PIPELINE DAILY: DAY THREE
The reason for doing Pipeline Daily this week is that I have a lot of stuff I've written up over the past month or so that I just haven't had the time or space to fit in anywhere. Today's column begins with one such piece. It's a review of the UNBREAKABLE DVD. I think it's a must-see for any super-hero comic fan and possibly the best super-hero movie I've ever seen.
While my nose is stuck in Hollywood, I'm also reviewing Fantagraphics' graphic novel, GHOST WORLD. The movie is open now in limited release in select spots in the country and bringing in rave reviews, critical acclaim, and a high per-screen gross. Hopefully, it'll get a large enough distribution before hitting DVD that we'll all get the chance to see it at our local theaters. But the movie started with a comic book, so I'll be reviewing that today.
THE UNBREAKABLE DVD
It arrived on the little silver DVD platter on June 26th. UNBREAKABLE is the follow-up film to THE SIXTH SENSE from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. After the runaway success of that first Bruce Willis vehicle, though, UNBREAKABLE was doomed to almost certain failure. When critical reviews came in mixed, the box office cash box ended up weak and the movie was largely considered a failure.
In the comics community, though, it was a buzz film. It was the highest profile comic book film since X-MEN, which also debuted on DVD around the time this film showed up in the box office last fall. The movie wasn't advertised like it at all, but it becomes fairly obvious as the first reel unwinds that this is a super-hero origin story movie. Bruce Willis' David Dunn is unbreakable, and Samuel L. Jackson's character, Elijah Price, is there to prove it to him and show him how it works.
Like THE SIXTH SENSE, the movie is set in Philadelphia, features a slow pace (complete with about 30 scenes done in one take), and concluding on a twist ending.
I liked the movie. Shyamalan got my vote as soon as I saw this to be the one to helm the next Batman movie, should one ever get made. While the ending was a little weak – some people say it ruined the movie, but I'm a much more forgiving person – the story as a whole was a brilliant look at a real world scenario of a man with super-powers. It included a large number of the standard comic book clichs as seen through a more realistic camera.
Shyamalan's direction and color cues, as usual, were fodder for film students. There's a whole web site devoted to analysis of the color theory used for the film. More than just that, though, is the way Shyamalan placed the camera to be able to simulate comic book panels with the frame. When you watch the movie, pay careful attention to the way the characters are framed by the surroundings. The way that the architecture and some cleverly placed extras are arranged simulates a comic book panel in just about every shot.
The DVD does the film justice, but won't necessarily blow you away. It's the debut of the Vista format from Touchstone/Buena Vista. It's a two-disc set, with the movie on the first disc and all the extras on the second. Curiously, it's not jam-packed full of extras. The reason that the first disc runs out of room so fast is that there's both a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track as well as a DTS soundtrack. That DTS track takes up a whole bunch of space and often forces bonus material to a second disc. That second disc includes some nice material, but it's far from the ultimate edition that it could be. There are no movie trailers or TV spots for the movie itself on the DVD, most prominently.
There is, however, a short 15-minute documentary discussion of comic books, featuring interview with such luminaries as Alex Ross, CBR's own Scott McCloud, Frank Miller, Will Eisner, Denny O'Neil and more. The short piece jumps from interviewee to interviewee, and generally rambles right along. It's not much that's new to anyone who's followed comics closely for a while, but it is fun to see comic book people on such a high profile disc. Frank Miller stole the show, as far as I'm concerned. They could have set the camera in his face and had him ramble on for a half hour and he could have made it entertaining.
There's another 15-minute documentary that is just a Behind The Scenes featurette. If you saw the similar bit that was on the SIXTH SENSE documentary, you'll know what to expect here. It glosses over some of the aspects of the movie that comics fans have been discussing since the movie was originally produced, and features Shyamalan talking more about his approach to the script and the music and sound, in particular, that's used in the movie.
Seven deleted scenes are included on the disc. The good news is that most of them aren't just "scene extensions." So often, what passes for deleted scenes on a DVD is just the itty-bitty clips that were trimmed from individual scenes to tighten up the film. In UNBREAKABLE's case, though, many of the clips are whole scenes, including one flashback to Elijah's childhood and a neighborhood carnival. Shyamalan introduces each scene and talks about why the scene was cut as well as some of the challenges of filming each. I wish he'd do a commentary track for his films, but this will just have to do for now.
The two-disc set of UNBREAKABLE is worth a viewing for any super-hero comic book fan. Even if you don't agree with it, in the end, it's a feast for the eyes and an experience that every comics fan could do well to have.
GHOST WORLD: THE COMIC
The GHOST WORLD story by Daniel Clowes is scattered all over the place. It's the tale of two teenage best friends, Enid and Rebecca, during the summer between high school and college. There's no single plot running through the summer, however. It's a series of vignettes and short stories that might cause you to lose patience with it after awhile. Don't. Stick with it. Read it through to the end. It's not going to be the most exhilarating read you've ever had, but it will be an interesting ride. The final chapter saves the book, tying together all the experiences and things that the characters have learned into one believable ending.
Enid and Rebecca are two of the most believable teenage characters I've ever read. You probably had two people like this in your high school class, too. They keep to themselves off to one side, with a snide comment about everything and everyone around them. Their dialogue is all over the place, laced with curses, and as immature as you'd expect. It reads very honestly and true. Their world is a strange one, with strange families and strange friends that come and go throughout the story.
Clowes' art style is mostly a strict 3 tiers, 9-panel grid. It varies here and there, but it never starts getting too artsy in its layout and never gets aware of its nature as a comic book. That might just be part of the reason why it's so accessible to people who don't normally read comics. There's no confusion as to what order to read the panels in, and there's nothing terribly distracting about the art. Clowes keeps the camera angle pretty consistently at medium depth and height. You're watching a television show here, and not a movie with lots of tracking shots and cameras on dollies. The characters are often stiff looking, but are never exaggerated or embellished. They look real, although there are times they seem horribly uncomfortable with themselves.
Some flat blue coloring that acts not that differently from greytones complements the black and white art. It keeps the art a little more interesting than it otherwise would be, but I could have lived without it.
I've seen the trailer for the movie on-line. The movie hasn't opened in my area just yet. It seemed obvious to me that they were going to have to make some major changes to the book in order to adapt it to a movie anyone would want to see. Judging by the shots in the trailer, they've done just that. I'll be interested in seeing how the story morphs between media.
In the meantime, if you're looking for a slice of life story about a pair of teenagers who you will believe are teenagers, this is a good book to try. It's not a bad deal, either, at ten bucks for 80 pages. You should be able to order it through your comics shop, or at your local bookstore. The ISBN is 1-56097-427-3.
Pipeline Daily continues tomorrow with a look through the most recent PREVIEWS catalogue and perhaps a review or two thrown in along the way.
More than 225 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at WizardWorld in Chicago in a couple of weeks. Look for a couple of interesting announcements around that time.
I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.