THE SPIRIT Studio: Lionsgate Year: 2008 Rated: PG-13 Film Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (2.35:1) Audio: English 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Release Date: April 14, 2009 The Movie ( 1/2 out of ) The Spirit is Frank Miller’s first sole directorial credit after co-directing Sin City with Robert Rodriguez. The stylistic efforts in The Spirit are very similar to the design of Sin City, which is appropriate since both films are modern descendants of the film noir genre. In spite of the similarities between the two films, however, The Spirit fails to translate the original source material in the same manner that Sin City succeeded in bringing Frank Miller’s own acclaimed graphic novels to life. The Spirit is the alter ego of Denny Colt(Gabriel Macht), a former police officer from Central City who comes back from the dead to don a black mask to work as an anonymous crime fighter with his headquarters in Wildwood Cemetery. The Spirit’s true identity is known only to Commissioner Dolan(Dan Lauria). The Spirit has many romantic entanglements but his most consistent love is Dolan’s daughter, Ellen(Sarah Paulson). Like all great crime-fighters, the Spirit has an arch-nemesis in the form of the Octopus(Samuel L. Jackson). The Spirit possibly has more femmes fatale than any other masked crime-fighter, and some of those women appearing in this film included Sand Saref(Eva Mendes), Silk Satin(Scarlett Johansson), Lorelei(Jaime King), and Plaster of Paris(Paz Vega). The Spirit was originally created by Will Eisner in 1940 as a weekly newspaper comic book supplement. Since the weekly Spirit stories were discontinued in 1952, the fact that this character is remembered today is a testament to the genius of his creator, Will Eisner, who demonstrated the literary achievements that are possible in the graphic story form. Although Eisner is not well known to mainstream audiences today, his influence on comic book storytelling (or graphic novel, if you prefer) is most evident in the fact that the comic book industry’s highest award of excellence is named the “Eisner Award”. Frank Miller, who was an accomplished graphic novel writer and artist prior to his career as a screenwriter and film director, is himself a past recipient of several Eisner Awards. Frank Miller initially rose to prominence in the comic book industry in the brilliant stories written and drawn by him on the Daredevil comic book series, which combined super-hero storytelling with film noir sensibilities. In addition to Daredevil, and his acclaimed series of Sin City graphic novels, Miller is also the creator of The Dark Knight Returns and 300 graphic novels, the latter of which was successfully translated into film by Zack Snyder(Watchmen). One of the reasons that Will Eisner is revered today by comic book creators is that he created compelling stories of 7 or 8 pages in length, once every week, in every possible style of story. Eisner’s Spirit stories were at turns whimsical, serious, comedic, romantic, or satirical, sometimes all at the same time. In his Spirit stories, Eisner succeeded in using his masked man and the film noir genre to create a continuing series of stories that commented on and related to every aspect of the human condition. While Frank Miller’s The Spirit attempts to emulate the variety of material in Eisner’s work, this film fails in that effort in spite of its high intentions. The reason The Spirit fails to be a faithful adaptation may be due to the fact that Frank Miller’s nihilistic tendencies in his art do not lend themselves well to translating the work of a humanistic writer like Eisner. Frank Miller’s story writing tends to be dark in tone and cynical, which may not be the best fit for translating a character like the Spirit who is known among other things for his whimsical stories. It seems like The Spirit tries to emulate the style of Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in combining slapstick sensibilities with a serious adventure story. Roger Rabbit pulled this off successfully by having real-life consequences for its characters; in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the audience always understands that Roger Rabbit could suffer real-life consequences of death or disfigurement if Judge Doom ever caught up with him, even though Roger was only a toon. By contrast, the Spirit suffers everything but an anvil falling on his head without any major consequences so you never worry much that serious harm will ever befall him. When you never worry about bad consequences for the characters, you do not invest much of your interest in them either, which is the major problem with The Spirit. Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as the Octopus is probably the best in the film. Jackson gives an intensity to some of his lines that I have not really seen since his turn as Jules in Pulp Fiction. He is clearly having a ball in this film and it shows in his performance. Unfortunately, this is a mixed blessing since it demonstrates that sometimes less is more: in the original Spirit stories, the Octopus was a malevolent unseen presence who was identifiable only by the unique gloves worn by him, not unlike Blofeld in the early James Bond films. We see so much of Jackson as the Octopus that his mystery, and sense of menace as a villain, are diminished proportionately. Video ( ½ out of ) The movie is in 1080p high definition in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is no grain apparent since The Spirit, like Sin City, was shot on high definition video. The color palette is muted deliberately for dramatic effect, with black, white, and gray as the dominant tints. Detail on shadows is excellent and blacks are inky and solid without any black crush or other compression artifacts. This is reference quality material and I can find no fault in it, but for the lack of colors which is a deliberate artistic choice and therefore not really a flaw. Audio ( out of ) The English 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio tracks make excellent use of all speakers for a completely immersive experience. The gunshots and ambient sounds with directional audio make this film a prime candidate for testing or showing off the range of your sound system. It is tragic that the film itself fails to live up to the high quality of its presentation. Special Features ( out of ) The special features are located exclusively on disc 1. Disc 2 consists of a digital copy for transfer to portable media device. The main menu on disc 1 has its own special features included for Blu Ray players with internet connections. The menu selections are presented beneath a simulated billboard and your local weather temperature and time are displayed along with “tickertape” headlines promoting other Lionsgate films. These displays are optional and may be disabled in the “LG Live” menu. The special features are all in 1080p and include all of the following: Audio Commentary: The commentary is provided by director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. Green World (22:53): Cast and crew are interviewed regarding making the movie primarily on a green screen along with behind the scenes footage. Miller on Miller (15:57): Frank Miller talks about his artistic influences in creating comic books. History Repeats (15:27): Frank Miller, Neal Adams, and others present an overview of Will Eisner’s career in comic books. Alternate Storyboard Ending (2:37): Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson provide dialogue over storyboards and animatics for the unfilmed alternate ending. Also From Lionsgate: Trailers for Crank 2, Terminator 2: Judgment Day Skynet Edition, Transporter 3, Bangkok Dangerous, and Hulk Vs. These trailers also show automatically at the beginning of the disc. A theatrical trailer for The Spirit is also included. LG Live: Internet connected Blu Ray players can access cell phone ringtones, wallpapers, and previews of other Lionsgate films. At present, preview footage and a trailer are available for Crank: High Voltage. The box art states that Molog is also included, however, this appears to be an error since there is no Molog feature on the menu options for this disc. The Molog feature, available on certain other Lionsgate titles, allows users with internet connections to post their own blogs onto the screen in the form of animated shapes, text, and graphics to share with other BD Live users. Conclusion ( out of overall) Miller succeeds admirably in creating CGI film noir eye candy that duplicates the sensational camera angles and stunning images of Sin City. Comic book afficionados will appreciate the in-jokes that have many of the incidental characters named after prominent people in the history of comic books. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot Frank Miller’s cameo appearance in the film, and the storyboard art illustrated by Miller that appears over the closing credits is a nice touch. It is unfortunate that the sublime video and audio presentation on this Blu Ray disc are not provided in service to a better film. The Spirit is recommended to hardcore fans of Frank Miller and Sin City but not really to anyone else. If you want to show off the abilities of your home theater system, then The Spirit on Blu Ray is a great demonstration disc.