Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Peter Parker’s costumed alter ego has his web-shooting hands full when he takes on the multitentacled Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2.” So did the movie’s creators, who brought the brilliant villain to the big screen.

Allowing the passionate scientist to live on-screen required finding an actor up for the task, and a special-effects team ready for the computer-generated challenge — who would also peruse a rich history of sequential-art source material.

Audiences may be surprised to learn that the conflict between the hero and his archenemy goes back to the third issue of the Amazing Spider-Man comic book, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, in 1963. His origin, like that of many supervillains, revolves around one fateful day in a laboratory.

“The easiest way to get a supervillain is the accident in the lab,” Mr. Lee says from his California office. “I remembered the pictures of scientists working with radioactive material, and to keep them from becoming radioactive, they had the arms that went through the glass shelf that they can manipulate the stuff.

“So I had a guy have the accident, and four arms became grafted to him. Of course, I named him Dr. Otto Octavius, and those arms would make him look like an octopus.”

According to comic lore, each of Ock’s extremely powerful tentacles moves at incredible speeds and enables him to lift a vehicle off the ground, pulverize bricks, claw through concrete walls and hover above his victims by rising into the air.

His popularity through the years has relied on those technological marvels along with the tale of the sad, once good, man attached to them — a character profile that has worked well with Mr. Lee’s knack of creating popular villains.

“I figure any traumatic experience can push you one way or another; obviously an experience can push someone over the edge to make him evil,” Mr. Lee says.

When searching for an actor to embody the web slinger’s multidimensional adversary, director Sam Raimi, on the advice of his wife (after seeing the film “Frida”) enlisted the talents of Alfred Molina, a veteran actor who already had a working knowledge of the world of comic books and the Dr. Ock mythos.

“I was a big fan of the Marvel Comics growing up, especially Peter Parker and Spider-Man, but I also loved Thor and Silver Surfer,” Mr. Molina says. “Although some of the DC Comics characters were fun, overall I preferred the Marvel Universe because the heroes were heroes reluctantly, and the same thing for the villains, while in the DC world, it was all too moral.”

The actor prepared for the role by reading comic books and working out to wear the tentacles.

“I looked back at the original Marvel Comics story lines to see how he was drawn, and although Doc Ock came up in comics in various manifestations over the years, his look changed quite dramatically,” Mr. Molina says. “But I did notice that, throughout, the way he was written in the comics was this rather sardonic, almost cruel, sense of humor, which I felt was an important element to retain in the movie version.”

For Doc Ock’s technical feats, director Raimi spent nearly a year collaborating with three-time Oscar-winning costume designer James Acheson, production designer Neil Spisak and veteran visual-effects designer John Dykstra, who worked with Edge FX’s Steve Johnson to develop a character that incorporates live-action acting, computer-generated magic and extensive, on-set puppeteering.

Mr. Molina, for much of his role, was attached to tentacles weighing up to 100 pounds depending on the action required for the scene. Each tentacle was fully articulated, measuring 13 feet in length and with the upper tentacle made up of about 76 pieces.

Among all the battle scenes that made it on screen, he found the fight atop a subway train to be most difficult.

“The whole fight sequence was particularly demanding and took three weeks to complete,” he says. “It was like making a big mosaic out of a lot of little pieces.”

Mr. Molina also wants to remind moviegoers that he was on-screen most of the time and not a computer-generated version.

“It was 90 percent me. For instance, when Doc Ock is climbing up a building, that was me probably going up a wall with wires, then the tentacles were added later. Some were all animation, but very often the beginning of the move would be me.”

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