Friday, April 17, 2009

We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do

So Frank Miller shat on a page and called it a script, then filmed it using style elements that he ripped off (badly) from Robert Rodriguez (who's not exactly a stellar director to begin with), pissed a millions dollars worth of bad make-up and CGI into it, had the whole sh'bang seared to celluloid in the flames of Hell and called it a movie.

Put another way, Samuel L. Jackson escaped the Star Wars prequels with his uber-cool intact, but even he couldn't emerge unscathed from The Spirit.

Somehow the stench off this turd wasn't quite foul enough to keep me away, so it found its way into my Netflix queue, was delivered by some poor, unsuspecting postman (...or woman... post-person...?), and placed, as if by accident, in my wholly unprepared DVD player. Okay, in all honesty, it was the train-wreck aspect that drew me to it, like a moth to a flaming bag of poo, but at least I knew what I was getting into.

And the best I can say for it is that it's not painful to watch. It was never claw-your-eyes out painful, at least. But it was really, really, really bad. Curiously bad, even. Almost humorously bad, actually. But not bad enough to warrant multiple viewings (read as: "not Ed-Wood bad"[the director, not the Tim Burton film (woo, too many nested braces{!})]), but pretty damned bad.

I don't want to "review" it. In a way, I already have, just look at the first paragraph. But it's a curious failure. When it tried to be cool, it came across as stupid. When it tried to cut loose and be a little stupid, it came across as really, really stupid. Shots were painstakingly composed, but even when that sort of worked the narrative would get in the way. Case in point, I remember a flashback scene in which a young Sand Seriff is walking away down an alley, her figure in black silhouette against a red background. It was striking, although a bit jarring coming off an orange-ish-brown dialog sequence. But if we could have lingered there, and if perhaps the transition had been a bit more subtle, it might have worked. But then the camera cut away to the other character and then back. Narrative gets in the way.

Which is a shame, because at no point in this film does the narrative ever work on its own right.

After finishing the movie, I started the commentary track. I was curious. Will Miller have the stones to own up to making a horrible film? Short answer: no. Longer answer: after five minutes it became evident that the film's merits were a foregone conclusion. They handled its awfulness by simply ignoring it. If Miller had turned around and said "look, I perhaps bit off a little more than I could chew" or "this is what I was trying to do and I realize now that it didn't pan out the way I'd planned" or "maybe I could have spent a little less time storyboarding and little more time directing my actors," he might have earned back a little of my respect.

For great examples of this in action, check out the commentaries for UHF and Mallrats, both very entertaining commentary tracks for movies that underperformed. In both cases, the talent talks about why things didn't work out, what they were trying to do, what things worked well and why they were or weren't happy with the finished product. Incidentally, both of those films scored in the 50's on RottenTomatoes and now have cult followings. I doubt The Spirit will earn a cult following, and it's RT score is, last I checked, 14%. If you can't admit that it wasn't well-received, then you're wasting all of our time.

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