Monday, April 30, 2007

Frank Miller: The Next Big Thing in Hollywood

Thanks to the box office success and acclaim of 300 and Sin City, Frank Miller is now the next big thing in Hollywood, having been now asked to write and direct his own film based on Will Eisner's "The Spirit".

Now there's a sweet satisfaction in the fact that the new Hollywood approach is to hire fan-boy directors and show fawning respect for the source material. "Sin City's" Robert Rodriguez even insisted on sharing director credits with Miller on those films (a maverick stand that cost Rodriguez his membership in the Directors Guild), and that led directly to a somewhat shocking development: Miller has now been tapped to write and direct his own film based on Will Eisner's classic noir hero "The Spirit."

One of the producers, Michael Uslan, also the producer of "Constantine" and executive producer of "Batman Begins," said the filming will start this year and that there already is intense interest from distributors given the splashy success of "300," which grossed $70 million in just its first weekend. Uslan was an executive producer on more than half a dozen superhero movies, including the Tim Burton "Batman" films, and he said Miller's relative newcomer role to Hollywood is not a problem.

"Honestly, to me, there's nobody else that could do this film. I saw him at Will Eisner's memorial service last year and I told him that I'd been turning comic books into movies for years, but that with 'Sin City' he's doing something better: He was making movies into comic books. I told him he had to make 'The Spirit.' He said there was no way he could do it. Then after three minutes he said, 'There's no way I can let anybody else do it.' "

Asked about the change of heart in town, Miller smiled like the Catwoman who ate the canary. "It's gone from being an abusive relationship to a torrid affair. And it is very satisfying. I think I have everybody fooled now."

I've been a Frank Miller fan for as long as I can remember. I first fell in love with Frank Miller's art in the outstanding Wolverine short-series penned by Chris Claremont, where Frank Miller also helped come up with the base storyline. Soon after I got ahold of the equally outstanding Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, to this day the best Batman story ever told, in my opinion. Then along came 1992 and the issue of Dark Horse Presents that presented the first dark vision of Frank Miller's Sin City creation. I was instantly hooked and couldn't wait for the next issue of Dark Horse Presents to come out so I could devour the next short installment of Sin City and Marv. Sin City was such a success that Frank Miller and Dark Horse Comics began publishing more Sin City stories, only this time under their own dedicated title. While the original Sin City story has a special place in my heart, the other stories are just as good. Soon I had bought and digested Ronin, an early Frank Miller masterpiece that I had somehow missed in my youth, and was introduced to Frank Miller's Daredevil years through his work on Elektra. He is one of the most gifted and talented writers in the comics industry and his work as an artist is equally impressive. From this same LA Times article:

He got to New York by 21, and within three years he was a fan favorite with a style that was jolting. It was dark and gritty, with bold brushwork and empty spaces that defied the marketplace conventions of the time, in which the bright, clean intricacies of John Byrne and George PĂ©rez were the perceived ideal. That era too belonged to superhero teams with cosmic adventures and bulging, spandex-clad anatomies that defied physics, but Miller was writing and drawing violent operettas for the mean streets with mere mortals such as Daredevil and Batman, who have no powers. The inner spirit was more Bernard Goetz than George Lucas.

"The main reason was I didn't draw good spaceships," he said with a shrug. "I drew tough guys in trench coats, and I liked using black and shadows." The mid-1980s brought the shift of comics toward more mature ambitions and Miller (along too with Alan Moore, writer of "The Watchman") was at the center of the renaissance. His defining characters — Daredevil, Elektra, the aging Batman of "Dark Knight," the disgraced samurai of "Ronin" — were solitary, haunted, honor-bound and extremely efficient at hurting other people. Reading Miller, Mickey Spillane and Clint Eastwood sprang to mind, especially when one Daredevil cover was an overt homage to "Dirty Harry."

Frank Miller was a welcome change to the spandex-clad, muscle-bound, reality-free superhero universe of the modern age. He brought grit and dark realism to the table and gave us flawed heroes who still managed to uphold justice and punish those that would do evil, as well as the brutal anti-heroes from his Sin City line. It's only fitting that such a talent has finally found his way to the big screen, doing things his way, and I can only hope for more from the gifted author and artist. What has endeared him even more to me, in this world of political correctness and hyper-sensitivity, is his no-nonsense assessment of islamo-fascism post-9/11:

MUCH has been made of Miller's politics in the wake of "300." The deliriously violent and stylized sword film is based on a Spartan battle in 480 B.C., and although Miller wrote and drew the story for Dark Horse comics a decade ago, in film form it was received by many as a grotesque parody of the ancient Persians and a fetish piece for a war on Islam. Miller scoffs at those notions. "I think it's ridiculous that we set aside certain groups and say that we can't risk offending their ancestors. Please. I'd like to say, as an American, I was deeply offended by 'The Last of the Mohicans.' "

Still, Miller gets stirred up about any criticism of the war in Iraq or the hunt for terrorists, which he views as the front in a war between the civilized Western world and bloodthirsty Islamic fundamentalists.

"What people are not dealing with is the fact that we're going up against a culture that finds it acceptable to do things that the rest of the world left behind with the barbarians in the 6th century," Miller said. "I'm a little tired of people worrying about being polite. We are fighting in the face of fascists."

The director of "300," Zack Snyder, chuckled about the portrayal of Miller as a conservative on the attack or a "proto-fascist" as one pundit called him. "I don't think he really has politics, he just sees the world in moral terms. He's a guy who says what he thinks and has a sense of right and wrong. He talks tough and, after Sept. 11, I think he's mad." Snyder said Miller is a throwback and that he approaches his art with a bar-fight temperament, like a Sam Peckinpah. "His political view is: Don't mess with me."

Thank you, Frank Miller.

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