However, today's state-of the art special CGI special effects have allowed the filmmakers to create a swinging, flying, web-spinning character that has all the acrobatic daring-do of his comic book counterpart. Infusing an animated character with human traits is no easy feat.
"That's really a testament to John Dykstra, our visual effects designer who I'm quite enamored of and owe a great debt of thanks to for making this picture because I don't know how I would have done it without him," Raimi said.
That the amazing Spider-Man is really a very down-to-earth Peter Parker under the mask is critical to the appeal of the character. Raimi wanted to make sure the animated super-hero retained the qualities of the man under the webs. "Unlike Superman, when you think about his alter ego being Clark Kent, he's just pretending to be one of us. He's Pretending to be a bumbler. He's pretending to be clumsy," Raimi explained. "But this really is Peter Parker. He's a real human being with his real problems and he's trying to be a hero. He's not pretending to be anything.
"So every time we had Spider-Man in costume I would try and direct him as thought it was Peter in a different situation. That's what I tried to keep, the unique quality that's in the comic book, alive on screen."
Special effects and costumes aside, star Tobey Maguire was charged with the task of giving the character heart. "I was very lucky to work with Tobey Maguire. I really think he's a great Peter Parker," Raimi said of the actor. "The strength of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's creation has always been that Spider-Man is one of us. He's one of us who grows to become a hero. So we can soar with him when that happens. So I needed somebody who was identifiable to the audience. Somebody whose ability to act was invisible you know, no artifice."
Spider-Man director Sam Raimi said he felt lucky to have Tobey Maguire filling the title role in his big-budget movie. Raimi was convinced after seeing the actor in The Cider House Rules and got Maguire interested in the role early on. However, casting an actor who had never carried an event movie was far from a slam-dunk with the studio. Producer Laura Ziskin described the the process of convincing Sony that Tobey is Spider-Man.
"We felt that he was THE leading actor of his generation, known maybe more amongst his peers and in the community than he was in the world. He wasn't big-box-office certainly yet. The studio may have had some idea in the beginning but they wanted that," Ziskin said. "Our contention was that Spider-Man was marquee enough without necessarily needing a big-name actor."
Maguire's video screen test failed to convince the studio to commit. The filmmakers then asked him to do a full, film test with makeup and wardrobe. "He was an established actor and it was a lot to ask," Ziskin said. Eventually Maguire agreed to it, giving a dramatic read of the movie's climactic scene.
"To their credit once they saw the test the were in love with him," the producer said. "They still say to Sam, even a year and a half later, 'Thank God you convinced us. You were so right.'"
Raimi talked about Maguire's strengths as an actor.
"Tobey's smart. He has a high regard for the audience and the camera," Raimi said. "I think he believes that if he simply believes a thought or he's in the moment, that the camera records it and the audience perceives it. Most actors don't work that way. They project. But Tobey is always playing up to the audience. He's never playing down to them.
"He's not always apparent and neither are our emotions. Tobey's aware of the power of thought."
Maguire's co-star, Willem Dafoe, who plays the villainous Norman Osborn (a.k.a. The Green Goblin), agrees.
"He's a very present actor," Dafoe said. "What comes off him for me, maybe it's because he's so there, is a strength of character that you don't usually have in a young actor. It usually comes with age.
"You see him in a reaction shot and his eyes are really very expressive. It's not because he's working it. It's because he's there and he's really listening."
Dafoe credits Maguire with selling a potentially difficult role. "I think he really is great as Peter Parker. I think he lives it," Dafoe said. "As I watch in particular the opening sequence it's hard to imagine another actor who is plausibly so unassuming and nerdy with out being cloying or sweet or fake nerdy. There is genuine vulnerability and genuine confusion about him."
He added, joking, "He's genuinely nerdy."
Kirsten Dunst, who plays Mary Jane in the movie, also had praise for Maguire's abilities.
"I think that there's a lot going on behind his eyes and the camera really catches that," Dunst commented. "He's very subtle but it means a lot. I think that he's very funny and charming and professional. He really brought that side of himself to Spider-Man. I think a side that people haven't seen him as is that funny kind of guy."
For Maguire, Spider-Man could be a star-making turn. However, the actor insists he's interested in good roles, not money and fame. Talking about previous works he said, "I did the movies where I loved the filmmaker, the script, the character.
"I did Spider-Man not because it was an event film, although that was part of the attraction. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't felt as passionately about it as I did working with Ang Lee on The Ice Storm and Ride With The Devil and Curtis Hanson on Wonder Boys and Lasse Hallström on The Cider House Rules," Maguire said.
In spite of the perception that an F/X movie won't have the depth of his previous films, Maguire insists that Spider-Man has more going on than CGI and explosions. "I feel like this character is as strong a character as any of those," the actor said. "His journey is as interesting for me to play and more challenging to blueprint the entire role than any of those other movies actually."
At a recent press outing Spider-Man star Tobey Maguire said he identifies very strongly with his on-screen persona of Peter Parker.
"I think that he basically is dealing with becoming an adult with extreme circumstances," the actor told reporters. "I think he's very relatable to everybody in that way."
Maguire agrees that the Spider-Man mantra, "with great power comes great responsibility," is an important theme in the movie, and in life. "I think it's a great power when you realize at some point that you have free will and you've gotta make choices on how to live your life and what existence is to you and what kind of purpose you have to your life," Maguire said. "I think those are the kinds of things Peter Parker struggles with. I relate to that."
In the movie, one of the the first things Parker tells the audience is that the story is all about a girl. Maguire said that the romance between his character and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane adds a lot to the story. "In the beginning of the story he just wants to share himself with this girl that he's had great affection for since he was six years old. He doesn't know how exactly but he's a very genuine person. He doesn't really have the ability to manufacture something to get her attention," Maguire said. In the film, part of the character's motivation to exploit his powers grow out of a desire to impress MJ. "He gets his super-powers and misuses them and it leads to tragedy which motivates the rest of the story."
While Maguire is credited with lending heartfelt and real human characteristics to Parker, there is obviously a physical component to the role of the superhero. Maguire trained hard to bring his body up to super-human levels.
"I trained for a little while before I even screen-tested before I got the role because I knew the screen-test was coming up," Maguire said. Once he was cast, however, the real work began. "I worked out for five months, six days a week, anywhere from an hour and a half to four hours a day. A combination of gymnastics, martial arts, yoga, weight-lifting, high-end cardio like cycling and running."
The actor also worked with a nutritionist to maintain a very specific diet. "I'm a vegetarian so I did have to concentrate on eating enough protein," the actor said. "So that was kind of tricky for me too."
Maguire was also required to do some stunts on his own. "I did a lot of wire work where they were picking me up, putting me down, sticking me to walls, doing some flips," Maguire said. However, he adds that there were several stunt doubles who were on hand to do the tricky work. "If it gets into a thing where it looks like it would take the ability of a really seasoned gymnast then it's probably not me.
"There was two main stuntmen, I think. There was one guy who was brought in as a specialty guy. He was like the best at doing multiple flips and tucks and stuff like that so he came in and did a couple things like that," said the actor. "Chris Daniels was our Spidey pose guy. This other guy Mark, he's a former Cirque du Soleil guy."
Maguire told reporters that director Sam Raimi would oftentimes have three units running, with a different Spider-Man working on each.
While Maguire avoided serious injury while filming, some of the stunt doubles weren't so lucky. Zach Hudson broke his femur during one scene. Daniels broke his and suffered a serious cut. "He needed stitches," Maguire reports. However, Daniels was back on the set the same day. "He busted his tailbone and was coming back to work a week later."
Of course, you can't have Spider-Man without a Spidey suit. Making the suit was not an easy process. "In the beginning I did the cast of my entire body, which was not fun," Maguire said. "I had to stand there for a couple hours with the stuff sticking to the hair on my body. They ripped it off and it was extremely painful."
However, the actor also stated that he enjoyed wearing the costume during the shoot. It would give me a freedom that I didn't otherwise feel. If I was moving around the way Spider-Man moves without that suit on I think I'd probably feel a little silly," Maguire said, but with the suit on "if you're moving around and doing the action you don't even think about it."
So, did Maguire take a suit home with him after the shoot? "I never did ask for a costume but I think I might."
One of the challenges for the cast and crew of Spider-Man was working with something as simple as Spidey's trademark mask. While the classic comic garment gives Spider-Man a cool, bug-like appearance, it also makes it tough for the audience to recognize the character's emotions.
"That was impossible. I didn't know how to fight that. I'm trying not to make a Power Rangers movie," director Sam Raimi said.
At one point he did try to emulate techniques used in the comics, but to little success. "We thought about animating a change in the shape of his head to communicate different expressions. If you look at the comics it's a technique they use quite effectively in subtle ways," Raimi said. "But that didn't work. It was quite frightening actually. 'His head is changing!' It was weird."
Star Tobey Maguire comments, "That was one of the bigger challenges: how to keep the audience invested in the character, feeling what the character was feeling while he was masked and you couldn't see the expression."
"That's something Sam and I talked about a lot: doing it with body language," the actor continued.
Raimi expanded on they notion. "We tried to then go to a performance style that was more silent movie acting or kabuki theater, but there's a style of acting with masks that you can achieve with body language and poses," Raimi said. "In broad strokes I could direct the body language of the actors to communicate what I needed."
Co-star Willem Dafoe, who plays the Green Goblin in the movie, rose to the challenge of conveying scenes while encased in a green plastic helmet. "You just have to find a different way," Dafoe said. "You still have your voice. You still have your physical gestures. You still have your carriage. You still have timing, how you attack things, the rhythm."
Maguire also points out that emotion can be communicated through dialog. "That's where looping helped a little bit," Maguire said. "Where we felt it was missing or needed something we'd go in there and do a little extra touch to help it but without overdoing it."
In certain cases the costume helped the actors get into character. Maguire commented that he felt more at ease doing the Spidey movies when he was in the suit.
Dafoe agrees. "Sometimes the costume does a lot. Sometimes the costume is the role partly. Sometimes you gotta get out of the way of stuff. You gotta let it do what it's supposed to do and your job is to set it up," the actor said. "So costume's a very strong look and I think it functions well.
"It's really more of a challenge in the more dialog heavy scenes, particularly in the one where I'm off the glider, to find ways of being expressive without being showy or self-conscious about it but helping to compensate for the fact that you can't see a face."
Of course, emoting wasn't the only problematic thing about wearing the mask. The costume, along with other factors made things difficult for Maguire during the shooting of the already-famous upside-down kiss with co-star Kirsten Dunst.
"It was a challenging scene. I was hanging upside down. It was five in the morning. The rain was going up my nose (or down my nose)," the actor said.
Maguire had one moment to draw a deep breath when Dunst pulls the mask down, but that opportunity was usually brief.
"Then when she lifted the mask up the mask was sitting on my nose so I couldn't breath through my nose. And she was kissing my mouth so I couldn't breath through my mouth. There's no other places to breath from," Maguire said. "So, I would have to suck air out of the corner of our mouths. I still managed to derive some pleasure out of the scene."
Willem Dafoe has a reputation for playing big-screen heavies. His latest role as the tormented Norman Osborn who becomes the demented Green Goblin in Spider-Man is not likely to change any minds.
Indeed the film's star Tobey Maguire wasn't sure what what to expect. "I think I started getting into that silly imagination of mine thinking about some brooding character actor coming on set," Maguire said. However, the real Dafoe wasn't quite so terrible. "In truth he's very easy going. He has a good sense of humor.
"He's somebody who is such a good actor that I can't really see his personality through his work," Maguire continued. "Every once in a while I'd look at him and think of some character he'd played and I'd get kind of tripped out."
James Franco, who plays Dafoe's son Harry Osborn in the movie, agrees. "He's fantastic. Fantastic man. He loves people, personable and helpful too," Franco said. "I did look up to him. I tried to defer to him when we had our scenes together. I really respect him and tried to get his take on things."
Dafoe is not surprised by such reactions. "It's the most natural thing in the world. That's where you know someone from, you think that's intrinsically what they are. It happens to me," the actor said. "I'm always surprised sometimes why we see that particular face of an actor when they're probably very different in life."
In between takes of hurling pumpkin bombs as the Goblin or watching his sanity crumble as Osborn, Dafoe stayed active with the crew of the movie. Maguire comments, "He's very committed to his work and you could rarely find him in his trailer. He was always floating around the set just wanting to work constantly. It's great to be around that kind of energy."
Franco adds, "The life and energy he brings to his part is definitely something I try to emulate."
Dafoe said he enjoyed bringing the Green Goblin to big-screen life. "It was fun. It was a good combination of really a strong script, really good people to work with and lots of places where you could invent stuff and personalize things and find your relationship to it," Dafoe said. "In Green Goblin mode there's lots of toys to play with and in Norman Osborn mode it's an interesting character."
The actor found challenges in both aspects of his role. "They're so different in respect that they had different functions and they had different things to play with. Norman was a lot of fun because he's got loops in reality," Dafoe said. "He's a very ambitious guy, very driven to perfect himself. He's a good capitalist. He's supposed to make something of himself, raise himself up above other people basically.
"I think most Americans, culturally, we're taught to make something out of ourselves. At the same time, we're also taught, because of the democracy thing and certain kind of Judaic Christian values, you're taught not to hold yourself above other people," the actor continued. "So those kinds of big issues are really at play in here. It's this comic book movie but there are resonances that are very potent, I think."
The actor said that working on such a fantastic movie has a different set of rules than more dramatic fare. "I think your imagination gets more room to move when you can have that broad, gestural language and have really strong actions the pretending is sometimes more potent," Dafoe comments. " You're not looking to life for models. The conditions for what is true behavior is kind of thrown up in the air. You're not tyrannized by naturalism."