April 29th, 2009
Movies like "The Spirit" make me think we need to come up with a new word or phrase to describe these types of film, as it isn't really much a comic book movie as would traditionally define it. It doesn't remind us of the "Batman" movies or Superman or X-Men or Iron Man. But alas, what to call it?
Personally, I would go with something like Ultrahyper Cinema, and put it in the same genre with the "Crank" movies, those that are so over the top they defy their perceived genre. Based on a now mostly forgotten 1940s strip by the iconic comic artist and writer Will Eisner, "The Spirit" tells the story of a young cop, Denny Colt, who has come back from the dead with a renewed sense of justice for the citizens of Central City, out to get his evil arch-enemy The Octopus. The film itself, which was poorly received critically and commercially when it arrived in theatres this past Christmas Day, suffers from the same problems the movies by Norman Mailer or Stephen King did, a general lack of understanding of this medium so different from the one they made their name in. "The Spirit," like Mailer's "Maidstone" or King's "Maximum Overdrive," finds its pacing wildly inconsistent, the lead actor just plain boring for the material and the direction is flat. Miller might be a great storyteller in the comic world, but it appears he spent his time with Robert Rodriguez on the film adaptation of "Sin City" getting all googly eyes over the technical aspects of filmmaking and failing to notice how to get a good performance out of his actors. Gabriel Macht, as the titular hero, is as boring and insipid as Samuel L. Jackson, as the baddie, is intemperate and uncontrolled, and most of the women of the film seem to have one direction: "be sex-ay!" Although I have to give props to Miller for doing something no other filmmaker has been able to do for several years: make Scarlett Johansson look completely unsexy. That truly takes some talent. But for the most part, "The Spirit" is more interested in being a technical marvel than a coherent story, and hopefully, should Miller make another movie somewhere down the road, he learns to better balance the two.
As with many DVDs, there are several coming attractions that play before we get to the main feature menu. Appropriately, the first preview shown is for the equally overblown "Crank: High Voltage," which would open in theatres just a few days after the DVD was released. There are also previews for "Transporter 3," "Repo: The Genetic Opera" (note to the person who is quoted as saying the movie is an instant cult classic... there is no such thing as an instant cult classic... we'll see how classic it is in a few years, if any theatres are booking it for midnight shows, if there are people dressing up as the characters and singing the songs and all that stuff that truly defines a cult classic), "Bangkok Dangerous" and a pair of Marvel animated movies, "Hulk vs. Thor" and "Hulk vs. Wolverine." The trailers for "Transporter 3," "Repo: The Genetic Opera" and "Bangkok Dangerous" are the same trailers that didn't excite audiences when they played in theatres and on the Internet, so why new trailers weren't created to get a is a curiosity. The two Marvel direct-to-video releases just do not look good in any way, shape or form.
There is also a feature-length commentary by director Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. I really did try my best to listen to what they were talking about, and there was some mildly interesting talk at the start as to how "authentic" Miller was to the original Eisner strip, but most of the chatter was so stilted and impersonal that I just could not make it to the end. Maybe it's because I watched the other special features first and I got tired of listening to stuff I'd already seen and heard covered before, but I couldn't maintain the interest to the end.
Additional special features include:
Green World (22:45) gives us a quick appreciation of "The Spirit" creator Will Eisner, and what Eisner brought to comics in the 1940s concerning cinema-style angles and storytelling, but for the most part we are given the same kind of behind-the-scenes looks that infused the special features for Sin City and 300. Ironically, at one point, a producer on the film states "Sometimes, just simply filming a story that comes from a comic isn't enough." Truer words were never spoken.
Miller on Miller (15:57) finds the artist talking about his inspirations, of Jack Kirby and New York City, of how comics are the wrong size, of how black and white crime movies are better than color crime movies and how he himself changed comic history.
Alternate Storyboard Ending (2:32) shows how, sometimes, less is more when it comes to wrapping up a story.
The final Theatrical Trailer (2:27) for The Spirit is also included, as well as a second disc where one can download the movie to their iPod or other portable video player.
"The Spirit" is also available in Blu-Ray format, from Lionsgate Home Video.
My rating: D+