Steven De Souza Reflects On His 1987 ‘The Spirit’ TV Pilot And Frank Miller’s Take

Sure, everyone’s been talking about Frank Miller’s “The Spirit,” but this isn’t the first time Will Eisner’s classic character has taken a turn in the live-action medium.

Way back in 1987, screenwriter Steven de Souza was fresh off a pair of genre-defining hits with “48 Hours” and “Commando.” Just before undertaking the project that would become one of his best-known films, “Die Hard,” de Souza wrote and produced a television pilot based on “The Spirit” — the first live-action adaptation of the long-running comic strip. While the series was never picked up, the 74-minute film has lived on as a cult classic of sorts among comic fans.

With Miller’s take on “The Spirit” currently suffering the slings and arrows of early fan critique, MTV News thought it might be interesting to reach out to the writer who first brought “The Spirit” into the live-action world for a chat about Miller’s spin and the task of bringing the character to screens big and small.

“I do notice that they seem to have done quite a few things that I did [in the 1987 TV pilot],” said de Souza of Miller’s take on “The Spirit.” “Because of the limitations of my budget, we couldn’t afford to do a period piece, so we did no period at all. We took all of the marks off the cars, had the men wear hats and used dial telephones — so our picture looked like ’The Incredibles’ and takes place in some vague post-War period.”

And that’s not the only similarity to his 1987 pilot that de Souza sees in Miller’s film. The writer told MTV that there were a few lines that jumped out at him from the “Spirit” marketing campaign that he put to similar use two decades ago. For example, de Souza said he had female characters telling The Spirit to “leave his mask on” long before the phrase appeared on promo posters for the Miller film. While he attributed the echo of many of these elements to them being “plastic Eisner lines,” de Souza confessed that he’s found it very interesting to note how they were received then and now.

One particular element of his take on The Spirit that seemed to carry over into Miller’s version has also popped up in various other projects with de Souza’s his name on them, he admitted. In fact, you’ll probably have no problem recognizing it.

“I’m glad the film also has his clothes getting torn to shreds, because that was the thing about The Spirit — he’d be in a brawl and then he’d have to go to the tailor,” said de Souza. “There was that touch of reality. I emulated that in my pictures with Bruce Willis.”

So, similarities aside, what does de Souza think about what he’s seen of Millar’s “Spirit” thus far?

“The Frank Miller ’Spirit’ looks a lot like ’Sin City’ to me, but that’s not what ’The Spirit’ looks like,” said de Souza. “’The Spirit’ always had that Crayola box of primary colors.”

“I miss the richer palette which I would associate with what Eisner did,” added de Souza. “When he would do noir — which he brought to the comic book pages — he would also do ’daylit noir.’ He would have the sun coming in through the blinds. Frank Miller’s ’Spirit’ looks like it’s all night, night, night.”

Much like many comics fans, De Souza also questioned the decision to add a cartoon-like vibe to the film’s action scenes.

“That would not strike me at first blush as being very Spirit-like, ” said de Souza. “The Spirit would do some very strange, whimsical things, but they would be on the fringes. The main story, the crime story, would be straight — even though there’d be some comedy in it.”

“Remember the one ’Spirit’ story about the guy who could fly?” asked de Souza. “That’s as wacky as any Tex Avery cartoon, but because it’s on the fringes of the action, it’s very poignant.”

“That’s the heart of Eisner’s ’Spirit,'” he continued. “We tried to use that in our version for ABC and Warner Bros., so I’m really eager to see Miller’s take on it.”

So what about it, comics fans? Is de Souza spot-on with his observations, or do you have an entirely different take on Miller’s “Spirit”? Have you seen the 1987 TV pilot? How does it compare?