THE SPIRIT PREVIEW: PART I

€˜The Spirit is the story of Denny Colt, a murdered cop who is mysteriously reborn as the masked crime fighter called The Spirit. Determined to keep his beloved Central City safe, the Spirit pursues Central City€™s villains from the shadows and seeks to remove the worst of them all; the megalomaniac known as the Octopus. Yet as busy as his ongoing mission keeps him, the dashing crusader always manages to make time for beautiful women, though he never quite knows if they want to seduce, love or kill him. But there is one lady who will never betray him, and to whom he will always be true: Central City, the proud old metropolis where he was born €“ twice.€™ Thursday, December 4th, and THE SPIRIT production is on full charm offensive at a press conference in the relatively intimate Roseby Room of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge. On hand are some of the principal principals and free coffee, which I drank too much of€ but more on that later. The evening before, an equally select group of lucky journos, and one person who seemed to be looking for a place to have a nap, sat down at a preview screening house to watch 6 clips from Frank Miller€™s latest comic book to screen event. Everything on screen was introduced and interspersed with comments from the producer Deborah Del Prete; how it€™s both a commercial and a passion project, how it was important to retain the €˜spirit€™ of Will Eisner€™s original creation, and how technology now allows the creation of what is a €˜comic book world€™. She was on screen too of course, but for some reason her segments looked like they€™d been video-phoned from downtown Baghdad. No such problem with the movie clips, which unsurprisingly from the pedigree of Miller€™s previous stories on screen, looked fantastic, all noir-ish washed out colour schemes, practically black and white apart from the odd bold colour like The Spirit€™s flaming red tie, or Scarlett Johansson€™s baby blues€ Ok, maybe not the last bit but, well, more on that later. The first clip was the actual opening sequence of the movie as The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) gets a call to help out the cops. He€™s in his very dark, very large yet sparsely furnished apartment and we see the full putting on of the Spirit outfit, black suit, coat, hat (mask already in place, never seemingly removed), topped off by the red tie and an oddly incongruous pair of sneakers. There are also lots of cats. Now I may be adding subtlety where none exists but I figured the cats were there as a symbol of the afterlife (ancient Egyptian mythology), seeing as The Spirit is a man who has literally come back from the dead, but don€™t quote me on that€ The rest of the sequence is The Spirit running and leaping over rooftops until he hears the desperate scream of a woman, so naturally he intervenes. Fight ensues, big nod to his immortality and he€™s off again. Quick, slick and efficient introduction, but even at this point you can see THE SPIRIT is a wholly different beast to the ultra-violent stylings of SIN CITY or 300. Next up was an underwater sequence featuring The Spirit€™s old flame Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), and her €˜at the moment€™ husband, in the middle of grabbing some unknown something in chests at the bottom of a lake. Things go badly awry however when the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up. He€™s got 8 of everything apparently. The sequence, though perfectly effective, in reality stands out because practically the entire thing was shot in the dry, not a drop of water in sight. Using a high-speed camera called The Phantom (a nod to another pulp hero?) and wire-work we get what is admittedly a relatively obvious SFX moment, but one that fits perfectly with the style and mood that the movie seems to be trying for. Clip number three, and we get to see The Spirit and The Octopus in a face-off smackdown; and it€™s here that we really get an idea of where the mood is, and what Miller and Del Prete have been striving for in terms of the film€™s overall feel, and audience. It is a cartoonish scrap in what seems to be a muddy lake shore where a 6 foot spanner comes into play. That€™s not to say it isn€™t violent, I mean at one point the Spirit pounds the Octopus€™s mud submerged face about 10 times, but we€™re in a land of fairly bloodless combat, and with these two, a Tom and Jerry-esque ability to recover. There€™s nothing wrong with this approach and the punches and beat-downs are pretty satisfying, but for anyone expecting a Marv level of bodily destruction there€™s going to be disappointment. Number four, and a vague sense of worry began to creep in. We€™re in the Octopus€™s lab and we see that part of his lunatic plans is the creation of his henchmen, by cloning. Not a perfect solution to manpower problems as the clones are all complete idiots (and at this point I€™m hoping they€™re not a reflection on the movie€™s potential audience). The Octopus and three of his moronic helpers watch as a miniature clone gone wrong hops up and down the table. The whole scene is worryingly hammy, as if the filmmakers had forgotten the fine line between daft and stupid. However halfway though we get to see Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) enter stage left wearing this season€™s figure hugging secretarial uniform; she has to tell the Octopus about finances, or something, but I think I€™d stopped listening at that point. They pretty much just watch the hopping mistake, until its untimely demise at the hands of The Octopus€™s blender. Clip five and the previous scene is handily erased from memory (well most of it) by the re-arrival of Sand Saref, confronted in her hotel room by the Spirit. Needless to say she doesn€™t recognise in him his former persona of Denny Colt, but we do get to see the apparently truthfully naked rear of Ms Mendes, and it€™s here that you do actually get a realisation of Miller€™s love affair with his female characters. THE SPIRIT's women are possibly the movie€™s main draw, not just in a teenage fantasy way, but hopefully also as a collective of interesting female characters from the combined comic book minds of Eisner and Miller. Sand Saref is interesting, not just because she happens to shed clothing (although admittedly that didn€™t hurt), but because she is also playful, sexy, and dark (her €˜underwater€™ husband is now lying dead under the occasional table). Clip number six was the movie€™s ending; not the tying up all the loose ends moments, but the literal final few moments. If after watching the entire movie we hadn€™t quite got the point, here the love affair between the Spirit and his home of Central City is rammed home in growly voiceover as the Spirit carries on his vigil. So, what can I say about the potential whole movie experience? Well I should say that I€™m a massive fan of Eisner€™s original comic creation and the fact that Miller made the stylistic choices he has never worried me (Eisner€™s original was a multi-coloured affair with blue as the Spirit€™s outfit of choice), in fact those choices were practically necessary in today€™s comic book climate, otherwise we€™d have been looking at DICK TRACY 2. I know that previews have lamented the reduction in grit, or the pandering to a PG-13 vibe, but the source material was always going to render it that way, otherwise the desire to create a movie that honours Eisner€™s creation would have been impossible. Yes, Jackson is a tad over the top, and Johansson may be a little off kilter, but they€™re inhabiting, as Del Prete said, a comic book world. Christopher Nolan attempted to drag the comic book movie into the realms of €˜reality€™ and pretty much succeeded, but Miller is doing the opposite and for me, I still have my fingers crossed that taken with the right pinch of salt I€™ll enjoy THE SPIRIT for what it is. There is a big however though; after reading some reviews from the US press like Variety that may take some kind of miracle, and a lot more salt. THE SPIRIT opens Christmas Day in the U.S and Jan 1st. in the U.K.

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Contributor

Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.