Spider-Man: The Movie:
Early Thoughts


Before the first Spider-Man film came out, in addition to my regular columns, I also use to churn out something called "Mood Swings," which were originally intended to be much shorter, off the cuff articles that I would use to pontificate my opinion on something Spidey related without having to go into the depth I go to in my regular articles, and give those faithful readers of mine some new stuff on a more frequent basis to come back to.

Unfortunately, a couple of things happened (1) Being a naturally long-winded person, it became almost impossible for me to write a short, little article. I don't know why - but that's just the way it is - even older, and shorter articles in the past that I am currently re-writing seem to grow exponentially from their regular size, and (2) since my regular columns were getting more ambitious in terms of scope and length, in order to deliver them to the Hero Realm in a timely manner, I had to drop writing the shorter articles, and as time passed, they became more dated.

But I hated to just drop them off completely, because they did cumultively represent a lot of hard work on my part and did have what I considered interesting and valid thoughts at the time. So, I've decided to try to habilitate some of these old articles and make them a bit more "timeless."

I'll be the first to admit that this is a shameless way of recycling old articles, but (1) it's kind of fun to do because it captures what I (and in some cases Spidey fandom - although we aren't always on the same wavelength!) were thinking at a particular moment in time and this is a chance to revisit that and (2) I've been fortunate enough over the last few years as internet access increases and people stray from the major Spider-Man sites that more and more new people continue to find and enjoy my rather small place in the world wide web, and I want to give them enough material that they can't possibly get through it all in one sitting - and they'll have to keep coming back - and at times (typically once a month) I'll have new stuff - and they'll be hooked!

Heh heh heh.

So, up now is a combination of three separate articles I prepared in the past that dealt with my fears and preconceptions of the first Spider-Man film as it began production, largely the casting, arguably the most critical part of the process. Ultimately, considering how the film turned out, were some of my fears justified? Or did everything work out for the best?

Willem Dafoe's Selection as the Green Goblin

Anyone who is familiar with the MadGoblin and his rantings and ravings over the years could probably assume that I was probably more curious about the casting of Spidey's #1 foe in the Spider-Man movie than I was Spidey himself. And it isn't just a matter of being a huge fan of the Green Goblin. In superhero movies, the casting of the villain is almost as, if not more, important than the casting of the lead. I've always believed that super-villains are much harder to play than superheroes because the sheer outrageousness of the average super-villain requires a certain over-the-top-performance, particularly since they are often required to emote their evil under heavy make-up or masks. But there's also a very thin line between over the top and ridiculous, where the character becomes more of a joke than a menace. Of course, the standard for all super-villain performances in a motion picture is Jack Nicholson's Joker from the original Batman (released in 1989). Opinions will vary on Nicholson's performance, which admittedly takes scenery chewing to another level, but one reason I believe it worked is because the rest of the movie, including Michael Keaton's Batman, the sets, and the entire look of the picture was so dark and restrained that Nicholson's garishness and flamboyance brought a balance to the picture. Unfortunately, rather than realizing that this was a unique situation that couldn't be duplicated, the producers decided to try to repeat it, with more campy villains, to the point that it perpetuated the trend that actually began with the campy 1960's television series - in which the casting of the villain overshadowed everything, including the characterization of the heroes and the quality of the script. And as a result, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, were flat-out awful - although I do think Jim Carrey was dead-on as the Riddler. The last film in particular put the Batman franchise into a coma from which it is only now in 2004 (with the casting of Christian Bale and a decidely different take) reviving. Going back even farther, although I loved the first two Superman films, I never really liked Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor because his take on the character (probably a result of the script rather than the actor) is nothing like either the pre or post-John Byrne Lex Luthor, nor a viable character in its own right. Luthor and his bumbling co-horts reminded me too much of the dis-dat-dese-dose buffoons that populated the color episodes of the 1950's Superman TV series starring George Reeves. And in Superman IV Hackman was just picking up the check. Still, to give credit where it is due, that first film would likely never have gotten off the ground without Hackman and Brando in the cast to sell to investors.

But then again, at the risk of starting a fight (which I'm not interested in), I've never felt that the classic DC villains were as multi-dimensional as classic Marvel villains because they usually didn't have the existential angst that typically gripped Marvel villains. Some of the best Marvel super-villains are usually tortured by some kind of personal demon, or sense of injustice, rather than simply driven by the urge to rape, pillage and rule. Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, is no exception. The actor who played Osborn couldn't simply see him as a cackling jackass who wore a ridiculous green outfit and hurled pumpkins bombs at other garishly dressed individuals, but would have to see the tortured soul of the sociopath that wore the costume. Of course, a lot of serious actors probably wouldn't go near such a project, and others might consider it only if accompanied by an outrageously large salary. I never really thought that the Green Goblin should be played by a “lead” actor, but rather a character actor, one whose own identity would be absorbed in the role he was playing.

For a long time, it seemed that no one wanted the role that badly. While various other names were tossed about, there were only three that seemed to be serious contenders: Nicholas Cage, John Malkovich, and Willem Dafoe.

Oh, a lot of other names were tossed around. Kevin Spacey's name kept surfacing as a fan favorite due to his acting credentials and previous bad guy roles. Would Spacey have made a good Goblin? I have no way of knowing, but he never really floated my boat, and his price would likely have been too high anyway (hey, I know I'm not paying the tab - but I do discuss cost issues later). Fan favorite Bruce Campbell was often mentioned, usually because of his ties with director Sam Raimi, but it was a fair bet the studio wanted someone with a little more star power than a cult favorite like Campbell (who made an appearance in the film anyway - as the wrestling promoter who is the first to dub our hero "The Amazing Spider-Man"). Usually, Sony was silent, but there was one casting rumor that the studio specifically made the effort to comment on and debunk, that Kevin Costner would play Osborn. I have no idea what that says about Costner, or Sony's attitude toward him, that they would be so bold to say "no way are we considering him. The only way that would have worked would be if the movie wanted to go in the direction of making Osborn a not-so-obvious villain, perhaps even by setting him up as a friend and confidant of a young Peter Parker looking for a father figure in the aftermath of Uncle Ben’s murder (I wrote this in late 2000 - and damned if the script still didn't actually take this approach - which as it turns out - dated back to the original James Cameron script treatment, although the villain was not Osborn). After all, once everyone saw Willem Dafoe, the "Bad Guy Alert" will blared loudly. But then again, anyone who knows anything about comics already knows that Norman Osborn is a bad guy - so there would probably not be a reason to pretend to play to a drama that didn't. Which is just as well - since I didn’t want to see Dances with Goblins, or Tin Goblins, or WaterGoblins (o.k. - I've worn that one out).

Ironically, I have always felt that the one actor who actually looked the most like Norman Osborn, and who, if forced to restrain his performance a bit, would most closely capture Osborn's essence would be - Jack Nicholson. But in addition to his huge salary demands (which included getting paid for Batman Returns, even though he wasn't even in it!), and the fact that he was too old for the role anyway, movie goers would not have seen Norman Osborn or the Green Goblin, but the Joker.

Now, my own personal favorite choice would have been character actor Michael Ironside . He not only looks a little bit like Norman (no one in real life looks exactly like Norman Osborn - so I never really considered appearance to be the most important consideration for the role), but would convey a sense of imposing menace whether or not he was wearing a three piece suit or a green and purple costume - just like Osborn. As the gun-happy Richter in Total Recall, the mercenary Hamilton Tyler in the V mini-series, the experienced warrior in Starship Troopers, as well as numerous other flicks, Ironside is a well-known face to sci-fi fans. While he is one of those actors who will never win an Academy Award, he is usually always watchable and brings a unique presence to a film.

James Woods wouldn’t have been a bad choice, either, since he's got more than a few acting chops and has probably played a disproportionate number of sickos and scumbags in his time. I wouldn’t have had any qualms if Woods had been cast.

I never thought of it at the time until I saw him in that outlandish Fatboy Slim Video “Weapon of Choice,” but Christopher Walken wouldn’t have been a bad choice for Osborn. Another actor with a long pedigree of whackos under his belt, Walken is truly a spooky presence. In a recent video countdown show, Walken’s performance in the video is so strong because, as the host stated “You don’t know what this guy is going to do – whether he’s going to kill you or what.” Seeing Walken suddenly break out dancing, yet maintaining that eerie look in his eyes like he could still do something maniacal is a hoot. Of course, when Walken smiles, the menace evaporates and he looks like a hick from the sticks – but that could be easily remedied. Osborn never smiled much anyway.

Nicholas Cage was an early favorite for the role, and apparently one of the first actors the studio actually talked to in regards to playing Osborn. Having recently seen the movie Face-Off with Cage’s hairline and angular face, he doesn’t look too dissimilar from the man beneath the Goblin mask. Also, Cage is a huge comic book fan, and would likely have brought a certain amount of gusto to the role. However at the time he was 36 and really too young to play Osborn, considering that the character has a son who is a contemporary of Peter Parker.

Supposedly, John Malkovich was the first actor who was offered the role, and some media outlets had jumped the gun and issued statements that he would play the Goblin. He has turned in his share of psychopaths and weirdos, but I was never really keen on him playing Osborn since I didn't see him bringing the sheer physical heft that Osborn needed. Although Dafoe is no Ah-nold himself, he is in such tremendous physical shape that you know you don't want to mess with him. As it turned out, Malkovich stated that he was offered too little money, and hinted that the role was beneath him, so good riddance.

So, by the time Willem Dafoe was actually cast as the Goblin, it was more with a sense of relief than any kind of excitement or anticipation, but not that I thought it was a bad choice. It proved that director Sam Raimi was avoiding big stars with $20-$25 million paydays, and instead was seeking the person whom he believes the best actor for the part, even if it isn't a marquee name (flash forwarding to a few years later, Raimi later did the same thing with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus). I also believe that seeking more modestly priced talent in the major roles will greatly enhance financial success of the movie and increase the likelihood of sequels. Under the old Hollywood rule of thumb, a film has to gross twice as much, if not more, of its original cost in order to make a profit. Now, "Hollywood accounting" is highly suspect and should never, ever be seriously relied upon. But, when you look at the fact that the gross proceeds of the movie have to be shared with the theaters that show them, and that the marketing costs of the film can be a fairly high percentage of the film itself - you very easily can back into the twice-gross figure. That means if you hire a $25 million a picture actor, over say, a $5-7 million actor (not a huge sum nowadays), your film will have to gross at least $36-$40 million more simply to cover the expenses of your big name star - who may or may not bring in the additional audiences expected. And considering how competitive the market can be, $40 million in grosses could be the difference between a one-shot event and the launching of a film franchise (I originally wrote this when the absolute best I thought the film could do was $150-$200 million domestically. It's nice to be flat-out wrong sometimes).

Dafoe was as good a choice as any, frankly. He had solid acting credentials, and played more than his share of tortured, troubled, and just plain evil characters. He was also the Son of God in The Last Temptation of Christ, a film which ultimately was too ridiculous and boring to merit a fraction of the debate it inspired. Not that I want to debate it here - but you can't talk about Dafoe without mentioning his role as Jesus. Just before filming of the Spider-Man movie got underway, Dafoe’s performance as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire garnered an Oscar nomination for the actor and loads of critical praise – which bolstered his credentials and gave the film a little extra credibility in those early days. Fortunately, he was interested in vesting Osborn with the dramatic depth that the character required rather than simply cashing the paycheck and making him a cackling jackass who dresses up in a Halloween costume. But that didn't mean he was above having a good time with it - at one of the premieres when the film debuted he showed up in an green two piece suit and tie, and it looked like he was genuinely enjoying the notoriety and his participation.

And now that the movie is in the past - we can breathe a sigh of relief - the casting worked.

Other Casting
Filming on the long, long, long-awaited film began on January 8, 2001, and this seemed a good time to take a look back on Sam Raimi's casting choices? Did he make some good choices, or were there better alternatives available? Of course, he's only the professional who does this for a living and I'm the rank amateur who knows nothing about casting films - but that doesn't stop me from giving my opinion!

To be honest, overall, I really don't have any major quibbles with the selections. Oh sure, I had my own preferences (none of whom were chosen), but it does appear that solid actors were chosen for all of the parts, and the "superstar" mentality was avoided. So, by each of the major characters I've listed the actor chosen, and rendered an opinion on whether or not I think this is a good idea and whom I might have selected:

So, in summary, as I alluded to before, I can say that the casting of the movie gives me no serious concerns. I think Sam Raimi is commended for trying to find good, solid actors for each of these roles, and not get stars in his eyes trying to cast a bunch of big names (which also has a tendency to drive a movie's budget higher and make it more difficult to turn a profit).

Norman - is that you?
Well, by now if you've done even a modest amount of web surfing, then you know what the Green Goblin is going to look like in the upcoming Spider-Man film. And if by chance you haven't, then gaze upon Sony's first official release of the Goblin courtesy of the fine folks (who also were the source of the following two pictures) at

I am - underwhelmed. I'm not ready to run screaming into the night proclaiming that the movie is going to stink, or the Goblin is going to look really stupid - but I am a lot less "confident," so to speak, that the filmmakers will be able to pull off Spidey's number one villain convincingly.

I have avoided commenting with too much emotion in the past on the appearance of the Goblin because the bandwagon has been moving full steam ahead in criticizing his appearance, and I'm positively loathe to join what even remotely seems like a pack mentality. Plus, we've only seen what he looks like in still pictures. We haven't seen the Goblin in the context of the movie. After all, it is still possible that the filmakers could CGI parts of the mask so that it would seem to move with Osborn's facial expressions, much like they do when they show animals talking in the Doctor Doolittle movies. And even good spaceship models look like, well, models when photographed outside of the environment of the final film. Only when the film and all of the effects are completed does a spaceship look like the real thing (well - that depends on the level of the budget, too).

But, sigh, the Goblin still looks like a Power Ranger, or even worse, he looks an awful lot like that robot from the hopelessly lowbrow Godzilla vs. Megalon movie.

I had been trying to stay optimistic, even though some of the initial grainy black and white shots seemed to indicate that the Goblin looked like the Lou Gosset alien out of Enemy Mine, or even worse, the monster from the Alien flicks. An early side color shot of the mask and upper torso didn't look too flattering either, but I tried not to worry too much since for initial filming they had to have something in the Goblin's place for the actors to react to. After all, the Star Wars films have done this before, with actors standing in for characters and then later enhanced or replaced with a CGI effect.

. But then the accompanying picture slipped into the public maelstrom and my optimism began to wane: Here he was in bright lights and in all his glory - silly looking mask with pointy teeth and all.

To be honest I never thought nor expected that Hollywood would be able to faithfully reproduce the Goblin costume, not the least bit because it would more than likely look pretty ridiculous on the big screen. In fact, I was actually hoping that in the first Spider-Man film, Doctor Octopus would be the villain, perhaps working for or financed by a civilian Norman Osborn, as little faith as I had that the Goblin could be faithfully reproduced. I often read people state that they were able to faithfully reproduce Spider-Man's costume (with the sole exception of the raised webbing on the costume), then why couldn't they do the same to the Goblin? Well, the fact that in the comic book he dresses in bright green and purple might have something to do with it. When projected on the big screen, sometimes colors need to be drastically toned down in order to avoid being a noisy distraction. This is largely the reason you didn't see Chris O'Donnell in loud red and green in the Batman movies, or any of the three bat-dudes in comic book blue and gray, and why the original crew of the Starship Enterprise went from bright blues, golds, and reds on the 1960's television series to washed out understated tones in the first movie. But then, Spidey's costume is a whole 'nother matter from the Goblin's anyway. First of all, everyone, even non-comic fans, knows what Spider-Man looks like, he's that much of a pop culture icon. Even though Batman's costume's colors were muted (and those idiotic nipples put on), he was still clearly recognizable as Batman because the Bat signal, the cape, and the cowl were left pretty much undisturbed. Considering the nondescript physical features of Spidey's costume (no pointy ears or anything else), and what I consider to be Sam Raimi's legitimate desire to be faithful to the character (organic web shooters notwithstanding, but that was another column), the reds and blues and webbing pretty well had to remain. And the same logic applied to the Joker's appearance in the first Batman movie, loud green hair and purple costume and all, and Superman's keeping his classic bright reds, blues and yellows for his films. Everyone knows what these characters look like, and they won't believe they are watching a Batman, Superman, Spider-Man etc. film if they look much, if any, differently.

The Green Goblin, much as he is the bane of Spidey's existence, and as much as some of us dig the character, does not have that kind of recognition. A faithfully rendered Green Goblin costume might very well bring about either laughs or a "what the hell is that?" from an uninformed audience. And a complete CGI Goblin was apparently cost prohibitive, since much of Spidey's action in the film is already slated to be CGI. The following sketch of the Goblin, which was considered for the film, and is, in my opinion, probably about the best look that could be hoped for, is not going to be used because it apparently would have required extensive CGI.

And, even the Power Ranger Goblin is far better than two other alternatives which were considered - that Norman Osborn would physically transform into the Green Goblin, and Alex Ross's original conception which actually had the Goblin looking like a cross between a witch and a zombie, complete with a sword!? as this image from Alex Ross' HomePage demonstrates.

Sadly, I'm still afraid that what was ultimately settled upon for the look of the Goblin is not as good as it could be. Perhaps I expected too much, but I can't believe that the talents available in Hollywood couldn't have come up with something a little more convincing.

Yet, perhaps I'm making the same mistake that so many others are making - that of prejudging a movie or any part of it before having seen it. In all honesty, I truly hope that's the case - and I will gladly eat crow with all the fixings if the movie Goblin truly turns out to be a fearsome menace.

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Copyright © 1998-2004 The MadGoblin's Ward. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of the MadGoblin's Ward. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment.