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With the much expected release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill for, it seems appropriate to look back at Frank Miller’s contribution to the world of film. With his prolific works in both comic books and graphic novels, Frank Miller’s unique noir style is perfectly suited for the big screen.
Miller made his foray into film with his penning of the story and screenplay for 1992’s RoboCop 2. The movie was plagued with re-writes as Miller’s script was said to have been completely unfit for the screen. Doomed from the beginning, RoboCop 2 barely broke even at the box office, and was widely panned by critics and audiences alike. Miller returned to the series with RoboCop 3, which was a box office tragedy, and was despised by most who went to see it. Reverting back to comics for nearly a decade, Miller only participated in a few cartoons based on his Dark Knight Returns comic series. 2005 saw an attempt at bringing Miller’s Daredevil character, Elektra, to the big screen. Portrayed by Jennifer Garner, the film fell flat with audiences and was detested by critics.
The first commercial and critical success for Miller came in 2005 with his film, Sin City (co-directed with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino). Based around his graphic series of the same name, Sin City is a beautifully dark comic book film that harkens back to both 1940’s noir and 1970’s exploitation. Using an innovative mix of CGI and live action, Sin City stayed true to Miller’s gritty comic series. Shot in Miller’s unique high-contrast style, Sin City was largely black and white, only introducing color as an emphasis to the imagery. Sin City was utterly dark, and extremely twisted. It featured a wide array of Hollywood stars, playing wholly unexpected roles. Adored by fans of the comic series, and admired by critics, Sin City has secured itself among the all-time greatest comic-based films.
After his incredible success with Sin City, Miller produced the Zack Snyder directed, 300 (2007). Based on Miller’s comic miniseries (and more loosely in history), the film was a commercial mega-hit grossing $450 million worldwide. Featuring Gerard Butler as the charismatic King Leonidas, 300 is the last stand of “300” Spartans facing up against a legion of Persian invaders. Grainy and full of Miller’s signature visuals, 300 was a cinematic marvel that enthralled a generation of young men. Mesmerized by Butler’s magnanimous performance, surreal ultra-violence and the proliferation of men with hyper-defined abs, it spread across college campuses like wildfire (and is still a leading idea with fraternities looking for the perfect Halloween costume). 300 set the tone for future directors’ endeavors into action films, as its large-scale use of CGI and highly accented violence struck a chord with many audiences.
Having made two extremely successful movies, Frank Miller ventured out on his own and wrote/directed 2008’s The Spirit, his first solo-directing piece. The film was a complete flop, and actually lost money (and the confidence of his audience). A complete mush of a film, The Spirit seems to equally lack in all areas of production, suffering from a convoluted script, insufferable performances and numerous technical blunders.
Given the successes of both 300 and Sin City, it was hardly a surprise when both were picked up for a sequel. The 300 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (read our review) is based on an unpublished comic, Xerxes, penned by Miller. Almost as much a box office hit as its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire expands on the world of 300 and explores the events surrounding the first film’s epic battle.
While only a few of Frank Miller’s works have gone directly to the cinema, his influences are much more far-reaching. His version of the comic series Daredevil leant some of its influence to the 2003 film (which he had a cameo in), and is rumored to have sparked interest in a reboot film based more solidly in Miller’s version. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises also features the same mood and several plot points from Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. 2013’s blockbuster hit, The Wolverine is also based on a miniseries Miller penned in the early 80’s along with writer Chris Claremont.
While not all of Miller’s vast sum of collective work can make it to the theatre, with the current trend of comic-based and superhero films, it seems like a vast majority may get their moment in the limelight. Love or hate his films/adaptations, Miller has had an indelible influence on Hollywood movies, and changed the majority opinion on how seriously comic movies deserve to be treated.