With the rampant success of comic book based movies today, I figured it would be worth taking a look back at some of the less successful films that paved their way. 1990’s Dick Tracy is a perfect example of this. Made for roughly 40 million it went on to gross 100 million dollars. Warren Beatty produced, directed, starred and by some accounts had a hand in writing this incredibly hyped and heavily produced film. The music tried to reach across all line, with a single from Ice-T(no really check it out here) a full album from Madonna, original songs from Stephen Sondhiem, and a score by Danny Elfman and that was just the music.
Al Pacino, William Forsythe, Glenne Headley, Paul Sorvino, Dick van Dyke, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, and Madonna at her career peak were some of the serious names that filled out the cast. Famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who had previously worked with Bertolucci and Coppola on their classics, created a beautiful world for the colorful and wonderfully visually realized characters to inhabit. To this day the film is a beautiful wonder to behold.
Beatty was treating the comic strip seriously, working to find genuine emotion in the more absurd plot elements, trying to create both a family friendly film, and one the took mob elements seriously. Overall the movie worked well. Yet it wasn’t great. Reviews were positive but not glowing. Audience reaction was good, but not great.
The attempts to be so iconic, ironically lead to a rather forgettable picture, and I am saying this as a fan of the movie. I purchased the barebones DVD and the Danny Elfman score. As a huge fan of both comics and old noir flicks the movie feels in some ways as though it was created for me. Despite this I can’t ignore the weaker elements that drag the movie down. The action is competently directed but never awe inspiring. The film in places feels rushed and in others drags. While Beatty is successful in making the violent and sexual elements palatable to a family audience, but this also creates a blandness to the proceedings. Ideally molding these elements would mean that as you grew up with the movie, you would pick up on more over the years. Aside from a few of Madona’s well delivered double entendres this is not the case. The most glaring example of this family friendly influence is The Kid. While I was and am for merchandising the hell out of something, games and trading cards is what I want. Not a kid who is smarter than the adults, as was so common in many 90’s movies.
Despite the films shortcomings it is simply a fun well-made piece of entertainment. Beatty’s film comes alive visually and the weaker story elements are made up for by an amazing cast that has fully committed to the production. The final reveal of the Blank is clever and all the character motivations are in place to support the mystery element and not cheat the audience. While it was and is easy to disappear into the historically inaccurate world of Dick Tracy, its also easy to forget the trip once it is over.