Film Reviews:

Dick Tracy

(Warren Beatty, US, 1990)

If a lecturer in film studies needed a perfect example of genre production design this film provides the solution. It's dazzling use of just seven core colours recreates precisely the look and feel of its comic book origins. This paired-down, comic book approach is carried throughout the production design. Rooms are basic squares, all the cars look the same (the only difference being the colour), all the labels and signs read simply "cafe", "beer" etc. - an idea also used in Repo Man. A cross-over between fantasy and reality is evident in essentially two areas. Firstly, many of the human actors are covered in prosthetic make up to render them as close as possible to their comic book counterparts. Secondly, the matte paintings that form Dick Tracy's world being deliberately stylish and obviously painted constantly remind one of the paint and paper origins of the film.

The story revolves around Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) being torn between his love for Tess Trueheart and his duty to the police force. The situation becomes more complex after Tracy is introduced to the seductive torch singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna). The mannered but convincing acting on all sides helps bring the relationships between the main characters to life, but it is an almost unrecognisable Al Pacino that takes the performance honors for his humorous portrayal as the gangster Big Boy (!) Caprice. Yet, as a package, the whole enterprise never really gels. This is partly due to stylistic inconsistencies that disrupt the amazing fantasy world - such as why only some of the characters have been made up comic book style while (suspiciously) the hero of the piece remains resolutely Warren Beatty in a sandy Trilby and mack and his main squeeze Madonna in a see-through dress.

The plot is also a let down. Although there is a sinister and literally faceless new master criminal on the scene, there's far too much focus on the romance rather than the crime fighting that the titular character is famous for. Fans of the comic strip character will feel short changed and swooning Warren Beaty fans will simply be confused. It's a shame that after all the effort was spent on getting the film to look just right that much of that extensive and impressive work is rendered largely pointless since the hero looks nothing like the villains he is pursuing - almost as though he has been taken from another film entirely and plonked down into comic strip land. Dick Tracy is still one of the best-looking comic adaptations ever made, it's just such a shame that the rest of the film doesn't live up to the image.

Rob Dyer

Other crime fighting comic to film adaptations:
Batman: Mask fo the Phantasm
Batman Returns
The Crow
Judge Dredd
The Mask
The Phantom

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