Pity Frank Miller’s second feature directorial effort: “The Spirit” pretty much sank and stank in terms of box office returns and critical/public reception, but the film isn’t nearly as bad as you might have heard… it’s not “Catwoman” bad. Though it looks as slick as “Sin City” (which Miller co-directed) and “300,” it never attempts to rise beyond the level of been-there-done-that mediocrity. Miller has essentially done a goof on the silly, scattershot style showcased in the celebrated Will Eisner comic, and yet the film isn’t nearly as fun as it could have been, barely sustaining its momentum due to wooden acting from the lead talent involved and uninteresting plot.
Gabriel Macht, in what could have been a franchise role, offers an attractive presence behind the mask, but much of his noir-driven dialogue, while comic-book ready, sounds forced, hackneyed and uninspired. Scarlett Johansson, while looking totally right for her role, simply has a hard time coming through with a memorable character. She tries for smarmy and sultry but can’t really pull it off, though you’d think she could given her lovely looks… it’s the same problem she had in “The Black Dahlia” film—she’s simply a pallid presence onscreen when asked to emote. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual forceful self… and sails through the green screen tableau with the kind of over-the-top line readings we’ve heard him do many times before. The film is downright goofy when he shows up as the lead villain, The Octopus (in the comics the character is never seen, save for his gloved hands), without so much as a how-do-you-do before running off his mouth and his array of guns, swords and other tools of destruction.
Jackson and Johannson can’t really acquit themselves, but the costumes they wear are pretty keen… though seeing Jackson stomp around in Nazi SS-type regalia is a little hard to take, it does add to the nuttiness of the character, a quasi-scientists-cum-megalomaniac bent on taking over the world by finding the Blood of Hercules. It’s up to the Spirit, formerly a rookie cop named Denny Colt, to save the day since, apparently, only he and The Octopus can go head-to-head, having both been to the edge of death and back and both having acquired the power to beat each other mercilessly (and shoot and stab and everything… including the kitchen sink and a toilet bashed into heads). They miraculously heal, of course, as if nothing really happened.
Yet, almost always after his prolonged battles, the Spirit is helped by surgeon (!) Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), the police commissioner’s daughter, who loves the Spirit but disapproves of his womanizing antics. Dan Lauria plays the Commissioner, Eustace Dolan and does a fine job in spite of the lines he’s given to chew on. The femme fatales— Silken Floss (Johannson), Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), and hot old flame Sand Seref (a very uneven Eva Mendes, looking slick and sexy but sleepwalking through the role) are played up in a hardboiled, theatrical way that is world’s apart from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and even Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen,” yet is faithful to the overall tone and characters of the original comic which hit its peak in the 40’s and early 50’s. In fact, Miller does keep the action and characters pretty faithful to the comic (though to deal with the now racially insensitive Ebony White, the Spirit’s sidekick in the early comics, the filmmakers have simply left him out).
The plot… with Jackson chasing the Blood of Hercules that will make him an indestructible god, and Sand Seref chasing after the treasure of the Argonauts, is negligible at best. Ultimately, this fast-paced show’s fun sense of style and technical creativity is insufficient to hold interest beyond the first viewing. Miller seems to be still figuring out what to do with his actors and how to direct a credible performance (even it it’s meant to be over-the-top), though he’s obviously got great technical people behind him to create truly fascinating green-screen eye candy.
Speaking of the visuals… the Blu-ray disc is 1080p (2.35) scan lines of quality perfection. Just turn off your brain for a while. Since the plot and characters don’t register nearly as well as the visuals do it would be easy to dismiss this disc… but it’s worth a look for HD fans and those that enjoy seeing slam-bang action achieved in HD-home theater quality. Miller knows his way around a green screen, or at least he’s adept at finding those who can nail the feel and look of the comic page. With the shifting, prowling camera following the Spirit as he acrobatically swings, leaps and jumps through the city streets and on rooftops, the image never wavers or looks anything less than jaw-droppingly beautiful… I noticed no compression issues at all.
“The Spirit” a great showcase disc for the HD home theater, and this Lionsgate release also sounds terrific. As the gunfire, explosions, cat meows and howls come at you from all angles (yes, cats… quite a few of them), you’ll notice the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack is a truly dynamic aural experience that offers clarity with a solid mix with dialogue, effects, ambiance and score all perfectly detailed. No one sound overwhelms the other, and from an HD theater perspective, this is an excellent Blu-ray release from Lionsgate.
BLU-RAY DISC SPECS:
• “Green World” featurette – offers a look at the technical wizardry behind the making of the film and the world of the Spirit created with green screen/digital effects.
• “Miller on Miller” featurette – a look at the artistry of Frank Miller and his thoughts on a variety of topics… hardly a dull moment for the Miller fan.
• “History Repeats” featurette – an in-depth look at the origin of The Spirit as well as Will Eisner’s influence and vision in the comic book world… this is worth a look.
• Alternate storyboard ending with voiceovers by Samuel L. Jackson and Gabriel Macht
• Audio commentary by Frank Miller and Deborah Del Prete
• MoLog™ – Movie Blog network connected community and interactive movie blog tool set
• LIONSGATE LIVE™ enabled… this is a first for a Lionsgate release and offers updatable special content and features via the web (broadband connection on your Blu-Ray player is a must)
• Theatrical trailer with additional theatrical trailers
Running Time: 108 minutes
Closed Captioned: English Closed Captioned
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Format: Blu-Ray: 1080P
Audio: 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio and French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Standard Definition Digital Copy of the feature film for viewing on PC/Mac. It offers one of the best iPhone experiences I’ve seen and also looked great on a Toshiba Regza used for the Blu-Ray review (digital file copy run from Mac via iTunes). The widescreen image looks good, but not spectacular, and the sound quality is above average via a standard home theater setup (Dolby Pro-Logic for playback).