Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Spirit on DVD

By David Luhrssen
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Will Eisner is ranked with the eminent stylists of 20th century comics. The comic industry’s annual awards are called the Eisners in his honor. His most influential cartoon may have been a post-World War II series called The Spirit, a dark story in an inky black urban landscape where the rain seldom ceased. The hero was a masked crime fighter in a crisp dark suit accented by a flaming red necktie. He was a detective who endured deadly thumping from the Octopus and other enemies. Maybe the Spirit couldn’t be killed because he was already dead?

Frank Miller (Sin City), called Eisner’s “most prominent disciple” by comic book historian Douglas Wolk, was a natural to direct a movie adaptation. The Spirit (out this week on Blu-ray and DVD) captures the bleak film noir look and rat-a-tat dialogue in often gorgeously dark visuals where live action blends into a computer animated world. But the movie is troubled by an uneven tone that worked better on the page than on screen, and the urge by some cast members to camp it up. Worst in that regards are Scarlett Johansson as Silken Floss and Stana Katic as Morgenstern. The best performance is delivered by a smoldering Eva Mendes as the femme fatale Sand Saref.

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