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Sam Raimi, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Director Part Two

SPIDER-MAN helmer Sam Raimi on Spidey's arch nemesis the Green Goblin, plus casting Kirsten Dunst

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 01, 2002


SPIDER-MAN teaser
© Sony Pictures
Part one of CINESCAPE's profile on SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi delved into Raimi's vision for the eagerly anticipated comic book adaptation and the director's choice of actor Tobey Maguire to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Part two chronicles the director's ideas about Spidey's nemesis, the Green Goblin, and the casting of actress Kirsten Dunst as Peter's lady love, Mary Jane Watson.

With his Peter Parker cast, Raimi turned his attention to finding just the right villain for his Spider-Man to battle, but fans were already way ahead of him. In the end, there is only one true archenemy for the wall-crawler, and that's Norman Osborn, otherwise known as the Green Goblin.

Kirsten Dunst stars as Mary Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN



"They had Electro and Sandman originally, but I wanted the Green Goblin because, from the comic books, I always thought that the best dynamic was with a villain that could affect Peter Parker's life," says Raimi. "Norman Osborn happened to be the father of Peter's best friend Harry. And Norman could become in our movie a surrogate father to Peter, even at the expense of his own son's love. So there could be a certain dramatic dynamic, [because] once the Green Goblin, who is fighting Spider-Man by night, finds out that Spider-Man is in fact Peter Parker this young boy who he's given so much to emotionally for a guy like him he feels a great sense of betrayal and anger at this kid and is justified in wanting to strike out. Those are the reasons why I went with [the] Goblin. Not because of his look or his goblin bombs, but because I wanted the human aspect to reverberate throughout the piece."

Human or not, the Green Goblin is defined by his horrific visage, which in this film is a bit different than that seen in the comic books.

"We wanted to be true to the comic books and have a masked Goblin, but we couldn't figure out a way to justify the latex mask," says Raimi. "We tried to base everything on the reality of our world as much as possible, since it's really the story of Peter Parker as a human being who grows into a responsible young man. I didn't really want this to take place in some fantasy world; I wanted this to take place in our world. So I approached everything this way."

The solution: Norman Osborn is a weapons designer in the film's universe. His company, Oscorp, develops weapons systems for the government, including a familiar-looking glider and combat suit.

"It's possible that he was developing this glider to be a personal transport for the next generation's soldier," muses Raimi. "Why would they wear a mask? Well, maybe if it's a fight system, they would wear a helmet, so the Goblin's helmet could be based on this. We could pattern the face after the terrible faces of the Asian-African war masks that were used to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy. Maybe that ancient concept of warfare could still be effective today."

Costumed hero Tobey Maguire on the set of Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN



Raimi defends his decisions to depart somewhat from standard Spider-Man mythology in expectation of the usual fan backlash, but his goal of a real world plus one spider and one goblin forced him to shape his film in a specific way.

"I didn't like making decisions like this," admits Raimi. "I had to back into them. I had to try and justify very strange decisions that were made in the comic books. And they were decisions you loved when you read them, but to actually try and make them live in the real world is a little tougher. So I can't say that I chose right or wrong, all that I can say is that I tried to be consistent in where my choices came from."

Another controversial choice sure to rile some old Spider-philes is the combining of Spider-Man's two girlfriends, Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy, into a single character named Mary Jane who looks and acts like MJ (as played by Kirsten Dunst) but goes through a traumatic final sequence familiar to anyone who remembers Gwen's historic confrontation with the comic book Green Goblin. Raimi defends that decision as well.

"Everything is based on the 40 years of Stan Lee comic books that he wrote along with many other great Marvel writers," says Raimi. "A lot of the contributions of those comic books also came from the artists. There is no question [Lee] was integral to this picture and it's his character. But what really happened was James Cameron did the treatment, David Koepp did a draft based on that, and then we dramatically changed that draft. But two or more of Cameron's ideas stayed. A lot of ideas came from the visual effects department I worked with, my storyboard artists, myself, my producers, the actors everyone contributed. But then Alvin Sargent did some writing on the picture and that's how the script came into being."

As for the choice of actress for the new amalgam Mary Jane, Dunst came to the project through a now well-known screen test that saw Raimi and Maguire flying to Berlin to meet Dunst on the set of another film.

The Green Goblin on the loose, in SPIDER-MAN



"Every young actress in Hollywood, almost, wanted this role once they knew that Tobey was going to be playing across from them and once they learned that we were turning it into a love story," says Raimi. "We couldn't find anyone that had the chemistry that we were looking for. We went to Berlin to cast Kirsten, to put her on tape, [and] we found that connection."

Though Maguire was ill when he and Raimi made the trip to Berlin, the actor's dedication to the project proved downright superheroic.

"He had a 103-degree fever and he had busted two of the fingers on his left hand," says Raimi. "And he was in a great deal of pain and misery and he made that trip out there. I made him do it, and when I saw [Dunst] in the room with him, it's like all the pain went away, and suddenly he was alive and in the moment. He wants her and she wants him, she's starting to realize he's the right guy for her. And then suddenly it was over and I thought, 'That's where I want to be. I want to be living in that scene.'"

Be sure to check back for part three of CINESCAPE's profile on SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi, which deals with the daunting visual effects challenges involved in bringing the landmark superhero movie to the screen.

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