Preface: A link to my theatrical review for Sin City can be found here.
Comic book fans sure are hard to please, aren't we? Like fans of any other kind of book---yes, even those strange ones without pictures---we demand a lot to be satisfied with films based on our beloved source material. I've enjoyed many regular-book-to-film translations in recent memory, ranging from Gary Sinise's Of Mice and Men to Peter Jackson's visually ambitious Lord of the Rings films. As far as recent comic book films go, I know I wasn't the only one who thoroughly enjoyed both Spider-Man films and Batman Begins. While these certainly aren't the only examples of adaptations done right, they've all combined what I believe to be the two main elements in making any successful adaptation: respect for the source material and an eye for what won't translate well to the big screen.
Naturally, you can't please 'em all. If you aim for a compressed version of a long-running series, you might be biting off more than you can chew. If you drastically change a character's origin, appearance or attitude, you run the risk of being buried alive in fanboy hate mail (or e-mail, at least). Obviously, there's a delicate tightrope to walk: should a movie go for accuracy and cater to the smaller fan base…or just change everything in the hopes of selling more tickets? In most cases, Hollywood studios choose the second path: after all, movies are a business. It's their job to make money, so they'll make it any way they can---yes, even at the expense of our beloved source material. Disasters like Batman and Robin, Spawn and the recent Elektra are certainly proof enough, but comic fans know the list is much, much longer.
Every so often, though, a film comes along that seems to please everyone: accurate enough to satisfy the original fans, but accessible enough to reel in new ones. In almost every regard, Sin City (2005) is that kind of film. It's one of the most literal adaptations of source material ever assembled, nearly a word-for-word, shot-for-shot, murder-for-murder counterpart to Frank Miller's original series (the bulk of which was published by Dark Horse Comics during the 1990s). I was a big fan of the series during its initial run, eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Miller's pitch-black universe. It wasn't my favorite comic of the decade---incidentally, that honor would go to Garth Ennis' Preacher---but Sin City's potent blend of crime and punishment placed it near the top of my reading list.
As mentioned in the theatrical review, it's a real surprise that it took so long for Sin City to become a film. Even with my initial excitement when the project was first announced, it was hard to be optimistic: after all, comic fans know how disappointing a mishandled film can be. Director Robert Rodriguez worked closely with Miller, ensuring that the series' unique visuals and tone would be translated faithfully. A handful of the first few mini-series were selected as the film's "chapters", a formula that worked perfectly: it would allow stories to unfold at their own pace, yet the consistent atmosphere would ensure that the finished product tied together nicely. The characters, confrontations and settings were re-created almost perfectly by the production crew, right down to the dynamic visual style and tight panel composition (for proof of this, check out the comic-to-screen comparisons linked at the end of the theatrical review). It's quite rare that such a literal approach works to a film's advantage, but the source material's style made for an very smooth transition.
From a technical standpoint, Sin City is nearly flawless. Minor problems---including a few lines of dodgy dialogue, for example---are often present in the original books, so it's hard to be too critical of the film in that regard. Still, a few movie-specific faults creep up along the way, including a somewhat generic original score and an opening sequence that may disorient those who didn't collect every issue. Other than that, it succeeds on just about every level; for proof, just try and find a fan of the original series that didn't enjoy the big-screen adaptation. For its visual achievements alone, Sin City stands tall alongside a handful of truly satisfying comic book films. While newcomers may find themselves a bit overwhelmed, they'll find that it's much easier to get into after repeated viewings.
Hopefully, the back-to-back sequels (scheduled to begin production in 2006) will translate just as well, though this first film contains what many fans believe to be the strongest stories overall. Until then---or at least until the eventual double-dip---Sin City fans are offered a decent (but relatively bare-bones) DVD release to tide them over until the main course. While it's understandable that a better batch of goodies may take more time to assemble, the lack of several basic extras makes this seem more like an appetizer than a solid "lighter" edition. Still, I'd imagine fans of Sin City will have a hard time waiting any longer, so this one should at least be considered a strong rental candidate.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
As expected, Sin City looks terrific---this is as visually stylized as films get, so it's good to know the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer carries its own weight. The (mostly) black and white palette is clean and clear, displaying an excellent range of contrast with no major instances of edge enhancement or other digital problems. Sin City's audio treatment is equality impressive, presenting the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English or French) and a fantastic DTS mix. Each displays a strong atmosphere and ambience, while the film's dialogue is easily understood (optional English and Spanish subtitles are also offered). Those who liked what they saw and heard at the multiplex shouldn't be worried---this film translates well to the home theater and won't disappoint.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
I was hoping to find Frank Miller's original artwork somewhere on this disc, so it was great to see it featured prominently on the main menu (above, background). These menus get the job done perfectly, offering an appropriate atmosphere and smooth, simple navigation. The 124-minute film has been divided neatly into 28 chapters, with no obvious layer change detected during playback. This one-disc set is housed in a standard black keepcase with your choice of four different slipcovers (scroll down), much like the Reservoir Dogs 10th Anniversary set…so pick your favorite and go home happy. Just for the record, my money's on the Marv/Goldie cover. Sorry, Nancy.
While it's no surprise that this first release is a thin on the extras, I was still hoping it would cover more of the basics. Word has it that the fancy edition will incorporate a few deleted scenes back into the film; as a bonus, each of the complete "stories" will most likely be viewable on their own. Unfortunately, the deleted scenes aren't included here in any form, though we do get an brief but entertaining Behind the Scenes Featurette (9 minutes) that includes words from Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino and an assortment of panel-to-screen comparisions (NOTE: this featurette is most likely the same segment included on the Best Buy promo DVD from a few months back). Also included are a few Previews for Buena Vista titles, though the theatrical trailer for the film itself is nowhere to be found. While frugal Sin City fans may want to wait for the next release, those who simply want the movie without the extras should be perfectly happy with what's included here. If you've already got the Best Buy promo disc, it makes a brief but interesting companion.
If you loved Sin City and can't wait for the fancy edition, do yourself a favor and watch this disc one way or another. The technical presentation is very impressive, ensuring that the film's stunning atmosphere is preserved perfectly for a convincing home theater experience. Those who love extras will feel a bit disappointed, especially since the deleted scenes---which will most likely be integrated into the story for the next release---couldn't have been included separately. The behind-the-scenes featurette is a decent appetizer, but a few additional extras would have really made this a well-rounded release. Even without the added bells and whistles, though, Sin City is a film that should please even the most cautious fan of comic book films. Those who love extras may simply want to rent Sin City for a quick fix, but everyone else can consider it Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA who does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.