One of the most misunderstood artistic mediums is that of the graphic novel. The majority of the uninformed will lump these pieces together with comic books and merely assume that they are childish. While the home of superheroes has definitely paved the way for darker and more serious works, graphic novels have only just recently begun to gain a public understanding. Movies like Watchmen (2009) and V for Vendetta (2006) have shown the world that graphic novels have some very poignant things to say. While the two films just referenced were works of Alan Moore, another staple of the graphic novel format has been Frank Miller. Sure, both men started working with the superheroes we all know and love, but neither painted a halcyon picture of them. This week’s two films are adaptations of Frank Miller’s graphic novels.
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours
When you think of a graphic novel, you don’t expect a history lesson. Of course, history is full of violence, and the Battle of Thermopylae is no exception. Based off of The 300 Spartans (1962), which Miller had seen in his youth, 300 was written and illustrated by Miller in 1998. What’s somewhat impressive with the film adaptation is that it is almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the source material (with some additional plot added in to pad out the 5-issue miniseries). Perhaps it’s no small wonder that Zach Snyder directed this film, considering his eventual work on Watchmen (2009). Working backwards, this was merely the gateway to other comic book adaptations such as Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and The Justice League (2017, 2019). After all, he probably wouldn’t be able to direct these superhero movies if he hadn’t handled Miller’s work so well.
Threatened by the oncoming Persian army, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) takes a stand against the god-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) by kicking his messengers into a well. As he and 300 Spartans head out to face the impossible odds against them, he leaves Sparta in the hands of his Queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey). While Leonidas and his men fight against the swarms of Persian soldiers, Gorgo is fighting against the leader of the corrupt Spartan Council, Theron (Dominic West). The Spartan men use every technique at their disposal to dispose of the Persians while Gorgo reveals the treachery of Theron to the Council. By the time that reinforcements are sent to the 300 Spartans, it is too late. The overwhelming force of the Persian army, despite taking heavy losses, still managed to slaughter the Spartans who fought against them.
Length: 124 minutes / 2.06 hours
In Japan, the graphic novel is known as “manga”. The main difference between the Japanese and American graphic novels is that the latter is filled with color, whereas the former is generally done in black and white. That being said, the noir films of the 1940’s were usually set in the high-contrast black and white that we would associate with manga. However, in order to mimic that noir style, Miller’s earlier work, Sin City, was done mostly in black and white. Starting in 1991, Miller would work on a variety of different stories in this eponymous town for most of the decade. Since the majority of the pieces were monochromatic to match the detective/noir style, he could use a splash of color to really emphasize something. In 2005, Miller directed his first film: an adaptation of a few of the stories he wrote for the Sin City series.
Four storylines intertwine themselves to create a picture of a city full of black and white, but mostly black. First, we find that “The Customer is Always Right” when The Salesman (Josh Hartnett) kills a woman who has paid him to do so. Next, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is a good cop fighting against corruption while pursuing rapist Roark Junior (Nick Stahl). Now the story turns to Marv (Mickey Rourke), a rough man who was framed for murder by the Roark family. Because of this, he’s out to avenge the woman who he supposedly killed, leading to “The Hard Goodbye” he must now make. Finally, we find Shellie (Brittany Murphy) and her new boyfriend become entangled in a prostitution ring with “The Big Fat Kill” of a police officer now on their heads. To conclude, we once again find Hartigan up against Roark, who is now “That Yellow Bastard”. Bookending the whole film, The Salesman has one last kill.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Miller masterpieces
Bacon #: 2 (Sin City / Elijah Wood -> Beyond All Boundaries / Kevin Bacon)