Long before Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland took up the mantle, former child star Nicholas Hammond brings the web-slinging, wall-crawling Marvel hero to life in this TV-movie.
Edward Byron, a notorious criminal, has been using mind control to have random locals in New York City commit crimes and then commit suicide. The police are baffled as to why these crimes are committed only for the “criminals” to kill themselves. Meanwhile, college student Peter Parker is working on an experiment involving radiation when he suspects he sees something strange. When Peter, a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle, accidentally is bitten by a spider, his life changes forever.
When Peter is nearly run over by one of Byron’s “experiments”, he finds himself crawling up a wall. Peter soon realizes that the spider that had bit him was full of radiation. Peter decides to use his newfound skills and expertise in science to become a new brand of hero. Creating his own web-shooters and a red and blue costume, Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man. He gets attention by taking pictures of himself for the Daily Bugle and when he learns of Byron’s actions, he decides to stop Byron before he becomes his next victim.
While superheroes have been the rage since their days in the comic books, live action takes on these heroes in the 70’s have been somewhat of a hit or miss, more falling in the latter with the exception of both Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. After Spider-Man, perhaps considered the face of Marvel Comics, made his live action debut in a series of fun vignettes for PBS show The Electric Company, the time had arrived to give Spidey a chance for his own live action series, which starts with this pilot TV film in 1977.
Former child star Nicholas Hammond, known for his role as Friedrich von Trapp in the hit film adaptation of The Sound of Music, plays Peter Parker and upon learning what had happened to him, looks like he is having fun with the role in the pilot. In a funny scene with some forgiving funny computer effects, Peter is climbing all over the house and decides to take full advantage of it. In the scene where his Spider-Man costume is revealed, it is clear that Hammond’s reaction seems to be genuine just to show how much fun he is having with the role, which would last from 1977 to 1979.
Of course, the issue with the film is not so much a technical issue. The film, written by Alvin Boretz, is an attempt to bring a sense of transitioning from the comic pages to the screens, has a simplistic story of not only having the origins of Spidey, but his attempt to stop a madman from using hypnosis to commit crimes then have the people he kidnaps commit crimes and even worse, threaten a mass suicide for a huge ransom. In Spidey’s first big fight scene, he is seen taking on three Japanese henchmen who wield kendo sticks.
What does stand out is the web swinging scenes because in an age where CGI is the answer, for 1977, the stunt coordinator, Fred Waugh, did something “amazing”. He would have Spidey shoot his web to the next building and then have Spidey swing over himself with no CGI needed. For those who do not know, it was Waugh himself who plays the Spider-Man suit double for these scenes. Waugh would play Spider-Man’s suit double throughout the entire series. The costume is a bit laughable but only in terms of his eyes, looking more like two microphone pieces attached rather than having the trademark look of its comic counterpart.
The 1977 version of Spider-Man may seem a bit one-dimensional in terms of its story, but it clearly looks like Nicholas Hammond is having fun with the role of Peter Parker and the stunts are quite exciting for its time. Definitely one with cult value.
WFG RATING: B-
A Charles Fries-Daniel Goodman Production. Director: E.W. Swackhamer. Producers: Edward J. Montagne. Writer: Alvin Boretz; based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Cinematography: Fred Jackman. Editing: Aaron Stell.
Cast: Nicholas Hammond, David White, Hilly Hicks, Lisa Eilbacher, Thayer David, Michael Pataki, Jeff Donnell, Robert Hastings, Ivor Francis, Larry Anderson.