For those of you who purchased the original release of Sin City back in August, prepare to collectively kick yourselves in the hindquarters. You're not alone, though: if I hadn't received the advance screener, I'd have probably bought it without hesitation. Sin City is a great film that would've been hard to wait four more months for (though the wait could've been much longer, a la Kill Bill), but the original release was a solid movie-only disc that served its purpose. Now, with the oddly-titled "Recut, Extended, Unrated" version of the film (presented here in a packed 2-disc set), acclaimed director Robert Rodriguez and series creator Frank Miller were looking to blow the original disc right out of the water.
They have. In short, this newly assembled cut of Sin City more closely follows the path of Miller's original series in two ways: not only does it re-insert a few minor scenes back into the film, but it also allows the viewer to watch each "chapter" individually (or in the sequence of your choice)---so it's more like reading the actual books than ever. This, of course, improves the overall experience, especially since Rodriguez and Miller were aiming for pure accuracy in the first place. Sin City has evolved into something else entirely by making the chapters more "interactive", moving it one notch closer to the most faithful cinematic translation of a comic book ever. With any luck, it'll be considered the blueprint for the genre---at least in the technical sense---for years to come. The original cut was close to perfect (and this one's even closer), but just what's been added to the film itself?
Though Buena Vista's promise of "over 20 minutes of additional footage" falls short (more on that later), fans are treated to a handful of scenes that were previously seen only in the original books. "The Hard Goodbye" features a few interesting new bits, including a terrific sequence where Marv stops by his mom's house for a quick visit. "The Big Fat Kill" gives a few supporting characters a touch more screen time---including Manute, Shelly, and the ever-popular Miho---and even beefs up the gore another notch. "That Yellow Bastard" adds more character moments, including a few new visitors while Hartigan's laid out in the hospital (leaving "The Customer is Always Right" as the only unaffected story in the bunch). These additions don't make Sin City an entirely new movie, but it's nice to see more scenes from the original series get their chance to shine on the small screen.
As mentioned earlier, each of the four stories can be viewed individually---complete with their own new opening title cards [sample] and closing credits. Unfortunately, the credits make up the large majority of this "new footage", so don't expect 20 more minutes of full-on action and you won't be disappointed. Though it's really unfortunate that the advertising technically promises much more than it actually delivers, the new version is still a big step closer to an exact duplicate of the original story. For long-time fans of Sin City, that should certainly be good enough. NOTE: For those who enjoyed the theatrical cut of the film, don't worry: that version also remains intact for this release (front and center on Disc One, while the re-cut stories make up the bulk of Disc Two), so you don't need to own both to get the complete picture. Let's hope we see more of this in the future.
Either way, there's more to this release than the film itself. Included with this package is a terrific batch of bonus features---including some valuable printed matter---plus a slick new packaging job that holds everything together nicely. The technical presentation was excellent the first time around, so it's good to know that it's been preserved for this release as well. Overall, it's a top-notch release that offers the best of both worlds: a fantastic film and a stellar DVD treatment to back it up.
As expected, Sin City looks terrific---this is as visually stylized as films get, so it's good to know that the 1.85:1 progressive anamorphic widescreen transfer carries its own weight. The mostly black and white palette is extremely clean and clear, displaying an excellent range of contrast with no major instances of edge enhancement or other digital problems. NOTE: Even with the extra content added to each disc, there don't seem to be any compression issues this time around---but for those keeping score at home, the theatrical edition of the film (which, incidentally, appears identical to the original DVD release) looks to be ever-so-slightly sharper than its re-cut counterpart.
Sin City's audio treatment is equally impressive: the theatrical cut is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English only this time around) or a fantastic DTS mix, though the extended versions on Disc Two are only available in DD 5.1. Each one displays strong levels of atmosphere---with a slight edge to the DTS mix for overall polish---while the dialogue is clear and easily understood. Music and sound effects are as immersive as ever, really making it easy to lose yourself in the action. As with the first release, ugly yellow English or Spanish captions are offered for the main feature only. Overall, those who liked what they saw and heard at the theater shouldn't be worried at all.
There's also a third "commentary" which chronicles the Audience Reaction at the film's premiere in Austin, Texas. I'm not sure if this is a first for DVD or not, but it's pretty cool to hear a quasi-theater track in the comfort of your own home (though it's more of a curiosity than anything else, especially since I already knew I wasn't the only one to laugh at the phrase "bum ticker"). Just a reminder: this track, as well as the other two commentaries, is only available during the theatrical cut.
A Hard Top With A Decent Engine, Making The Monsters, Trench Coats & Fishnets and Booze, Broads & Guns are five featurettes that detail the film's cars, make-up, costumes and props. All are fairly standard in format and execution, though it's neat to see everything "in real life" (as it were).
How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller To Make The Film and Special Guest Director Quentin Tarantino (13 minutes total) are two related behind-the-scenes featurettes that offer additional glimpses of how both talents came on board. There's some overlap between these segments and the audio commentaries, but it's still great to have them as stand-alone supplements.
"Sin-Chroni-City" is a visual interactive feature that helps to connect the characters, places and events from Sin City, and also includes bits of commentary from Frank Miller on nearly every page. Though it's a little tricky to find your way around at first, those new to the series should find it helpful---but more seasoned Sin City veterans could always use a refresher course, right?
Closing out the first disc are the film's Theatrical Trailer and Teaser Trailer, though it's disappointing that we couldn't get a complete gallery of promo materials (posters, TV spots, etc.)
Disc Two kicks off with 15-Minute Flick School with Robert Rodriguez (actually 12 minutes), a tightly-cut and well constructed overview of the film's production. Rodriguez is on hand to reveal how Sin City's unique look was achieved (in some cases, before financing was available), while we also get to check out a few rehearsal tapes, various screen tests and a glimpse of several final effects shots. Here's the best part: it covers more detail in 15 minutes than some documentaries do in an hour.
The Movie in High-Speed Green Screen (13 minutes) reveals just how much post-production work was required to make the visuals come together. Essentially, viewers are treated to a speedy version of Sin City (sans digital backgrounds) that makes for an interesting version of the final product.
The Long Take: Tarantino's Segment (18 minutes) is more interesting than the title implies; in short, it's one continuous chunk of footage that shows the cast and crew (including Rodriguez, Tarantino, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro and more) brain-storming their way through a scene. It's pretty interesting stuff and should be a real treat for any fan of the talent involved.
Sin City Live at Antone's (8 minutes) documents part of a benefit concert held shortly after the shooting of "That Yellow Bastard". Here's the kicker: Bruce Willis' band is one of the featured acts, so we're treated to a live cut by the band (though it would've been nice to see more footage).
10-Minute Cooking School with Robert Rodriguez (actually 7 minutes) is a fun diversion that reveals how to make "Sin City Breakfast Tacos" (including his grandma's top secret homemade flour tortilla recipe), which apparently sated the crew during many long nights on and off the set. NOTE: I haven't made these yet---but if anyone wants to give it a shot, let me know how they turn out.
Last but not least, we also get the complete Graphic Novel of "The Hard Goodbye" (the first story arc, originally published in Dark Horse Presents anthologies from 1991-92), though it's obviously a bit smaller than the original trade paperback. While most hardcore fans should already have "The Hard Goodbye" in one form or another, it's still a nice bonus for those new to the book.
Overall, this fantastic set of bonus features makes it pretty tough to complain...but since we don't have a review length limit, here's how I'd have improved the package:
First of all, I'd have expanded this to a 3-disc set. The theatrical cut could've been presented on the first disc, along with the Rodriguez/Tarantino commentary and the "audience version"---and hey, throw in the trailers for good measure. The second disc could've included the extended versions (with DTS!) along with an extended Rodriguez/Miller commentary (by moving the other extra content, the A/V presentation of the extended stories could've been maximized). The third and final disc could've housed the extras and possibly extended a few, like the live performance, while the "high-speed green screen" version could've been slowed down a bit. Last but not least, I'd have made all the extras anamorphic and added optional English captions for the hearing impaired. Not a bad "dream DVD", huh?
Though most fans will be upset that roughly 75% of the new footage is nothing more than credits, it's still nice to see a few scenes inserted back into this already-great film. Even better, we're given a choice of cuts here: the original theatrical version or the ability to view each story on its own. It's all too often that studios fool customers into buying two DVDs that are nothing more than "parts of a whole"; here, it's a clear case where the follow-up release matches or outshines the original in every department, leaving nothing important behind in the process. The technical presentation is just as good the second time around, while the excellent new bonus features and sharp packaging are more than just icing on the cake. It's just about everything a fan of the film could hope for, so here's hoping that Rodriguez and Miller can keep the ball rolling with future installments. For now, enjoy this release: it's a winner in every department and easily part of the DVD Talk Collector Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA who also teaches an art class and works in a gallery. When he's not doing that stuff, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.