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Spirit, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // April 14, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 12, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"Dental and Nazi. Great."

Robert Rodriguez
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felt so strongly about the influence of Frank Miller on Sin City that he resigned from the DGA when the Guild refused to allow Miller to share credit as co-director. It's agonizingly clear even just a couple of minutes into The Spirit who the real cinematic talent behind Sin City was, though. The sense of fun and adventure from Will Eisner's legendary comics have been dulled into an eye-rollingly campy retread of Sin City's once-groundbreaking visuals. It's a movie that's nothing but hollow, directionless, self-indulgent style.

The short version...? Gabriel Macht takes the reins as The Spirit: a beat cop who was gunned down and left for dead, but he clawed his way out of the grave to protect Central City as a snappily dressed vigilante. His moustache-twirling arch-nemesis is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a mad scientist type who's just a vaseful of Heracles' blood away from immortality. The underground equivalent of DHL fumbled the delivery, tho'. The Octopus' blood-vase winds up in the well-manicured hands of Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), The Spirit's long-lost love who's since gone on to wed her way from one end of the globe to another to rack up whatever shiny things she can score. Meanwhile, The Octopus and his foxy librarian-ish moll (Scarlett Johannson) wind up sitting on the Shiny Thing To End All Shiny Things that Saref has been chasing after for years. So, yeah. There are all sorts of badniks hunting each other down, with our barely-masked hero and an entire city caught in the middle. Oh, and the quasi-immortality that's been keeping The Spirit undead-and-kickin' all these years is starting to wind down, so that's a whole thing too.

You might hear the name Frank Miller and think back to his legendary run on Daredevil, The Dark Knight Returns, or the comics that eventually spun off into 300 and Sin City. If you dig back deeply enough into Miller's back catalog, though, you'll spot the screenplay for Robocop III as a footnote on his résumé, and...yeah, that's the Frank Miller that's onboard for The Spirit. A "Begorah!" and a flame-throwing umbrella away from the '60s Batman TV show, The Spirit even has a gaggle of double-digit IQ flunkies -- all wearing identical black shirts with goofy nicknames on 'em. This is a flick whose sense of humor veers so sharply into slapstick and straightahead camp that:
  1. The Spirit is whacked in the balls with a nine foot long lugwrench
  2. The Octopus traps The Spirit in a toilet
  3. One of The Octopus' cloned flunkies is run over by a van and walks around with tire treads dug into his face
  4. Another badnik is carved in half with a sword while Scarlett Johansson sultrily takes a chomp out of an apple
  5. Sam Jackson bungles a clone who winds up as a pint-sized head on a foot that bounds around his lab
  6. The Octopus melts a pretty kitty down to a couple of eyeballs in a sink
  7. After being accidentally pushed out of a window and snagged on a gargoyle, The Spirit takes off his belt -- and drops down to his skivvies -- to swing outta harm's way.
  8. Sand Seref leaves a photocopy of her butt in a trashcan, and The Spirit shows that ass shot off to the doormen at a bunch of ritzy hotels in the hopes that someone would recognize it....oh! which yeah, Frank Miller even milks a dwarflittle person joke out of it.
I mean, there's
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a scene with Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson dolled up as Nazis -- for absolutely no reason whatsoever -- that drags on for something like ten minutes straight, and The Octopus' defining character trait is that he has a hate on for eggs.

300 and Sin City raked in enough cash that it looks like Lionsgate forked a free pass over Frank Miller's way for him to do whatever he wanted, and the result is a flick that makes the ice puns and nipple-suits in Batman and Robin looking kind of restrained by comparison. The cast would gnaw on the scenery if virtually every last bit of it hadn't been rendered in a computer, so the actors just settle for being distractingly, gratingly over-the-top. The green-screen noir visuals no longer sparkle the way they did back when Sin City first screamed into theaters, feeling imitative these days more than innovative. Miller is so hellbent on bloating the flick with unnecessary, one-joke characters and overindulging the campy stabs at slapstick that he can't get caught up in things like...y'know, story or pacing. I'm a huge fan of cacklingly over-the-top camp, but The Spirit misses out on the sense of fun and adventure that ought to go along with a movie like this. The Spirit is desperate for laughs but never really earns any aside from a few uncomfortable "what the hell...?" snickers, and too many scenes meander on far, far, far too long. There's never any sense of forward momentum, and the overacting, bland story, and Miller's tepid direction keep any pulses from ever starting to pick up. Its visual style is pretty, sure, but there's just not a movie here behind it.

Try thumbing through an issue of All-Star Batman and Robin and cringe at how far Frank Miller has fallen. "I'm the Goddamn Batman"; Miller has been coasting on work that's barely a glimmer in the rear view mirror anymore, settling into self-parody as he listlessly cashes whatever checks studios and publishers are eager to throw his way. However terrible his work in comics has been over the past few years, The Spirit is even worse. Ambitious...? Sure. Gorgeously framed and constructed? Absolutely. Masturbatory, ineptly written and paced, and saddled with soul-crushingly bad stabs at camp and slapstick...? Unfortunately. Frank Miller has been quoted as saying that he initially passed on writing and directing The Spirit, but he changed his mind when he decided he didn't want anyone else ravaging a character and a world he loved so much. No, I guess Miller wanted to save the privilege of destroying The Spirit all for himself. Skip It.

Well, at least it's nice to look at.

The Spirit is jaw-dropping in high definition. The scope image is inhumanly sharp and detailed, to the point where I felt as if I could count every pore on the clean-scrubbed cast's faces all the way down to each individual fiber on The Spirit's coat. (Much of the texture of the actresses' faces has been digitally smoothened away, but that's part of the movie's stab at heightened reality and not a hiccup with this Blu-ray disc.) There's an enormous sense of depth and dimensionality showcased here, with The Spirit boasting rock-solid contrast and deep, inky black levels. Like Sin City before it, the noir-inspired visuals are essentially monochromatic, and this makes its splashes of color -- red, in particular -- that much more striking. The Spirit may be a complete and total failure as a movie, but it does showcase just how startlingly crisp and detailed a Blu-ray disc can be, and it's on my shortlist of titles I'd grab off the shelf to show off my home theater rig.

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The Spirit is packing a hyperaggressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, belted out here in 24-bit sound with eight discrete channels on hand. The Spirit doesn't just belch out a hefty low-end; from the punchy thuds of its gunplay to an oversized Nazi eagle statue tumbling to the ground, the LFE is practically a concussive force. The surround channels toss on an extra layer of immersion, fleshing out The City as a living, breathing character in its own right. The rears also help some of the flick's most psychotic sequences -- streams of bullets whizzing through seawater and an assault by an entire damned army in the climax -- pack that much more of a wallop. Even with as deranged as the action can get, dialogue is perfectly balanced in the mix, and the level of clarity and detail teeters on unreal, especially the sound of those hundreds of spent shells clinking to the ground. Lionsgate almost always manages to impress with its audio, and The Spirit is lugging around one of their best master-quality soundtracks yet.

A French dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 has also been tacked on alongside subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

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  • Green World (23 min.; HD): The title may make it sound as if "Green World" is a special effects piece, but that's just one component of this comprehensive making-of featurette. "Green World" spends a fair amount of time exploring the art and innovations of Will Eisner, runs through each of this adaptation's central characters, and delves into its extensive visual effects work. As its title suggests, the headaches and upsides of shooting in an enormous room blanketed in green are tackled here along with a slew of notes about how the very deliberate "contemporary noir" visual style of The Spirit was shaped.

  • Miller on Miller (16 min.; HD): Frank Miller speaks at length about his art and influences in what's by far my favorite of the disc's three featurettes, and I wouldn't have minded seeing something as thorough and thoughtful as "Miller on Miller" breeze along for another fifteen or twenty minutes. This conversation with Miller distinguishes between the vertical orientation of drawing The Spirit or Daredevil with the sprawling, horizontally-weighted vistas of 300, his admiration for Silver Age talents like Jack Kirby as well as the generation of artists like Neal Adams and Jim Steranko that soon followed, some of his own seminal work in comics, the timeless appeal of drawing from film noir, and contrasting penciling the page of a comic versus working in film.

  • History Repeats (15 min.; HD): The
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    last of the disc's featurettes pays a much-deserved homage to Will Eisner, a trailblazing talent whose innovations in the medium are still followed by comic artists some seventy years later. "History Repeats" runs through Eisner's creation of this urban Zorro in an era when the concept of superheroes was just starting to take hold, his cinematic visual style and fascination with the female form, and even Eisner establishing the concept of the graphic novel. Eisner's mentorship of Miller is also touched upon here.

  • Audio Commentary: It's kind of a drag that the audio commentary with Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete doesn't stack up all that well next to the hour's worth of featurettes piled onto this Blu-ray disc. This commentary is saddled with a choppy stop-and-go rhythm; they'll gab for a few minutes and then quietly sit back and watch the movie for a while. There are some highlights, though: Miller's severed head being tossed around as a weapon, fleshing out the character of The Octopus that was never anything more than a glove in Eisner's comics, the genesis of the "...the hell?"-ish Os-Foot, the director cobbling together his own cartoonishly oversized guns on the set, and, well, Miller drooling over every woman in the flick but especially Eva Mendes' bare ass. It's too unevenly paced a track to rank any higher than average, and I think maybe having another person or two in the recording booth to spackle out the lulls in the chatter would've made for a much more compelling listen.

  • Alternate Ending (2 min.; HD): The ending that Frank Miller originally sketched out was never shot, but the storyboards for this, um, dismemberment are served up here with voiceover work by Gabriel Macht and Sam Jackson.

  • BD Live: The Spirit is fat-packed with all sorts of goofy, gimmicky online bells-and-whistles. Along with spouting off the local weather and time (???), this Blu-ray disc rattles off Lionsgate news and serves up downloadable ringtones, wallpapers, and additional trailers. The Spirit also takes advantage of Lionsgate's MoLog tech, giving fans a shot at slapping text and doodling shapes on-screen throughout the flick and sharing all of that online.

  • Trailers (HD): A handful of high-def trailers -- including one for The Spirit -- rounds out the extras.
The label on the spine touting The Spirit as a two-disc special edition is kind of misleading since disc numero two-oh just serves up a digital copy of the movie.

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The Final Word
Rambling, bloated, borderline-incoherent, and unrepentantly campy: think Sin City slathered in Bat-Shark-Repellant or Dick Tracy after getting kicked in the head by an ornery mule. I mean, I do have to give The Spirit credit for trying something different -- I'd rather watch a batshit-deranged flick like this flop and flounder than something that limplessly and lifelessly plays it safe -- but this ranks down there with Man-Thing as the worst comic adaptation churned out over the past five years. Skip It.

Why Not? A Few More Screengrabs
Look!  It'th Tharah Paulthon ath The Spirit'th love interetht!
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