Film Commentary

Film adaptation for Preacher gets a new (and mysterious) director

September 3, 2010

Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm reports:

It has been a while since we’ve gotten a solid update on the big screen adaptation of the beloved Vertigo comic book series Preacher. A couple years back, Columbia Pictures picked up the rights and hired American Beauty/Road to Perdition director Sam Mendes to helm the project, but the filmmaker dropped out to pursue Bond. John August (Go, Big Fish) penned the script which producer Neil Moretz has said will be the first of a series of films.

In the latest issue of Total Film Magazine, they talk with producer Moretz about the project, and gives a couple tidbits. First off, the film adaptation will be rated R.   Secondly, August’s script is “a really faithful adaptation but made it probably more accessible to a broader audience.” And thirdly, Total Film mentions that “Another unnamed director has apparently signed on.” But who could that filmmaker be?

Being that Preacher — a Steve Dillon-illustrated 75-issue graphic novel series written betwixt 1995 and 2000 by brilliant Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis — is a nasty, neo-Western universe that takes after my own bleak heart, I am especially curmudgeonly about the who and how and why behind any live action adaptation of the series.  Honestly, it’s more important an endeavor than Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s critically acclaimed film adaptation of Sin City.

[Before reading on, please take a brief, peripatetic sabbatical to consider reading the debutante volume of Preacher, subtitled Gone to Texas.

It just might make you a better person.]

Alright, let’s get on with it, or in the words of Billy Bob Thorton’s Karl Childers in Sling Blade, “alright then”:

Thus far, I really don’t care much for how the project is developing, particularly because, as Mr. Sciretta’s coverage denotes, fans of the series have always felt that a hypothetical HBO miniserial adoption of Preacher was (and is, in my plebian opinion) an exponentially more suitable format capable of embracing not only the delectable appeal of its blatant, sacrilegious perversity; but also the biting satire that openly antagonizes the oppressive dogmas of organized religion (and the corrupt false prophets that perpetuate them).  In a sliver, the moral bone-and-marrow the series has always been anatomically structured around.

Firstly

My biggest fear is that, as a Hollywood exercise, the Preacher series’ aforementioned ethical fiber and often-heartbreaking humanity will take a backseat to its lucrative buckets of gore, Southern Goth caricatures, rattling Voodoo tropes and faux-atheistic obscenities.  The latter of which has always been, merely, a satirical layer of cachinnatory paint, rather than the thick Dixie Fried substance that defines the very series for what it truly is: the existential doubt in all of us that (ironically) propels one’s faith in God, or, from a secular standpoint, a “higher plane of consciousness.”

A familiar juxtaposition might be Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball‘s True Blood, a simmering, groundbreaking vampire series that deliberately parts from the pussification of the eons-olde lore found in the thoroughly asinine, tweentastic Twilight books-cum-films.  As such, True Blood would precisely not work as a standalone movie (or even as a twain).

For all its gory and bacchanalian posturing, True Blood would lose its core humanity as a Hollywood beast, and we all know this.  Rendered as trivial and short-lived as a Six Flags Halloween rollercoaster.  Similarly, effectively retelling the Preacher series as one or two (or even three) roughly two-hour films lacquered to mainstream appeal is impossible and would deracinate its underlying motif: the gray intersection between moral responsibility and blind Christian faith (in philosophical hubris: The Problem of Evil).  Which is to say, the unexamined, Kierkegaardian doubt that many progressive Christians carry, curating their understanding of God’s role in everyday affairs.

Don’t take it from me; take it from the graphic novel series’ official plot synopsis (as excerpted by Mr. Sciretta):

Here’s a book guaranteed to offend a bunch of people, not only because of its profuse profanity and graphic violence, but because it’s the epitome of iconoclasm. Like a brutal accident, you can’t watch but you can’t turn away. The story follows an ex-preacher man, Jesse, who has become disgusted with God’s abandoning of His responsibilities. So Jesse starts off into the wilds of Texas with his hitman girlfriend and new best friend (a vampire) to find God so that he can give Him a piece of his mind. Despite its superficial perversity, this book contains what may be the most moral character in mainstream comics.
Clearly, your bespectacled narrator treats the subject as vastly more than your hero-o’-the-week, boilerplate, middling comic book series.  It’s a redefining synecdoche of contemporary graphic novel literature that shares DNA with the likes of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan or even Mike Carey’s Lucifer. In short, subjects of postmodern, hand-drawn fiction that shan’t be taken lightly.
Secondly
Preacher as a film or a premium channel (ergo uncensored) miniseries would only benefit from the faithful, proudly irreverent and genre-adherent attention that neo-grindhouse vanguards Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are famous for — a signature pulpy milieu of themes and over-the-top characters given life through panel illustrated pages, thought boxes and bubbled dialogue (it is here where Steve Dillon’s artwork unsurprisingly lends brilliantly to a cinematic feel and look — in fact, the storyboards are practically done).
As far as I’m concerned, no other two filmmakers this side of the Occident are better qualified for the grisly nature of this material.
It’s the very reason why the live-action version of Sin City worked and Frank Miller’s live-action take on The Spirit didn’t — trust me.  It’s fundamentally all about characterization, particularly as it enriches the style, rather than style as character.
Now, if Preacher really needs to be a standalone narrative that trash-compacts 75 issues of characterization into roughly two hours of pulp entertainment, then Joe Carnahan (who is mentioned in Sciretta’s post as expressing deep interest to helm the project) is not your man.
In fact, it would require his complete antithesis.
I mean, have you seen the A-Team?  Sure, it’s entertaining (in a big-explosions, nostalgic sort of way), but a Preacher director it does not make, no matter how loyal a fan of its nine volumes he testifies to be.
Honestly, before Sam Mendes left the project, I was a little less worried, but I was never exactly convinced of his willingness for uncompromising grit vis-à-vis his live action rendition of Max Allan Collins‘ graphic novel, Road to Perdition, which was (as a good friend of mine once noted) “a period gangster piece for the entire family.”

The summation of all this drivel?

Well, from one man’s proletariat sandbox to another, either the studios in question hand the project off to HBO or Showtime, or leave well enough alone.

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