Setting the stage for what almost certainly will be an auspicious bow in the U.S. on Friday, Spider-Man 3 debuted in about a dozen countries Tuesday and set opening-day records in virtually all of them. (Ticket sales in some countries were not immediately reported.) In Japan, the film took in $3.46 million, beating the previous record holder, Spider-Man 2, which opened with $3.42 million. Sony distribution chief Jeff Blake said that the movie also bested opening day records in Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. The film is due to launch at 4,253 theaters on Friday, the widest domestic release ever.


Several major U.S. newspapers have jumped the gun on publishing reviews of Spider-Man, presumably because of the early release of the movie abroad and its premiere earlier in the week at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. While all the reviews suggest that the movie is worth the price of admission, several suggest that, given its reported budget of an overwhelming $250 million, it ought to have been overwhelming in its own right. As Kenneth Turan puts it in today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times: "It is simultaneously encouraging that this Spider-Man actually attempts to bring some originality to the table and disheartening that those attempts are not enough." One of Turan's complaints: "All that money also allowed spendthrift Spider-Man 3 to acquire too many villains" including an egomaniacal Spider-Man alter ego himself. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips -- who puts the cost of the movie at $300 million -- says all that cash really doesn't show. "You want big wows with this sort of entertainment, and the wows here are medium. ... When 3 is over ... you mainly recall Spider-Man getting flung against girders over and over, in progressively less inventive fight scenes." Richard Roeper's review in the Chicago Sun-Timesis 1,144 words long and covers 47 paragraphs. He suggests that it takes that much copy to describe what the movie is about. "I don't think there were this many storylines in Crash," he writes. Christy Lemire of the Associated Press calls it "a bloated, uneven behemoth." It's a complaint echoed by Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, who begins his review by writing, "Oh, what a tangled web does Spider-Man 3 weave. Overly long and complicated, it's packed with crowd-pleasing moments and satisfactorily wraps up the trilogy -- without quite capturing the magic of the first two installments." That's also the conclusion of Claudia Puig in USA Today, who writes that the movie "tries gamely, is solidly entertaining and possesses dazzling special effects, but it falls short of the near-perfection of" Spider-Man 2. But Jack Mathews in the New York Daily Newsconcludes that there is only one thing on which audiences will judge the movie: "I'll take a wild guess and say that Spidey fans come for the action and, on that count, they will not be disappointed."


What a difference a Harry Potter movie can make. Time Warner said in its quarterly report Tuesday that without anything like a Harry Potter DVD to offer in video stores, its net income fell 18 percent to $1.2 billion from $1.46 billion during the comparable quarter a year ago. Its biggest DVD seller this year was the animated Happy Feet, which took in $198 million. But that was no where close to the $290 million that the last Harry Potter movie generated on DVD a year earlier. Partly offsetting the decline in theater and DVD revenue, earnings at Time Warner's cable-TV company and its AOL unit gained strongly during the quarter.