Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt made a terrific combination in David Fincher's thriller "Se7en"; a fierce, intense picture, Fincher's decent into darkness remains a cult favorite. Yet, I really didn't think that star Morgan Freeman would really come back into the genre very quickly. 1997's "Kiss The Girls" was generally poorly reviewed, but it built up a following for Ashley Judd and helped to sell additional copies of James Patterson's novel.
Although the box office numbers of that picture would make the sequel a logical next step, the material is similarly uninteresting. Freeman returns again as Dr. Alex Cross, an ace detective who's again required to hunt down a nutcase. This time, we find out that a teacher (Michael Wincott) is not exactly who everyone thought he was - early on, he kidnaps the daughter of a US Congressman (Michael Moriarty).
Cross is set up with a partner, Jezzie Flannigan(Monica Potter) who feels responsible for letting the kidnapper get away. Of course, this sets up the standard dialogue between the two about how Cross "doesn't want a partner". As with this exchange, much of "Along Came a Spider" isn't really anything that the films in this genre haven't shown before. The film's twists tend to flop, especially towards the end of picture, which has a pile-up of them.
There's little going on during the first hour of the picture, which slowly progresses through the investigation and offers little for the actors to do. I think it's really a credit to Freeman as an actor that he can do so much with this kind of material. With remarkably grave and serious expressions, he's able to give line readings that make a great deal out of otherwise lackluster dialogue. Potter, on the other hand, is miscast. A charming and engaging actress, she really doesn't seem very much at home in a thriller like this one.
The film is a particular dissapointment coming from director Lee Tamahori, who was previously known for "Once Were Warriors" and the superb Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin thriller "The Edge". Ever since then, with "Mullholland Drive" and this picture, things really haven't gone well for the director. At least he does have a respectable crew working with him, including cinematographer Matthew Leonetti. The Jerry Goldsmith score, on the other hand, is overblown and too pushy, which is suprising, coming from such an otherwise stellar composer.
"Along Came A Spider" may have been better as a book - I haven't read the Patterson novel, but it's certainly possible that it could have suffered in the transition between novel and screen, done by writer Marc Moss. Everyone involved is capable of much better than this generic thriller, especially Freeman.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "Along Came a Spider" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with the majority of the studio's new, major releases, the presentation doesn't escape from a few minor blemishes, but generally appears well-defined and free of all but some distractions. The picture certainly appears crisp; the entire film appeared consistently sharp and detailed, whether indoor or outdoor, whether light or dark.
Unfortunately, like I said, there were a few spotty flaws. Some minor speckles on the print used were occasionally visible, but not to a major degree. There certainly wasn't anything further than that - I saw no marks, scratches or further signs of wear. A few scenes also displayed some traces of edge enhancement. I saw no pixelation or other problems, though. Combined, these flaws did slightly take away from the overall presentation, but certainly didn't cause any distraction.
Colors appeared accurate and natural, but the film's overall color palette was subdued and rather dark; it certainly isn't the kind of material that would call for brighter, vibrant colors. Black level was solid and flesh tones were natural and accurate. Not perfect, but this is a really nice presentation overall.
SOUND: "Along Came A Spider" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The film's sound design was rather basic and relied rather heavily upon Jerry Goldsmith's pounding score. The composer's score was often the main element that occupied the listening space, sounding bold and rich and often re-inforced from the surrounds. This seemed to be at the expense of ambient sounds, which the film really didn't offer that much of, with few exceptions. For example, there are a few sequences during the film where it's raining. These moments really filled the room with sounds of rain in a convincing fashion. There were also a few action sequences that used the surrounds, but not in a remarkable way. Again, Goldsmith's score tended to be the dominant element. Audio quality was largely strong as Goldsmith's score remained bold and thunderous throughout; the few notable ambient details came through convincingly while dialogue sounded clear, as well. This is a soundtrack that has a few moments of decent activity, but misses opportunities and gives Goldsmith's score too much presence.
MENUS:: Although the studio has not prepared much in the way of supplements, they have at least presented the film with mildly creepy and effective animated menus.
EXTRAS:: Although the film was a relatively large success at the box office, Paramount has not proceeded to do much with the DVD. The only supplements available are a promotional featurette that lasts just under 15 minutes and doesn't tell a whole lot, accompanied by the theatrical trailer. Usually, I can figure that the director may be working on another picture so he wasn't able to particpate, but that doesn't seem to be the case here; Tamahori is listed as being involved in the next Bond picture as well as a film written by "Dark City"'s Alex Proyas, yet neither of these two seem to have gotten started yet. Freeman has contributed commentaries in the past to two pictures and his tracks have been very good. Although I did not particularly want to sit through "Along Came a Spider" once again, I guess I suppose that I'm rather suprised that a film that raked in a somewhat shocking 74 million didn't get a bigger edition.
Final Thoughts: A rather dry, occasionally absurd and often generic thriller that's only made slightly watchable by the terrific presence of Freeman, "Along Came A Spider" presents a cast and crew deserving of better material. Paramount's DVD provides fine audio/video quality, but suprisingly little in the way of supplemental materials for a high-profile release.
The Film **
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 87/B = (348/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 81/B = (243/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: **
DVD GRADE: B