THE SPIRIT (2008) (Blu-ray)
Writer/director Frank Miller’s take on Will Eisner’s The Spirit is an extremely outlandish comic-book movie imbued with film-noir influences. The green-screen technology does a fantastic job realizing his amazing vision, which is magnificent to witness; however, the movie suffers mightily from the weaknesses of the characters and the dialogue that make it tough to sit through.
Before the viewer is given much footing in this world, The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) heads out into the night, jumping and stumbling around the rooftops of Central City, a timeless place with occasional modern-day conveniences. Out at the mud flats, The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) vie for some secret treasures. She sneaks off before The Spirit’s arrival, which leads to a slapstick fight with The Octopus that at one point finds The Spirit briefly restrained when he is crowned with a toilet.
Bits of The Spirit’s life are sprinkled throughout the movie, vaguely informing rather than explaining which might have helped connect the audience to the character. He used to be a police officer named Denny Colt thought killed yet he lives and now fights crime behind a mask. In fact, Death is a woman named Lorelai (Jamie King), who is always trying to embrace him, but she never is fulfilled. Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria) knows Colt’s identity, which makes it difficult when Dolan’s daughter, Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) falls for The Spirit, an effect he has on almost every woman he focuses his attentions on.
After Saref is wrongly implicated in the murder of police officer, The Spirit discovers she is his childhood sweetheart, who ventured into a life of crime after a tragic event in her youth. The Spirit searches for her and The Octopus while the villains search for each other to trade their loot.
The dialogue doesn’t bestow the cast of characters a lot of depth to their personalities. If you went through the script and hid their names, they would be difficult to identify. Most talk as if they were straight out of a 1940s detective novel but with references, such as Star Trek, that break the illusion. Miller’s humor is not very humorous, defeating any camp intentions.
Presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, The Spirit has a very compelling and particular color scheme. Much like some of his comic-book work and the movie Sin City, which he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, the movie mainly uses black and white, so richly rendered they could be used to balance a monitor, with very specific and limited uses of color. The Spirit’s red tie really pops as it flutters around. Lorelai’s eyes and dress look cobalt blue. When The Spirit remembers his youth with Saref, a sepia tone is used to create a sense of an earlier time, much like old photographs. One of the best images is when Colt gets shot, most everything is in black and the blood spews out in white all over the frame.
The digital-effects team is responsible for much of the detail of the scenes. The computers do a very good job creating the gritty cityscape from the worn streets to the brick building. The Blu-ray also captures the textures of fabrics and the men’s faces. The women’s faces are smoothed out and desaturated.
The 7.1 TS-HD Master Audio doesn’t have as much as you would expect from a comic-book movie but what it does packs a wallop. The surround puts the viewer in the middle of a thunderstorm, and speaking of thunder, the surrounds and subwoofer offer a thunderous blast almost making you feel the Nazi décor statue hit the floor. The climax featuring swirling helicopters and a great deal of gunfire is almost too much to take.
The Spirit extras focus on the film and its creators. “Green World” examines the making of the film, giving Eisner proper credit. “Miller on Miller” is a good oral autobiography that presents a look at comic-book history of comics through his eyes, covering all the greats: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, and Eisner. “History Repeats” reveals the relationship between Eisner and Miller.
There’s a commentary track by Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. Their conversation is all right and offers some insight, and although you would hope for much more, the movie already demonstrated Miller is better with pictures than words, so why should he be any different here? I don’t know when it was recorded, but I was surprised they didn’t talk about the reaction the movie got.
Also included is an “Alternate Storyboard Ending” of The Spirit tearing apart The Octopus into tiny pieces with voiceover by Macht and Jackson.
It’s unfortunate that The Spirit is so bad because it will keep people from seeing what is possibly the most visually interesting movie of 2008. It’s so impressive I recommend a rental with the sound off.