Today, you can’t move for comic book adaptations but pre-X-Men in 2000 it was a different story.
Imagine then what it was like 20+ years before that!
The Amazing Spider-Man Pilot first aired in 1977 and was one of the first attempts at a live action adaptation of the comic book hero (The first being in 1974). Being born in 1977 myself I have a particular affinity for the show but nostalgia aside it was an imperfect but very bold attempt.
The series starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker with stuntman Freddy Waugh standing in for the the more action heavy scenes or at that time, extremely dangerous wall climbing/web swinging stunts. It enjoyed mild success in it’s two season run but has since gained a cult following over the years. In the UK it’s most well known for the three feature length films that were made by splicing linked episodes of the TV show together. They were released as Spider-Man (the feature length pilot), Spider-Man Strikes Back (two part episode named The Deadly Dust) and The Dragon’s Challenge (two part episode called The Chinese Web). The films were shown sporadically on UK television throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and accounted for much of the series’ popularity here. Back then if I failed to record one of the films off the TV I would kick myself as it wouldn’t be shown again for maybe a few years. I only ever managed to get part of Spider-Man Strikes Back and The Dragon’s Challenge, the latter of which I think I watched until the tape wore out because this was all we had.
No Tobey Maguire, no Andrew Garfield, no Tom Holland, no MCU, no DCEU, no X-Men (not even the cartoon series).
Think about that for a minute.
The show has unfortunately become somewhat of a joke amongst the more nit-picky of the geek community. The limited action combined with the lack of any villains and regular characters from the comics was somewhat of a downer. This was due to licencing issues resulting in only the characters of Peter Parker, J.Jonah Jameson and Aunt May being used. The format also took a similar style to many of the detective shows of the era which at that time were extremely popular. The series was also incredibly retro with the fashions, style and the music all being heavily of the time. 1970s clothes and hair were everywhere and the score was seeped in glorious wah heavy wuka-chuka guitar licks, trumpets and woodwinds.
It’s easy to see why someone who was maybe born a little later and only being exposed to the Sam Raimi or Andrew Garfield films would squint when watching the series. However, to completely lambaste the show for either it’s look or production in comparison to today is incredibly unfair. You must take into consideration that back then comic books and comic book adaptations were nowhere near as popular and mainstream as they are today. In fact there was a time when absolutely no-one bar hardcore comic book readers cared about these characters at all.
One has to remember that the pilot for the show pre-dates even the Richard Donner Superman film (itself seen as the original launching point for live action Superhero adaptations) so to try and sell this as a viable commodity without that validation from Reeve and Donner was going to be tough from the outset. One also has to take into account that this was a TV show in the 70s, not a feature film with a massive budget and the technology, even for film at that time was very limited. Shooting schedules for TV were also incredibly tight and in the 70s you couldn’t just play a piece of footage back right after you had shot it. You had to send the film to get developed so checking for mistakes was near impossible and the skill of the crew was what the director and actor’s depended apon. Regardless, even the most talented crew member or cameraman is still human and prone to error in such a fast paced environment.
Given that this was a TV show the budget was probably minuscule, yet the series managed to do some incredibly impressive, expensive and also very dangerous stunt work. The shots of Spider-Man scaling the side of skyscrapers were real and it was a real stunt man in the suit suspended by a single wire. One snap and it was instant death. The other wall climbing effects were very inventive, not only for the time but to have them in a TV show was pretty phenomenal.
Backwards comparing this show to modern adaptations of the character is incredibly stupid, yet it still happens. It would be like judging a cave man’s ability to find food with a modern human who has supermarkets and corner shops everywhere. Put simply the technology just didn’t exist so what exactly is expected?
Nothing can go from 0 to 100mph instantly. There must always be a transition period and that’s exactly what The Spider-Man TV show was and it was essential to get to where we are today. I can guarantee that Spider-Man would be no-where near as well known these days if it wasn’t for this show. It introduced a lot of people not only to the character but it made the public more aware of comic books in general and I think for that people should be singing it’s praises, not berating it for a dodgy haircut or pair of flares here and there. Remember, that what we consider to be “retro”, “70s” or even”cheesy” was just “now” back then and was very mainstream. People will look at comic book films today and sneer with the same undeserved disgust but we have to appreciate the small stepping stones which got us to where we are in the first place.
Spider-Man creator Stan Lee is on record for not being a fan of the show and of course one can understand his point of view being that he saw so much of what he made being dropped, but the show not only did a lot for the character in terms of popularity it actually did a get a few things right. Yes it had some glaring omissions and Spidey wasn’t the wise cracking smartass we know from the comics, but Nicholas Hammond brought a great deal of gravitas to the role. His portrayal of an incredibly compassionate, mature and headstrong Peter Parker and one who had a sharp moral compass was inspirational if not entirely accurate. Other good points were that the suit from the off was a faithful rendition, particularly for a first live action attempt and the first person perspective shots were re-used some 35 years later in the Andrew Garfield led feature films. Many core issues from the comics like Peter having everyday money problems and allergies were also present and correct.
The Amazing-Spider-Man isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine, it’s simply a pleasure. Not only is it an important part of the character’s history in terms of exposure but it’s also a very entertaining TV show in it’s own right. Add to the fact that it’s now an incredible slice of its time with the whole thing being seeped in 1970s culture and so it’s almost like a window into the past (and a highly amusing one at that).
Without TV shows like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Hulk and Wonder Woman we would not have the massive comic book craze which we have today. With that I think, like all elders, they should be treated with some respect.
People today, especially young people have to realise that just becasue something is old or isn’t 100% perfect doesn’t automatically mean that it is bad.