Live from Hall H: Frank Miller Atones for The Spirit, Fans Get Up and Leave

When Lionsgate brought Frank Miller’s The Spirit to Comic-Con this year, it was in hopes that it would be embraced by true comic fans as just another great step in the world of adaptations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all seem to be going as planned.
By  · Published on July 25th, 2008

First and foremost, it is worth mentioning that I went into the panel for Frank Miller’s The Spirit this afternoon at Comic-Con with guns loaded, ready to shoot this movie out of the sky. From the time we saw the first batch of fully rendered photos from the film, I have been approaching it with caution — what is this crazy movie and why doesn’t it remind me at all of Will Eisner’s original comic?

But upon exiting the presentation all I can feel is a bit of sadness, and even more so, a certain amount of pity for writer/director Frank Miller. This man is far too talented to have a film that will turn out to be such an abysmal affair.

On stage in Hall H, in front of a relatively large crowd, Miller took the stage alongside producer Deborah Del Prete to show fans another look at the film that some are calling Sin City 2, featuring a character known as The Spirit. At first, Miller introduced a trailer that we’ve seen before — you remember the one. The trailer received a solid response from the crowd, which was encouraging to me as someone who did not like the trailer whatsoever.

After the first clip, they invited the film’s villain Samuel L. Jackson onto the stage. In his usual fashion, Jackson brought personality to the entire room, even going as far as to joke about all of the action figures of himself that he owns. His favorite? Mace Windu. When the crowd asked about a Nick Fury figure, Jackson responded that he does not have one — that when he was growing up, “Nick Fury was a white man.” He continued, “It’s so a

mazing that he finally evolved into something that makes sense to me.”

Sadly, that was the highlight of what the panelists had to say. The additional footage wasn’t much to write home about either. The first clip included a water scene with Eva Mendes as San Sareef. As Frank Miller explained, it was shot with the phantom camera technology that Max Payne director John Moore mentioned yesterday, the one that shoots at 1000 frames per second. The scene, much of which takes place underwater, was shot without Eva ever having to go under water at all. As Deborah Del Prete explained, it helped keep her hair and make-up looking perfect. From where I was sitting, the hair and make-up looked good, the over-stylized underwater scene did not.

The very unique experience of the panel continued as stars Gabriel Macht and Jaime King were brought on stage. They helped introduce another extended clip, part of which was seen in the recent trailer. She plays Ellen, the doctor who asks The Spirit to keep his mask on. The scene shows some flirtation between the radiant King and Macht, but ends with The Spirit walking out of the room on his way to thwart some sort of crime, followed swiftly with Dr. Ellen throwing a scalpel at the door in disgust for his flighty nature.

At that point, it was apparent that some members of the audience were growing a bit tired of the entire presentation. From my seat at the back of Hall H, I could see a number of folks getting up and leaving, heading off to do other things. It was the first time all week that I have seen people walking out on a major studio panel. And if that wasn’t any indication of how the crowd was feeling, this might be — when star Gabrial Macht asked commented to the audience, “Looks good, huh?” He was met with clapping from only a few — something that sounded like 2-3 people at most.

All was not completely lost though, until Miller introduced the third extended clip from the film, which involved a fight scene between The Spirit and his nemesis, The Octopus (Sam Jackson). The scene had potential, as does everything that allows Sam Jackson to act like a badass, until it took on a very campy and almost kitschy tone. It was rhythm-less action sequence that stopped to point out its self-appointed iconic shots. It was almost as if Frank Miller is telling the audience, “Hey, check this out — look at how this movie looks like still frames from a comic book brought to life.”

And perhaps that is the overwhelming issue that some are finding with The Spirit — it is a different approach. It falls into the category of “we fear what we do not understand.” The only problem is that the visual presentation and tone of the film is not so different, we have seen it before with Sin City, but we have never seen it quite like this. The Spirit comes off less like a derivitive of Will Eisner’s work and more like a copy of a copy of Frank Miller’s own vision — one that has lost something in the duplication process.

Ultimately it appears that we have a studio that is confused at what sort of movie they have. All of the clips that were shown at Comic-Con today were so different that it is hard to piece together exactly what is going on with The Spirit. In the end, the only thing I found entertaining in the whole matter was Samuel L. Jackson. In fact, he was entertaining both on screen and on stage. His most iconic moment came on screen, as always. It was the moment that closed the final clip — “Toilets are always funny,” his character shouted after hitting his foe with a porcelain throne. And that’s a little ironic, as that appears to be where The Spirit is headed. And by that logic, this film is going to be hilarious.

Stay tuned all this week as we bring you coverage from Comic-Con International. Not only will we be roaming the floor in search of love, but we will have the latest news Live from Hall H, great interviews with some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and random convention shenanigans, courtesy of our Comic-Con Attack Squad! To keep tabs on all of the happenings, just head over to our Comic-Con 2008 Homepage.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)