Retro Review: Spider-Man (1977) The Pilot Movie

The origin story of the amazing Spider-Man - young Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, navigates school
Spider

Synopsis: The origin story of the amazing Spider-Man – young Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, navigates school and a crazed mutant professor as he comes to terms with his powers.

 

Story

Spider-Man 1977 is a far cry from the modern MCU. Understandably, as it was made 45 years ago. This film felt more like a William Hartnell Doctor Who episode with elements of a police procedural drama. There was much more focus on science and actually saving people’s lives. Indeed, Spidey saves the day using his scientific knowledge. While this may seem anticlimactic to those used to big-budget Marvel slugfests. I felt it was interesting that the emphasis was on helping ordinary people instead of punching the villain into submission. The Spider-Man tropes are all here; Peter is a dorky high school student who no one listens to who is somewhat dumped on by J. Jonah Jamison and the police. But Peter’s inner goodness and desire to help shine through. However, Spidey is a street-level hero, not a grandiose god-like Superman or Captain Marvel. Nevertheless, our wall-crawling hero comes through in the end.

 

Acting

Nicholas Hammond is a good Spider-Man. He showed Peter Parker’s shyness and haplessness, as well as the character’s goodness and desire to help. Hammond also displayed good physical acting when Peter fell under Byron’s mind control. Moreover, Hammond sold Peter’s reaction to his new powers. And joy at putting on the Spidey suit for the first time very well. Robert F. Simon‘s J. Jonah Jamison is passable but nowhere near as iconic as J. K. Simmons‘ version. Michael Pataki stole every scene he is in as Captain Barbera. His interactions with Peter throughout the film were so entertaining. Lisa Eilbacher played Judy Tyler well enough. This was the ’70s however so Eilbacher is very much a stereotypical love interest. Thayer David is very good as the villainous Byron. Hilly Hicks showed Robbie Robertson’s goodness and positive attitude well. And was a good foil to Simon‘s JJ. It really must be said that Harry Caesar was amazing in his taxi driver role. When he refused to give Spider-Man a ride. That moment really made the film feel like Spider-Man. David White was great at showing a hypnotised Dr. Tyler.

 

Incidental Music

Spider-Man 1977’s incidental music put me in mind of ’60s Doctor Who. Especially the dissonant theme used when characters fell under Byron’s mind control. There was some beautiful piano and flute music to accompany Peter’s discovery of his powers. As well as using his Spidey sense. The main Spider-Man theme was pure ’70s and it really put you in the film’s world. This music was used brilliantly when Spider-Man saved Dr. Tyler at the hospital. As well as when Peter crawls on Aunt May’s house. There was also a really great outer space-type theme when Peter crawled up the wall for the first time. Additionally, there was a really great electric guitar theme that played over the end credits.

 

CGI & Effects

Spider-Man 1977’s Effects were very much of the time insomuch that camera tricks were used instead of CGI when Peter/Spidey crawled up the walls. But it was fairly well done given the limitations of TV Budgets back then. The FX of the radioactive spider was brilliantly cheesy. Very good also was the chiaroscuro used when Peter succumbed to Byron’s mind control. As I say, there was much more emphasis on science and the police’s role in this film. Understandably given that the ’70s effects would not have been able to render comic book action in the same way as the modern MCU.

 

Overall

Spider-Man 1977 is a good film. While some may feel it has aged poorly I found that it stands up 45 years later. This movie is an interesting snapshot of what was arguably a much more innocent time period in history. Indeed, the villain is brought to justice non-violently and there is no angst or subversion of established superhero tropes. Probably because superhero films were in their infancy. If you want to forget your problems for a while, watch this film.

 

Check out our Spider-Man actors article here

 

Check out our Spider-Man poem here

7.9
Spider-Man (1977) The Pilot Movie
  • Story
    8.0
  • Acting
    8.0
  • Incidental Music
    8.0
  • Effects
    7.5

I'm an autistic writer who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
    4 Comments on this post.
  • Ben
    9 March 2022 at 10:47 pm -

    Nicholas Hammond was the Original Spider-Man.
    He was my childhood Spider-Man n I was annoyed that he wasn’t in “Spider-Man: No Way”!

  • Will Hadcroft
    20 March 2022 at 7:24 pm -

    Interesting review, Dominic. I was seven in 1977. A friend of mine and I were utterly hooked on this incarnation of Spider-Man. I haven’t watched the pilot film for a long time, unlike Kenneth Johnson’s pilot for The Incredible Hulk, released the same year. What I love about the approach to these TV series is they aren’t about having big fights with other mutations and monsters; the villains are normal human beings, megalomaniacs and the mafia. As you say, there is a good dollop of real science woven into the genre. For me, someone who isn’t obsessed with comic book characters, the ‘real’ elements help me buy into the unbelievable premise.

    • Dominic Walsh
      20 March 2022 at 8:58 pm -

      Hi Will thanks for commenting. I hadn’t been born when the 1977 Spider-Man first aired. It just seemed from my point of view like a more relaxed time period in history when things weren’t so loud. If that makes any sense.

  • dalek01012
    22 March 2022 at 3:24 pm -

    Dominic,

    The crazy thing is about Spider-Man 1977 is that we didn’t really see it hit the UK until the very early 1980s on ITV. It might of aired earlier in different regions. But in Northwest of England we didn’t see it until around 81 or 82. Thought the pilot movie did get limited cinema release.

    Also, as Will points out. The Incredible Hulk series is quite similar to Spider-Man in that he wasn’t fighting huge alien villains and such. It was usually a Gangster or the head of a corporation that had gotten a bit greedy. I don’t think it was a more relaxed time as such. It just that TV Networks did not have the budgets that they have now. The reason Spider-Man got cancelled was because it was likely to expensive to make. Generally back in the 1970s and 80s Science Fiction and Fantasy shows did not last more than a season due to the fact that they were more expensive to make and Network Heads were not willing to take chances on things that were not tried and tested.

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