[identity profile] dr_hermes.insanejournal.com posting in [community profile] scans_daily
Hey there. I'll still be posting here frequently, but I want to spend most of my time working on my own Retro-Scans, posting about pulps, old movies, various esoterica. Still, here's something about a TV-movie some of you may not have seen.

Quite a disappointment when I first saw it, this 1987 pilot looks better in retrospect, particularly after Frank Miller's recent theatrical feature. I couldn't talk myself into going to the mall to check out Miller's film. Maybe it deserved a fair chance -- I've always said not to judge a movie until you're on the way home from seeing it -- but it just looked so WRONG. And this means we're not likely to ever see a well-done new movie about the character. He's not like Superman or James Bond, who will always get another shot after a cinematic disaster.

The 1987 SPIRIT was the pilot for a never-produced TV series based on Will Eisner' classic comic strip. As far as I can tell, it only aired once on an ABC late-night showing and isn't available on DVD, or at least I haven't seen it as such.. you'd think it would have been hustled out to store while Miller's version was in theatres. The TV-movie is frustrating in that it gets some much right, but presents it poorly. The casting is fine. Sam Jones was a big likeable goof we all remember from 1980's FLASH GORDON, not an actor that Turner Classic Movies is considering doing a month-long festival for, but competent enough and certainly visually right. Nana Visitor does well as Ellen Dolan; her fans from DEEP SPACE NINE might want to see this to check out her hot tub scene without a rubber snout. The actor playing Commissioner Dolan is fine, but P'Gell is portrayed as a bit too hardened and weathered to match my image. Then there's Eubie, a young black kid who takes the Spirit under his wing as much as the other way around. I'm sorry, he's not Ebony and there's really no justification for him here. As outlandish as Ebony was drawn and as exaggerated as his dialogue was, he was a young kid with heart. He cared for his friends, he had dreams and hopes and a wry sense of humor. If you can get past his appearance, Ebony was a great character. Eubie here is okay, but not the same character at all.

I've figured out one of the things that I dislike about the flurry of super-hero TV-movies from the 1970s and 1980's.. they were nearly all filmed in Los Angeles, and comic book heroes mostly look naturally in New York City environment. The bright, almost oppressive sunlight exposes too much, takes away the mystery. Even scenes shot at night (or supposedly so) just don't have the same ambience. There are some nicely done sequences; Denny Colt lurching up all bullet-ridden from his supposed death looks all right, but mostly the colors are garish and unrealistic, the Wildwood Cemetery is so obviously a tiny set that it looks like a home video, and the main mystery is so unexciting that it's already fading from memory. Seeing the hero and villain fall into a giant cake will give an idea of the subtle approach used here.The best part is a brief montage when the Spirit first launches his crusade, punching out crooks to a snappy theme song that inexplicably throws in a few Van Halen-type riffs. Maybe if this had been sold as a series, some of the plots and themes of the Eisner stories would have been used, but as it stands, this is pretty much a disappointing misfire. Still, I'd buy a copy of it to replace my word-out faded VHS tape way before I'd put down money to try Frank Miller's version.

And for some comparison, a typically great Will Eisner page.. moody, atmospheric, well laid out and executed.

Date: 2009-03-25 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lightbrigade.insanejournal.com
Oh cool. Come to think of it, I should probably ask my brother's LCS if they have a copy -- it sounds like the sort thing they might carry. And you mentioned you had a VHS copy, and I thought perhaps you might have been one of the few that managed to catch it that one late night.


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