Spider-Man 3: Interview with Sam Raimi

“Spider-Man 3” reunites the cast and filmmakers from the first two blockbuster adventures for a web of excitement that will transport worldwide audiences to new heights on May 4, 2007.

In “Spider-Man 3,” based on the legendary Marvel Comics series, Peter Parker has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. When his Spider-Man suit suddenly changes, turning jet-black and enhancing his powers, it transforms Peter as well.

Under the influence of the suit, Peter becomes prideful and overconfident and he begins to neglect the ones he cares about the most. As two of the most-feared villains yet, Sandman and Venom, gather unparalleled power and a thirst for retribution, Peter’s greatest battle is the one within himself. Spider-Man will need to rediscover the compassion that makes him who he is: a hero.

“Spider-Man 3” stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, James Cromwell, Rosemary Harris, and J.K. Simmons. The film is directed by Sam Raimi, who also helmed “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2”). The screenplay is by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent (“Ordinary People,” “Spider-Man 2”) and the screen story is by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi; based on the Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

One of moviegoers’ favorite film characters returns in “Spider-Man 3,” continuing one of the biggest blockbuster franchises in film history. Together, “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” have grossed more than $1.6 billion at the worldwide box office.

The Characters’ Interconnected Lives

As the continuing adventures of Peter Parker unfold, “Spider-Man 3” wraps up some of the character arcs begun in the first two films. Sam Raimi, who has directed all three installments in the blockbuster franchise, says, “The heart of the Spider-Man films has always been the depth of the characters and their interconnected lives. Peter’s love of Mary Jane Watson and his friendship with Harry Osborn have always been the richest parts of our stories.

Peter Has to Learn

“When developing this third installment, we asked ourselves, “What does this young man still have to learn” says Raimi. “We placed him in situations where he’d be forced to confront his absences of character–obstacles that, in previous stories, he might not have been able to surmount. In this way, he would either be defeated or grow into the heroic person who might be capable of overcoming these obstacles. As the depth of our characters grow, they become richer human beings and can achieve more than in the previous films.”

When the film opens, things are finally going so well for Peter that his success begins to go to his head a little bit–and when a black substance clings to Peter’s scooter, things take a turn. The substance attaches itself to Peter’s Spider-Man suit, changing it from the familiar red and blue to a deep black. The transformed suit also changes Peter, as he becomes stronger and quicker than ever before, but it also brings out the dark side of Peter’s personality that he is struggling to control.

“Spider-Man 3” also features the incredible action sequences that Spider-Man fans have come to expect. In this film, Spider-Man takes on two classic villains: Sandman, who first made his appearance in the fourth issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, and Venom, one of the comic book’s most memorable villains.

Great Bunch of Villains

“Marvel comic books–and especially the Spider-Man books–have always had a great bunch of villains to choose from,” notes Raimi. “So many great Marvel artists and writers developed these characters. It was a very easy task to pick up these wonderful tales and images and develop our story from them.”

Once again putting the lift and swing into Spider-Man’s webs are the special effects stars at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The team was nominated for the Academy Award for their work on the first Spider-Man film and took home the Oscar for their visual effects work on Spider-Man 2. In continuing his work on Spider-Man 3, visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk was responsible for overseeing the efforts of more than 200 Imageworks animators and artists.

Coming to Terms with Being a Hero

“At the beginning of Spider-Man 3, we find Peter Parker pretty much where we left him at the end of the second Spider-Man story,” says Raimi. “He is coming to terms with what it means to be a hero and the sacrifices he has to make to do the right thing. In terms of his relationship with Mary Jane, the two are closer than they’ve ever been–she has learned that he is Spider-Man by the end of the second film and she is trying to live up to the promise she made to share the responsibilities of Peter’s superhero status.”

Lesson of Forgiveness

Raimi notes, “Peter has never had anyone look up to him as someone they admire. Certainly, he’s never had anyone cheer for him before. This has an unexpected effect on Peter: it stirs his prideful self. This is the beginning of a movement toward his dark side in this film.” That dark side is brought to the forefront when he comes into contact with a black substance that attaches itself to Peter’s Spider-Man suit. When the substance turns his suit black, he finds he has greater strength and agility than ever before–but also that the substance brings out his pride and his vengefulness. “In the climax, Peter has to put aside his prideful self. He must put aside his desire for vengeance,” Raimi continues. “He has to learn that we are all sinners and that none of us can hold ourselves above another. In this story, he has to learn forgiveness.”

“We have come so far together with these characters,” says Raimi. “This film was a chance to continue each of their stories, to show their journey since we first met them five years ago and also to explore how far they still have to go.”

How the Story Moves

In Spider-Man 3, just as in the first two films, the filmmakers made a special effort to ensure that the villains are a reflection of Peter and the struggles he endures as he comes of age. According to Raimi, every character in Spider-Man 3 moves Peter Parker’s story forward. “We’re holding up a mirror,” Raimi says. “Each character is there with a purpose–part of the thread of Peter’s life.”

New Actors

Oscar-nominee James Cromwell plays Gwen’s father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, who shares with Peter disturbing new information about the death of Uncle Ben, and who becomes concerned with Eddie Brock’s intense interest in his daughter. Theresa Russell plays Emma Marko, Flint Marko’s estranged wife.

“It’s wonderful to bring new actors into the series because, although you have an existing set of rules and storylines you want to adhere to, at the same time you need to shake it up, bringing new voices and energies to the film that we haven’t experienced before,” notes Raimi. “It gives the audience a new experience, with the characters they love, but with a new energy dynamic with those new faces on screen with them.”

Capturing Action in Camera

During production, Raimi relied on key members of his filmmaking team to bring to life before the cameras as much of Peter Parker’s story as possible.
“Whenever it’s safe and practical, I like to capture the action in camera,” says Raimi. “Visual effects are amazing tools for action that human beings can’t do–but if a human being can do it, let’s do it.”

In order for the audience to connect with the characters, Raimi felt it was essential that the eyes of the masked and the villainous characters be visible at times during the course of the story. “For Sam, it was very important to see Toper’s eyes through the suit,” says Acheson. “Sam wants the emotion that real eyes and a real face convey, so in order to maintain that, we designed various stages that Venom goes through before he becomes a complete monster creation.”

For scenes where Brock transitions into Venom, Grace spent an hour being placed into the suit, which added between 120 and 140 pounds to his weight. The actor then spent an additional four and a half hours in makeup for the addition of various appliances, including special sets of teeth worn by Grace to give the character the illusion of a larger, more menacing mouth. The filmmakers also attached monofilament to the skin on Grace’s face so that they could pull and distort the character as he makes his transformation.

Visual Effects

“The audience always demands new things, to be taken to new places, says director Sam Raimi. “When it comes to visual effects, it means you either rely on existing technology and apply it in new ways or develop new technology to bring about these fantastic sights. You’re always asking yourself, “What haven’t I seen before” Well, if you haven’t seen it before, there’s probably no technology to bring it about. In almost every case, we had to develop the means to pull off the effects for Spider-Man 3.”

For visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk, the man charged with bringing the visual effects to the screen those words were the beginning of a two-year process to develop the technology that would make Spider-Man 3 the most visually stunning film in the series so far. As great as the challenge to bring Sandman to the screen was for the practical effects departments, perhaps no group faced a greater hurdle than Stokdyk’s team.

Peter Fighting as Peter

“It was Sam’s idea to show Peter fighting as Peter, not as Spider-Man,” says producer Avi Arad. “It’s a terrific moment, because it brings home what a personal battle this is for Peter when you can see his face.” Tobey Maguire and James Franco completed much of the aerial stunt sequence themselves, doing wirework suspended high above the stage floor. “Tobey is really handy with stunt situations, and he picks it up really quickly,” says stunt coordinator Scott Rogers. “James is also terrific–he’s got a great attitude. Both actors are used to the type of physicality required for their roles, and they excelled.”

For Stokdyk, achieving such great heights would not have been possible without the contribution from his team at Sony Pictures Imageworks, assembling, in the end, between 200 and 250 people to complete more than 900 effects shots. “You live and die by your team,” says Stokdyk. “They were always ready to respond, always on their toes. That’s part of the process of working with Sam; you have to be flexible and ready to deliver.”