It's been a long time since any news of the feature film adaptation of Garth Ennis' graphic novel Preacher cropped up, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still elusive. But now we may have a better idea of exactly why that is. During press coverage for James Bond's upcoming adventure, Skyfall director Sam Mendes opened up about his own ill-fated adaptation of Preacher.
Mendes is candid about the reasons he was forced to move on from bringing Ennis' memorable cast to life on film, placing the blame with no one but himself. While his experience may not bode well for the film itself, he also believes that the big screen may not be the only place that Preacher could shine.
Those who have been following the development (or lack thereof) of a Preacher feature film already know that a strong story isn't all it takes to find success. It's been years since any progress has been made, and while producer Neal Moritz claims a strong script is already in place, finding the right director hasn't been easy. Certainly not for lack of trying, or enthusiasm from proven talent.
It was three years ago that Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) seemed a lock for the position, voicing his enthusiasm for the comic and having previously adapted another graphic novel, Road to Perdition. Since then, Joe Johnson (Captain America) was after the role, with DJ Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) the last to be officially signed to direct. That deal has since proven fruitless, plunging Preacher back into limbo.
Fans had no choice but to wonder why it is that the most critically praised comic books have the hardest time being adapted, and what might have been. With Mendes now proving his talent for blockbuster action as well as dark drama, some might lament the Preacher that almost was. But in speaking with Collider, Mendes explained that his own inability to adapt the film was the main issue, not studio pressure:
"I could not find a way of making Preacher—tonally it’s a very difficult thing to make work, and there’s a reason why it’s struggled so much. It’s a brilliant graphic novel, I loved it, but a lot of it takes place in the real world and we’re surrounded now by fantasy and superhero genre pictures which are full of eye candy. And actually, Preacher is much more real world, it’s more of a Southern Gothic with elements of the fantastic in it; it’s a quite difficult thing to balance. So it wasn't just that I sort of walked away from it because they wouldn't pay for it or anything like that, it was because I couldn't really make it work, I couldn't find a way of defining what it was onscreen."
"...it was clear after a while I just didn’t have the answer. And also that thing that you hope will happen as a director, where a little switch is flicked inside you and you think ‘Yes I’ve got it, I know how to do this,’ I never found the way."
Mendes explained that his desire to do something different, bigger, and more ambitious has since been channeled into Skyfall - and the results overseas speak for themselves. Having another successful director in its corner is good news for Preacher, which will need as much vocal support as possible. The comic fans are on board, sure, but a dark tale of an angel-demon-spawn-possessed priest tracking down God with the help of a vampire and his girlfriend - that's a tough sell. Especially if the spirit of Ennis' book hopes to remain unaltered.
But movies aren't the only place to go for graphic, dark, or violent drama anymore. The cable television world isn't what it was ten, or even five years ago. Ambition and high production values are finding a home (and viewers) on even smaller networks that have struggled to find a hit for years. Instead of watering down or 'grounding' material to appeal to a larger audience at the box office, TV shows like American Horror Story or Breaking Bad have picked a direction (no matter how perverse) and not looked back.
It's the increased legitimacy of 'odd' shows that Mendes sees as holding particular potential for Preacher. Even if he isn't personally involved:
"My strong suspicion is someone will come along who has a really good take on it and is able to do it."
"If you look at somewhere between Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, True Blood—that world of real but fantasy, the two mixed, it’s young and sexy and it’s got many, many chapters. Actually when I saw that it was a possible HBO or a possible cable show, I thought ‘that’s a great way to do it,’ because then you can let it develop gradually, because there’s also a huge amount of it."
Mendes may be done with James Bond after Skyfall, but he clearly still has a soft spot for vampires and the fantastic. He could wake up tomorrow with the perfect idea for developing Preacher, but we'd recommend hopeful fans take his words at face value. Whether on the big or small screen a Preacher adaptation is, for now, still garnering attention as a no-brainer. And the fact that all involved seem determined to do it right may be a good sign.
Would you rather see a trilogy or series of films explore Ennis' graphic novel, or does a weekly TV show seem more in keeping with the comic book form? Sound off in the comments.
We'll keep you updated on any and all Preacher news as it's released.
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