EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: LOOKING FORWARD TO THE WORD OF GOD

Since I love both comic books and movies, people often (too often) ask me what comic book movie I’m most looking forward to seeing. The answer is “Preacher.” If you haven’t read the sixty-six issue Vertigo series, you haven’t read the best comic book run to ever be published. Granted, Hollywood would never let the movie be done like the comic (too violent, too much sex, and far too many curse words), but it should be a decent ride nonetheless. I’m saying this knowing only the star (James Marsden) and the fact that Garth Ennis, the writer of the comic book, is writing the screenplay. (I also know that Electric Entertainment is putting it out, but that doesn’t mean anything to me.)

The story of “Preacher” can get pretty complicated. In its simplest form it’s about a pastor who is more than a bit upset at God for neglecting his responsibilities to the human race. The pastor, Jesse Custer, receives something called the Word of God, which forces people to obey his every command, and then he, along with his girlfriend assassin and an alcoholic vampire, heads out to find God and make him responsible for his dereliction of duty. Along the way they encounter many bizarre situations and characters, and it all made for one incredible comic book.

I’m a huge fan of the series. I’ve had an article or two about it published, and I’m working on a full tattoo sleeve with panels from the comics. When I first heard that it was being made into a film, I was disappointed. I thought there was no way the film could live up to the comic. The more I thought about it, though, the more excited I became. Of course, it could still suck, but there is some good that may come of it, even if it is a bomb.

If this movie inspires a few people to check out the trade paperbacks of the original series, well that can only be a good thing. The series is something that needs to be read by anyone who is looking for one hell of a story. It teaches values such as truth, responsibility and keeping one’s word, and it shows how friends should treat each other. Hey, there’s even a love story for the ladies!

Oh yeah, it’s also a Western.

Joe R. Lansdale, the man behind Bubba Ho-Tep and some great horror fiction, wrote the introduction to the first trade paperback. “It’s scary as a psychopathic greased gerbil with a miner’s hat and a flashlight and your bare asshole in sight. Actually, it’s scarier than that. This stuff really bothered me, and at times I thought it might be a little too much.”

When Lansdale says something “might be a little too much,” you have to listen.

The “Preacher” comic upset a lot of people … though most of them never read it. Few of them even knew what it was about, but they were offended anyway. They thought it was an affront to God or something, though it really wasn’t. Sure, God isn’t painted in the best light, but you have to read the thing to really understand what is going on. Those critics acted without reading and without thinking. I can only wonder how the movie will be received.

If Ennis sticks true to his vision (and the producers and studio don’t muck around with his stuff too much), the overall feel of the comic series should still be on screen. They can’t do all sixty-six issues in ninety minutes, and I’m not even sure they would want to, but the atmosphere, characters and story could be done properly. There is a problem, though.

This will be an easy movie to screw up … royally. It’ll be easy for people to take it as a joke, and for religious groups to give it good publicity for all the wrong reasons. It’ll be simple for critics to dismiss it as a comic book movie without ever seeing it, too. But it will be incredible if done right. I’m not just saying it will be a good movie, I’m talking about the kind of story that’s never really been done before. Jim Carrey may have had the power of God in Bruce Almighty, but did he go up against Herr Starr and use a knife to make his head look like a penis? I don’t think so. George Burns may have played God, but did he pout and whine like a child? Did he ever encounter the Saint of Killers? Nope. Not once.

If this isn’t enough to get you to go buy the trades, maybe the movie will do the trick. I just hope that if it stinks like a “Saturday Night Live” film, people won’t hold it against the original source material. That would be unfair, and it would be their loss. This is truly as good as comics get, and no movie can ever soil that.

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Posted on February 18, 2004 in Features by

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