I will say it clearly and without equivocation: “Preacher” will not work as a movie.
“Preacher” will not work as a series of movies. “Preacher” will not work on TV. “Preacher” will not work anywhere you have a series of people making decisions based on advertisers, sponsors, subscribers, or demographics. “Preacher” exists right now in the one form that can fully handle what “Preacher” is, and any attempts to translate it to another form of media will end in bitter, bitter tears.
On that note, congratulations to DJ Caruso for being the latest person attached to “Preacher,” which he will allegedly direct for Sony.
I say “allegedly” because this has been in the works for a while, and it’s been through a lot of hands already. I remember reading drafts of the screenplay back with Rachel Talalay (the director of “Tank Girl”) was going to direct it, and I still remember seeing the Arseface make-up for the first time. It was hideous, directly out of the documentary “Dream Deceivers,” and so dead-on accurate to the character design from the book that I thought, “Wow, I wonder if they might actually pull this off.”
Oh, sweet young naive me.
Here’s the thing… I don’t think everything works in every different media. I think some things are suited to be movies. Some things are suited to being novels. Some things are best as comic books. Some things only work as games. The Great Comic Book Gold Rush has been underway for a while now, and we’ve seen this one go from movies (Talalay, for example, was involved for a while) to TV (Mark Steven Johnson was the show runner, and they got as far as writing scripts) back to movies (Sam Mendes flirted with it before bailing for Bond, and John August was writing it), and now Caruso has announced, via Twitter, that he just closed the deal to direct “Preacher.”
I read a couple of different drafts of “Y The Last Man” that were produced under the eye of Caruso while he was attached to direct, and my problem was that they were just laying out a greatest-hits version of the book, all crammed into a proposed series of films, and it didn’t really have the same richness and flavor as the books. I think you could adapt “Y The Last Man” well, but it would require some real heavy lifting and a choice to either do it long-form on TV, or to make some radical cuts and reinvent for film. Nothing I saw happen on “Y The Last Man” convinced me that Caruso is a bad choice for “Preacher,” but it didn’t convince me that he’s going to succeed where so many others have failed, either. The tone difference between “Y” and “Preacher” is profound, of course, with “Preacher” being one of the most unrelentingly dark and dirty books to ever flirt with the mainstream.
I am no expert on the series. I have not read it cover to cover, start to finish. I’ve read select issues, and I’m familiar with the various screenplay drafts for films. But I’ve seen enough to know that it’s a cult book for a reason… it is way out there. And whatever you do with it, it’s going to cost. It’s not a cheap series to adapt. And anytime anything is as expensive as this is going to be, you’re going to have second-guessing about content and tone. Sony just got beat up on “The Green Hornet” expressly because they let Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and Michel Gondry screw around with tone and expectation, and the result pissed of “Green Hornet” fans and never quite hooked the audience that might actually enjoy it. You think they’re going to let Caruso just translate the “Preacher” series to the screen, as is? You think that sort of full-frontal assault on faith and culture is going to be released on 2700 screens with a bunch of movie stars in it?
I have no doubt they will talk a good game. And I have no doubt that Neal Moritz and Sony and Caruso and August all have the very best of intentions. No one ever sets out to adapt something wrong or to compromise a piece of work or to irritate a fanbase. No one. Things happen by degrees, little by little, by necessity, and then you turn around, and you’ve made “Howard The Duck.” It just happens.
If you don’t know the series, it’s about Jesse Custer, a small town holy man who becomes possessed by a power born from the union between an angel and a demon. He can use the “Word of God,” a sort of Jedi Mind Trick on steroids, and he travels with a professional killer he used to f**k and an alcoholic vampire on a quest to find God, who walked away and left the Cosmos spinning along, a car with no driver. It is profane and funny and wildly violent and a giant middle-finger to good taste. I have no idea how it ends, and that’s another thing to consider… if you’re setting up a series of films, is there a good stand-alone story to kick it all off that can work as one movie?
I genuinely don’t think this one will ever happen, and if it does, I don’t think it will please the fans or win over the public. I would love to be proved wrong, but it feels like a slow-motion car crash to watch the development of this film change hands again. We’ll see what happens in the future.