Directors have been putting out middle-of-the-road comic book “adaptations” to please studio heads and make the most money possible for years now. But what happens when directors abandon the standard superhero fare? Forget the Spiderman and Batmans of the comic book world. Dig a little deeper. If you do, you’ll find the likes of Dylan Dog and Witchfinder. Unfortunately, these aren’t the types of movies that get made. In the unique case of Dylan Dog: Dead of Night they get made, but they get made at great expense. No, I’m not talking about the budget or box office returns.
See, movies like Dylan Dog have the unique problem of, essentially, being a movie with no audience much like the man with no country. It’s not mainstream enough, nor did it have a big enough budget to truly get the word out there, but there is still a devoted following. The problem is that “devoted following” isn’t who the movie was made for. Director Kevin Munroe was trusted with the material, but in order to understand the end result, it’s important to know a little about the original source material.
Dylan Dog is an Italian comic, created by Tiziano Sclavi. Originally written in Italian, it follows paranormal investigator Dylan Dog as he solves murders and mysteries that involve vampires, werewolves, and all those other things that go bump in the night.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night leaves only an echo of the original incarnation. Set in New Orleans, Dylan is an appointed protector of the paranormal underworld until he stumbles on a case that pulls him in deeper than ever before.
Do those sound like the same characters? Maybe to a layman they do, but for die-hard fans of the original comic (which has only been translated into one English language compilation) the devil is in the details. Dead of Night tries to appease fans by throwing them subtle references here and there every so often, but it never seems to be enough to satiate the appetite. Sure, naming one of the demons “Sclavi”, after the original author, was a nice little nod, but when everything else seems to be a complete and total departure, it takes more than little winks to please the fans. In trying to force itself into the mainstream, thereby disregarding the fans in an attempt to make lowest-common denominator entertainment, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night lost its sense of self, but also managed to lose its fan base in the process.
Still, to characterize the film as a complete and utter failure is to ignore some of its more obvious charm. Brandon Routh may not be the Dylan Dog that fans of the comic know and love, but he brings his own flavor to the role. He sells the brooding, but more importantly, he’s believable when Dylan Dog is at his most intense. This is largely in part to some surprisingly impressive fight choreography, but also, clean-cut Routh’s take on the more unsavory and gritty aspects of the Dylan Dog persona are just as disarming. The same can be said for Dylan’s “sidekick” Marcus, played by Sam Huntington. While Huntington is never given as much opportunity to shine as Routh, he manages to bring a comic sensibility and a good-natured levity to the film. Truly one of the film’s worst faults is not trusting Huntington with more of a substantial role.
While these performances aren’t enough to save Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, they make the movie much more bearable. Its difficult to find where the blame belongs for what Dylan Dog became, but it is painfully clear that something is lost in translation. Perhaps it was the studio’s desperation for more money on a risky venture or maybe director Kevin Munroe is at fault, but who did what is unimportant. Dylan Dog: Dead of Night had the opportunity to speak for itself, even if it fell on deaf ears, but instead, it resigned itself to a whimper in a feeble attempt to please everyone.