The Spirit (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Frank Miller|
|Screenplay by||Frank Miller|
|Based on||The Spirit
by Will Eisner
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||Gregory Nussbaum|
The Spirit is a 2008 American neo-noir superhero film, written and directed by Frank Miller and starring Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Dan Lauria, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film is based on the newspaper comic strip The Spirit by Will Eisner. OddLot and Lionsgate produced the film.
The Spirit was released in the United States on December 25, 2008, and on DVD and Blu-ray on April 14, 2009. The film was a box office flop and received negative reviews, with critics citing its unnecessary humor, melodramatic acting and style, lack of originality, sexist, exploitative overtones and the stark divergence from the source material.
In a cat-filled mausoleum in Central City, Denny Colt, also known as The Spirit, receives a call from Detective Sussman about a major case that could involve the Spirit's arch-nemesis, The Octopus. The Spirit dons his costume and travels across rooftops while delivering a voice-over soliloquy about the city being his one true love. A woman (Kimberly Cox) is being mugged in an alley below. He manages to save her, receiving a knife wound that he barely seems to notice. The woman asks, "What are you?", with an arriving officer answering, "That's The Spirit". The Spirit runs away, catching a ride from Officer Liebowitz and heading toward the flats.
At the swampland, femme fatale Sand Saref rises from the water and appears to shoot Sussman multiple times. The Spirit and Liebowitz find the wounded Sussman, but a flashback reveals that it was really the Octopus who shot him in an effort to recover two identical chests underwater. Sand and her husband Mahmoud tried to flee with both chests, but the Octopus wounded Mahmoud and snapped a line connecting the two chests. Sand escaped, leaving one chest behind, which the Octopus retrieved from the murky depths.
After the Octopus kills Liebowitz, he sends away his cloned henchmen, Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, to take on the Spirit alone. His accomplice Silken Floss drives up, running over Pathos in the process. She departs with the cargo as the two arch-nemeses fight.
Cutting to the next morning, The Spirit is awakened in a hospital by his lover Dr. Ellen Dolan, daughter of the Police Commissioner. Appearing to be in perfect health despite his gunshot wounds, the Spirit is shocked to notice a gold locket in Sussman's hand; a piece torn from Sand Saref's neck earlier.
Saref's locket contains pictures of a much-younger Denny Colt and Sand; the two grew up together in Central City where Denny bought Sand the locket as a gift to satisfy her love of "shiny things". They lived happily until Sand's father, a police officer, was shot dead. Sand, now disenchanted with the city and its corruption, fled to Europe and has not been heard from for fifteen years. In a secret lair, the Octopus and Silken Floss open their stolen chest, but discover that it does not contain the mysterious Blood of Heracles as expected but the Golden Fleece, and decide a trade is in order.
Sand and Mahmoud visit the office of a high-class fence named Donenfeld, whom Sand paid to locate the underwater treasure. It is implied that Donenfeld gave up the treasure's location to the Octopus to ensure his family's safety. At Alice's Hospital, the Spirit has fully regenerated and is as good as new; Commissioner Dolan angrily enters with young rookie cop Morgenstern and calls the Spirit away to a case.
Sand's history as one of the world's great jewel thieves is relayed to the Spirit. As the Spirit is about to arrest her, he is caught off-guard by her standing before him fully nude. Sand doesn't recognize the Spirit as the presumed-dead Denny. She is stunned when he reveals his knowledge of her looking for the Golden Fleece and she shoves the Spirit through a window, only to see him survive the fall.
After his run-in with Sand, the Spirit receives a tip on the location of the Octopus's lair. In the process of breaking in he is captured and tied to a dentist's chair. The Octopus reveals his own origin as well as how he and the Spirit became arch-enemies: Octopus and Floss's experimentation have led to the creation of a serum (something of a scientific equivalent to the Elixir of Life) that could grant immortality. The Octopus first tested it on the dead body of the murdered officer Colt, who came back from the dead; his resurrection has earned the ire of Death, being the only man to ever wrongfully escape her clutches. Contacting Dolan, the only one aware of his true identity, he vowed to become the city's protector, "her spirit". Eventually, the Octopus injected himself and arch-enemies were born. However, the Octopus needs the blood of Heracles, a demi-god, to perfect the serum's formula. The Spirit manages to escape by spontaneously seducing a belly-dancing female assassin named Plaster of Paris, who as a parting gift turns on The Octopus in favor of The Spirit's charms.
Outside in an alley, The Spirit irks Paris by mentioning Sand's name; she stabs him out of spite. After being unconscious for a period of time, the Spirit stumbles to the city docks and collapses into the cold water, where he confronts the ethereal Angel of Death, Lorelei Rox, who has haunted his sleep. While at first he is willing to finally give in to her embrace, he escapes her yet again when he manages to gather his senses by remembering Ellen, Sand, Floss, Paris, and the other women he claims to see in place of his life flashing before his eyes. As the Spirit swims to the surface, Lorelei vows that he will be hers eventually.
At the projects, Sand and her latest henchman fly in with the Blood of Heracles to meet Floss and a clone carrying the Golden Fleece. After a four-way Mexican standoff, Sand attempts to convince Floss to get out of serving the Octopus before she is killed by the Octopus himself. The clone kills Sand's henchman and the Octopus asks Floss for the vase. As the Spirit suddenly materializes, Floss drives off, unable to take a side. The Octopus unloads with progressively bigger guns on the Spirit, apparently killing him off, but Dolan's SWAT team storms the area and opens fire right after. Morgenstern blows the Octopus' arm up with a hand-cannon and Dolan shoots him several times on the head. To recover from the damage, the Octopus gets to the Blood of Heracles and prepares to drink it, but Sand shoots the vase just in time as the Spirit rises, having worn a bullet-proof vest. He then attaches a grenade to the Octopus' chest, blowing him up into pieces with Sand protecting the two of them with the Golden Fleece.
Showdown over, the Spirit gives Sand her locket back. They kiss as Ellen looks on, feeling betrayed. The old flames bid each other goodbye and the Spirit convinces Dolan to let Sand go in gratitude for saving him and the world. Nearby, Floss discovers one of the Octopus's severed fingers crawling towards her; she picks it up and departs with two of the clones saying, "We'll start from scratch". Meanwhile, the Spirit and Ellen make amends and embrace.
The final shot shows the Spirit standing triumphant on a rooftop with his cat, looking over the city as the sun rises.
- Gabriel Macht as Denny Colt / The Spirit: An ambitious and formerly eager young cop killed on the job, who under mysterious circumstances is reborn as a masked crime-fighter with an eye for the ladies. Determined to still keep his beloved city safe, he works with Central City's police force from the shadows. Miller had required actors who wanted the starring role to audition, and Macht was able to attain the role in August 2007.
- Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus: A former coroner turned psychotic super-villain who plans to bring all of Central City to its knees and will kill without discretion anyone unlucky enough to stand in his way. Jackson was Miller's first choice for the role and was cast in May 2007. Jackson, Miller, and the costume designer went through the various scenes of the film to design elaborate costumes for the Octopus to wear—to the point that in every scene he appears in his look is different than the one before. They include a samurai robe complete with a wig, a full Nazi SS uniform, a Western duster influenced outfit with a ludicrously out-of-proportion cowboy hat, and a costume consisting of a Russian-esque hat and a fur-lined coat influenced by 1970s blaxploitation pimps. When asked about the change from the Octopus just being recognized by a pair of gloves in the comics to the various costumes, Jackson stated, "It's just an opportunity to be larger than life to take the Octopus's theme of dressing the way he feels everyday, or having a theme to his day to day life and making some sense with it. And hopefully the audience will take the ride with us."
- Scarlett Johansson as Silken Floss: A femme fatale scientist and perversely innocent accomplice to the Octopus, only slightly more sane than he is.
- Eva Mendes as Sand Saref: The Spirit's childhood sweetheart, who perennially seduces and marries wealthy men, has them killed, and uses their money to fund criminal exploits in a constant pursuit of a life of the highest luxury and influence over the criminal underworld. She is also a tragic anti-heroine, with her policeman father accidentally murdered, causing her to have a hatred of police and Central City, and break up with aspiring cop Denny Colt. In the movie her character shares characteristics with P'Gell from The Spirit comics. The actress told director Frank Miller that she wanted to work with him on The Spirit before she had seen a script for the film.
- Seychelle Gabriel as young Sand Saref
- Sarah Paulson as Ellen Dolan: The police commissioner's daughter and a top surgeon who considers it her duty as the Spirit's current flame to keep him healthy and alive (much to her father's chagrin).
- Dan Lauria as Commissioner Eustace Dolan: The hard-boiled and commanding police commissioner of Central City and the Spirit's father figure.
- Stana Katic as Morgenstern: A spunky rookie officer and skilled sharpshooter who idolizes the Spirit.
- Louis Lombardi as Phobos, Logos, Pathos, Ethos, Bulbos, Huevos and Rancheros, Mangos, Adios and Amigos, etc.: The Octopus's thuggish and moronic, yet highly resilient cloned henchmen.
- Jaime King as Lorelei: A phantasmic siren and the Angel of Death waiting to take the Spirit, who must continually force himself to resist her.
- Paz Vega as Plaster of Paris: A sexy French belly dancer and assassin in the employ of the Octopus, she wields tri-pronged throwing knives and a sword.
- Eric Balfour as Mahmoud
In the 1970s, director William Friedkin obtained the rights to The Spirit and contacted Will Eisner to write a script for him. Eisner declined but recommended Harlan Ellison, who wrote a two-hour live-action script for the filmmaker. Friedkin and Ellison afterward had an unrelated argument, and the project was abandoned. During the 1980s, Brad Bird, Jerry Rees, and producer Gary Kurtz attempted to get an animated adaptation off the ground, though studio executives praised the screenplay, they thought the film would be unmarketable, and this version was scrapped.
In the early 1990s, producer Michael Uslan and executive producers Benjamin Melniker and Steven Maier subsequently obtained the rights for a live-action film adaptation. The producer promised Eisner that he would not permit anyone who "didn't get it" to work on the project. Two ideas pitched to Uslan were to put the Spirit in a costume and to have the Spirit be a resurrected dead man who possessed supernatural powers. Screenwriter John Turman, a comic book fan, expressed interest in writing the script.
In July 2004, financier OddLot Entertainment acquired the rights to the film. OddLot's producers Gigi Pritzker and Deborah Del Prete began a collaboration with Uslan, Melniker and Maier working at Batfilm Productions, to adapt the story. Eisner, who was protective of the rights to his creations, said that he believed in the producers to faithfully adapt The Spirit. In April 2005, comic book writer Jeph Loeb was hired to adapt The Spirit for the big screen, but the writer eventually left the project. Later in April, Uslan approached Frank Miller at Will Eisner's memorial service in New York City several weeks after Miller's Sin City was released in theaters, interested in initiating the adaptation technique with Miller's film for The Spirit. Miller had initially hesitated, doubting his skill in adapting The Spirit, but ultimately embraced his first solo project as writer-director. As Miller described his decision-making, "The only thought in my mind was, 'It's too big—I can't possibly do it.' And I refused. And about three minutes later as I was at the doorway, I turned around and said, 'Nobody else can touch this,' and I agreed to the job on the spot".
In July 2006, the film trade press reported Miller would write and direct the film adaptation for The Spirit ; Miller and the producers publicly announced this at the 2006 Comic-Con International in San Diego, California. Miller said that he was putting together a film treatment that included large parts of The Spirit strip panels. As Miller described the project, "I intend to be extremely faithful to the heart and soul of the material, but it won't be nostalgic. It will be much scarier than people expect". Miller plans to film The Spirit using the same digital background technology that was used for Sin City and 300. The film would also copy specific shots from the comic, similar to Sin City.
In February 2007, Miller completed the first draft of the screenplay, and began work on a second draft. Principal photography was initially slated to begin in late spring 2007. Miller also planned to begin filming Sin City 2 in spring 2009, but Uslan indicated that filming for The Spirit would begin before Miller started Sin City 2. Following the casting of Gabriel Macht as the Spirit in August 2007, filming was re-slated for the following October.
Filming began in October 2007. Filming took place in Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico. The Spirit was shot using Panavision's Genesis digital camera. The film's release was originally scheduled for January 16, 2009, but on May 6, 2008, it was announced that the release date would be moved up to December 25, 2008.
The film contains a number of references to Eisner collaborators and other comics personae. These include "Feiffer Industrial Salt", alluding to Spirit ghost writer Jules Feiffer; "Iger Avenue", named for Eisner & Iger partner S.M. "Jerry" Iger; "Ditko's Speedy Delivery", named for Steve Ditko, a comic book artist and writer; and the characters Donenfeld and Liebowitz, played by Richard Portnow and Frank Miller, respectively, who are named for two of DC Comics' founders, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz.
|Film score by David Newman|
|Released||December 23, 2008|
|David Newman chronology|
The Spirit's mysterious Henry Mancini-like soundtrack was composed and conducted by David Newman. Producer Deborah Del Prete said in the movie's production and press notes, "We were very fortunate to have a wealth of choices. After seeing samples of the footage literally everyone we wanted to meet with was very excited about taking on the film. The hardest part was having to say no to so many really great music makers. After consideration, the highly accomplished multiple Academy Award nominee David Newman joined the team. Frank wanted elements of the '40s jazz sound married with iconic heroic music and even a touch of the spaghetti western. David was able to bring it all home for us." Newman explained, "It's Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) who has the most elaborate of all the themes, because it's based on her relationship with Denny Colt when they were in their teens, well before he became the Spirit. Saref's music ultimately becomes the love theme of the movie. It's very romantic, almost old fashioned, especially when they finally kiss. Frank Miller and I talked about that scene quite a bit. He really wanted me to 'go for it' – to make their music as romantic as possible. In the end, the Spirit is like a modern day Don Juan, without the psychological ambivalence towards women. He truly loves every woman he meets. It's part of his makeup. He has a certain naiveté in this respect."
There is an eerie, wordless soprano for Lorelei (Jaime King) that is performed by Newman's 19-year-old daughter Diana, a vocal major at USC.
Christina Aguilera sings a cover of the classic "Falling in Love Again" in the closing credits of The Spirit. The song dates to 1930, written by Frederick Hollander, with lyrics written by Sammy Lerner. The song was originally sung, and popularized, by Marlene Dietrich in the film The Blue Angel (1930). The song has been covered by Billie Holiday (1940), Doris Day (1961), Sammy Davis Jr. (1962), and many others.
- "Spirit / Main Title"
- "Lorelei 'Angel Of Death'"
- "Enter Silken Floss - Octopus Kicks"
- "Just a Fight"
- "You're An Accident"
- "Spirit Reflects"
- "Egg On My Face"
- "Sand / Octopus Lair"
- "I Am Soreley Disappointed"
- "Spirit Finds Sand / Falling / Hung Up"
- "Plaster Of Paris Dance"
- "Spirit And Plaster Run"
- "Lorelei 'You Are Mine' / Spirit Wants"
- "Stand Off / Spirit Just Keeps Coming"
- "Octopus Buys It"
- "Spirit Kisses Sand"
- "It's You I Love / She Is My City"
At the New York Comic Con on February 24, 2007, director-screenwriter Frank Miller and producer Michael Uslan were scheduled to present a panel for The Spirit, though Miller was unable to attend due to recuperation from hip and leg injuries. Instead, Uslan, fellow producer F.J. DeSanto, and former The Spirit publisher Denis Kitchen presented a panel at which they described the history of the film and the film's progress.
Titan Books produced a making-of book, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion by Mark Cotta Vaz, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, photos, storyboards, and production art. It was released November 25, 2008. A second book, Frank Miller : The Spirit Storyboards, was announced and would be released on May 6, 2009. The book contained all of Miller's original storyboards of the film. The release got delayed by Dark Horse Publishing to the 28th of November of the same year. It is still not published to this day.
The Spirit fared poorly in the box office. Released in 2,509 theaters, The Spirit grossed $10.3 million in its opening four days, placing 9th in the box-office ranking for the weekend. As of May 2009, the film had grossed $19,806,188 domestically and $18,588,842 internationally for a worldwide total of $38,395,030. It was rumored that the movie's poor performance at the box office cost Odd Lot Entertainment tens of millions of dollars in losses as well as causing the demise of the Frank Miller "Buck Rogers" movie, although Odd Lot Entertainment's CEO Gigi Pritzker denied such rumors.
The Spirit was panned by critics. It received a 14% rating at the movie-review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, and a Metacritic aggregate rating of 30 out of 100, denoting "generally negative reviews", from 24 reviewers.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one out of four stars and said, "There is not a trace of human emotion in it. To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material". Ricky Bentley of The Miami Herald said, "Macht manages to meld macho with melodrama to make the Spirit come to life."
Frank Lovece of Newsday, a one-time comic book writer, found that "gorgeous cinematography and design can't mask the hollow core and bizarre ugliness of this mishandled comics adaptation", and noted that while Eisner's own Spirit was "an average-Joe [...] in a rumpled suit—a vulnerable but insouciant everyman in humanist fables", Miller's Spirit "now has a superpower—a healing factor. Eisner's own spirit must be spinning in its grave".
Chris Barsanti of Filmcritic.com stated, "It's a frankly gorgeous effect, liberated by the fact that Miller adapted freely from Eisner's panels—the two were longtime friends—to create an organic story instead of slavishly following the master's work", and calling it "one of the year's most refreshingly fun films."
Ken Hanke of Mountain Xpress observed, "The film may not move smoothly—Miller's too fond of 'just damn weird' digressions for that—but it does move and isn't hard to follow. Its screwiness is deliberate and it's all a matter of taste."
A.O. Scott in The New York Times summed up, "To ask why anything happens in Frank Miller's sludgy, hyper-stylized adaptation of a fabled comic book series by Will Eisner may be an exercise in futility. The only halfway interesting question is why the thing exists at all."
Empire Magazine listed the film as #32 on their Top 50 Worst Movies Of All Time list.
The film was largely disappointing for the fans of the original comic strip, mainly due to the differences between the source material and the adaptation.
Comics journalist Mike Sterling called the film "entertaining and funny and visually interesting", and said it "undeservedly got a bad rap."
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