The itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the box office chart, when up went the profits and blew the record apart.

The clash of the titans (a.k.a. multi-million-dollar blockbusters) hit theaters this month, and so far it’s a spider whipping a scorpion’s ass.

Now that the dark months of wintertime melodrama are over, films like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Monster’s Ball” are out of style. Reality and thinking have grown tiresome and audiences are clamoring for action, color and 50-megaton special effects.

“Spider-Man” proved it could deliver theatrical escapism and entertainment on opening weekend with a three-day take of $114 million – topping “Harry Potter,” which held the record since it was released last fall. The explanation is simple: Director Sam Raimi’s silver-screen adaptation of the popular comic book is the best of its genre since Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) – surreal but not over-stylized.

Raimi sticks to Stan Lee’s original script, taking only mild artistic liberties and carefully avoiding grotesque manipulations that tanked later “Batman” sequels. He relies heavily on digital imaging for the web-slinging scenes and the computer graphics are very clean. One of the film’s main attractions is Raimi’s ability to capture the contortionist-like dexterity of the drawings that made Spider-Man a classic character.

Like Michael Keaton as the caped crusader, Toby MacGuire was not an obvious choice for the role of superhero; we can thank the director for making the right call in casting him. He does a fantastic job playing the personalities of both the science geek and “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” Raimi lends a hand by not rushing the character development.

The first half of the film has great footage of the dopey Peter Parker growing into his new abilities. After a bite from a genetically engineered spider leaves him on the point of death, he wakes the next morning looking like he just got laid for the first time. Before you know it, Parker is skipping rooftops Matrix-style and getting in target practice with his sticky discharge.

There’s a great bit part from the “Macho Man” Randy Savage (the guy is still as big as a walrus), who plays Bone Saw, the wrestler that goes head-to-head with the web crawler soon after he discovers his arachnid prowess. Raimi throws in a little more of the WWF by placing the bout in a cage match. Spider-Man summarily disposes of his first opponent then moves on to bigger and better fish.

Willem Dafoe plays Norman Osborne, the mad scientist who, when the military threatens to cut his budget for weapon’s development, subjects himself to a strength-enhancement procedure that turns him insane. The mechanical Green Goblin suit is a little bizarre if you’re expecting a bona fide troll, but it works and at least they didn’t put nipples on it. At any rate, Dafoe can be so creepy he may have been just as villainous without the mask.

Spectacular aerial photography and special effects make the Goblin’s glider and maniacal pumpkin-bombing the most explosive elements of the film, but Spidey’s love interest casts a few sparks as well. Kirsten Dunst and red hair dye team up to make Mary Jane Watson: the hottie next door. MacGuire and Dunst have good chemistry in front of the camera – nothing too racy, but the inverted kiss in the rain is spicy and MJ wins the wet T-shirt contest.

Raimi authentically translates the comic book characters to film and the opening credits tip their hat to Marvel Comics by showing some of the original frames. Comic books turned movies have had their ups and downs in the last decade. “X-Men” and “The Mask” were decent, but nothing spectacular. “The Matrix” was a smashing success, but most of the audience had no idea it was penned before it was filmed. “Spider-Man” is now at the top of the stack, but it took awhile to get there.

A handful of companies, including Columbia, Marvel and MGM, haggled over the rights to make the film. In the process, there was quite a bit of direction and casting speculation. The film’s release was delayed by more than six months while several post-Sept. 11 changes were made, including deletion of the famed scene where Spider-Man spins a web between the World Trade Centers to snare the Goblin and inclusion of a strong dose of New York pride.

I’m just waiting for the DVD now. It’s bound to have some flashy bonus footage and if they include the WTC scene, retailers will have trouble keeping it on the shelves. Still, don’t wait for the home video release, “Spider-Man” is the kind of film the big screen was made for.