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The Spirit: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

The Spirit (2008) movie poster The Spirit

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2008 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Frank Miller / Writers: Frank Miller (screenplay), Will Eisner (comic book series)

Cast: Gabriel Macht (The Spirit/Denny Colt), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Ellen Dolan), Dan Lauria (Commissioner Dolan), Paz Vega (Plaster of Paris), Eric Balfour (Mahmoud), Jaime King (Lorelei Rox), Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus), Louis Lombardi (Pathos, etc.), Stana Katic (Officer Morgenstern), Richard Portnow (Donenfeld), Johnny Simmons (Young Spirit), Seychelle Gabriel (Young Sand), Dan Gerrity (Det. Sussman), Mark Delgallo (Seth)

Buy The Spirit from Amazon.com: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD 1-Disc DVD Blu-ray Disc


With the sour taste of his RoboCop sequel experiences a distant memory, Frank Miller made an unexpected leap to film director on 2005's Sin City, earning his credit alongside Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. That gritty adaptation of Miller's graphic novel series earned acclaim and profit.
From another comic series, he then produced 300, which won less of the former but much more of the latter en route to becoming one of 2007's biggest and most surprising moneymakers. Whether calling shots on Sin City whet his appetite or 300's earnings convinced him there's gold in dem dar hills of Hollywood, Miller returned to the director's chair, this time without any company, for The Spirit.

The Spirit is adapted from a line of comic strips created by Will Eisner back in 1940. It centers on The Spirit (Gabriel Macht), a thinly-masked man who lives to serve his Central City, which he protects per an understanding he has with no-nonsense Police Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria). Virtually indestructible, The Spirit, whose identity and backstory become known throughout the picture, has a soft spot for cats and an even softer spot for women, of whom he's never met one he hasn't fancied. He also has some sources of torment in forces of opposition.

We've seen this kind of hero before, in Batman, Hellboy, and nearly everyone in between. That leaves it up to the world and personalities around the protagonist to make this material pop and sizzle. There is plenty of potential to do that in the stylized and complex universe.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) explains how things came to be as they are, apparently to both us and Arthur the Cat. The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) is fascinated, his dim-witted bald clones (Louis Lombardi) amused, and assistant Silken Floss (Scarlet Johansson) unimpressed by his latest experiment, a living head on a foot.

The villain of this piece is The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a kind of mad scientist with some baffling hang-ups about eggs. In his midst is the typically outlandish brainy beauty Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). Countering this femme fatale is a disposable army of bulky bald men (all played by Louis Lombardi) who genetic engineering left light on intellect. In a running gag, these clones wear shirts displaying their names, which all end in "os" (Pathos, Logos, Adios, etc.).

Like a respectable criminal mastermind, The Octopus craves immortality. To seize this, he must first obtain a valuable historical artifact (a vase of Heracles' blood) and also wipe out the do-gooding nemesis with whom he shares a special bond.

While this is the chief focus of the plot, explained in great detail and fueling The Spirit's moody narration, the movie unfolds in a way that allows us to get familiar with various ladies in The Spirit's life. There is the one that got away, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), the childhood sweetheart now suspected of murder. There is the one that probably should go away, commissioner's daughter Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), a surgeon whose around-the-clock devotion to The Spirit and his well-being aren't enough to earn the exclusivity she seeks. There is Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), a belly dancer carrying more visual presence than structural. Finally, siren Lorelei (Jaime King) gets close to our bulletproof lead while calling him to death's door.

Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) makes a photocopy of her bottom. This is one of the details that confirm we're not really in the 1940s. The Spirit stands off with tough police commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria), while hotshot rookie Morgenstern (Stana Katic) stays out of it.

The Spirit takes full advantage of today's technology. That helps grant it a strong visual style, one marked by muted colors, with blacks, whites, and the hero's flapping red tie standing out. The artifice of locations (the whole thing was shot on green screen) is irrelevant and nearly unnoticeable. There are also showy camera moves that would be impossible if not for computers.
Rather than something resembling Eisner's primary color panels, Miller opts for the aesthetic he used on the Sin City film.

In content and characters, however, the movie appears to want to remain true to Eisner's work of yore. That technique may remind one of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, only here past the darker, edgier look you'll find less cutesy innocence and considerably more camp value. The interesting tone struck displays obvious respect for the source material, but at the same time the film is quite okay with earnestly embracing ridiculousness with little sense of irony or wit.

The violence certainly falls into the ridiculous category, not because of graphicness (the PG-13 rating ensures this is fairly tame and bloodless), but just in terms of staging and execution. By the time we get to the fully-armed finale, you'll have long given up taking the action seriously. I'd say it was meant to be comical, but that'd be giving it too much credit. It honestly doesn't seem to be an artistic decision, so much as miscalculation.

Miller doesn't follow Eisner's world completely. The Octopus now has a hand in The Spirit's origins, a feat originally attributed to Dr. Cobra (who's not on board). For that matter, in print, The Octopus was no more than a pair of gloves. Here, he's fully-seen Samuel L. Jackson, at times inexplicably in samurai, Nazi general, and pimp getups. Unsurprisingly, The Spirit's sidekick Ebony White, a black boy long depicted as a racist caricature, doesn't appear, not even as the inoffensive street kid of recent DC Comics portrayals.

Gold tinting establishes this scene of Denny Colt (Johnny Simmons) and Sand Saref (Seychelle Gabriel) playing on an elevated subway train as a flashback. So do the younger actors and less complicated relationship. Supposedly holding the final word on strange, belly dancer Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) performs for The Spirit before turning him over to some familiar Nazis.

The material would be sure to limit the talents of any actor handed it. The cast assembled proves particularly challenged. This isn't the first instance where one wonders how much physical appearance has factored into the career success and prominence of Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson. Enjoying his first major leading role in over a decade of regular acting, Gabriel Macht struggles to find the right tone, assuming there is one. It's cool to see "The Wonder Years" father Dan Lauria get a substantial film role and fourth billing he's more than comfortable with. On the other hand, it's sad to witness Samuel L. Jackson
again tackling the broadly corny, something he's done too often following the Star Wars prequels.

There really is little to celebrate about this film. In fact, it's surprising that something involving so many hundreds of workers and numerous millions of dollars can turn out this bad without anyone anticipating it, preventing it, correcting it. Maybe Miller, given too much rein without the filmmaking experience to justify it, is to blame. Based on his prominent credit and the amount of original rubbish that can't be traced back to Eisner, that only seems fair.

One of five American films given wide theatrical release on Christmas Day, The Spirit proved to be one too many. While all of its company went onto gross $100 million or close enough, this film earned less than $20 M domestically, far shy of studio expectations and at the low end of comic book and superhero genres. Despite the disappointing performance (or perhaps partly because of it), Lionsgate brings The Spirit to DVD next week in a 2-Disc Special Edition in addition to a standard single-disc and digital copy-bearing Blu-ray.

Buy The Spirit: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English),
Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Two single-sided discs (1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98 (Reduced from $34.98)
Black Keepcase in Openable Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc DVD and on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Once you accept the limited color palette and literally "black and white" look, you should find little of concern with The Spirit's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As something born of green screen and computer effects, it's not astonishing that the jump to a different digital medium poses no challenges for the movie, which looks satisfactorily clean, sharp, and detailed.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provides an engaging experience with near-constant and effective use of the various channels for atmospheric effects. Naturally, it most excels in the few scattered action sequences where bullets whiz and bang, but plenty of subtle sounds engage in the meantime, including the old-fashioned score and snowy city wind.

"Green World" reveals no water was needed for scenes set in water. That was good news for Eva Mendes, who can't swim. From a rooftop, Frank Miller talks about his craft and calling in "Miller on Miller." As one of the stops on the nicely-rendered main menu, The Octopus shoots at the sky wearing his climactic pimp fur.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Despite the moniker, this Special Edition doesn't really pile on the bonus features. But normal by Lionsgate standards, all the extras are exclusive to the premium DVD and Blu-ray. The standard single-disc includes both widescreen and fullscreen formats, but only company promos as supplements.

First and longest is an audio commentary by director Frank Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete. This is an instance where the track sounds much different and more positive than it would a few years from now even with the same speakers. Obviously proud of the film, everyone in it, and everyone behind it,


Miller and Del Prete revel in pointing out their favorite parts and moments. For talking almost non-stop, they say little that any audience member couldn't on their own. A few interesting anecdotes emerge, regarding Miller's cameo and how a scantily-clad Paz Vega distracted everyone on set. There is also talk about a deleted scene and a bloody version of the film; neither is included despite what's said.

The first and better of the disc's two featurettes, "Green World" (22:52) starts by pouring praise on Will Eisner and Frank Miller, before priming us on characters, and detailing the visual style. Most time is spent on that last aspect, as we get looks at animatics, green screen set footage, and the various stages leading up to the final product. The piece closes with an exploration of the "contemporary noir" setting that merges elements from various eras of lower Manhattan and the color intentions.

In "Miller on Miller" (15:57), The Spirit's director does speak about his career and work, but also about the comics industry and his inspirations. He shares some absorbing ideas, which his fans should appreciate.

An alternate ending (2:35) follows up the film's climax with on-scene poetic Spirit narration, presented over storyboards and animations with menu-touted voiceover by Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson. It is no better than what made the cut.

We also get The Spirit's busy original theatrical trailer (2:25). All studios should be wise enough to include this valuable item alongside the featured film, even in a case like this where it clearly didn't attract masses of moviegoers.

Before the menu loads, trailers play for Crank 2: High Voltage, The Transporter 3, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Bangkok Dangerous and Hulk vs. The same five promos play from the final listing "Also from Lionsgate."

As is increasingly the case, Disc 2 is simply a digital copy of the film.

The menu moves about ever-snowy Central City, taking a few seconds to stop at most of the lead characters. Transitions to submenus further establish the three-dimensional universe, although no animation or sound graces the secondary selection screens.

The Spirit's Special Edition comes packaged with a cardboard slipcover that at first glance seems to recreate the keepcase artwork below. The front part of it actually opens up, though, to reveal alternate poses of the cover characters (and two otherwise excluded -- sadly, neither Dan Lauria) plus a perhaps not so seriously quotable quote in the wide folded spread. The only insert supplies the code for the digital copy and instructions for transferring it to PCs and Macs.

Apparently, you only need the outline of a fedora and flapping bright red tie to identify The Spirit from a distance. Samuel L. Jackson enjoys chewing the scenery as The Octopus, dressed as an old fisherman (later, a Samurai and a Nazi). I'm not sure what he's saying here but it probably has something to do with eggs.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I have to take the word of comic book fans on the talents of Frank Miller in that arena. But when it comes to filmmaking, The Spirit proves he's no expert, at least when working with someone else's characters. This movie may not be as vapid or as weirdly indulgent as some other kindred recent adaptations. That may be the highest praise it earns. Between the bad acting, ridiculous moments, and uncertain tone, Spirit yields more value as camp comedy than gritty superhero action flick. Those fond of Will Eisner's nearly 70-year-old print universe probably have reason to be offended. My personal reactions never exceeded mild amusement, intrigue, or despair.

The bonus features of Lionsgate's Special Edition DVD aren't bad for those who already like the movie. For those who haven't yet seen it, a rental is advised only if you're into comic books, superheroes, and highly stylized cinema. Clearly, even among recent fare, there's much better stuff worthier of your time.

Buy The Spirit from Amazon.com:
Standard 1-Disc DVD / 2-Disc Special Edition DVD / Blu-ray Disc / The Comics by Will Eisner

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Sin City Renaissance Beowulf Early Edition: The First Season The Tick vs. Season 2
Superheroes: Iron Man The Incredibles Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Hancock Fantastic Four

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Reviewed April 12, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Lionsgate and OddLot Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.