The Spirit

Release Date: December 25, 2008

Movie of the Day for Friday, October 31, 2008
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If your city screams for more than four hours, please consult a physician.

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166/196 Max Braden I had trouble telling if this was an intentional spoof of Dick Tracy. I made it about 20 mintues in before hitting the mute button.

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Denny Colt, a young detective for the Central City Police, saw his fledgling career prematurely ended when he was on the receiving end of an evil experiment by the villainous Doctor Cobra. His friends and family thought he was dead, but they were wrong, mostly. He was dead for a time, but he came back to life. Cobra’s technology kept Colt in a state of suspended animation, thereby providing him with the force of will to wage war against those who would perform such dubious acts upon the innocent. Upon returning to the land of the living, the forcibly, permanently retired detective gave himself a new identity (as well as a blue suit and a fedora hat). Denny Colt was dead, but The Spirit lived on.

Such was the premise of the 1940s comic classic by Will Eisner. And yes, if you are thinking that name sounds familiar, the current comic book industry awards, The Eisners, are named after this prolific, influential writer. His work on The Spirit was revolutionary in its day. It was a 16-page comic book printed in the Sunday paper as part of the comic strips section. The comic was blessed with a huge circulation of five million due to being carried in 20 of the largest circulations in the country. The end result was the property built up a degree of market penetration previously unknown to the genre. The Spirit was a true icon of its decade.

Over time, the title failed to sustain the popularity that made it such an important by-product of pre-World War II era print media. Part of that was due to Eisner himself enlisting, thereby forcing a team of ghost writers to attempt to duplicate his success. They were unable to do so and Eisner himself was a changed man when he returned from combat. The sense of whimsy the comic had exemplified in the past was no longer a key aspect of his writing. In 1952, The Spirit Section was removed from newspapers.

While the character has not left comics, further attempts to recapture the faded glory of the title have been largely unsuccessful. In 1996, almost 15 years after its disappearance from Sunday papers, Eisner wrote a new set of stories for the character. Warren Publishing and the wonderfully named Kitchen Sink Press started a new magazine and later trade paperback reprints of the character. These retreads included new covers by Eisner himself. In the 1980s, a reprinting of the post-World War II era issues was performed with the intention of each one being re-done. Unfortunately, this publication lasted only ten issues. A who’s who of comic book writers including Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman contributed new The Spirit stories in 1996. And in 2007, DC Comics introduced the character to their realm by using him in a one-shot with the Dark Knight himself, Batman. Since then, they have done a poor job selling new comic books based upon the character. In short, many largely unsuccessful attempts have been to revitalize and modernize The Spirit.

Enter Frank Miller.

Coming off the massive success of Sin City, which he co-directed. Miller appeared poised to take Hollywood by storm. In 2007, this is exactly what happened when the unheralded, star-less 300, a comic book adaptation of his comic book, opened to an unimaginable $70.9 million on its way to $210.6 million worth of box office. Miller’s first two forays into Hollywood movie making cost $105 million while earning $284.7 million. Needless to say, he’s already respected as a breadwinner in the industry.

Miller decided that his first solo directorial undertaking would be a theatrical adaptation of a comic book but not one of his own. Instead, he chose Eisner’s masterwork as his project. Virtual unknown Gabriele Macht was cast in the title role, but the production is not lacking in star power. Scarlett Johansson portrays The Spirit’s secretary, Samuel L. Jackson is the villainous Dr. Octopus, and Studio 60/Jack & Jill co-star and BOP fave Sarah Paulson and Hitch’s Eva Mendes form a love triangle as the crime-fighting detective’s prospective paramours. This comic book film will take the daring angle of not introducing the character’s genesis, instead starting at a point in time where he is already combating the dark forces of Central City.

The first commercial for The Spirit is unmistakably a visual successor to Sin City. The black and white backdrop splattered with occasional bursts of color is certainly a look we have seen before. Miller has refuted claims that he is converting the Eisner property into a Sin City clone, though. Oddly, a frequent online criticism involves his turning the character’s trademark blue suit into a black one, thereby better fitting the Sin City profile of gritty noir. Miller counters this by arguing that the original suit was intended to be black but due to early century printing press limitations, black frequently wound up as blue, as demonstrated by Superman’s Smurf-like hair in many instances.

Here are Miller’s final words on the subject: “The Spirit is, and will always be, Eisner's Spirit .... To drive the point home, The Spirit , despite any accidental impression left by that kickass teaser-trailer, is a full-color movie. Sin City - and I hope to make of it a movie trilogy all its own, come Hell and high water - is, visually, a playhouse for black and white.” (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for The Spirit
Main Cast Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson
Supporting Cast Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Johnny Simmons, Louis Lombardi
Director Frank Miller
Screenwriter Frank Miller
Distributor Lionsgate
Trailer Click Here for Trailer
Official Site
Screen Count 2,509
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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