Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Spirit

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Hollywood?

Every so often Hollywood comes up with news that make you want to exclaim “Oh John Ringo, no!”
When I first read that they* had acquired the rights to a The Spirit movie I didn’t instantly expect it to possibly become one of those “John Ringo” moments, quite contrary actually because hadn’t Russell Mulcahy proven that despite being known for the opposite Hollywood is capable of treating original material with some respect?

Mulcahy’s The Shadow, a movie based on a pre-war supernatural crime fighter who was very probably one of the fathers for later vigilantes as The Batman, might have been critically panned, but I dare say that they weren’t doing the movie’s intentions justice by that.
The actors give a great performance, playing out even the most ridiculous turn of events with a straight faced sincerity, and the direction shows often more interest in the look and in setting the stage for the next big action sequence, in short the movie is a broad grinned homage to pre-war serials and pulp magazines, and as such it works formidable.
The Shadow, as it should be the case, has no agenda beyond entertainment.

Founded in that I allowed myself to grow carefully excited about the upcoming The Spirit movie. After all, Will Eisner’s comic was a time honoured classic that not even Hollywood would dare to mistreat, right?
Oh so wrong!
As the release drew near the inevitable bad news followed close on its heel, of all the possible names to be associated with project they had to give it to the least likely person of ‘em all: Frank Miller! “Oh John Ringo, no!”

Why now, I hear you ask, is Frank Miller, father of comic masterpiece "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, considered to be such a bad choice?
Two words: Sin City.

Not only has Frank Miller no movie experience to speak of, he comes from a completely different field than Will Eisner did. Other than Miller's creations Eisner's Spirit is no hard-boiled detective, not a disillusioned by the world misanthrope that wages a loosing war against rising crime in a heartless world as Millers characters are that dwell in Sin City, a town constantly wrapped in shadow, the red of spilled blood being the only colour left they are able to see; Miller is a son to the tradition of Mickey Spillane.
Eisner was a deeply humanistic writer and his Spirit is just a ordinary man behind a mask, and not violence, not a unsatisfied hunger for justice in a in dog eat dog world, but a appeal on human decency is what drives him. He’s most human, fallible, a man that makes mistakes and has to rely on friends and family; he counters the ideal of the lone-wolf hero figure that needs, and trusts, nobody besides himself.
So Frank Miller trying his hands on a Will Eisner creation?
That makes about as much sense as if, in a reverse of roles, somebody had asked Mother Theresa to direct the next Rambo movie, “Oh John Ringo, no!”

My choice?
If I had to give The Spirit to somebody to turn into a movie, I would choose a person that not only has some pre-existing experience with movie making to show but also has proven himself with an aptitude to work in Eisner’s spirit: Bruce Timm, would come to mind.

Let us cast a last parting glance at the teaser poster for The Spirit:
And man stands crowded in by giant letters on top of a building looking down.
Shall the giant letters signify the city’s confining, opressive nature?
Is he looking down at a city that besieges him?
Or is the artist intention to show us a Spirit that towers above “his city”, a looming guardian that rules with terror, a dark knight?

Whatever his intention here might have been, when we compare his artwork with a photograph done by Annie Leibovitz** for Vanity Fair, we come to the conclusion that it is not the vision that was to ambitious, it was the artist no being cut out for the work that led to failure; in that it is more than fitting for the movie.

* they being the faceless Hollywood bosses that care for very little beyond marketability.
** Yes, the same evil woman that lured innocent, underage Miley Cyrus into doing a topless shot.

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