25 May 2016

Screen Time: PREACHER: Episode 1, Season 1: 'Pilot'

PREACHER: Episode 1, Season 1: 'Pilot'
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Ian Colletti
Directors: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

Matt C: It’s been a long time coming.

First published in 1995 by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, Preacher had a seismic impact on the comics scene, redefining (as a number of its immediate predecessors had) what was possible in the medium when aiming material at a ‘mature’ audience. It contained some of the horror and (to a lesser extent) magic tropes that Vertigo were best known for at the time, but it drew in other elements to create a genre mash-up that was profane, thrilling, bloody, controversial, thoughtful, philosophical, frequently heartfelt but always absolutely entertaining. It put creators Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon firmly on the map and became one of those books you could pass on to non-readers to hook them into the joys of comics.

Although not quite up there in terms of critical standing as Watchmen, it did share that tome’s long, painful journey from page to screen, the failed attempts often attributed to the project’s unfilmable nature. Across nearly two decades there’s rarely been a time when Preacher wasn’t in development somewhere or other - Kevin Smith was probably the first to take a crack at it, HBO tried to get it moving for a couple of years, and then Sam Mendes gave it a shot before moving onto Bond. But now, 21 years after the debut issue of the comic appeared, the unlikely duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – or, unlikely until you consider their wilfully anarchic collaborations such as Pineapple Express and This Is The End - have done what many thought impossible: they’ve got a Preacher TV show onto our screens. Perhaps more surprising is that the first episode is pretty damn good: a comic book adaptation that doesn't look like it will play it safe, one that feels like it might be dangerous but also retains a sense of fun and mischievousness.
It quickly becomes obvious that this isn't going to be a direct adaptation. While some moments appear relatively unchanged from the pages of the comic, it's clear that Goldberg and Rogen have dropped certain things, added others, and mixed up the chronology of the comic to better suit their narrative purposes. This may turn fans of the source material off, particularly as many of them have had a couple of decades to imagine their own live-action version of the story in their head, but it's fair to say the tone of the original is intact, and the casting of the three leads (Cooper, Gilgun and Negga) is pretty much spot on (even if some of their back stories have been tinkered with). The sunbleached cinematography is effective, the musical choices are slightly predictable (but probably because they fit so well), and the action scenes are finely choreographed (especially Cassidy's wildly entertaining mid-air scrap). God is never specifically mentioned as an actual character - He's only referenced as an unseen deity - and none of the cast sport wings (yet), but much of this may be out of the necessity of creating a ten-hour season while acknowledging that the majority of the audience won't be familiar with the source and may need to be eased into some of its more outlandish elements.

There is the worry that sticking with the same locale (at least for the time being) and not going the way of the comic - which, for all intents and purposes, was a road trip through the darker parts of the American Dream - may scupper some of its momentum and long term appeal. It's far too early to say either way though, and if this pilot isn't perhaps as confident as it could have been, it gets far too much right to dismiss. There's more than enough going on to indicate a devilishly twisted future for the series and the fact that it exists at all is something of a miracle. Praise be. 8/10

No comments: