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The Spirit

Written and Directed by Frank Miller

Now Available on DVD

The Spirit is a moving comic book — every shot is a tiny masterpiece, full of details and subtleties that would make any graphic novel a drool-worthy piece of art. And that is The Spirit’s greatest flaw: Frank Miller put so much life onto the screen that it would take multiple viewings — of the movie, the commentary, and the special features — to digest it all. Not only is the average audience member unaccustomed to applying so much scrutiny to a film, but film as a medium cannot handle such overflow of detail — the picture you see is constantly moving, and you just don’t have the time to pore over every corner of every picture.

The movie not only looks like a comic strip — it feels like one. While this movie is an incredible tribute to Miller’s mentor Will Eisner, by staying so true to the original, Miller created a film that delivers more than its audience might be able to handle. The dialogue is a bizarre marriage of over-the-top drama and cheesy one-liners. Abnormal physical abilities, such as withstanding incredible amounts of pain, are introduced to the audience in a flippant manner. Incredibly subtle colors convey emotion, like the red slowly peeking out from behind a young femme fatale during an angry breakup — the same dark angry red that saturates the background seconds later as the audience watches her silouhette run away.

Speaking of femme fatales — while the male characters of The Spirit are undoubtedly handsome, battle-hardened, or both, the women of The Spirit steal the show with their stunning display of cold intelligence and heartless manipulation paired with sultry beauty and a wardrobe to die for. The femme fatales alone might drag you through the movie, even if you don’t obsess over graphic novels on principle.

As a dedicated admirer of Frank Miller, of graphic novels, and of the hard-boiled noir genre, I have been looking forward to The Spirit and its film rendition. However, I avoided watching it in theaters for exactly the reasons stated above. I wanted time to digest and understand the visual storytelling that Frank Miller does so well. After watching Sin City and 300, it was clear that Miller’s movie-making style was to literally bring comic books to life — instead of creating a reinterpretation of one story medium in another, he wanted the two mediums to meld into something even richer, more powerful, and more concise.

For a graphic novel reader (or in Miller’s case, graphic novel writer) such an idea is the perfect wet dream. For the average movie-goer expecting another hardcore action film full of stoic muscular men, it’s a severe disappointment.

Watch the DVD, if only to watch the special features. The behind-the-scenes documentaries are not only entertaining and informative — they’ll make you like the movie if you didn’t already, and if you did, they’ll make you appreciate it. Only here is it apparent how much attention to detail was poured into this film. The special features open the door to examining the deeper layers of the film and encourage multiple viewings of the main feature.

The DVD case and cover art are unfortunately misleading. By choosing a look that is strongly reminiscent of Sin City and a title font very similar to that of 300, audiences are led to expect a plot and storytelling style strongly reflecting Miller’s previous hardcore action films — a major marketing mistake.