in any relationship, but I'm very happy with the picture.

Some of the actors took a leap of faith signing onto this project when the script wasn't finished. I'm talking specifically about Topher Grace and Thomas Haden Church.

Well, I'm very happy that they did because I needed their talents to create these characters. I think it's just the nature of the "Spider-Man" films and maybe modern day films that are heavy in effects. Basically, at the end of "Spider-Man 2" I'm told when the release date is for "Spider-Man 3," and it is simply going to be on the screen on May 4 th . But I don't have it worked out yet! So we have to be figuring it out and writing the script as we're casting, as we're shooting, as we're working on the effects. We don't have enough time to do it all in the proper sequence. Ideally, we would write the script and only then begin the casting process and only then start storyboarding the piece after rehearsals and then begin figuring out the effects. I had to start the effects before I had written a script and cast before I'd written a script. It's a simultaneous coming together process. It's like building a house without a blueprint.

You obviously like the classic characters. Dr. Connors was mentioned in the first one. Seen in the second, and seen more in this one. Is there a chance that if you continue with this series we might see the Lizard?

Yes, I think it's the same with Captain Stacy and Dr. Connors and all the other periphery characters in the Spider-Man universe. Avi suggested him in the first one. "Hey you're going to mention a professor, why don't you mention Dr. Connors?" And then it was a real logical thing for when Peter was in class to have it be Dr. Connors. It's a desire to incorporate slowly but surely all the Spider-Man families for the films so we've been true to the comic books and so that they're there to draw upon for future stories.

How far along were you in the script process before you decided to bring Gwen in?

Well, my brother and I had written in the story a scene about another woman that recognized Peter and knew who he was at this dinner. And Mary Jane got jealous of her. But Laura Ziskin said, "Let's make it Gwen." I said I didn't think I should because really Gwen was introduced before Mary Jane in the comic books and now I'm introducing her later and she's not even in high school anymore. I was afraid that if I introduced Gwen the fans would have all these expectations that were not going to deliver in this picture. But Laura said, "The fans would much rather have Gwen make an introduction in this picture and you can do what you need to do -- or someone can do what they need to do -- with Gwen in the fourth picture. At least you've introduced her and they would appreciate that." It's true, I already screwed up the order. Whenever she's introduced she'll be introduced in the wrong order. I might as well give fans the introduction to Gwen and name her Gwen Stacy and therefore connect her to a policeman who'd been in the periphery of the scenes.

Did you ever want to use the quote, "Face it tiger, you've hit the jackpot?"

In the first picture I was finishing a scene with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst on the street. He had just come a long distance to see her and she got rejected from some soap opera. She was about to leave and I was trying to find the right look and the right moment to end the scene. So I said, "Just have her say 'catch you later tiger." That tiger line was enough for me to remind the audience of that classic moment - that is a different line, but similar enough. I feel that we incorporated that moment in some respect in the picture already.

Was there ever a desire to extend the Venom storyline because he's such a big character in the comic?

Yes. The Venom storyline, unfortunately, has Eddie Brock and the establishment of who he is and what he is. Then symbiote coming to Peter Parker first. And then you've got to go through his entire getting of the black suit, the dark Peter, and getting rid of the black suit before it even gets to Eddie Brock. So the very nature of that story demands a two-parter if you want to spend more time with Venom, which I didn't think was very fair to the audience. I thought about it. I really did, and I kept reading the fans' e-mails that Avi would send me saying, "They'd better not introduce him just to tease us." I felt that the fans didn't want that. They want Venom, just give them Venom already. But obviously through the very nature of this movie, he's only going to be in half an act or one act. I just made it as thorough and as best I could and delivered Venom in the most complete way the fans might want. That was my desire. I was led there.

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