by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, April 19, 2014


In which we take a look at the movies of yesteryear and bring some of their more subtle, less- noticeable idiosyncrasies to the fore. Do some of your favorite films exist in the memory purely as entertainment and nothing more? Well, look again...

The first thing you notice about comic books is that they're color coded. Sure, it's the characters and the storylines that keep you coming back month after month, issue after issue, but it's the bright, shiny colors that catch your attention first. In this regard, the colorists' job is just as important as the penciler's, or the script writer's. Think about it: without Superman's red-and-blue getup or the Hulk's green florescent skin, would you have given them a second glance?

Adapting comic books for the silver screen, on the other hand, can be a bit more problematic. How, for instance, do you turn the X-Men into live-action superheroes without their costumes looking silly and unrealistic? (Answer: you don't. If you're Bryan Singer, you strap them into matching leather outfits and make jokes about their cartoon counterparts.) Very few films actually look like their comics they're based on, with some notable exceptions: Robert Altman's Popeye (1980), which copied the architecture and character design of Sweet Haven down to a tee; Tim Burton's Batman (1989), looking like it was ripped from the grim and grimy pages of a graphic novel; and Dick Tracy (1990), directed by Warren Beatty, shot in the same primary color pallette as Chester Gould's seminal comic strip. (Sin City [2005] and Zack Snyder's 300 [2007] are rarer still, adapted directly from their source material, often panel for panel.)

For Spider-Man (2002), director Sam Raimi combined the comic book aesthetic with a realistic portrait of post-9/11 New York. The movie is bright and bouncy, to be sure, with cheesy computer graphics to boot. But aside from Spidey's multicolored costume (which really pops on a big screen, by the way), the colors are relatively muted.

Several times throughout the film, however, Raimi pays homage to the characters in some sly and subtle ways. One of these you probably noticed: the coloring of the spider that bites Peter Parker's hand, for example, which will no doubt influence the creation of his costume later on:

Similarly, the lab where Norman Osborne conducts his experiments is given an all-too familiar hue:

(Eagle-eyed viewers will also note that the Green Goblin's mask is apparently modelled after a Deadite from Raimi's Army Of Darkness.)

Later, when Peter (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Norman (Willem Dafoe) and son Harry (James Franco) meet for Thanksgiving dinner, the characters make some interesting clothing choices. By this point, Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have squared off on multiple occasions and become bitter enemies, so it's appropriate they'd be on each other's minds. Note, here, the color of Peter's shirt:

Notice, too, the color of Norman's own shirt and tie:

Excelsior! They're wearing each other's colors! Clearly, the movie gods color coordinate in some mysterious ways. Harry's choice in attire, meanwhile, is understandably neutral:


Are you paying attention? For previous Details You May Never Have Noticed, click here, for thoughts on Terminator 2: Judgment Day, or here, for everyone's 
perennial holiday favorite, Home Alone.

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