Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge

Certificate: PG
Running Time: 92 mins
Director: Don McDougall
Starring: Nicholas Hammond, Robert F. Simon, Ted Danson
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero, Crime
Country: USA


Originally a two-part episode from the short lived Spider-Man television series these episodes were known as The Chinese Web.  On-set accidents appeared to be the norm and when star Nicholas Hammond broke his arm while plying his trade as Web Head he decided enough was enough and refused to renew his contract.

Having reviewed The Trial of the Incredible Hulk it seems appropriate to cover this TV movie from the same comic universe and from roughly the same time of production.  Hammond, a child actor and one you’ll certainly remember from The Sound of Music, is a gifted enough performer.  Certainly gifted enough to lend a degree of thespian weight to the early(ish) days of comic book adaptations.  The main problem with Hammond in the Peter Parker role is that in 1977 when the show went into production he was 27-years-old.  When you consider most comic book renderings of PP start somewhere around 15-16 and push into his early twenties, he is perhaps got a few too many miles under the treads to be the webslinger[1].  The other issues with his character are all from the page.  Spiderman (or Spider-Man) is not the wisecracking big-mouth we all known and if not love, at least tolerate.  He’s a much more paired back Spidey.  This might come with age but as the age of the protagonist was never referenced I’m inclined to believe it’s born out of a lack of understanding of the character.

This lack of understanding spreads across the entire TV movie (series) as only one real character from Spiderman’s New York appears in story; J. Jonah Jameson (Robert F. Simon).  He is, at least, a faithful rendering of the blowhard Editor though less manic than some of the Spidey comics[2].  This character is a cliché of the genre, a cliché of the Cop genre also.  Transpose Newpaper Office to Police Station and your screaming Editor becomes a bellowing Police Chief, so it’s more likely that the loyalty to character comes from good fortune as much as anything else.

The costume is probably the high point of the film.  Though a little Halloween rental by today’s standards it not only looked the part, loyal to Lee and Kirby’s webslinger but also looked as if it could actually work for a masked vigilante, though the large metal web shooters on Parker’s wrists were something of an unsightly distraction.  As expected some of the effects don’t stand the test of time and that’s not even judging them by modern standards.  Even as a child in the 80s the visual effects looked terribly hokey and I often wondered why Spiderman would fly through the sky, though the in-camera effects of Spidey scaling the sides of buildings are still exhilarating.

It’s difficult not to be too tough on Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge.  The story almost feels like an after thought.  Very little is pulled across from the comic books and the production quality is more than a little rushed.  Yes, it’s old but so is the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk TV series and yet it feels a lot more accomplished, not to mention emotionally connected to the source material.

Don McDougall’s Spider-Man is not essential viewing in the way that The Incredible Hulk (Bixby) or Albert Pyun’s Captain America is.  If anything it is a curiosity piece for the die hard fan.  There will be pearls within that are worth witnessing but you will have to sift through more than your share of crude to get them.






[1] At the time of writing this I’m 33-years old so this makes me want to cry.
[2] The time when J. Jonah Jameson contracted people to kill Spiderman.

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