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The Spirit (2008)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/14/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/17/2009

Despite the fact that I write a lot of negative reviews, I try to be an optimist. To that end, I like to think that everyone is very good at least one thing. There are a few people who are multi-talented and are skilled at more than one thing. Be they singer/song-writers or actor/writers, there are some individuals who are able to excel at multiple endeavors. Frank Miller has been a world renowned comic-book writer and artist since the early 1980s. Through his work on Daredevil, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sin City, Miller's gritty style and striking artwork set him apart from his peers. When Sin City was adapted into a film, Director Robert Rodriguez had Miller direct along-side him. This apparently made film bosses think that Miller was ready to handle a film of his own. While watching The Spirit, I realized that while Miller is a master of the comic book art form, he has a lot to learn about making movies.

The Spirit is set in Central City, a metropolis which had a seedy underbelly. Fighting crime in the city is The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a masked man who has superior strength and fighting skills, and no matter how badly he's injured, can't be killed. However, he does require medical care when assaulted, and this comes from Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), with whom The Spirit shares a flirtation. The Spirit often battles criminal kingpin The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), who is assisted by Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and an army of clones (all played by Louis Lombardi). As the story begins, The Octopus is attempting to receive two stolen boxes, when Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) intervenes and steals one of the crates. Sand is an old flame of The Spirit's and he hates to pursue her for criminal activity, but knowing that The Octopus wants the contents of the crate, he must. Soon, The Spirit finds himself caught in an all out war.

When a movie is a failure, it's very easy to point fingers at the director, as they are supposedly in charge, but with The Spirit, Frank Miller served as both Director and Writer, and he was entrusted to bring his vision to the project, so there's really no one else to blame, save for those who put up the money for this film. Most movies don't work either for things that they do or don't do, but The Spirit hits the mark in both of those categories. For starters, who thought that it was a good idea to make the movie look just like Sin City? Yes, the connection between Frank Miller and Sin City was pushed in the trailer, but the mis-informed may as well think that this is a sequel to that film, as it contains essentially the same faux black and white look. Is it cool? Sure, why not, but we can't shake the feeling that we've seen it all before.

While Miller has been celebrated for his comic-book writing, he apparently didn't pick up any pointers in film storytelling from his work with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The Spirit simply starts with a fight between The Spirit and The Octopus and we have no idea what is going on. I'm not implying that the audience should be spoon-fed a story and there's nothing wrong with a little mystery, but if I had seen this film in a theater, I would have assumed that the reels were being shown in the wrong order. These two guys are just whaling on each other and spouting lines which make no sense to us and we are supposed to follow all of it. Miller then waits way too long to clue us in on what is happening. If you are like me and know nothing about The Spirit, then you'll sit waiting to find out who this guy is and how he can do what he does. And once that origin is revealed, it's very anti-climatic. It's an interesting story, but it's something which we should have learned at the beginning, so that The Spirit's relationships with those around him would make more sense.

As for Miller the director, he makes several mistakes. I rarely write about acting, because it should be seamless -- something which we don't notice. But, I can't remember the last Hollywood movie which I saw where the acting is as noticeably bad as it is here. Perhaps Miller didn't understand that it was his job to tell the actors to try it one more time, or maybe he was intimidated by the stars in the cast. Whatever the case, Johansson sounds as if she's reading cue-cards and Jackson gives the impression that he's forcing his usual "bad-ass" persona. Macht is solid as the title character, but he's surrounded by people who behave as if they'd rather be somewhere else. There's also issues with the film's tone. At far too many points during the movie I found myself asking, "Is this supposed to be funny?" The movie walks a fine line between campy and serious (I think) and it never decides what it wants to be.

The Spirit was a great opportunity to blend noir, super heroes, and modern technology and it fails miserably. The laundry list of problems with this film overwhelm any positives which may exist and the whole thing will leave you scratching your head.

The Spirit is decidedly pro-cat on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no barely any grain and no defects from the source material. The film's black and white look works great here, as the darks are rich and true. The flashes of colors (The Spirit's tie) are dazzling and the image is never overly dark or bright. Despite the dark look, I never noticed any video noise or artifacting. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are quite good, as they are very detailed and reveal very minute sounds. The surround sound works very well here, as the rear channels are always active during the action scenes. Great subwoofer effects come into play during the action scenes, most notably the finale.

The Spirit Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Frank Miller and Producer Deborah Del Prete. "Green World" (23 minutes) is a making of featurette which wisely explores the history of The Spirit and series creator Will Eisner. From there the piece examines the look of the film and how the actors were combined with CG backgrounds. My favorite part was when Sarah Paulsen said "The movie looks unlike anything people have seen." Umm, Sin City? "Miller on Miller" (16 minutes) is an interview with the artist who discusses his career. It's very nice to see that someone bothered to get license so that we can see examples of Miller's art from various companies and stages of his career. "Alternate Storyboard Ending" (3 minutes) offers an extension of the finale presented in animated storyboards with voiceovers by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson. "History Repeats" (15 minutes) explores Will Eisner and how The Spirit was an influential comic. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long