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Sin City

Miramax // Unrated // April 21, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 23, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"There's no settling down. It's going to be blood for blood and by the gallons. It's the old days...the bad days...the all-or-nothing days. They're back. There's no choices left, and I'm ready for war."

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Raymond Chandler caught in a German impressionistic fever dream. Frank Miller's Sin City is unflinchingly brutal and downbeat yet infused with a depraved, cacklingly dark sense of humor. Set against a noirish backdrop of booze, broads, trenchcoats, split knuckles, and oiled metal, an enormous part of the appeal of Sin City isn't just its skewed, twisted view of the world but in Frank Miller's intensely stylized art. Jagged brushstrokes, the way Miller will drench a page in black, a complete disinterest in traditional panel structures or page layouts, artwork as dark and twisted as his tortured characters' minds...Sin City is a comic that no one could rationally think would make it to Hollywood and still be the least bit recognizable. This is a movie that shouldn't exist. Robert Rodriguez didn't bother trying to adapt Frank Miller's comic, though. Most anyone else would've twisted and distorted the comics until they fit into a tidy, familiar cinematic box, but ambitious and uncompromising, Rodriguez took the road less traveled, using bleeding-edge technology to translate Miller's stylish visual eye and bleak worldview to the screen.

Sin City tears through several of Miller's hardboiled stories, opening with the three-page short "The Customer Is Always Right" and screaming from there into "The Hard Goodbye", "The Big Fat Kill", and "That Yellow Bastard". The first of the main stories kicks off with an aging cop named Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who's hunting down an eleven year old girl kidnapped by the pedophile son of an impossibly influential senator. Hartigan shows up in time to save the girl and butcher the prick (played by Nick Stahl), but this is Basin City, and there are no happy endings.

Marv (Mickey Rourke) is an unfuckable gargoyle of a man; even hookers won't saddle up next to him. When an ethereal beauty like Goldie (Jaime King) shows him the night of his life, Marv picks up pretty quickly just how desperate she must've been...especially when he wakes up next to her corpse. Hellbent on revenge and with nothing to lose, Marv sets out after the butcher who clipped the wings off his angel. Marv may be a man-mountain, though, but he's got nothin' on Kevin (Elijah Wood), a silent, spade-clawed serial killer whose insatiable appetite doesn't just stop at bloodlust.

Next up...? Jackie
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Boy (an unrecognizable Benicio del Toro) had a thing for beating the hell out of his girlfriend (Brittany Murphy), but these days she's palling around with Dwight (Clive Owen). He chases Jackie Boy all the way to Old Town, a stretch of Basin City protected by a half-battalion of prostitutes-slash-enforcers. Dwight, with the help of his former flame Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her silent swordswoman Miho (Devon Aoki), take care of Jackie Boy but at the cost of a treaty that's been shakily holding Old Town together. A mangled -- but still kinda chatty -- corpse is all that separates the hookers in Old City from all-out war with the cops.

Finally, Sin City picks up eight long years after it started. Hartigan's spent the better part of a decade holed up in solitary, taking the rap for all of the murders Roark's son committed. At least he has those letters from Nancy that show up once a week like clockwork to get him through the day, but the coded messages from that clever little girl fade away, and one last letter has a severed finger inside. Fearing the worst, Hartigan tells the parole board whatever they want to hear so he can play the hero once again. Turns out that Nancy -- who's no longer that terrified little girl but a nubile, barely-legal teenager (Jessica Alba) paying the rent by writhing on a stripper pole -- is fine. She won't stay that way for long, though, now that Hartigan's led a reconstituted mutant fuck right to her doorstep...

Try thumbing through the original Sin City collections while tearing through this Blu-ray disc, and it's hard not to be impressed by just how exactingly Frank Miller's creations have been translated to the screen. Virtually every stylized frame looks like a panel torn straight out of the comic, its pulpy dialogue is carried over almost verbatim, and the movie is every last bit as deranged and psychotic. Sin City is sopping with blood and is really a story about death even in the face of redemption, and yet there's a cacklingly depraved sense of humor to it. I mean, this is a movie where a badnik has his hand carved off with a Swastika-shaped throwing star, then he tries to gnaw the knuckles off that severed limb to get his good hand on a pistol. Sin City sidesteps ever slipping into self-parody, though, and this is a flick that's fiercely inventive and shrugs off pretty much every last movie convention. Rather than play it unrelentingly bleak and somber, Sin City swings for the rafters, without a flicker of hesitation going big and deliriously over-the-top. Its dazzling visual style reproduces Miller's artwork in a way I never would've thought possible, and the movie as a whole is a brilliant fusion of cinema and comic. This really does feel like something distinctive and new, and that's a truly rare reaction to have in these cynical days.

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theatrical cut of Sin City seamlessly spliced together these stories from the comics, trimming them down and shuffling things around to work as a feature length movie. The second disc in the set shrugs that off, showing each story in full -- complete with its own title card and end credits -- including a handful of scenes that had to be deleted for time and pacing during Sin City's run in theaters. The additions aren't remotely as compelling as that 23 minute difference in runtime would suggest, though: there's somewhere in the neighborhood of seven minutes of new material, and the rest is wasted on long, long end credits. "That Yellow Bastard" plays in full rather than split down the middle as it is in the theatrical cut, and it features a new scene with Carla Gugino saddling up next to Hartigan at a parole hearing. "The Customer Is Always Right" piles together the two short sequences that bookend the movie, and "The Hard Goodbye" tacks on a scene with Marv grabbing his favorite pistol from his blind mother's apartment. The four stories can be watched individually or played all at once in chronological order. I have to admit that I didn't really think any of this extra footage added all that much to the movie, and I prefer the way the theatrical cut flows. Still, with as slavishly devoted as Sin City is to reproducing Frank Miller's creations for the screen, segmenting out the stories the way they've been collected in print is a natural approach to take, and the movie's worth watching this way at least once.

If you've been following Blu-ray from word one, you've probably seen mock-ups of the cover art for Sin City at conventions and trade shows that predate the format itself. It took several years for Sin City to finally claw its way to high-def on these shores, but it's absolutely worth the wait. This two-disc set looks and sounds exceptional, and it's so overflowing with extras that it earns its special edition title as few movies have, piling on in total more than fourteen hours of material.

Shot natively on high definition video, Sin City's intensely stylized visuals look phenomenal on Blu-ray. There's really not even any need for a long, rambling write-up; click on the thumbnail below to get a sense of just how silky smooth and inhumanly detailed Sin City can look in high-def:
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It's not consistently in the same league as Frank Miller's follow-up, The Spirit -- crispness and clarity can be a bit erratic, and because the contrast has been tweaked shot-by-shot, it varies wildly as well -- but I frequently found myself floored by the punchy blacks, its striking splashes of color, the deft interplay betwen light and shadow, and the richness of its fine detail. Sin City carves out a distinctive look in motion, with its contrast and fluidity not coming across like film or video, really, but something uniquely its own. Sin City looks outstanding on Blu-ray, and it's well worth the upgrade over previous standard definition releases.

Both the theatrical and unrated cuts of Sin City are lightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and their AVC encodes spill over into the second layers of each BD-50. I couldn't spot any differences in quality across the two versions of the movie.

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Both cuts of Sin City are backed by 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, and they're every bit as technically impressive as the movie's high definition visuals. The noir-tinted narration roars from the front speakers, and the rest of the movie's dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly as well, even belted out in the surrounds and front mains when called for to further flesh out a sense of directionality. Bass response is a slug to the gut: the meaty thuds of punches and kicks, cracks of gunfire, the gravelly growl to Marv's dialogue, and even a head shoved clean through a brick wall. The city itself is brought to life by the particularly immersive surrounds, and the rears also reinforce such as effects as debris scattering after a colossal explosion, sprays of gunfire, police cars screaming across the screen, and the crackle of snowfall to the ground. The dialogue, the full-bodied score, and sound effects are balanced flawlessly in the mix as well, with Miller's writing and the sticky atmosphere lavished with most of its attention.

Both versions of the movie feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in Spanish alongside subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, and some flavor of Chinese, I guess. The theatrical cut also includes D-Box support and a Portuguese soundtrack, and a French dub is offered exclusively with the unrated version.

If you tally up the lengths of both cuts of Sin City and all of the extras spread across this sprawling two-disc special edition, you're looking at fourteen and a half hours of material. Almost all of the extras from earlier DVD releases have been carried over -- the only casualties are the "Sin-Chroni-City" timeline from the extended DVD and the bland promotional featurette from the original release -- and a couple of new features have been piled on to boot.

The first of the extras exclusive to this Blu-ray release is "Cine-Explore",
Cine-Explore in action
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which takes the usual picture-in-picture feature and jabs a hypodermic of adrenaline straight into its heart. Instead of a relatively tiny window staying static in the lower-right-hand corner of the frame, slews of panels from the original comics scatter across the screen, illustrating just how startlingly faithful Sin City stays to Frank Miller's artwork. This extra also frequently overlays the raw, full-color green screen footage on top of the black-and-white finished product, and it even flips the two every once in a while, showcasing the original, untouched photography in high definition!

The other Blu-ray exclusive -- and the only other high-def extra anywhere on this two-disc set -- is a "Kill 'Em Good" interactive comic book. This cross between a comic and a game feels kind of gimmicky at first, opening by nudging a stolen police car left and right, then following that up by chucking money at a stripper. The last part -- Marv squaring off against Kevin and a small army of gun-toting thugs -- makes it all worth it, though. Punching, hacking, and gunning down badniks with the numeric keypad works surprisingly well, and grabbing power-ups and weapons helps liven up the gameplay too.

The other extras are carried over from the two-disc DVD set, and first up is an audience reaction track from Sin City's premiere in Austin. I'd usually shrug this sort of thing off as a novelty, but I really dug this one. Even though it's served up in Dolby Digital 5.1 at a bitrate of 448Kbps -- DVD quality, really -- this track is astonishingly well-recorded. The crowd being spread across so many different speakers heightens the experience, and the movie itself still comes through crisply and cleanly. It's also worth mentioning that this isn't a standard issue audience either. Nope, no screaming babies or obnoxious ringtones here: the theater's packed with a half-battalion of fanboys, and their enthusiasm watching Sin City for the first time makes this track scream along.

Also included with the theatrical cut are a pair of audio commentaries with Robert Rodriguez. He's joined in the first by creator and co-director Frank Miller, and even though too much time is wasted fawning over how dazzlingly talented everyone and everything is, this track is still a hell of a lot of fun. Some of the highlights include how inhumanly quickly Sin City came together, how organically the two of them split the directorial chores, distinguishing between the textual prose of a screenplay versus a cinematic comic, explaining why the title cards between each segment were tossed out, accommodating the vertically-oriented compositions of Miller's comic metropolis in a widescreen frame, the art style distinctive to each of the original books, and, over the end credits, a chat about Rodriguez' resignation from the DGA.

Rodriguez' second commentary is much more intensely technical, and he goes it alone for the most part. He talks about recording the movie's voiceovers in his garage, the freedom an all-green screen shoot offers (with many of the actors not ever having been on the set at the same time, even when their characters are fighting to the death), the friendly competition sparked by spreading Sin City's visual effects across three different FX houses, the stark differences between a shoot like this and a traditional film set, and how wearing so many different hats as a filmmaker can transform the process. Quentin Tarantino shares the billing with Rodriguez for this commentary but is barely in it, all but dismissed once his scene is over. That's a drag since Tarantino does have a knack for playing moderator, and his hyperenthusiastic back-and-forth with Rodriguez makes for the most compelling stretch of this commentary. Though he's not credited on the menu or packaging, Bruce Willis pops in briefly to speak over the last stretch of "That Yellow Bastard". As passionate about the movie as Willis is, though, not all that many of his comments are particularly memorable or insightful. Oddly enough, this second commentary also ends with more than a few minutes of the movie left to go. This is an uneven track, to be sure, but I still really enjoyed it, and fans of the movie intrigued by its technical approach ought to find it well worth a listen.

The remaining extras are piled onto the second disc in this set, and they're mostly a barrage of short featurettes.
  • How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film (6 min.): The first of Sin City's featurettes touches on how cinema was translated into a comic book for this adaptation rather than the other way around, starting with the three page short story whose single day of shooting wholly convinced Frank Miller to step onboard. Rodriguez, Miller, and a slew of actors briefly comment about being part of such an unusually faithful adaptation and the process of assembling a project this experimental.

  • Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino (7 min.): A decent set of behind-the-scenes footage is the highlight of this look at Quentin Tarantino diving headfirst into digital photography -- a first for him -- and how his brief stretch directing a sequence in "The Big Fat Kill" meant three directors were looming over the set at once.

  • A Hard Top
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    with a Decent Engine: The Cars of Sin City
    (8 min.): Frank Miller's fetishistic fascination with cars makes them characters in their own right in Sin City, and this featurette tears through the nearly two dozen rides showcased throughout the flick. The movie's transportation coordinator chats briefly about some of the key cars -- everything from a 1937 Caddy to a late '80s Ferrari -- along with the process of lining them up for the shoot.

  • Booze, Broads, and Guns: The Props of Sin City (11 min.): This featurette delves into the design and fabrication of Sin City's stylized arsenal of weaponry, reproducing with precision the imagery of Frank Miller's original artwork. While the overwhelming majority of these props had to be milled and sculpted, they caught a break with Miho's swords, at least, by raiding Quentin Tarantino's garage.

  • Making the Monsters: Special Effects Makeup (9 min.): As Frank Miller points out, all three of the main stories woven into Sin City are anchored around some sort of monster, and the actors' grotesque transformations into these twisted creatures are showcased here. KNB's Greg Nicotero runs through the extensive make-up effects work that brought Marv, Jackie Boy, and the Yellow Bastard to life, and it's rooted around a pretty impressive set of behind-the-scenes shots.

  • Trench Coats and Fishnets: The Costumes of Sin City (8 min.): This featurette violently grabs the spotlight and aims it squarely at costume supervisor Nina Proctor, and she and the cast touch on several key pieces of wardrobe. They chat about lining up material with the sort of reflectivity to best realize Frank Miller's original artwork, dolling Rosario Dawson up in just a few inches' worth of leather straps, and Brittany Murphy trudging through the shoot in six inch heels.

  • 15 Minute Flick School (12 min.): The most intensely technical of Sin City's extras, "15 Minute Flick School" tears through how the look of the movie was shaped, including its use of color as a weapon, digitally layering so many different elements (including actors shot weeks apart but convincingly cut together into a scene), the use of fluorescent tape and make-up on the set, and even digital chin extensions.

  • All Green Screen Version (12 min.): Robert Rodriguez takes the raw full-color, green-screen photography and plays Sin City from its first shot to the last -- sped up 800%, tho' -- to give a quick sense how stripped down the shoot really was.

  • The Long Take (18 min.): Shooting digitally means not having to shout "cut!" every couple of minutes the way directors have to with film. After a brief introduction, "The Long Take" shows off a sprawling fourteen minute take from Quentin Tarantino's stint on the set, complete with directorial asides and the makeup being tweaked along the way.

  • Sin City: Live in Concert (9 min.): Bruce Willis and The Accelerators blaze through a live performance of "Devil Woman" during the shoot in Austin.

  • 10 Minute Cooking School (6 min.): Robert Rodriguez shows off his recipe for a favorite 4 AM snack -- breakfast tacos! -- complete with homemade flour tortillas.
Along with a teaser and theatrical trailer for Sin City -- both in standard definition -- high-def plugs for a few other Miramax and Disney titles round out the extras.

The Final Word
With its intensely stylized imagery, the pulpy snap to its dialogue, a twisted and borderline-surreal sense of humor, and a sadistically violent streak, Sin City ought to have been unfilmable. Robert Rodriguez managed to make it work, though, bending the art of cinema to bow to Frank Miller's vision rather than hammering the comics' square peg into a round hole. This isn't even an adaptation so much as a direct translation, every bit as exaggerated, stylish, and deranged as the original comics. Sin City is so experimental and unrestrained that it's startling to think what a colossal success it really was at the box office. Both cuts of the movie look and sound phenomenal on Blu-ray, and this lavish two-disc special edition is bolstered further by a sprawling set of extras. Sin City may have taken much longer than expected to arrive on Blu-ray, but it's absolutely worth the wait. Highly Recommended.

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